I’m on a bit of a McLaren Vale run at the moment, even if it was unintentional. Actually, maybe it’s not – if I was forced to pick a specialisation, as Jamie Goode suggests here, then I would choose the Vale as my Australian goto South Australian region.
That’s because, in my mind, it straddles both traditional and modern South Oz winemaking styles. The Adelaide Hills is cooler, but the Vale has more depth of quality producers (rather than just a handful of top makers).
Anyway, here’s a collection of newish releases tried recently from the region. Vintage plays a part in this collection, with the cooler, somewhat challenging 2017 vintage delivering a very different mode of wine compared to the warmth/juiciness of the 2018 reds, and robustness of the 16s. Of course, I’m generalising, but no doubting the differences.
Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Brooks Road Shiraz 2016
The Jackson family’s Hickinbotham property is a pure A-grade estate, and this is classic Stuff. From the 1971 contour mode planted blocks, handpicked, fermented with 50% whole berries, matured for 15 months in 30% new oak. This is next level McLaren Vale Shiraz – a lovely grainy, oak polished, dark berried red shaped by oak but not dominated, the acidity and alcohol very nicely integrated. Just a pleasurable, well balanced, full bodied Vale red with superb detail. Best drinking: Now to twenty years. 18.7/20, 95/100. 14%, $75. Would I buy it? I’m not buying wine, but if I wanted a real McLaren Vale red for the long haul, $75 for this is more than fair.
S.C. Pannell Tempranillo Touriga 2017
Technically, Steve Pannell’s red includes Barossa Touriga, but it’s so good that it deserved a start here. This is such delicious wine. No obvious oak, no worries. It’s mid weight, there’s a tension between black licorice and blueberry, with an X factor edge that is hard to pin down. Like a Duoro red, but with Aussie juiciness. Fine tannins, and with a layer of almost Turkish delight in the middle. Intrigue. This is near perfect for what it’s trying to be. Beautiful balance too. Yes! Best drinking: Now and up to ten years, but I’d like it sooner. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $29. Would I buy it? Yes.
Chapel Hill Shiraz 2017
A more restrained Chapel Hill Shiraz? with an acute sense of balance. Dark chocolate oak plays a part here, but doesn’t overshadow a cooler, less forceful version of a wine that can be bold and chunky. It works too, with a polished, full bodied, glossy textural palate that is satisfying in its sense of veiled power. Good stuff. Best drinking: Now and up to fifteen years easy. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $33. Would I buy it? Worth sharing a bottle.
Yangarra Shiraz 2017
Another standout from Yangarra, and I feel like a broken record. Every egg is a bird at Yangarra. This includes 50% whole berries and some whole bunches, fermented wild and matured in 25% new oak for 16 months. Dark berry fruit is luscious and round in a really classic McLaren Vale mode, but not excessive. Certainly bolder and more sweet fruit (and less oak) than the Chapel Hill, and on a similar plane of quality. Plush, medium to full bodied read of style and density. Maybe needs a bit more tannin. Otherwise super. Best drinking: Now to fifteen years. 18/20, 93/100. 14%, $35. Would I buy it? I’d buy a bottle.
d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
A typical Coppermine in the sense of it’s husky intensity and gruff, ‘real wine’ depth. Intense dark berry fruit with mouth staining, drying, tannins. It’s a huge whack of fruit, with minty edges and lots of tannins. It’s big, it’s inelegant, the alcohol is high, the acid a bit intrusive, but impact aplenty. A lamb chops on the BBQ wine that is built for the cellar, if a bit too tannic for seduction (now at least). Best drinking: I’d wait a year or two. Coppermine can look fantastic at 15 years. Drink this for 20+. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $75. Would I buy it? Two glasses perhaps.
Samuel’s Gorge Mourvedre 2017
Easily the best of the latest Samuel’s Gorge releases (as usual). Spends 15 months in 15% new oak, the ferment including 20% whole bunches. The texture suggests more oak than you’d think, but the fruit depth more than makes up for it, the palate dry and savoury, not sweet fruited either. Genuinely substantial, the acid integrated, the alcohol not awkward. Could maybe do with a bit more vitality? Fine, nonetheless. Best drinking: Fifteen years easily. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $40. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Yangarra Mourvedre 2017
By contrast, this is pretty and drenched in fruit. From a 2 acre block, with 50% whole berries. Open wild ferment and spends 10 months in old oak. Numbers: pH 3.53 TA 6.2g/L. Purple red it’s really quite pretty, with poised blackberry fruit coming in at all angles. It’s maybe lacking a little follow through, safe for late warmth, but the blackberried nature makes for naturally attractive stuff. Best drinking: Ready now to to ten years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2018
Arguably too young, but such is life. Purple berried and so plump and lively, it’s youthfully vibrant medium bodied Grenache with hard to jubey red primary fruit. Maybe a bit too much acid to finish. But gee it’s fun with its vibrant red berry cavalcade. Best drinking: Open for business now and for at least eight years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5% $33. Would I buy it? Also worth a few glasses.
Chapel Hill Mourvedre 2017
A very different Mourvedre in this context. A pepper laden nose with a hint of leaf litter. It’s a cool and spicy wine, the blackberry fruit a little subdued reflecting the vintage, the palate softened by oak. It’s not hard but there’s just a slight leanness that holds it back. Again, however, nice balance. Best drinking: Now, but I wonder how it might look in the best part of a decade. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $30. Would I buy it? A glass.
d’Arenberg Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2016
As is the d’Arenberg modus operandi, this is foot trodden during ferment then basket pressed to new and old oak for 12 moths. Charismatic Grenache, if with that d’Arenberg edge. Vanilla oak over top, then, crunchy raspberry, with a core of raspberry and some proper dark earthen tannins. So much more polish in recent wines, and this feels both tannic and juicy. Simple enjoyment. Best drinking: To 12 years as those are fortifying tannins. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $29. Would I buy it? A glass.
Samuel’s Gorge Shiraz 2017
Perhaps not quite perfect balance, but nice flavour here. Spends 18 months in French oak, 20% new. Numbers: pH 3.65, TA 5.7. Deep maroon red. It’s the picture of a Vale Shiraz, with coffeed dark licoricey fruit. There’s just a little desiccation about this, but the regional style is bang on. Best drinking: Probably better in a year and will be alive in 15 years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14%, $40. Would I buy it? A glass.
Samuel’s Gorge Kaleidoscope Horizons 2016
Blend of 45% Grenache, 35% Tempranillo and the rest Graciano. Spends 24 months in older oak. Numbers: TA 6.1, pH 3.56. I admire the concentration in these super premium Samuel’s Gorge reds, but they’re just a bit heavy going. I don’t think they need 24 months in oak. Anyway, this has molten red fruit and caramel oak, the palate slightly stunted by both alcohol and the slow oxidative effect of long oak ageing, the red fruit flavours tending to raspberry jam and then a warm finish. Great persistence, if just a little flattened. Best drinking: Now to ten years plus. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $75. Would I buy it? No.
Samuel’s Gorge Mosaic of Dreams 2016
70% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah. Also spends 24 months in old oak. Soft and syrupy with a real coffee oak context. It’s like Rioja with the slick oak background. Slightly sweet and sour with glacé red fruit and then heavier coffee edges. I want more vitality here, though the black tannic edges suggest it’s going to last, even if it’s a bit bitter and drying. Again, seriously concentrated. Best drinking: To ten years without issue. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $75. Would I buy it? No.
Samuel’s Gorge Grenache 2017
Spends 12 months in old oak, but I still noticed an oak influence. Light colours, but ripe and syrupy, the flavours slightly candied and light on before finishing warm. A fraction overripe and under fruited given the warmth. Tricky to nail the phenological ripeness? Best drinking: To ten years, though the fruit may fade by then. 16.8/20, 89/100. 14.5%, $40. Would I buy it? No.
Samuel’s Gorge Graciano 2017
Ditto on the handling: 12 months in largely old oak. Includes 10% whole bunches. Numbers: TA 5.5, pH 3.6. Black and red licorice aplenty, it’s bitter and tangy, the alcohol overtaking the light palate. A core of deep dark red fruit, but the alcohol is just a bit scalping, leaving you with not quite enough. Best drinking: I’d drink this earlier as it’s not going to get better. 16.5/20, 88/100. 14.5%, $40. Would I buy it? No.
d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2014
There was an upward turning point in the d’Arenberg quality arc a few years back, but this feels like it came from the downswing. Slightly fecal and muddy nose, the palate brackish and a bit sweet and sour. Obvious bottle development but it’s mulchy and a bit lumpy too. All over the place, even if it has undoubted flavour. Best drinking: Now. 16/20, 87/100. 14.5%, $29. Would I buy it? No.