14% alcohol. It’s a mark in the sand. One of those (unconscious) ripeness expectations, where anything north of 14% is going to have ripe fruit (in table wine) with minimal exceptions.
Yet the important side note is that not everything above this mark needs to taste ripe. Balance, in all it’s subjectivity, doesn’t equate to low or high alcohol.
This might all be a boring segue to a collection of Australian red wines that are all over 14% alcohol I tasted in May, but the role of alcohol can be both under and overstated. So, with lineups like this, I push myself to leave expectations at the door. You should too…
Yalumba Tri-Centenary Grenache 2017
Yalumba’s Grenache lineup continues to impress, with ever more depths of old vine expression. This is my favourite, even though it’s not strictly my preferred vintage – a teensy bit ripe for that. Sourced from ancient bush vines, and treated supportingly. Spends just 4 months in oak – who needs oak with such fruit profundity – and all the better for it. It’s a lovely wine. Soft, syrupy, gently raspberried, moreish and yet still a savoury red. There’s this gentle raspberry/macerated cranberry meatiness, the palate just medium bodied, silken and charismatic. Not primary fruited, with tertiary bits creeping in, but fruit is the driver, and but oh so appealing. Maybe a little baked on the finish, but it doesn’t hurt chances. That texture is so inviting…
Best drinking: nowish is good. I don’t see it getting much better (though not falling over either. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $65. Yalumba website. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle as a start.
Brand & Sons Family Reserve Cabernets 2016
Grandiose Coonawarra Cabernet. Some of the Brand & Sons reds can feel a bit OTT, but this works (and helped along by extra bottle age). Crammed with dark fudgey chocolate oak, it feels like a 3 year old rather than five. Decadent richness, the tannins (both oak and fruit) are still grainy, but resolving nicely. It’s still oaky and ripe, but the whole package has that old school depth and breadth that anyone bred on a diet of John Riddoch and Balnaves Tally will love.
Best drinking: now or for decades more. It’s not going anywhere. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $85. Brand & Sons website. Would I buy it? A few glasses.
Koonara Angel’s Peak Shiraz 2019
This came with three incredibly delicious chocolate truffles that include a little Koonara wine in the chocolate. Sure, they didn’t sway my opinion on the wines, but I can still taste them now… Thankfully this is a quality wine too. Spearmint, red fruit, milk chocolate. It’s mid weight and yet there is fruit power here. In other words, Coonawarra classicness in that very attractive Shiraz mode, without losing a core of ripe fruit. The price just makes this even more appealing. Great work.
Best drinking: now or in a decades time (and it will live beyond that). 18/20, 93/100. 14%, $28. Koonara website. Would I buy it? Yes.
Yalumba Steeple Vineyard Shiraz 2016
It’s always surprised me that there isn’t more organic/biodynamic viticulture in the Barossa. Climatically, it’s very well suited, and it looks especially stark when McLaren Vale is so much focused on organic/BD. Anyway, this comes from a biodynamic block at Light Pass planted in 1919. The steeple is the local Lutheran parish which can be seen from the vineyard. Texture is the king here – it’s still very bright purple, the lifted nose of ripe purple fruits and coffeed oak. The palate is expansive, a little coffeed, dark-fruited and has this chocolate grainy concentrate thang that suggests this would be an ideal port base material. Indeed, it’s just a little warm and spirity on the finish. But no doubt about the expanse of deep choc fruit. Quality stuff.
Best drinking: now or up to fifteen years easy. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $80. Yalumba website. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Harewood Estate Reserve Shiraz 2015
Despite the delicacy and Great Southern regionality of the Harewood Pinot, Riesling & Chardonnay, the Shiraz (and Cabernet) reds all tend to be lbig wines. It means you get concentration, but at the cost of identity. At the lower end of the price spectrum, it translates into bargains. This Shiraz is actually pretty good, but the inky black red mode is almost South Australian in its dark fruit. Black and red fruit. Tapenade and cooked plum, complete with spirit to finish. It’s very youthful still, young and ripe, though the chocolate and caramel is edging towards porty too. Impressive density but a bit of a heavy and hulking red in context.
Best drinking: now to more than fifteen years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5%, $45. Harewood website. Would I buy it? Not really.
Kurtz Lunar Block Shiraz 2017
Named after the lunar landing, as the vines are planted in 1969. All of Steve Kurtz’s wines are hearty things, and no different here. Thick, minty and dark fruited Barossan red that is big boned and punchy. Alcohol is a big player here, stomping over the finish. An interesting wine though – dark fruit, mint, chocolate, plum. Layers of flavour, if not quite a seduction machine – it’s too hearty and bold to be seductive. Even the colour looks slightly advanced. Still, a wine to chew on, and done well in its style.
Best drinking: now and for the next decade. 17.7/20, 92/100. 15%, $75. Kurtz website. Would I buy it? A glass.
Sunshine Creek Yarra Valley Cabernets 2018
The evolution of Sunshine Creek continues. The wines from this Yarra producer continue to improve, even if there is still some vintage variability. This is ripe for Yarra Cab, but it doesn’t lose the shape of a Bordeaux blend. It’s cool and a little minty on the nose, the palate thicker, packed with ripe dark berries, a dash of milk chocolate and then ripe tannins too. It gets a little boozy on the finish, but unquestionably a quality, ripe, Bordeaux-inspired cool climate red in there. I like.
Best drinking: now and for fifteen years easy. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $45ish. Sunshine Creek website. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
The Old Faithful Grenache 2019
Authentic McLaren Vale Grenache, from the extended Nick Haselgrove range. Ripe red fruit, a little bitterness and warmth but it expresses concentrated old vine Grenache nicely. Long too. There’s this withering dryness on the finish which is a little hard, but it does add savouriness and depth to the package. Quality wine, as you’d expect from this label, and almost too concentrated.
Best drinking: now to at least ten years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14.5% $75. Nick Haselgrove website. Would I buy it? Worth a few glasses.
Harewood Estate Cabernet Merlot 2018
Ripe and chunky Great Southern red, just like the Shiraz. Yet this is half the price as the Reserve red and not half the wine. A bit fudgey and diffuse, all blackberry and chocolate, the plump palate warm and full, but pulling up a bit tighter and less opulent to finish. Plenty of flavour, and bang on for the price point, if a bit too smudgy for higher points. It can be had for much less than this price too. Bargain.
Best drinking: now to ten years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.7%, $20. Harewood website. Would I buy it? Worth a glass.
The Old Faithful Shiraz 2017
Another broad and bold red. Thick cut, lavishly oaked, warm-hearted McLaren Vale Shiraz. No tricks, no modern whole bunch savoury spice. Just a hunk of chocolatey flavour and plenty of it. The nose is purple fruited with coffee grounds, over a smooth, oak softened palate that offers up coffee and more dark fruit and a little bourbon for good measure. Look, it’s not my sort of Vale red – especially the spirit on the finish – but in many cases, this is a Vale dream wine, and I can admire the width and length of it. I just couldn’t drink it. Even comes with a cork for old school pleasure.
Best drinking: now to ten years for a start. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $65. Nick Haselgrove website. Would I buy it? Not really.