Wednesday, 20 July 2011

One-off Australian tasting

By Matthew Hemming, Fine Wine Manager

Corks were pulled on this unique line up of wines by a generous customer of Averys. Originally purchased by him from Langtons, at auction in Australia, they had been shipped to his UK cellar and subsequently to California and Canada before returning to these shores. Whilst the owner is now back living in New South Wales, he’s finally baulked at the import tax involved in re-patriating them, and so was born the idea of opening a selection from the cellar whilst he was in the UK.

These were well travelled bottles, many had degrees of ullage and some had clearly been seeping. We were expecting about a 50% hit rate.

Bottles had been standing in our Bristol cellars for about 3 weeks, having been collected from a couple of locations in the UK. I arrived early and opened bottles in advance, leaving them standing, uncorked, to benefit from a slow oxygenation for a couple of hours prior to tasting. There was some concern that the weaker bottles might topple over with air but, in the end, most seemed to grow and blossom with a little O2 and none fell apart.

Whilst there were few rock stars amongst the line up that doesn’t do justice to how exciting it was to see so many well-preserved, mature and delicious old wines. It was pretty much a ‘dry bucket’ tasting – no spitting – but we were drinking proper Australian wine history.

Proceedings got underway with some Champagne – the only non-Aussie wines of the night.

Meiter 1998 Vintage Champagne
No idea about this house. The colour was mid-gold with an evolved but quite reticent bouquet. Best bit about the wine was the richly buttery, creamy texture. There were hints of mushroom on the palate and a notably high dosage leading into a broad finish. 16+ One person kept some in a glass and apparently it improved over the evening, but I wasn’t totally convinced by this.

Bollinger NV
From a batch purchased in 1988, this was a great showing. A golden colour with evolved red fruit notes and a marked (Bollinger) oxidative style. Dark toned and complex with notes of burned embers and very rich, underlying, autolysis. This had great length and complexity on the mid palate and finished full and assertive. 17.5

Ingoldby Chardonnay 1996, McLaren Vale.
I remember selling the 2004 vintage of this not long ago and would hope that all that is long drunk up, yet this was surprisingly alive. A burnished gold colour, this was surprisingly fresh on the nose, especially for McLaren fruit. Still some vanilla oak poking through. Has evolved aromas of butterscotch with some peach and tropical fruit. Some of the banana notes I’d expect from this style, but they’re not overwhelming. The finish is a bit raw and diffuse. This has seen better days and isn’t a style I personally would age but, whilst it’s well into the down slope, it’s neither dead nor not worth drinking – really good for what it is. 15.5

Leo Buring Burgundy 1969
100% Shiraz from Coonawarra and Clare. I’ve seen some brilliant Buring Rieslings from the early ‘70s but this was entirely new to me and, I think, the only bottle of this from the collection with only slight ullage. Cork came out well. Good, strong colour for the age with only some bricking. Had a rich and spicy bouquet with complex smokey notes of dying embers / ash. Stunning on the palate – sweeet and leathery with some red fruit, very silky tannin and good depth still. A definite cool climate profile with some mint, mid-weight body and good clarity. Not the most complex but long, sweet and gorgeous. 17.5

Kay Brothers Special Bin 1971
A Shiraz / Cabernet blend from McLaren. This was on the way out. There had been some seepage from the cork and quite a bit of ullage. The colour was old and browning with high toned and maderised notes. That said, the palate still had the vestiges of big, lush Shiraz fruit. Past it, really, but 15 for trying.

Yalumba 1971 Shiraz Cabernet
Barossa fruit and, according to the label, a traditional Bordeaux blend. Pulling the cork, I’ve seen worse in bottles from the mid-1990s from France – clean as a whistle, and almost no soaking. This was served alongside the Kay Bros and was a huge contrast in terms of the vibrant, youthful, colour and nose. Really great fruit and classic Barossa pepper / spice still. Sadly, the palate didn’t quite deliver on the nose. There were some red fruit notes and a touch of mint, but it seemed to be tilting towards decline. Still, the nose hinted at the greatness of 1971 in the Barossa (not quite Grange, though) and this was still holding onto life. 16.5

Hardy’s 1972 Carignan
Got to be a rare, if not unique, bottle. Apparently there were 300 acres of Carignan in the Barossa in 1972 – bet there are fewer now. Still a deep colour, this had a sweet, ripe and spicy aroma. The palate was full and soft with worn leather notes and some dark berry fruit. Big on the attack there was less oomph on the back palate yet it did have good persistence, some red fruit on the finish and more life in it than some of the more prestigious bottles. Impressive stuff and one of the surprises of the night. 17+

Hermitage Estate 1974 Hunter Dry Red
100% Shiraz. I opened two bottles of this, one ullaged to top shoulder and the other much better. The ullaged bottle had a very dodgy cork and was the weaker wine from the outset. Very delicate and autumnal it was over-run with VA and had a shrill citric edge. The better bottle was classic Hunter Valley, with gamey, leathery, savoury notes yet a coolness to the palate and some mint on the finish. 17- I’ve never heard of this producer and assume they no longer exist…?

Robson Vineyard 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon
Another Hunter wine, I’d never heard of Murray Robson but gather he’s part of the tradition of Australian doctors turning to wine production. I nearly chucked this bottle on sight as, in a Burgundy bottle, the level was a good 3 inches from the cork and the sediment / muck was like nothing you’ve ever seen. Really glad we kept it as it was a gorgeous example of sweet, perfumed and mature Hunter fruit. Actually reminded me of older Graveyard Shiraz from Brokenwood. Complex, layered and quite Burgundian in its scent and texture this had really great definition and poise still. About the best red of the night. 18.5

Tyrells Hunter River Dry Red 1978 Vat 9
100% Shiraz, sadly this was maderised, browning and too old…out of condition. Pity as ’78 can be a really rewarding Aussie vintage.

Tyrells Hunter River Dry Red 1982 Vat 8
Served in a bracked with the above. This was fully mature, pale and delicate Shiraz. Sweetly perfumed red fruit with some volatility. It was in the last stages of maturity – autumnal and leafy but still tasty. 16

Huntington Estate Shiraz Cabernet 1985 – Mudgee
My first reaction was that this was a bit corked. Had a definite whiff of TCA but still good, sweet fruit and richness on the palate. With time, questions were raised about the taint but, whilst if cleaned up a bit, it stayed a touch dusty to me…?

Farmer Brothers Shiraz Cabernet 1986 – Coonawarra
Another one I’d never heard of. There was some talk of a rumour that this was made from fruit destined for Grange but diverted. Who can say? What it was, was a really good example of cooler climate Shiraz from a cool, but great, vintage. Don’t think I’ve ever had a poor ’86 from Australia. Prettily defined and well crafted wine with aromatic top notes of fresh red fruit. Really bright, vivid acidity – probably added but done well – giving a juicy style. Fragrant a lifted raspberry fruit on the finish. To me, this bears zero resemblance to Grange but it was good kit in its own right and probably doesn’t deserve to be over-shadowed by that comparison. 16.5+ Across the top of the label it advised ‘To be enjoyed in moderation’ – the fun police existed in the mid-80s.

Rouge Homme Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 – Coonawarra
A familiar label to the Averys contingent, we’ve had good bottles of 1978 and 1982 from John’s cellar in the past and I remember selling lots of late 1990s vintages over the years. This was moving into graceful decline – sweet, easy-going and mature. The fruit was fading but still hanging in there. It finished delicate and aromatic but not really distinguished. 15.5

Penfolds Bin 407 1990
In a bracket with the Rouge Homme 1990, I believe the term is that this pancaked the previous wine. A really dense, youthful purple. Rich, spicy and classic Penfolds – reassuringly oaky! Thick, young and liquourous in the glass and on the palate. This was staggeringly young, with masses of upfront fruit. Perhaps lacked a bit of complexity and genuine depth of fruit but a better definition of Penfolds you couldn’t find. For the money they would have charged for this – drop dead bargain. 17-

Wyndham Estate Bin 555 1992 Shiraz
A much lighter, cooler climate and evolved style. This had red fruit characters and a slight medicinal note with some volatility poking through. Holding onto life but, a bit like those grasping the railings on the Titanic, it’s on the way down. 15

Rothbury Estate Shiraz 1994 Hunter Valley
From Len Evans’ old estate, the format of this tasting had echoes of his ‘single bottle club’. Rich, spicy and peppery with savoury Hunter fruit still cushioned by some toasty new oak. The palate was youthful and vibrant with a marked tarry Shiraz character. Still with a nice spine of acid, this showed good tension on the finish even if it wasn’t the most outstanding wine of the night. Reminded me of how good 1994s can be from Australia. 16+

We decided to call it a night on the reds and leave the last three for another day, in order to taste a couple of stickies.

Baileys of Glenrowan ‘Lexia’ 1983
I believe this was some variety of Muscat…? A pale amber colour, this was one of those wines that has got older without really maturing or ageing but, I guess, they never thought someone would keep it for 28 years and it was made to be drunk early. Some toasted butterscotch notes and a touch of marmelade hinting at a bit of botrytis. Simple, non-complex wine but good in its context. 15.5

McGuigan Botrytis Semillon ‘Reserve’ 1996
Very similar to the above in that this was a simple botrytis wine that’s lasted well but there’s probably not much upside to be had from keeping these in terms of improvement. Full-flavoured, rich and gingery, with enough acid to be fresh, this did its job admirably and worked well to close off the tasting without being a profound or complex fine wine. 15

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