The Langton’s Exceptionals
“Langton’s Exceptionals” are the most highly sought after and prized Australian wines on the secondary wine market.
These eleven wines are: PENFOLDS Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia, BASS PHILLIP Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland Victoria, CULLEN Diana Madeline Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River Western Australia, GIACONDA Chardonnay, Beechworth Victoria, HENSCHKE Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley South Australia, LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River Western Australia, MOSS WOOD Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River Western Australia, MOUNT MARY Quintet Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley Victoria, PENFOLDS Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia, ROCKFORD Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley South Australia and WENDOUREE Shiraz, Clare Valley South Australia.
PENFOLDS Bin 95 Grange Shiraz, South Australia
Created by Max Schubert in 1951 Penfolds Grange is a beautifully seductive, richly concentrated wine which evokes the spirit of the Australian landscape – its natural affinity with Shiraz and Penfolds remarkable winemaking philosophy. It is a very perfumed, concentrated wine which combines the intensely rich fruit and ripe tannins of Shiraz with the fragrance and complementary nuances of new, fine-grained American oak. Partial barrel fermentation takes place at the tail-end of primary fermentation. It weaves the two elements together producing a ‘meaty’ complexity and roundness of flavours on the palate. A portion of Cabernet is used in some years to enhance the aromatics and palate structure. Australians from all walks of life are extremely proud of this iconic wine and what it stands for.
Penfolds Grange is a cornerstone of the Australian secondary market with a reputation and track record that rivals some of the great classified growths of Bordeaux and Burgundy. From around the mid 1960s, Grange could be found in most Australian wine collector’s cellars. The 1955 vintage was listed by the American wine consumer advocate Wine Spectator as one of the greatest wines of the 20th Century. It has won such accolades numerous times and is the only wine to be heritage-listed by the South Australian National Trust. Volume of supply and demand makes Grange one of the most highly traded wines at auction anywhere in the world. It has over a half century of history and price data making it the most researched and talked about Australian wine. The fame of Grange has reached far and wide. Asides from the marvellous tastings, the remarkable auction values and the controversies, it is really Grange’s aesthetic quality that makes it such an extraordinary thing.
The early experimental Granges were largely given away meaning in principle the beneficiaries have made some outstanding returns! Even the early commercialised vintages – sold into the market for a few dollars represent good investments today. It is unlikely – however – that any buyer or recipient really looked at the investment value of Grange during the 1950s and 1960s. These early supporters enjoyed Grange because it was a really interesting wine. It was not until the 1980s that Grange really made its name as a investment type wine. A complete collection of Grange – in pristine condition and signed by Max Schubert – the creator of Grange – once sold for just under $250,000.
Vintage Grange plays a major role in the Australian secondary wine market. It is seen as a key indicator. Indeed for many years Access Economics – a think tank – used the 1971 vintage as an economic yardstick. For many years this wine out-performed other alternative investments including race horses, taxi plates and rare coins. However all wines have a life – and 1971 has not really kept up with the overall interest rate for some years. At one stage in 2003, it enjoyed a 45 fold increase on release price. The best performing Vintage Granges in the current market are 1986, 1990, 1991, 1998 and 1999. 2000 (not a recognised vintage) is a millennium wine and still tracks above expectations. The 2002 is also highly regarded and should perform to a similar pattern to 1999. 30th and 40th Anniversaries also drive prices up.
Top Vintages: 2004 (NR), 2002, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1991, 1990, 1986, 1980, 1976, 1971, 1966, 1963, 1962, 1955, 1953
BASS PHILLIP Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland Victoria
Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir shows remarkable puissance and elegance with gorgeous fruit density and beautiful silken tannins. It is a madly rare, profoundly intense and exquisitely balanced wine which reflects the nuances of an exceptional vineyard site. Great Pinot has the same effect on the soul as the luminescent nacre of baroque pearls or the pulsating tones of Gauguin’s colours. The Reserve can be that type of wine.
The Reserve is made from five rows of ‘precocious’ Pinot Noir vines in the centre of a closely spaced (9000 vines/hectare) north-east facing vineyard planted on silty loams. Winemaker Phillip Jones is increasingly using "minimal intervention" principles to achieve a natural balance and optimum flavour development. He believes the difference between good and great Pinot is texture. The unfiltered Reserve, matured for 20 months in new Alliers oak, is a brilliant example of Australian terroir showing plenty of concentrated spicy/black cherry fruit, savoury mocha oak and supple tannins and is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest, most consistent and characterful Pinot Noir.
There is something fascinating and special about Bass Phillip’s Reserve Pinot Noir. At the very least they are wonderful conversation wines. With such a hefty price tag (but still a fraction of some Grand Crus) they create expectations and comparisons to Burgundy. The media truffle hounds inevitably look at whether they deliver value or fit within the mold. They do neither. Bass Phillip is unique. These wines can be incredibly complex and sinuous. They evolve and change in the glass. One instant they can smell of pure dark cherries, red plums and cranberries and then another moment they pervade of frankincense, wood varnish and gardenias.
Bass Phillip’s low cropping older Estate vineyard at Leongatha – which produces the Reserve, Premium and estate Pinot Noirs – is planted to 9000 vines per hectare and yields roughly 270 grams of fruit per vine. A typical ultra-fine Australian vineyard at 2000 vines per hectare will yield around 2.5 kilograms per vine. And a Grand Cru Burgundy vineyard at 10,000 vines per hectare will typically yield around 500 grams per vine. Such figures illustrate the imperatives of finding a means to an end. A while ago Phillip Jones drew me a ‘mud map’ of his vineyard explaining the division of his Reserve, Premium and Estate Pinot Noir vines. Curiously his labels identically reflect his convictions and purpose. However you can’t make a decent living out of desperately low yields unless you can make plenty of it. The production levels of the Reserve are pathetically low.
The price movements and comparative values of the Reserve (and Premium) show collectors are in tune with vintage conditions and cellaring potential. Prices generally start falling off after around 10-12 years of age. Market confidence reflects a certain pride in the highly individual and often beautiful Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noirs. They sing so utterly of light and shade as much as they agonisingly flaw and triumph. Phillip Jones navigates perilously close to the rocks. However a faith in terroir and a philosophy of following organic principles means accepting that nature will bring along challenges and differences each year.
Top Vintages: 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1991
CULLEN Diana Madeline Cabernet-Merlot, Margaret River Western Australia
Diane Madeline Cabernet Merlot is one of Australia’s greatest cabernets with beautiful poise and tannin structure. In 1966 Diana and Dr Kevin Cullen planted a trial 1-acre (now 71-acre) vineyard on their sheep and cattle property at Wilyabrup in the Margaret River. In 1989 daughter Vanya Cullen a Roseworthy trained winemaker, assumed prime winemaking responsibilities. Her eye for detail and no-compromise approach has seen Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot grow significantly in stature over the last decade. In 2001 it was named Diana Madeline in honour of Diana Cullen, Vanya’s mother and winemaker-in-arms for nearly two decades. The exemplary vineyard site is located in the central Wilyabrup sub-region of Margaret River. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 1971 on ancient granitic soils and are trained on a Scott Henry trellis system that Vanya believes is a critical factor in achieving supple tannin structures and a pure dark fruit profile. In recent years Vanya has adopted biodynamic viticulture to “achieve greater individuality of site through working with nature rather than against it”. Driving along Caves Road, you can see a huge difference between the Cullen vineyards and its neighbours. “The grapes are hand picked on optimum ripeness and flavour development. Between 10-50% of the wine is partially barrel fermented – the rest given extended maceration before maturation in 30% new, tightly-grained French oak. This estate style is about freshness and complexity, structure and suppleness.
Diane Madeline Cabernet Merlot is a benchmark Margaret River Cabernet. Since going biodynamic the wines seem to have reached a new level of quality and interest. The colours are more vibrant and inky and the aromas beautifully pitched with blackcurrant pastille/ dark cherry aromas and violet camomile notes. The palate structures are supple, fine grained and lacy with plenty of plummy/ cassis flavours and savoury/ cedar new oak. The wine finishes chalky with excellent flavour length. The Cabernet is pristine with classic tannin structures and the merlot is plummy and soft. A small proportion of Cabernet Franc (dense and sweet) Malbec (meaty and rich) the Petit Verdot (deeply concentrated and liquorice) add further complexity. While the wines are seductive when young, they have a reputation for developing further complexity with earthy, gamy aromas and rounded smooth richness on the palate. This is a wine that is both the epitome of distinguished vineyard site and the personality of the winemaker. The Diane Madeline Cabernet Merlot is pure bottled philosophy.
Experimentation, trial and error, and environmental concerns are the undercurrent of innovation and progress. Vanya Cullen is both a remarkable winemaker and something of a leader of change. Both Diana and Kevin Cullen were early proponents of ecological sustainability. Vanya is even more assertive with deeply held views about leaving her place in a better condition for future generations. Adoption of biodynamic principles and carbon neutral policies – including purchasing electricity through renewable energy and tree planting – illustrate a commitment to both the land and to making great wine. Cullen is a strong advocate for screw cap technology and is an early leader in this field.
Cullen Diane Madeline Cabernet Merlot is regarded by the secondary wine market as a first growth type Australian cabernet. The wines are the quintessence of the Wilyabrup sub-region with gorgeous perfume and restrained power. They have a strong reputation for consistency and cellaring potential.
Top Vintages: 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994
GIACONDA Chardonnay, Beechworth Victoria
Rick Kinzbrunner’s beguiling Giaconda Chardonnay has emerged as one of Australia’s great wines capturing the soul of the Beechworth landscape and the character of an exceptional vineyard site. The region, poised on the haunches of the Australian Alps, is rich in colonial heritage and famous for its gold. This is classical bush ranging country with interlocking hills, rumpled stands of yellow box, stringy barks and a myriad of scraggly eucalypts. During the 19th century Mad Dog Morgan, Ned Kelly and his gang traversed the country side bailing up and bashing their way into national folklore. This historic and beautiful district – located in North East Victoria is emerging as an important Australian wine region. Giaconda Chardonnay is its brightest star. It is one of the most evocative, seductive and highly prized of all Australian Chardonnays. Rick Kinzbrunner, a mechanical engineer who spent 10 years winemaking in New Zealand, Europe and California before settling down in Australia, established the Giaconda vineyard near Brown Brother’s old Everton Hills vineyard.
Viticulture follows organic/ low input principles. The vineyard, located in a small valley, is minute and planted at an altitude of 400 metres. The low yielding vines are planted – unusually on south facing slopes to avoid the full impact of the sun. The lean mineralized granitic loams over decomposed gravel and clay allow both “sustained water release” and naturally regulated vines. Yields are around two tons per acre or lower. The vines are drip irrigated in some years but only when necessary to prevent stress. Average rainfall is 700 mm. The summers are moderately dry with only intermittent rain. The days are fairly warm and the nights generally cool, providing ideal ripening conditions. Vintage occurs between mid-March and mid- April depending on the season; all grapes are hand picked in the relative chill of the early morning.
Kinzbrunner is an instinctive winemaker who rolls with the personality and variations of vintage. His attention to detail and astonishing mastery of "barrel work" brings an extra dimension to his Chardonnay. The wines are very complex with fresh lemon curd, malty chestnut lanolin aromas and flavours. The creamy structure, mineral notes and ‘al dente’ grip on the palate give plenty of texture and weight. The wines age especially well and are hugely admired by collectors throughout the world. The 1996 – for instance – is still fresh and minerally with plenty of time to keep.
While adhering to a Burgundian wine making philosophy, Kinzbrunner allows the fruit to speak. The wines have a strong Giaconda voice, yet always reflect the character of the vintage. It is this light and shade and feeling of discovery that makes Giaconda Chardonnay such an evocative and extraordinary experience. They have a sublunary and emotional quality that is difficult to pin point; utterly Australian yet totally individual, unforgettable and unique. Occasionally, however, the season conspires against Giaconda. The wine was not made in 2003 because of bushfire smoke damage. The spring frosts in 2007 made it hard going as well. The quality is there but the wine will be very scarce. Rick Kinzbrunner is one of the greatest winemakers of our times. It is a combination of technical wizardry, intuitive feel of place, personal experience and drive that makes him such a unique craftsman. The proof is in the poetic and ethereal beauty of Giaconda Chardonnay.
Top Vintages: 2006, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1990
HENSCHKE Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley South Australia
The Hill of Grace vineyard was originally planted during the 1860s by Nicolaus Stanitski, a Henschke ancestor. During the 1950s Cyril Henschke took his family concern back to wine and established the Hill of Grace label in 1956. The Shiraz vines – many now over 140 years old – are among the world’s oldest genetic Shiraz plant material. It is remarkable that the vineyard remained intact considering the economic uncertainty and social conditions of the time. The vineyard is planted on red clay soils overlain by sandy and silty loams interspersed with gravels. There are several blocks, including Grandfather’s Post Office Blocks One and Two; Young, which is made up of the younger selected material located near the vines of the old post office; and the Church Block, House Block and Windmill Block. Vintage takes place during mid to late April – each parcel being vinified separately to maximise blending options. The Hill of Grace style has developed along Grange lines, but by a circuitous route. Wolf Blass who worked at Penfolds would talk to Cyril about the goings on at Penfolds.
Stephen Henschke remembers vividly playing as a child in the stalk heaps behind the old Miller crusher tended by his grandfather, feet swollen with bee stings and the sheer wonderment of vintage time. After the tragic death of Cyril, Stephen inherited a winery making reds in an old fashioned rustic style made in open fermenters and concrete underground tanks. In those days there was no temperature control and the wines were matured in large old oak. The rear mirror view of the Henschke wine business is one of remarkable change. Research and experimentation have underpinned the slow and purposeful evolution of the vineyards and wines. Prue Henschke’s work in the Hill of Grace vineyard has been a remarkable exercise. The ancient gene pool and average vine age – potentially threatened by phylloxera, eutypa-dieback and other pests and diseases – is rigorously defended through vine selection and inter-planting.
In the winery a ten year project researching the effect of seasoning new oak and flavour profiles with AP John has seen a fundamental but subtle shift in the Hill of Grace style. The use of French oak has increased markedly as a result of a better understanding of bottle age maturation. The 'Hill of Grace' style speaks profoundly of place and is the quintessential Eden Valley Shiraz. Vinification takes place in open-headed down fermenters with regular pumping over. Towards dryness the wine is drained and pressed. The use of partial barrel fermentation in a combination of new American and French oak and 18 months maturation bring further complexity and harmony.
The wines are intensely complex with ground coffee/ /black cherry/blackberry aromas with hints of savoury oak. The palate is wonderfully concentrated and powerful with deep set blackberry/mocha flavours intertwined with plenty of malt/spicy oak and fine lacey tannins. Some vintages are very rare. Vintages prior to 1978 are a hit-and-miss affair and not worth seeking out (unless for reference purposes). 2002 is an utterly brilliant wine.
Magnificent vineyard resources, superb technical skills and craftsmanship propel Hill of Grace onto a higher plain. The sheer consistency of style and character is remarkable—especially considering that it is a single-vineyard wine. It is not as powerful as Grange (a multi-vineyard, district blend), nor as densely rich as many Barossa shirazes. However, it is a highly refined, beautifully proportioned wine. It is in every respects a great Australian shiraz.
Top Vintages: 2004, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1986, 1978
LEEUWIN ESTATE Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River Western Australia
Leeuwin Estate winery – purchased originally as a cattle farm by Trish and Dennis Horgan in 1969 – lies just south of the Margaret River township almost exactly equidistant between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste. The soils are deeply weathered and laterised with rocky outcrops of gneiss and ironstone gravels. Enormous gum trees with orange-coloured trunks, serpentine branches and olivary canopies (reminiscent of John Glover paintings) sprawl and encircle the property creating natural wind breaks. On the left of the driveway is Block 20 where nature and nurture conspire to create the most exquisitely balanced and long-lived chardonnay. The road sweeps further down through a wood, over a creek and into an open paddock finally arriving at Leeuwin Estate winery.
Leeuwin Estate grows 62 acres (25 hectares) of chardonnay divided into eight parcels. Block 20 – the backbone of the highly regarded Art Series Chardonnay – has been singled out as an exceptional vineyard on the 300 acre Leeuwin Estate. The un-irrigated vineyard planted to the "Gin-Gin" clone gently slopes towards Stevens Road on the western boundary. The soils are gravelly and well drained.
During the growing season dry cool air from the Southern Ocean funnels up through the hill system. It is largely responsible for the phenomena called ‘hen and chicken’ or ‘millerandage’ a problem associated with fertilization which leads to an erratic development of bunches comprising berries of different sizes. At harvest the normal size ‘hen’ berries are “smooth and silky like a princess,” whereas the smaller ‘chicken’ berries are quite lean and acidic. Combined, the chardonnay fruit brings exceptional concentration and flavour with naturally high natural acids. Ripening is assisted by growing rye between the vine rows. Not only does it provide some wind protection but by February it is a bright golden colour reflecting the sun’s rays into the canopy. Yields during vintage are generally moderate at around 1.9 tons/acre. Although the ‘numbers’ are checked, the fruit is picked on flavour development, texture and weight.
Leeuwin Estate seeks to preserve the pristine fruit characters of chardonnay throughout vinification and maturation. Everything is minimally handled or gravity fed.” The chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented in selected new French oak and matured in the same barrel. Battonage (lees stirring) is regularly employed and partial malo-lactic fermentation is encouraged in most vintages to bring further texture and flavour complexity. The wine is usually bottled eighteen months after vintage. The overall approach to winemaking has not changed since first vintage illustrating the sheer focus in vineyard management. The investment in winemaking, however, is extraordinary.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay is one of Australia’s rare long-lived fine-boned Chardonnays with superb fruit definition and clarity. When youthful they are a balance between exuberant fruit and savoury complexity. The palate is creamy yet a fine bead of acid cuts a swathe across the palate giving life and incredible length. With a few years of bottle maturity, the Art Series Chardonnay seems to shed its aniseed top notes. The wine becomes a harmonious whole with beautifully defined grapefruit/melon aromas and complex lanolin nuances. The palate is richer and fleshier but remains tightly bound by acid – as if all the elements are woven together.
Top Vintages: 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1987
MOSS WOOD Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia
Moss Wood, located in the Wilyabrup sub-district of Margaret River – can boast one of the choicest and most beautiful vineyard sites in Australia. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon – first vintage 1973 – is regarded as one of Australia’s great wines offering elegance, retrained power and site specific aromas and flavours. The wine is extremely perfumed and finely structured with cassis-blackcurrant aromas, hints of cedar and touches of violet. The oak and fruit are very neatly balanced. With proven aging potential the wine develops a touch of earth/demi-glace briar characters on the bouquet, and complexity and suppleness on the palate.
Dr Bill Pannell established Moss Wood in 1969 and is regarded as one of Margaret River’s early pioneers. By the early 1980s the Cabernet Sauvignons were regarded as something very special. Clare and Keith Mugford – who began as an assistant winemaker – purchased the property in 1985 and have taken Moss Wood to the pinnacle of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.
The unirrigated and widely spaced 11.78 hectare vineyard at Wilyabrup is planted on gentle northeast facing slopes and soils ranging from sandy loam to a gravelly red/brown loam over clay. The combination of site, vineyard management and soil conservation has been the key to ultimate fruit quality. Keith Mugford believes strongly that quality and personality of wine is largely determined by vineyard. He has instigated a long term programme of improved and sustainable viticulture. While he has not gone as far as biodynamic he is does work to conserve soils including deep cultivation, the use of cover crops and minimum tillage and mulching.
The Cabernet Sauvignon has a small component of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. However Mugford doesn’t believe his Merlot – at this stage – has sufficient fruit weight and flesh to warrant inclusion. Longer skin contact time during fermentation and a change in encepagement with the inclusion of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot in the blend has made the wine deeper in colour, more perfumed and textured. Since the 1996 vintage, all Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon sees extended oak ageing of 24 months in French barriques.
Typically the fruit is hand picked, de-stemmed into open tanks and hand plunged four times a day until dryness, after which it is plunged twice a day and monitored for tannin extraction. The temperature in the fermenters is kept below 30°C. At the end of fermentation the wine is allowed to macerate for around 10 to 14 days prior to pressing off into barrel. The wine is usually assembled after a year and then racked back into barrel as a final blend for another year before bottling.
The first vintage was 1973 with a production of 250 cases. Recently Langton’s sold a bottle of 1973 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery's first vintage, for AU$2,301 (£962) the highest price ever paid for a post-1970 bottle of Australian wine. Moss Wood is a strong proponent of the use of screw caps and approximately 70% of the vintage is now bottled with this alternative closure.
If Cullen is Queen, Moss Wood is King. The wines have a great reputation for cellaring. Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon is a first growth type wine with an enduring strength of character and a strong regional quality. The wines are highly valued on the secondary wine market with strengthening demand and increasing off shore interest.
Top Vintages: 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1987
MOUNT MARY Quintet Cabernet Blend, Yarra Valley, Victoria
Mount Mary commands an almost mythical status among wine collectors. Established by the Late Dr John Middleton in 1972, the wines are noted for their highly individual character. Quintet is a classically proportioned style based on five classic Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The low yielding vineyard is almost 12.5 hectares and is planted on grey soils - sandy clay loams overlying degenerating Silurian shales. The vines face due north and capture optimum sunlight during the growing season. New French oak plays an underlying role in the style.
The Mount Mary winemaking philosophy continues to follow John Middleton’s mantra "Never over 22°Brix, never below 7.5 g/l total acid and never higher than 3.3pH." As a result the grapes can be picked early compared standard Australian practices. "The grapes are lightly crushed, totally de-stemmed, fermented in both open and closed fermenters with careful temperature control and frequent pumping over. Some extended maceration takes place and malo-lactic fermentation is induced. Once the settling of the lees takes place, the wines are then devatted to cask for two years. After this period, egg white fining and light filtration is performed prior to bottling."
Quintet is allowed to further mature in bottle for nine months before release. The wine has become richer and more complex during the 1990s owing more to vine age than winery practice. It exhibits a purity of fruit, poise and structure found in few Australian Cabernets with cedar and blackcurrant "small fruit" aromas, fine-grained savoury tannins, and superb flavour length. Dr John Middleton always preferred subtlety and elegance in his wines. He was something of maverick and pioneering spirit. He hated the wine show system, iniquitous wine taxes and anything to do with the homogenisation and dumbing down of fine wine. His annual newsletter was an eagerly awaited rant that attacked immoveable institutions and kindled remarkable passion for winemaking at his utterly unique Mount Mary vineyards.
In the beginning Mount Mary Quintet Cabernets was something of a cult wine but over the years has built up a reputation for being something quite special and complex. It does not always find favour with critics – especially of the American kind – weaned on the deeply concentrated, monumentally rich and alcoholic Barossa Shirazes and apparently determined to have us all drink the undrinkable.
Just before Dr Middleton died, the American Robert Parker Jr. derided the overall quality of Quintet raising more than a few hackles among Australian wine critics. Indeed it highlights the difficulties of scoring wines and the polarized perspectives of commentators around the world. Australian collectors have largely and correctly ignored American reviews. It’s probably just as well, because the wine is limited and difficult to find anyway.
Mount Mary Quintet is a genuinely refined and interesting wine. It is everything a fine wine should be. It evokes the gentle undulating landscape at Lilydale and a very beautiful winemaking philosophy based on a wonderful mixture of science, craft and personality. Quintet is still sought with almost religious zeal. Quality is usually outstandingly good, although as a single vineyard wine, the vagaries of vintage can come into play. David Middleton, John’s son, has now taken over the winery. There are huge expectations, but with a remarkable vineyard site and new ideas, it can only get better.
Top Vintages: 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1984, 1982, 1979
PENFOLDS Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
1964 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon was Penfolds first commercial release of a single cabernet-based wine. After a stop-start beginning, it is regarded today as one of Australia’s most important cabernets; a distinct Penfolds house style and a foil to the great regional cabernets of Coonawarra and Margaret River. When Max Schubert returned to Australia from his extensive tour of Europe in 1949, his thoughts were never far from Cabernet. He had visited many of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux and had been very impressed by the wines. Christian Cruse – head of the distinguished negociant firm Cruse Freres et Fils – was particularly influential.
Schubert was able to observe winemaking practices at his properties including partial fermentation and maturation in new oak. Having seen such practices in Spain, he was inspired to use similar techniques at Penfolds. Indeed Penfolds Kalimna Vineyard – acquired in 1945 – comprised some of the world’s oldest surviving genetic cabernet material. Block 42 was planted in 1888. These original direct producing cabernet sauvignon vines – still going strong - have been isolated from the ravages of the vine pest phylloxera which destroyed many great vineyards during the 1890s.
Max Schubert – who was based at Magill – regularly experimented with Cabernet, at one stage hoping that it would form the backbone of Grange. The experimental 1952 and 1953 Grange Cabernets were also made largely from Block 42 fruit. Schubert revisited Kalimna Cabernet every year but the trials were inconsistent. The fruit was used mostly for blending material including early vintages of Grange. By the early 1960s Max Schubert revisited the question of a Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon. 1960 Bin 630 Kalimna Cabernet – Adelaide Hills Mataro, 1961 Bin 58 Cabernet, 1963 Bin 64 Cabernet and 1963 Bin 511 Kalimna Cabernet Ouillade were all precursors to Bin 707.
However the problem with inconsistent supply forced Schubert to stop making Bin 707 after the 1969 vintage. These difficulties were largely overcome following the acquisition of new vineyards and access to independently grown fruit. The release of the 1976 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon marked a new lease of life.
The modern Bin 707 represents the Penfolds House red wine style at its most rich and powerful. The Cabernet fruit is largely drawn from South Australian vineyards in Coonawarra, Padthaway, Barossa Valley (including the famed Block 42 vineyard) and increasingly from Bordertown. Everything about Bin 707 is large scale. Winemakers seek fully ripe fruit with strong flavours derived from partial barrel fermentation and maturation in new American oak hogsheads for a period of 18 months.
This explanation of style shows why Penfolds will not make Bin 707 in difficult or more elegant years where the fruit profile is underpowered, sinewy or out of character. 1981, 1995, 2000 and 2003 were not made. Some observers will note that both 2000 and 2003 were generally good vintages in Coonawarra. However the style still relies on the contribution of warmer climate fruit – particularly Block 42 and Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon – for overall richness and density. Bin 707 is an immensely concentrated style with dark berry/dark chocolate fruit balanced by well-seasoned new oak, plenty of fruit sweetness and strong, but not overwhelming tannins. This is a medium to long-term cellaring style of wine. If you can wait the distance – Bin 707 builds up into a wonderfully complex and interesting wine.
Top Vintages: 2006, 2004, 2002, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1986, 1983, 1976, 1967, 1966, 1964
ROCKFORD Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Robert O’Callaghan’s Rockford Basket Press Shiraz encapsulates traditional and contemporary winemaking practice and philosophy and embraces the inherent qualities of old vine Shiraz: the physicality of winemaking where muscle and personal touch transform process into an art-form; the traditional tools of trade (steam-driven old Bagshaw crusher, basket press, open fermenters etc) and the complementary nuances of American and French oak maturation. Robert O’Callaghan is one of the most important figures in contemporary Australian winemaking. He was early to recognise the future of regional definition, the importance of heritage and the conservation of both physical and viticultural resources.
During the 1980s the technocrats and style merchants predicted the demise of the Barossa and the irrevocable growth of cool climate viticulture. Chris Ringland – who worked at Rockford for around 18 years says, "Working with Robert was to present an extraordinary opportunity in gaining an understanding of the traditional Australian wine trade. Just as he had learned the winemaking elements of previous generations, so we were to use the distillation of this experience in establishing winemaking philosophy at Rockford. The techniques were simple, the principles sound." Rockford Basket Press Shiraz is a truly great Australian wine. It not only reflects the beauty of the Barossa landscape but also the generosity, integrity and loyalty of its people.
Robert O’Callaghan has a reputation for fairness and decency. Through a deep sense of history, belief in traditional Barossa values and a remarkable interest in machinery and buildings, he began a vinous counter-reformation singularly inspiring a whole generation of Barossa winemakers and craftsmen. His winemaking protegés include Chris Ringland of Three Rivers/Chris Ringland fame, Dave Powell of Torbreck and numerous highly successful winemakers. The 'Rockford School' has profoundly influenced and shaped the Barossa Shiraz style. O’Callaghan belongs to a genre of visionary Australian winemakers that include Max Schubert, Peter Lehmann, Jeffrey Grosset, Brian Croser and David Hohnen.
O'Callaghan's commitment to labour-intensive techniques for the sake of going the extra mile in quality makes Rockford Basket Press the quintessential hand-made wine. The Shiraz fruit is sourced from local growers in the Barossa including around Kalimna, Ebenezer, Moppa Springs, the Eden Valley and Central Barossa giving fruit of tremendous colour, power and richness. The vines are between 60 and 140 years. Rockford Basket Press Shiraz is made in the classic mould with strong, ripe, blackberry and fine chocolate fruit characters, underscored by well-seasoned American and French oak and ripe tannins. The wines are beautifully balanced and have a reputation for freshness and aging. They develop paneforte/ dark chocolate aromas and further richness and complexity on the palate.
Rockford Basket Press is very traditional and stands very much apart form the compressed and monumentally rich wines favoured and championed by the cult wine scene. It has an understated power, balance and minerality that evokes the character of the fruit and the vintage. The oak is never at the fore. Rockford Basket press is a maturation style reminiscent of Barossa wines made during the 1950s and 1960s.
The overall freshness, buoyancy and suppleness reflect contemporary wine making philosophy. Moderate vintages are best enjoyed within a seven year time frame, but great vintages including the 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004 will further last the distance. Rockford Basket Press is packaged in a retro 1950s style brown proprietary bottle.
Top Vintages: 2006, 2004, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1986
WENDOUREE Shiraz, Clare Valley South Australia
Tony and Lita Brady’s spectacularly individual Wendouree Shiraz has remained true to its origins since Alfred Percy Birks planted vines in 1893. Wendouree is a great small Australian producer with an important cultural and historical identity. The winery is listed as an indicative place on the register of the National Estate.
Much of the original vineyard, winery and even some of the original winemaking equipment are still in service. Roly Birks, who put up his winemaking boots after 60 vintages, continued winemaking at Wendouree until 1983. However Lita and Tony Brady assumed management control in 1974. Lita completed a wine science course at Wagga in the late 1980s and became involved in the vineyard and winery. Tony, who has almost thirty-five years of winemaking experience under his belt, co-makes the wine.
Since 1981 Stephen George, one of Australia’s most independent-thinking winemakers, has acted as a sounding board on viticultural and vinicultural matters. This has becoming an enduring friendship resulting in profoundly individual wines. The Wendouree house style is strongly focused with an emphasis on fruit power, concentration and weight. The tannin structures are tightly knit and incredibly muscular.
The Wendouree vineyards are located on the easterly ridge towards the northern end of Clare. The soils are shallow with red loam over limestone and yields are around one to one-and-a-half tones per acre. The low-yielding, beautifully formed old shiraz vines, tortured and serpentine many from the original plantings are unique, producing small berries with thick skins and a very high seed content. The fruit is vinified in stainless steel lined open fermenters which has had an immediate impact. Maturation takes place in roughly 1/3 new oak. The Shiraz is something of an enigma. It doesn’t fit easily into the South Australian Shiraz genre. When young it typically possesses a core of blackberry/ black olive aromas with complex iodine/ wet bitumen/ animal hide characters. Although there is clarity and buoyancy of fruit on the palate, the tannins are rusty and vice-like. The oak barely shows through.
In blind tastings against more generous chocolaty styles it looks surly and sinewy. However, it is a highly individual old fashioned wine that demands more than just a comparative or brief taste. The overall mass of fruit sweetness complements the toughness of the wine. Wendouree Shiraz will age for a long period of time maintaining prominent tannin structures but evolving further complexity and interest.
Wendouree Shiraz is considered as one of Australia’s greatest yet most idiosyncratic wines. It has been described as "an iron fist in velvet glove" type wine – a style not favoured by Americans. However it does have strong identity of place and evokes a remarkable feeling of living history. Australian collectors remain very loyal. The Brady’s continue to offer their wines at fair prices and have resisted raising prices against demand. The wine is entirely released at cellar door with a very tightly held mailing list.
However it is regularly listed at auction and continues to attract a strong following. Despite its reputation and heritage, there are remarkably few older bottles in circulation. This is largely explained by the way Wendouree wine was sold. Merchants generally bottled and marketed the wines prior to the late 1960s. Most of these were blended rather than single varietal wines. Some old Seabrook bottlings have been sold at auction in recent times.
Top Vintages: 2004, 2002, 1998, 1991, 1994, 1990, 1989, 1986
Andrew Caillard, MW
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