Classic Wines of Australia 1961-1970
1961 Stonyfell Metala Cabernet Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, South Australia
Stonyfell was the inaugural winner of the Melbourne Wine Show’s Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy. This award reputedly adds over $1 million to the bottom line potential of the champion wine. The trophy was donated by friends of Jimmy Watson, the proprietor of a famous wine bar in Melbourne. Each friend donated 10 Pounds (pre metric/ Australian Dollar days); the interest from the 200 pounds would be used to buy the Trophy. Each of the friends would take turns to present the trophy using the occasion as an oratorical contest!
Metala at Langhorne Creek, is one of the most famous vineyards in Australia. The property was first settled in the mid 1850s shortly after Frank Potts established Bleasdale. Located near the mouth of the Murray River and Lake Alexandrina, the land is richly fertile with deep alluvial loams. The nearby River Bremer was often diverted to flood-irrigate the vines. Severe drought and water allocations upstream have now dwindled water availability at an alarming rate. The Metala property was acquired in 1882 by William Harper Formby whose descendants - now 6th generation - still own the vineyard although not the proprietary brand. William’s son Arthur Formby expanded the mixed-farming property to its present size of around 2700 acres. In 1891, with the encouragement of brother-in-law Ronald Martin (of Stonyfell Fame) he planted the Metala Vineyard comprising “21 rows of Shiraz, 3.9 acres of which are still producing and 14 rows of Cabernet, 2.0 acres of which are still producing. A further 5.4 acres of Shiraz was planted in 1894 and all are still producing premium fruit.”
Initially the fledgling wines were made in rustic conditions at Metala. By 1910 Stonyfell took over the winemaking (Some of the original open fermenters still remain intact.) Typically after vinification the wines were matured in old red gum vats. In 1955, with the advent of motor transport and better roads, the grapes were lorried to Stonyfell winery at Burnside, now a suburb of Adelaide. These wines were labelled ‘Stonyfell Claret, Private Bin, with a neck label of Langhorne Creek and the vintage year.” In 1959 Bryan Dolan took over winemaking at Stonyfell. The single vineyard Metala Cabernet Shiraz was his brainchild. The Metala label, revolutionary for its time, was designed by Wyatt Morrow the creator of the Treasure Chest Series labels. The wines were typically vinified in open fermenters with a submerged cap. Regular pumping over through a heat exchanger would maintain the ferment at optimum temperatures. After vinification the wine was racked into “500 Gallon oak in proportions of 40% Cabernet and 60% Shiraz. Max Lake said a small quantity was “kept in Troncais hogsheads”, presumably some of which were new oak. The early vintages were relatively big gutsy wines with plenty of tannin stuffing and richness. The 1961 Stonyfell Metala Cabernet Shiraz captured the imagination of the wine consumer. The winemaking was transferred to Saltram in 1969 where Peter Lehmann lightened and popularised the style. This commercial success translated to increased production and the abandonment of a single vineyard wine. Metala is a “could-have-been story”. During the 1960s and early 1970s it vied with Penfolds Grange and Penfolds St Henri as one of Australia’s top red wines. Max Lake described the style as “amongst the most elegant and instructive this country produces.” Poignantly the commercialisation and displacement of Metala into a proprietary brand lead to its demise as an exemplary ultra-fine Australian wine. The Brothers-in Arms Winery – owned by Formby’s descendants – possesses the historic Metala vineyard.
1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Kalimna Shiraz Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
1962 Penfolds Bin 60A is one of the greatest Australian wines ever made. In a world where egos readily clashed, the 1962 Penfold Bin 60A Kalimna Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet unified wine critics and show judges. It is Penfolds most successful show wine winning 19 trophies and 33 gold medals. A confluence of oenological, physical and philosophical achievement, 1962 Bin 60A was a cross-regional blend which exemplified the emerging Penfolds house wine style and highlighted the extraordinary synthesis of aromas and flavours derived from blending Cabernet and Shiraz. The seductive plum dark chocolate aromas, fruit intensity, flavour richness, immense structure and aging potential are hallmarks of Kalimna Shiraz. In seeking his “ethereal” wine, Max Schubert identified that such warm climate characteristics could compliment the perfumed cassis/violet aromas, elegant flavours and fine grained tannins of cool climate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.
Experimental Special Bin bottlings of 2/3rd Kalimna Shiraz 1/3rd Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and an “on-blend” of 2/3rd Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon/1/3rd Kalimna Shiraz were entered onto the Australian Wine Show circuit generating plenty of debate among wine judges and winemakers.
The “on-blend” – 1962 Bin 60A – significantly out-performed its sibling rival 1962 Bin 60. Its brilliant show career and success challenged the traditional views of the day and showed a way forward for both Penfolds and the fledgling modern Australian wine industry. Bin 60 – the “off-blend” – is largely forgotten; the wine was not widely released. Max Schubert once said “It was never up to the Bin 60A, but a bloody good wine.”
The fame of Bin 60A has reached all corners of the globe. Max Schubert’s direct contemporary Andre Tchelistcheff (1901-1994)- the founding father of the modern Californian Wine industry - once asked of a room of startled Napa Valley vignerons; “Gentlemen you will all stand in the presence of this wine! Australian winemakers generally acknowledge the wine as a modern classic of profound and enduring academic importance. Leading critic Len Evans (1930 – 2006) - who apparently brought that bottle to California - once described the wine as “one of the great reds I cut my palate on, and proved forever that the two varieties can blend beautifully together.”
In 2004 the 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Shiraz was the only Australian wine to reach the Top 10 ranking of “Wines to try before you die” in the UK’s authoritative Decanter Magazine’s 100 Greatest Wines of all Time”.
James Halliday – Australia’s leading wine author and tasting panel member – described it as “an utterly superb wine, a glorious freak of nature and Man: ethereal and beguiling, yet the palate is virtually endless, with a peacock’s tail stolen from the greatest of Burgundies, the fruit sweetness perfectly offset by acidity rather than VA. The 100 point dry red? Why not!” These bottles are still circulating through auction. However prices are now hovering around $3500.
1962 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 forebear. 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 150 years old—are among the world’s oldest genetic shiraz plant material. It is remarkable that the vineyard has remained intact considering the plentiful periods of economic uncertainty and difficult social conditions. Today the threat or challenge is climate change, rainfall decline, pests and diseases. 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. The Hill of Grace style has developed along Grange lines, but by a circuitous route. Although 1959 and 1961 were both highly regarded, the extraordinary 1962 Henschke Hill of Grace arguably begins its inexorable rise to prominence. It was still fresh, lively and beautifully balanced in the early 2000s showing complex plummy liquorice aromas, some mint and finely structured tannins. The style has developed considerably since those days culminating in the extraordinary 1986 which unshackled it forever from the hoi-polloi and catapulted it to the most venerable single vineyard wine in the country. A bottle was sold in 1996 for $156. The wine would fetch around $800 to $1000 plus today.
1962 Penfolds Bin 414 Special Show Sauternes, South Australia
The multi-show medal winning Penfolds Bin 414 Sauternes was made from Barossa Semillon and “White Hermitage” (Trebbiano). “It opened a true golden colour, with so much fruit that it could be detected a yard away, The wine hung beautifully in the glass, and in the same way it caressed the mouth, well rounded, with its fruit present the full length of the palate. It was surely a classic wine.” The 1962 Bin 414 has regularly appeared at auction reaching around $200-300 a bottle.
1962 A.P Birks Wendouree Shiraz Mataro Dry Red, Clare Valley South Australia
It was rare until the early 1960s to find proprietary-labelled Wendouree wines. Despite the reputation and heritage of this important 19th Century estate (established 1892), there are remarkably few bottles from the 1960s left in circulation. Roly Birks took over from his father in 1917. His winemaking career spanned 65 vintages. He made both fortified and dry red wines and sold most of it by the hogshead to hotels around South Australia. By the 1950s A.P. Birks Wendouree wines were brought in to Melbourne by W.J Seabrook & Son where they were extremely popular; especially the “pressings” reds. The Late Doug Seabrook would always acknowledge the maker on his house labels. In 1958 Wendouree started showing its wines at the Adelaide and Melbourne Wine show. They inevitably won gold medals every year. The 1962 Shiraz Mataro epitomises the Australian wine industry’s emerging quest for identity. It is probably the last great vintage during Roly Birks’ career. “The winemaking is as elemental as it can be, but some of the wines have been moulded to a softness, flavour and bouquet quite unique in the district.” Although Lake’s Folly is credited as kick-starting Australia’s boutique wine scene, Wendouree represents an important link between the past and the present. The varietal combination of Shiraz and Mataro was highly regarded by winemakers during the 1950s and 1960s. It was definitely Roly Birks’ speciality; the wines were actually quite muscular with plenty of fruit power, richness and flavour. They were not for the faint hearted but they were instantly recognisable. The vineyards and winery narrowly escaped destruction in the great bushfire of 1965 although many vines were burnt out. Wendouree is living Australian wine heritage. Many of the original plantings still exist. Tony and Lita Brady, together with winemaker Stephen George, have maintained Wendouree’s authenticity and signature of style to the present day. A bottle of 1962 fetched $288 in 2006.
1963 Mildara “Peppermint Pattie” Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
1963 Peppermint Pattie is one of the most famous wines of the 1960s. Len Evans said “Of the wines that have appeared under this label, the 1963 was the first and by far the most outstanding. The wine had an incredibly intense flavour, fantastic fruit and beautiful oak, and it was so outstanding that it simply walked away with all the honours when first shown at the Royal Sydney Wine Show.” The wine was intensely perfumed with a pervading aroma of peppermint reminiscent of an Australian confectionary called Peppermint Pattie! Around 1250 cases were made. The wine has become extremely rare in recent times, although various tastings over the last twenty years have revealed a wine worthy of its initial reputation. Although this was really a freak wine – no other subsequent wine had the same character – it did spearhead the reputation of single varietal Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2008 a bottle fetched $807.
1963 Penfolds Bin 64 Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley – South Australia
The 1963 Bin 64 Cabernet Sauvignon – a 100% Block 42 wine – was entered into the 1964 Royal Melbourne Wine Show and won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for a young one year-old dry red. It was a precursor to Bin 707 and illustrates the incredible quality of the 19th Century Block 42 vineyard located at Kalimna in the Barossa Valley. Josh Greene of Wine and Spirit Magazine said “it’s not possible the wine is so many (44) years old. It has such fresh damson plum aromas, curranty flavours and satin smooth tannins. While it’s delicate and mature, it has plenty of life.” Australian wine writer Campbell Mattinson said “it’s incredible really. Despite the age it’s solid and exceptionally composed.” In the Rewards of Patience (6th edition Allen & Unwin 2008) it was described as; “Medium deep brick red. An exceptionally well composed wine. Complex chocolate/ dark berry/ sandalwood/ leather / sous-bois aromas. A rich chocolaty evolved palate with plenty of fruit sweetness/ damson plum/ mocha flavours and dense loose-knit sweet tannins. Finishes long and sweet. Utterly ethereal.” In 2006 it achieved $232.
1963 Saltram Bin 35 Burgundy, Barossa Valley South Australia
1963 Saltram Bin 35 Burgundy was made from roughly 55% Shiraz, 30% Muscadelle and 15% Dolcetto; all sourced form the Barossa Valley. Peter Lehmann considers this one of the greatest wines he ever made. After vinification the wine spent two years in large oak vats before bottling. The wine was lighter in style and hence labelled Burgundy. Lehmann once joked that winemakers used a spoon to declare the style of wine. If it stood upright in the glass it was called claret and if it tilted it was called Burgundy. George Rainbird (1905-1986), who succeeded Andre Simon as President of International Wine and Food Society (1962-1972) regarded it as one of the finest Australian wines ever made. Charles Melton, who began his wine career with Peter Lehmann, saw the 1963 Bin 35 as one of the most significant wines he ever tasted; a benchmark that would steer him towards making great wines of his own.
1964 Hardy’s Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling, Eden Valley – South Australia
1964 Hardy’s Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling was the first of a long line of successful wines. The initial vintages derived from cool-climate Eden Valley and Springton fruit. The wines were “cold-fermented with no time on skins” at the Siegersdorf winery (originally called Vine Vale and built in 1921) between Tanunda and Nuriootpa. The building still exists but is no longer owned by Hardy’s. The Siegersdorf name was coined by Jim Irvine who was the manager of the winery from 1959 to 1965; it was the original pre World War 1 sub-regional name for the Dorrien area of the Barossa Valley. The 1964 Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling and subsequent vintages were a forerunner to Australia’s contemporary Riesling styles. Brian Croser, the founder of Petaluma, made some exquisite Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling during the 1970s bringing national fame to both the wine and himself! Siegersdorf has evolved into a significant commercial wine brand with multi-regional sourcing. Nonetheless it remains an enduring Australian wine name.
1965 Lindemans Bin 3100 Hunter River Burgundy (Shiraz), New South Wales
1965 Bin 3100 and Bin 3110 are both legendary wines. The labelling belies the fact that these are essentially the same wines. This was a great Hunter Valley vintage with perfect ripening conditions. The wine was trickle-released from Lindemans over a long period of time and post 1978. It readily achieved fame among wine collectors later on in life. By that time the wine was already showing plenty of bottle-age development. This is an example of what the Hunter Valley can really do given the right growing conditions. It is one of the most poetic of all Australian wines evoking the heat and generosity of the landscape. Len Evans described both Classic release wines as “magnificent full-flavoured wines.” Medium crimson in colour, the 3110 is the most beautifully balanced and evolved wine with extraordinary complexity and life. The aromas are extraordinary with intense mocha/meaty/dark chocolate/ red cherry/ liquorice bouquet and touches of violet/ apricots/ menthol and bayleaf. The palate is concentrated but refined and minerally with meaty/ mocha/ cherry/ polished leather flavours, looseknit chocolaty/slinky tannins and cedar/ walnutty nuances. It finishes long, sweet and savoury. The wine came from the “Ben Ean” vineyard which was purchased by Lindemans in 1912 but established around 1870. The wine has become extremely scarce in recent times. 1965 Bin 3100 went for $980 and 1965 Bin 3110 (not in mint condition) went for $1622 in 2009 illustrating the lengths collectors will go to secure a bottle.
1966 Penfolds Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
1966 Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – a single varietal Coonawarra wine – was almost as famous as 1962 Bin 60A. It enjoyed plenty of success at Australia’s major capital wine shows. As a younger wine it was almost always talked about whenever Bin 60A was mentioned. The wine was considered a classical “claret” style wine. Wine judges of the day would have been impressed by the overall volume of fruit, concentration and substantial extract; elements that would have suggested long term aging potential. The wine has indeed lasted, but it does not have the shivering wraithlike quality of Bin 60A; the fruit is tiring now and the tannins are incredibly muscular.
1966 Saltram Mamrebrook Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa Valley – South Australia
It was the cabernet component of this wine that actually won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Melbourne Wine Show in 1967 – awarded to the best one year old red wine. Murray Tyrrell, when visiting the Barossa, was “ecstatic” about the cabernet and persuaded Peter Lehmann to swap a hogshead. Lehmann recalls “Murray famously said it was the best wine he ever tasted, but when he brought it back to the Hunter he blended it!” Nonetheless 1966 Saltram Mamrebrook Cabernet Shiraz was considered a classic vintage and a highlight of Peter Lehmann’s long winemaking career.
1967 Penfolds Bin 7 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Kalimna Shiraz, South Australia
1967 Bin 7 – also a two thirds Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon one third Kalimna Shiraz blend was a famous show wine of its day, but it never reached the legendary status of Bin 60A. All the same, it still commands plenty of interest in the secondary market; it remains a compelling and enduring follow up to its older sibling.
1967 d’Arenberg Red Burgundy, McLaren Vale South Australia
The 1967 d’Arenberg Burgundy won an extraordinary 7 trophies and 29 Gold medals at various Australian capital wine city wine shows. It became Australia’s first cult-type wine. Typically the wine showed plenty of fruity aromas, richness of flavour and chocolaty looseknit tannins. This was an eminently gluggable and modern wine that stood out from others because of it vibrancy and juiciness. It wasn’t really made for long term cellaring although some bottles have apparently lasted the distance. 1967 d’Arenberg Red Burgundy (75% Grenache, 25% Shiraz pressings) was made by third generation Frank (d’Arry) d’Arenberg Osborn who took over the family vineyards in 1957. It was not an overnight success story. He had previously left school at the age of 16 in 1943 to help out his ill-father. These were extremely tough and unhappy times for the young d’Arry. However his long “days and hours” in the family vineyards gave him a sense of place and understanding of seasonal cycles. He was completely self-taught as a winemaker. It was by sheer force of personality, intuitive winemaking and brilliant packaging that propelled d’Arenberg onto the fine wine scene. The wines, as they are today, were unpretentious and delicious to drink. They readily found an audience during Australia’s red wine boom. The 1968 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon, which won the Melbourne Wine Show’s Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy in 1969, cemented d’Arenberg’s reputation and began an important wine making institution. D’Arry’s longstanding contribution to the modern Australian wine industry is incalculable. The d’Arenberg “Red Stripe”, found across all of its labels, is one of the most distinctive and famous brand devices in the world of wine.
1969 Lake’s Folly Hunter Valley Dry Red (Cabernet Sauvignon)
A wine that is largely lost in the fray. Established by Dr Max Lake in 1963 Lake’s Folly was one of Australia’s first boutique wineries. It is a wine brand that has never strayed far away from controversy. The vineyard is regarded as one of the best sites in the Hunter Valley yet it began by planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in a region better known for Shiraz and Semillon. The ‘Folly’ built up an enviable reputation, epitomising the wine dream and attracting a loyal following of devotees. During the mid 1980s, at the height of its success, Lake’s Folly was found in almost every serious wine collector’s cellar and enjoyed fame almost akin to the cult wine scene of the late 1990s. The 1969 Lake’s Folly Hunter Valley Dry Red – “O’Shea Memorial” – was the wine that really kick started its fame. Len Evans said “Of all the wines Max Lake has produced, it had perhaps the most authentic Hunter character in the traditional sense.” The wine was made in the idiom of Maurice O’Shea’s wine making practices. It was produced in a very hot year with nearby bushfires leading up to vintage. Max Lake was one of the first winemakers to use new French oak hogsheads. The critics of the time seem to have had it in for Max Lake largely because of competing egos and agendas but nonetheless his legacy to the fine wine scene has been remarkably important. The 1969 encapsulates the aspirations and imperatives of the early boutique wine scene in Australia. The wine sold out very quickly beginning a long run of success with Australian wine collectors for three decades. It last sold at Langton’s in 2008 for $87! The wine is generally past its best now, but some good bottles may still exist.
1970 Lindemans Bin 3875 Chablis Semillon
James Halliday said “I believe that 1970 was a watershed year in which Lindemans abdicated in favour of Rothbury as the producer of Hunter Valley Semillon.” The first part has proven right, but Rothbury Estate, notwithstanding the beauty of its wines of the 1970s and early 1980s, did not really achieve enduring success. Without question Tyrell’s Vat 1 and McWilliam’s Lovedale Semillon are the Hunter Valley’s most highly regarded semillons of today. The 1970 Lindemans Bin 3875, however, became a very successful show wine. More retarded at a young age than it’s other very successful show counterpart Bin 3870 White Burgundy, it blossomed at a greater age. Indeed it was damned with faint praise by several wine critics when first released. Over time Judges would recognise it knowingly and fondly like a painting of water lilies by Monet. In many respects 1970 Bin 3875 was something of a last but prolonged hurrah for great Lindemans Hunter River wines; it was still winning medals in the early 1990s.
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