FORTIFIED WINES – Our Best-Kept Secrets

 

TREASURE ISLAND

Our wonderful dessert wines are unique in the world, yet almost unheard of overseas and pretty much unknown at home. That’s astonishing given that we’ve been making these extraordinary wines for over 160 years. The good news is that we can enjoy these rare treats at bargain prices.

Ned Kelly country makes most of our great fortified wines, with the Barossa lending a hand via the treasure trove that is Seppeltsfield. If you haven’t sat by a warm fireplace on a cold winter’s night with a glass of Tokay or Muscat and a bowl of nuts, dried fruits, dark chocolate or blue cheese, you haven’t lived. If you have and didn’t like the experience, you must’ve bought the wrong Tokay and some really old nuts.

The best-known style in this collection is Muscat, made from Muscat a Petits Grains Rouge or Brown Muscat as the locals call it. There are many members of this big family which also gives Spumante and Moscato their distinctive flavour. Lots of time in old barrels using a modified Solera system concentrates the flavour of Rutherglen’s Muscats and Tokays, which develop strong Rancio characters and great complexity.

Rancio is a Spanish term that describes the oxidised or madeirised character of old dessert wine that comes from controlled oxidation. The older the wine, the stronger the madeirised flavour. These wines are almost always blends of older and younger wines, and blending is a fine art. Our wineries now have a simple classification system for their fortified wines; this example uses Muscat but it applies to Tokay as well. Please note that the term Liqueur is not part of the system, but added by the marketing people.

  • Rutherglen Muscat covers the basic 3-5 year old wines
  • Classic Rutherglen Muscat has an average age 6-10 years
  • Grand Rutherglen Muscat has an average age of 11-19 years.
  • Rare Rutherglen Muscat has an average age of 20 years or more. It is a treacle-like concentrate of extraordinary flavour, made in tiny quantities and selling for relatively high prices.


Source: http://www.wineguy.co.nz/

SHERRY
Sherries range from dry to rich, and Seppelt used to make a wide range of these wines until Sherry became less fashionable than Tupperware parties. You’ll find some wines labelled Apera, the new name for Sherry made outside of Spain.

MUSCAT
The better wines of this style serve up raisins, dates, figs and caramel alongside aged rancio notes. The really good wines add Christmas pudding and marmalade. Muscat is darker than Tokay but tends to go with the same after dinner nibbles, or you can skip dinner and just grab some blue and soft chesses and some dried fruit and nuts. Don’t forget that these wines tend be around 17 – 20% alcohol.

TOKAY
Aussie Tokay or Topaque – its new name since Hungarians objected – is made from muscadelle, a white variety grown in Bordeaux and the lower Loire where it is used in the making of delicate white wines. Muscadelle is not related to Muscat, and in the old cellars of Rutherglen it makes a unique dessert wine that smells and tastes of butterscotch, candied fruit, honey, toffee and cold tea. It’s a more subtle, finer style of dessert wine than Muscat but just as intriguing.

PORT
In Australia, just about anything goes under the name of port. Thank god the box sets came and went, and the race horses and the yachts with them. Port became a joke back in the eighties. The good news is that the winemakers who stuck to making port are serious dudes. Keep in mind that serious ports from Portugal cost many times more than ours do. Tawny means the wines are aged in old barrels just like the Tokays and Muscats; vintage ports are from a single vintage and bottled after 2 years like red table wines. They age like table wines too, and throw a heavy crust over the years.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The prices these wines sell for make them serious bargains, so grab a few of these beauties and enjoy them before the rest of the world discovers them and drives the prices up.

FURTHER READING

Brilliant overview of our fortified wines that includes great infographics

Wine’s G.O.M. James Halliday looks at the future of fortified wines in Oz

AN INDUSTRY STRATEGY FOR SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS the industry view of how to market fortified wines

Wynns Coonawarra – Short Story of a Long Shot

 

Terra Rossa

Like many great success stories, the Wynns Coonawarra story had humble beginnings. David Wynn bought the run-down winery and vineyards for £22,000 from Chateau Comaum in 1951, and his father Sam thought he’d paid far too much for it. The run-down winery had no electricity and no living quarters. The only township in the area was Penola, the place where Mary McKillop was later said to have performed miracles.

Coonawarra is a long way from Adelaide or Melbourne. The attraction of the far-flung vignoble is the terra rossa soil sitting on a limestone base, a classy combination that makes winemakers’ pulses beat faster. In 1950 only the Redmans were making wine here and selling it to Woodleys in Adelaide, who bottled the fine claret style reds for their discerning clients.

coonawarra, terra rossa soil profile

Australian Plonky

David Wynn had a hard time finding a winemaker to go down there. Eventually a young Ian Hickinbotham agreed to sort the place out. Ian was only the 35th qualified winemaker to come out of Roseworthy, where his father Alan had created Australia’s first oenology degree course.

In those days, qualified winemakers were called plonkies by the old guard, which is the reason Ian gave his memoirs the title Australian Plonky. He talks about the ‘squatters’ who ran sheep and grew wealthy in Coonawarra because of the strong demand for wool from the Korean War. The squatters employed all the available labour, and Ian ended up joining the Penola football team in order to recruit some grape pickers.

Football players don’t make the best grape pickers, and eventually Ian hired Italian migrants who’d landed in Mt Gambier. He made the wines from the first two vintages, 1952 and 1953, which were bottled under the now famous label David Wynn had commissioned Richard Beck to design. The back label showed a map of South Australia to give consumers some idea where Coonawarra was.

Visionaries and Corporate Raiders

David Wynn saw the potential of fine table wine at a time when most Australians were taking their first baby steps into table wine via Barossa Pearl, but it was mostly due to his marketing genius which established the label as a quality red in the minds of Melbourne cognoscenti. His tireless efforts made the Coonawarra twins household names in the sixties, and in 1970 Wynns became a public company. Two years later, British company Allied Vintners made a successful takeover bid.

The seventies and eighties saw corporate raiders buy and sell many wineries and breweries, and eventually Wynns, Leo Buring, Tollana, Kaiserstuhl and other hallowed names ended up in the Penfolds group which was controlled by Adelaide Steam. The next owners were Southcorp and Fosters and today Wynns’ master is Treasury Wines Estates.

From Fine Wine to Bulk Wine

Corporates aren’t interested in making wine, all they want is bigger profits. They don’t understand the difference between making wine and making soft drinks either. ‘When winemaker John Wade made the 1979 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon,’ Campbell Mattinson writes, ‘it was a 12,000 case blend. But not for long. Just before it was bottled, he was ordered to transform that blend into a 30,000 case blend, then forced to stretch that year’s Hermitage (shiraz) to similar limits …’

In 1982, John Wade introduced a new label – John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon – which became the new standard bearer for Wynns Coonawarra. Wade left in 1985 and went to Western Australia where he established Howard Park.

By the time Sue Hodder took on the chief winemaker’s mantle at Wynns Coonawarra, the vineyards were in a shocking state. Coonawarra is as flat as a billiard table, and that had made mechanical pruning and harvesting the norm but now the vines looked like closely pruned hedges. Fruit quality suffered as a result.

As James Halliday recalls: ‘… the major wineries were hell-bent on producing the maximum yield per hectare at the lowest possible price. Pruning was mechanised … and the grapes were mechanically harvested … low-cost viticulture had become a drug of addiction, facilitating discounting of already low-priced wines, yet providing a return on the annual running cost.’

From Bulk Wine to Fine Wine

Sue Hodder and vineyard manager Allen Jenkins took on the herculean task of replanting large sections of vineyard, along with improving quality control in the winery. The black label Cabernets from 2006 onwards show that the effort was well worth it, and even the humble Shiraz has been in good form.

Wynns had long made a Riesling and a Chardonnay at Coonawarra, and a Cabernet Shiraz Merlot blend followed. More recently ‘The Siding’ Cabernet Sauvignon was added. These are commercial wines sold at modest prices, often discounted to $12, and for some reason the Shiraz became the leader of that pack in the eighties.

These days the vast Coonawarra Estate has close to 1000 ha under vines, or 2500 acres in the old language. That’s enormous by Australian standards. Parent company TWE owns about three quarters of the vineyard area in Coonawarra when you add up the holdings of Wynns, Penfolds, Mildara, Lindemans, Rouge Homme and all.

That’s a lot of wine to sell, and more labels make that easier. They also give the winemakers more options for segmenting  their material. A few years ago, Wynns decided to add more labels at the high end of the price scale, filling in the vast price gap between the black label and the John Riddoch.

V&A Lane – about $50

  • V&A Lane Shiraz
  • V&A Lane Cabernet Shiraz

Single Vineyard – a little over $60

  • Harold Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Johnson’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Single Vineyard Alex 88
  • Child’s Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Single Vineyard Glengyle Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Single Vineyard Messenger Cabernet Sauvignon

Icon – around $120

  • John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Michael Shiraz

Duelling Black Labels

The marketing brains at Wynns also came up with a black label Shiraz a few years ago, which could only diminish the enormous cachet the Cabernet had built up over the decades. It was priced at the same level but never really caught on. Despite all the recent additions, the black label Cabernet still commands centre stage with an unbroken line of this label going back over 60 years.

That’s pretty rare in the wine business down under. The wines under the black label have always shown a consistent style, despite the ups and downs and changes in ownership over the decades. Sue Hodder is one of the few winemakers at Coonawarra who has not followed the trend of making big, rich, high-alcohol reds. Sue and her understudy Sarah Pidgeon won a joint ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award from the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO) in 2016.

I remember a bracket of wines form the 1990s at a recent tasting, and how they reflected the Peter Pan style of this label: pure cool fruit, medium body, great elegance and balance, and real polish with seamless oak integration. Complexity is not a strong point, but longevity sure is. Pricing is another strong point, since even the black label Cabernet is discounted frequently – those feeble marketing minds at TWE don’t know the first thing about branding.

TWE closes Wynns Coonawarra Winery

In 2015 TWE, the company that owns more brands than it knows what to do with, decided to flog some of them and rationalize its winemaking operations. TWE’s Great Western and Wynns Coonawarra wine making will be transferred to its Karadoc facility in the Riverland. ‘Processing of masstige (sic) wine at Great Western and Wynns Coonawarra will be transferred to Wolf Blass,’ The Weekly Times tells us.

In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘masstige’, marketers use it to describe mass-produced, relatively inexpensive goods with prestigious pretensions. What will happen to Sue Hodder and her team down in Coonawarra? Who knows? Coonawarra, Karadoc in the Riverland and The Barossa Valley are a long way apart, and the logistics of shifting all that wines around the country seem daunting, but that clearly didn’t bother the cost accountants that are running TWE.

We can only hope that the winemakers continue to make wine that does this great brand proud.

More Reading

Sue Hodder – From Australia’s Heartland to the Heart of Australian Wine

Feature on Wynns by Huon Hooke

Coonawarra – too far gone to save from Oblivion?

Coonawarra: Be Careful What You Wish For

When are Free Range Eggs not Free Range?

 

When our government sells us out

The egg wars have been raging across this land for decades, like the 30-year war that devastated Europe in the middle ages. These last few years we had a voluntary standard, recommended by the CSIRO: a maximum of 1500 chooks per hectare. The big producers never conformed to this standard, and consumer organisations continued to pressure the government for new legislation.

Late in 2016, the federal government acted at last. What did Minister for Consumer Affairs Michael McCormack do? He didn’t introduce a new standard that defined what constitutes ‘free range’; instead he introduced a ‘National Information Standard.’ What wonderful weasel words. Yes, but are they free range weasels or caged weasels?

The new ‘standard’ increased the upper limit to 10,000 birds per hectare. Hard to believe, I know. Harder to believe is that there’s no mandate in the standard for hens to actually spend time outdoors. It merely recommends that ‘hens have meaningful and regular access to an outdoor range.’ More weasel words. The result? Mass producers are free to stick the free range label on eggs laid by hens squashed into those massive cages, just as they did before.

Egg on their Faces 

The only concession to producers of real free range eggs is a requirement to print the stocking density on the carton. You can read McCormack’s feeble justifications for selling us out to the big end of the egg industry in a CHOICE article headed Shoppers lose in new free range egg standard.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey called the new standards preposterous, and called on us consumers to  boycott 19 brands of eggs – the worst offenders from Woolworths, Coles and Aldi. In stark contrast, NSW government minister Vic Dominello welcomed the agreement, saying ‘our decision today means consumers can be sure they’ve got what they’ve paid for.’

And they wonder why we despise our politicians. Federal Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer claimed the new standard ‘provides certainty for farmers which will help encourage innovation and investment in the industry.’ So it wasn’t about doing anything for us consumers, who eat 13 million eggs every day, but about looking after the egg industry and the big roosters that dominate it.

And what did the big egg producers say? ‘Cages are better for chickens than free-range,’ they told the ABC earlier this year, as consumer organisations and the RSPCA are pushing to get rid of battery chooks. I don’t like their chances.

The Fine Print

If it weren’t for CHOICE, we’d be lost: Their comprehensive Buying Guide lists all the egg producers in every state, with their stocking densities. It’s a very long list, so we’ll keep it simple: your best guide is not the picture of free roaming chooks on the egg carton but the stocking density number. The real free range eggs will say 750 hens per hectare, the fake ones will say maximum 10,000 hens per hectare. This number can be hard to find on some cartons; the bigger the number, the smaller the print.

This picture is for real, from Fryars on Kangaroo Island. The chooks go into mobile sheds at night, and the Maremma sheepdog keeps the foxes at bay. The sheds are moved every few days to new patches of pasture. There are many similar producers across the country, with stocking densities down to 350 hens per hectare. The eggs clearly have a richer taste, as you’d expect, and they cost between $8 and $12 a dozen.

Back to the big guys: just 3 of them produce over half the over half of the ‘free range eggs’ sold in Australia: Novo, Pace Farm and Manning Valley. They also supply the eggs for the supermarkets’ own brands. Coles and Woolworths are happy with a stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare; no surprises there.

With branded eggs, a dead giveaway are producers who offer cage eggs and free range eggs: Pace Farms, Farm Pride, Pirovic and Aldi Lodge Farm. Choice offers a free range egg detector app for free, and here’s a list of the worst offenders:

  • Aldi Lodge Farm
  • Coles Free Range Eggs
  • Country Fresh
  • Eco Eggs
  • Farm Pride
  • Field Fresh
  • Foodland
  • Western Australia Golden Eggs
  • Manning Valley
  • Meggles Farm
  • Misty Mountain
  • Pace Farm
  • Pace Omega 3
  • South Gippsland
  • Woolworths Select
  • Pioneer
  • Pirovic
  • Otway
  • Essential Foods
  • MMM

Young & Rashleigh Tasting February 2018

 

This NSW distributor holds a trade tasting twice a year, and they’re always worth attending. They hire a room at the Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay, and run a second day in town at the Arthouse Hotel.

This time I focused on some of the labels I haven’t checked for a while. Printhie is one of these. The next generation has taken over, the vines are twenty years old, so there’s a new wind blowing on Mount Canobolas.

Printhie Mountain Range Chardonnay 2017 – $16 at Dan M’s (please check the vintage) or $17 at the winery (for members).  A gentle chardy that seduces with charm, not force. Hints of peaches and cashews, with oak taking a backseat. There’s real finesse here, and a lovely softness (from malolactic fermentation). Wild yeasts and lees stirring have added extra interest to a subtle wine that’s a pleasure to drink. Will improve in the short term. 93 points.

Printhie Mountain Range Pinot Gris 2017 – $17 at the winery (for members). A thinking wine maker’s Pinot Gris. Forget the fruit compote; sure we see the usual pears and ginger but they’re drawn in watercolours here, and there’s texture from lees stirring and oak storage and softness from the malolactic fermentation. The seamless integration is a surprise. Will improve over a couple of years. 93+ points.

Mount Canobolas Collection (MCC) Riesling 2017 – $22 at the winery (for members). 2017 was a tough vintage, an autumn deluge following a hot dry summer and a cold, wet spring. There are classic Riesling aromas here and a touch of residual sugar, which just fills out the mid palate. There’s a long line of fine acid to keep the wine in perfect balance. Restrained right now but it’s still a pup. 93++ points.

Another winery with the capacity to surprise is Margan in the Hunter Valley. Their whites are usually good value and easy drinking, but this time their reds grabbed me. Sadly, they’re a bit over our limit at $30 plus.

The Margan Shiraz Mourvedre 2015 almost jumped out of the glass, there’s so much bright energy. The Mourvedre adds savoury, spicy, earthy notes to the sweetness of the Shiraz. This would make a great food wine with serious Spanish or Italian dishes.

The Margan Barbera 2015 is another surprise, a bit leaner and more savoury than the SM, black cherries and charcuterie, tar and chalk, dry finsh with fine tannins. The Margan Tempranillo Graciano Shiraz 2015 is probably the least of these, but it’s great to see Andrew Margan making wines out of the standard Hunter comfort zone.

Galli Estate makes Mediterranean style reds from vineyards at Sunbury and Heathcote. My favourite is the Heathcote Tempranillo Grenache Mourvedre, and the 2015 is a good one reflecting the ripe year. Still, these are elegant wines in the European manner, which come into their own in a bistro with an interesting menu.

The Camelback range offers more Italianate reds in our price range: a Sangiovese, a Nebbiolo and a Montepulciano. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? They’re all easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing bistro wines.

Yealands is a winery I write about a lot, but I wanted to check the 2017s since they had such bad storms and too much rain over there. That made vintage a once in 25 year challenge according to the guys at Astrolabe, so I was surprised by the quality of the 2017s.

Even the basic Yealands Land Made Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($14 at Kemenys) is really decent savvy, and the Single Vineyard 2017 ($18 at Kemenys) is better than the 2016 IMHO. There’s more finesse in the 2017s, and more acid, and the varietal definition is sharper.

That goes for the Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017 as well; the character of the vintage has made the style more disciplined than usual while retaining the essential bass notes. I can’t find a source for the 2017 but Our Cellar still has the excellent 2016 in stock (and will get the 2017 soon).

The PGR 2017 is a lovely wine too, and I’ve long been a fan of this Alsace trio from Yealands – Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Wonderful wine for just over $20 at Wineseek.

My favourite wine of this group was a 2016, but it’s the Winermaker’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. It’s had time on lees and in oak, and it has more to offer as a result. It’s a perfect example of the Fumé style we should be making more of down under. Sadly, the only current source in Oz is JustWines ($35 in a dozen) who’re not known for their sharp prices.

While we’re on the other side of the Tasman, I had another chance to check the Lowburn Ferry Pinot Noir 2015, which mu best mate reckons is the bees knees, but it still didn’t grab me for a $50 Pinot. I thought the Port Philip Balnarring 2016 had a bit more going for it in terms of Burgundian character and complexity, and it’s almost $20 less. You can’t buy the Muddy Waters over here, so there’s no point in talking about it.

You can buy the buy the best of this bracket, the Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir 2014, but it’s close to $70. It’s a great Pinot Noir, and worth the money.

I came across an assortment of Rosés, and a chance to confirm Kym Teusner’s Salsa 2016 as one the best Aussie Rosies I can remember.  It has perfect pitch and it sure sings, and it’s big enough to drink with food like ham, salami or pizza. The Flametree Pinot Rose 2016 didn’t excite me. Helens Hill Lana’s Rose offers attractive strawberries and cream, but $23 is stretching the friendship a little.

Ben Glaetzer oversees the winemaking at Longview, an Adelaide Hills vineyard owned by the Saturno family. Love the labels. They make great Nebbiolos, but the Riserva 2015 is close to $50, and even the fresh, lively and vibrant 2017 is $36. So I enjoyed a taste of each and admired the labels.   The Macclesfield Chardonnay 2016 was enjoyable too, a typical modern Adelaide Hills chardy.

The range of wines these guys make is staggering and includes Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, a Riesling, a sticky, a Sparkling wine, a Rosé, and a Barbera along with the usual Shiraz and Cabernet reds. Do they ever think of reviewers, and the work they make for them? I much prefer the French model; a couple of wines and a house wine. Enough.

 

Mistakes I’ve Made

 

I pride myself on getting it right, so I review fewer wines but give them more time – several days usually. I don’t always get it right, of course, no wine reviewer does. There are the vagaries of bottle variation, and how the wine showed on the day as Peter Bourne said to me once when I queried how the Grosset Rieslings didn’t make the 90 point cut in a GTW tasting.

So it goes. A subscriber complained that the 1960 Taltarni Old Vine Block 27 Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 I raved about and gave 96 points to was oxidised / cooked and showed dried porty / stewed aromas. He bought a 6-pack on my recommendation, and is thinking of returning the remaining bottles.

In my defence I said it was a more traditional style, with a stronger tannin grip than usual, and said I thought I mentioned that in my review. It looks like I didn’t. Mea culpa. I should’ve said: you must’ve got a bad bottle and left it at that. The bottle I had was terrific. I’d welcome more feedback.

Kemenys Hidden Label Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc 2017. I can’t find it now but I think I listed this as a great buy in a recent BBW. Then I got a sample and gave it a bad review (84). I’ve been highly critical of wine show judging, and I should stop paying any attention to trophies and other bling. Mea culpa. Still, it’s hard to ignore a list like this:  

  • Trophy, Best Value White, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
  • Trophy, Best Sauvignon Blanc, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
  • Trophy, Best Sauvignon Blanc, Royal Hobart Wine Show 2017
  • Top Gold, Royal Perth Wine Show 2017
  • Gold, Sydney Royal Wine Show 2017
  • Gold, Cowra Wine Show 2017
  • Gold, Royal Hobart Wine Show 2017

The wine won trophies and golds in 4 different shows across the country, not one or two. That kind of consistency is rare; in addition I know the maker – Miles from Nowhere – so I took a punt at that ridiculous price. Then I checked a sample over the usual 2-3 days, and soon found the wine falling apart. Therefore my bad score.

The same subscriber said my score for the Dan M’s Langhorne Creek Cabernet  Shiraz cleanskin had come down several points. What happened here is that another subscriber had written in and said my score was too generous, so I bought another bottle at Dan M’s, agreed with him and marked the wine down.

Many of you have written and said that my calls are almost always right, and I think that’s as good as it can get in this business. I do get it wrong sometimes, and other times it’s simply a matter of different tastes. That’s why I make no bones about my lack of enthusiasm for blockbuster reds, skinny chardies and tropical savvies.

Keep the brickbats coming now, you hear?

Kim

The Story of Bambi & Dan & Pour Les Amour Rosé

 

When I came across their fancy Rosé in a survey of Rosés from down under, I had no idea who these two were. So I did some digging and found that Bambi Northwood-Blyth is a model and Dan Single is the designing force behind Ksubi jeans, which tend to sell for close to $200 a pair.

When he was staying in Paris early this year, Dan fell from a third floor balcony of the Hotel d’Amour and broke every bone in his legs between the feet and the spine. Families and friends rushed across to the Paris hospital where Dan was recovering and his bones healing slowly. Details and pictures here.

The next news I found was that Bambi had deleted her Instagram platform, ‘following Dan Single controversy.’ The fashion designer had set up a Go fund me crowdfunding campaign to raise $250,000 to pay for his medical bills and upkeep while he was incapacitated.

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McWilliams Wines – The Frog and The Princess

 

Full Circle

Mount Pleasant was James Halliday’s winery of the year in the 2017 Wine Companion. How it got there is a fascinating story that started with a fellow called Maurice O’Shea who had an Irish father and a French mother. In 1932, McWilliam’s bought a half share of O’Shea’s Mount Pleasant vineyard in the lower Hunter, and the remaining share a decade later.

Maurice O’Shea at work – photo credit: Max Dupain

‘We’ve got this cascade of wonderful wines that we haven’t seen since O’Shea,’ James wrote. ‘If you turn the clock back 60 years, you might recognise some of these wines. He’s [Jim Chatto] really brought back the legacy of O’Shea big time.’

It was in the forties and early fifties that Maurice O’Shea made legendary wines for McWilliam’s. He died in 1956, long before most Australians discovered Hunter wine or table wine in general. The McWilliam family made fortified wines in Griffith, and what prompted them to buy into Hunter table wines at that time is one of life’s great mysteries. A friend in the trade tells me that Don McWilliam leant a helping hand to Murray Tyrrell in the fifties, which played a critical role in getting Tyrrells off the ground.

The Mount Pleasant Legacy

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The Great Australian Red Competition 2017

 

Trophies you can’t Fathom and Wines you can’t Buy

The first thing you notice when you check the winners in this year’s comp is that they’re mostly from Saltram (Treasury Wine Estates) and a couple from Jacobs Creek (Pernod Ricard). Wine companies don’t come much bigger than these two.

The second thing you notice is that you can’t buy the trophy winning wines, with one exception. Why do they do this? What is the point of running a comp like this to find our best Cabernet Shiraz blends and coming up with wines that aren’t released? It’s only going to frustrate consumers and reviewers like me.

Wines Made to a Formula

I suspect the Saltram winemakers took a leaf out of Wolfie’s book, worked out the style the judges liked and shaped their wines accordingly. I liked the 2012 Shiraz, which you could buy for just $17 at the time. More recent vintages have been less elegant, some reaching 15% alcohol. They introduced the Shiraz Cabernet in 2013 from memory, and the price is a tick over $20. Then came a certified Pepperjack Shiraz Cabernet at a price a tick below $30.

I’m not sure what the wine is certified for, but these are rich and robust reds with plush fruit and creamy oak, obviously designed to please crowds of big red lovers. Wine show judges fall for these styles as well, that hasn’t changed since the days when Wolf Blass won 3 Jimmy Watson trophies in a row.

Jacob’s Creek took out the trophy for Best Wine over $60 and that for Best Cabernet-Dominant Blend, both for its Expedition Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2015. The wine is not released yet.

Trophies by the Truckload

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