2010 – A Year to Remember

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards, said the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He might have been talking about wine vintages. It’s easy to know which are the great vintages in hindsight, but harder to accurately identify them as they happen.

The 2010 vintage is one that observers and buyers of Australian wine will look back on with great fondness in the distant future. It’s an outstanding vintage in many regions, few missing out on its bounty.

What makes it all the more desirable is that it falls between a run of hot, droughty years in the late noughties, and the apocalyptic deluge of 2011, whence relatively little of consequence is likely to emerge, at least from South Australia (excluding riesling) and the south-eastern states, the Hunter Valley a notable exception.

If you like gutsy full-bodied South Australian reds, the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare – everywhere really, had a great success in 2010. The shirazes are more elegant and balanced than usual with spicier, vibrant fruit and moderate alcohol levels. The ’09s in these areas are good, better than the ’07s or ’08s, but 2010 is the vintage that winemakers would love to have every year. In my tastings so far – and it has to be said the 2010s are only just starting to come onto the market, which also means the best are yet to come – full-bodied South Australian reds appear to be scoring significantly higher on average than the three preceding vintages.

In southern Victoria it is an absolute cracker. Lovers of chardonnay and pinot noir from the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula can rub their hands with glee. A textbook grapegrowing season resulted in pinot noirs that many winemakers have hailed as the best they’ve ever seen. Even the cheaper pinot bottlings of wineries such as Yering Station (tastings), Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander (tastings), De Bortoli (tastings), Mac Forbes (tastings), Oakridge (tastings), Punt Road (tastings), Domaine Chandon (tastings) and Ten Minutes by Tractor (tastings) are delicious.

The Yarra in particular was overdue a good vintage after heat, drought, frost and bushfires variously damaged the ’07, ’08 and ’09 harvests. And then that damned rain in 2011… it all adds up to a scenario in which 2010 stands out like a beacon on a hill.

At the recent Yarra Valley Wine Program, an intensive two-day tasting and educational seminar in the valley for the trade and media, the 2010 vintage was understandably highlighted. In fact, two of the six tutored tastings were devoted solely to 2010 pinot noir.

Did the wines live up to the hype? Comprehensively!

Perhaps the pick of them all was Phi (tastings), the partnership between De Bortoli and Shelmerdine. De Bortoli chief winemaker Steve Webber has said this is the best Yarra pinot he has ever seen. It has a wonderful array of aromas from various spices to red and dark berry fruits, full of detail and beauty. It dances on the tongue with nervy acidity enlivening its rich and generous yet fine and subtle flavours, which continue to expand almost endlessly on a very long finish. But you’ll have to wait: it’s not due to be released till next March ($48 tastings; 97 points). Meanwhile, the Shelmerdine, from the same Lusatia Park vineyard, also De Bortoli-made, is available and also a superb wine, fragrant, vanillan and finely textured ($33 tastings; 95 points). The De Bortoli Estate Grown ($39; 95 points) is fleshy and detailed with cherry/plum, vanilla ripe aromas and marvellous extract, subtly exuding much more than simple fruitiness. Innocent Bystander, my Wine of the Week two weeks ago, was undoubtedly the best value for money at $22.50 and 93 points(tastings). Of the 17 wines poured, I rated none below 90 and most considerably higher. Another stunner was Gembrook Hill ($49 tastings; 96 points): a great wine with a fairly pale hue, but tremendously complex, meaty and brandied-cherry aromas, ethereal and delicious like a Vosne-Romanee. Extraordinarily perfumed, light and ultra-refined, it’s a lesson in how pale colour is no disadvantage for this grape. The other wines I loved were The Wanderer ($53 tastings; 94 points), Coldstream Hills Reserve $83 tastings; 95 points), with its sweetly ultra-ripe, strawberry-jam perfumes, and Timo Mayer Bloody Hill ($53 tastings; 96 points) – proudly feral and funky, with full body and an expansive finish. Incidentally, compare those prices with Central Otago pinots and you’re in for a nice surprise.

And I haven’t even mentioned the shirazes, a glorious array of riotously complex, spicy, beautifully textured wines with stalks and sulfides and adventurous, sometimes completely fearless winemaking, resulting in some exciting new expressions for this workhorse variety. Highlights for me were Yering Station Reserve Shiraz Viognier ($90 tastings; 96 points, next June release), Jamsheed Silvan ($45 tastings; 96 points but sold out), Innocent Bystander Mea Culpa ($59 tastings; 95 points; November release), Timo Mayer Big Betty ($37 tastings; 96 points and not big at all), and Payne’s Rise ($25 tastings; 95 points; trophies for best shiraz and best single vineyard wine at the recent Yarra Valley Wine Show).

The great thing about 2010 is that you won’t need to let a decade roll by before you can say that it’s a truly great year. We know it’s good, it’s on sale now, and we also known 2011 is one of the poorest vintages in living memory. It’s a good time to re-stock the cellar.


Clare Valley riesling seems to be one wine running against the tide of disaster in the 2011 vintage. Immediately after vintage, I received reports from Clare of everything from total loss to great success. But, after tasting a substantial number of 2011 rieslings, it’s obvious that those who looked after their vineyards and harvested before the rain in Clare made some stunning wines. The best I’ve seen to date are from Kerri Thomson (Wines by KT, tastings the Churinga and Peglidis Vineyards), Grosset (tastings especially the Springvale), Mount Horrocks (tastings), Petaluma (tastings), Jim Barry The Lodge Hill (tastings), Clos Clare (tastings) and ArtWine (tastings). The O’Leary Walker wines (tastings) are also very good. Petaluma’s chief winemaker Andrew Hardy says “We got all the riesling grapes off before the rain started. I rate the vintage seven out of eight, and I think it will be really long-lived.” In contrast, there’s no Petaluma Coonawarra 2011 red. “It was horrible. I’ve never seen so many different types of mushroom. We didn’t pick anything.”

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 25 October 2011. 

 

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