Jim Barry Wines ‘The Armagh’ vertical
Jim Barry Wines (tastings) celebrated 30 years of its flagship wine, The Armagh Shiraz (tastings), in October. It was an occasion to mark, and a tasting of every vintage of The Armagh would have been sufficient bait for me. However, typical of the Barry family – led by the boss, Peter Barry (Jim Barry’s son) – the two-day event was much more than that.
We also had a vertical tasting of the company’s flagship white wine, The Florita Riesling (tastings), a helicopter tour of the Clare Valley, and a slap-up banquet featuring Peter Barry’s own home-grown pork, a dinner to which several other Clare and Barossa winemakers were invited (including Robert and Annabel Hill Smith, representing Negociants – Jim Barry’s wholesaler for many years).
To ice the cake, the scribes were taken to a surprise destination, just because Peter Barry felt like it. This turned out to be the senior Clare Valley winery, the iconic Wendouree (tastings). There, owners Tony and Lita Brady hosted a tasting of their 2013 vintage wines. It was emblematic of the friendliness and spirit of co-operation that exists in the Clare Valley wine region. Among the dinner crowd, I spotted Andrew Pike, the Bradys (again), Brenton Fry (marketing head of Negociants) and others. Of course Peter and Sue Barry’s sons, Tom and Sam, and daughter Olivia were all there, with bells on.
The Armagh is an unusual wine. It comes from a single vineyard which was planted by Jim Barry in 1968, and Peter clearly remembers hand-watering the baby vines from a tank on the back of a utility to get them through the 1969 drought. The vines must have proven themselves very quickly, as the wine was swiftly earmarked for great things. The first vintage labeled The Armagh Shiraz was 1985 (tasting), at which time the vines would have been 17 years old. I recall thinking the early vintages were pretty over-the-top. Super-ripe fruit slathered with new American oak, and blood-curdling tannins were not uncommon. But the wine has become far more elegant and balanced over the years, the ripeness more controlled. The quality is all the better.
The peak vintages were, in my view, 1999 (tasting), 2002 (tasting), 2004 (tasting), 2006 (tasting), 2007 (tasting) and the current release 2010 (tasting). The ’13 (tasting) and ’14 (tasting) and possibly ’12 (tasting) will also be right up there when their times come.
There was no 1986, 2003 or 2011. My tasting notes are on the app now.
The quality these days is better than ever. In the early years, there were occasional below-par Armaghs, which probably would not be released today if they had their time again. Standards everywhere have risen, and we could probably make similar observations about all iconic Australian wines. The winemaking, selection of barrels and probably the viticulture have all improved over the 30 years. The wines reflect this.
The wine was always super-premium priced: the 1985 vintage was deliberately priced between Grange (tastings) and Hill of Grace (tastings). “Grange was then $50, Hill of Grace $30, so we decided to go smack in the middle: $40 a bottle,” recalls Peter Barry. The 2010’s retail price is $270, which – while very expensive – is sensibly no longer attempting to keep up with the Joneses.
All power to the Barry family. All hail The Armagh.