Swincer challenges convention

Dan Swincer (Photo: St Hugo Wines)

Wine drinkers, even professional tasters, are used to the idea that everyone’s palate is slightly different, as are their taste preferences.

Even so, from time to time we hear things that seriously unsettle our comfortable assumptions about wine.

I recently spent an evening with St Hugo chief winemaker Dan Swincer, who had some challenging things to say.

We were tucking into a cheese platter with the new St Hugo flagship red, the Legacy Collection ‘The Last Letter’ Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

The cheese was Ossau Iraty, a French Pyrenees sheep-milk cheese that to my palate is among the better red-wine cheeses going around. Dan said he flat out didn’t like to eat cheese with red wine. I put it down to different strokes for different folks. We all have our likes and dislikes.

Dark chocolate with Champagne is another of these. Some think it’s a marriage made in heaven, but to me it’s more like divorce. Ditto, stout with oysters. (Maybe someone got their wires crossed: stout with dark chocolate and Champagne with oysters are more my cup of tea.)

Earlier in the meal came another pronouncement that made me sit bolt upright. We were tasting the 2014 St Hugo Barossa Shiraz, a dense, rich, chocolaty traditional Barossa shiraz of superior power and concentration that I would like to drink after a few more years. My tasting note says ‘drink 2019-2034’.

There was also a nicely mature 2004 vintage St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon on the table.

Dan said his rule of thumb was: drink Coonawarra cabernet after eight years and drink Barossa shiraz up to eight years.

Each to his/her own.

The occasion, incidentally, was to launch ‘The Last Letter’ 2013, which is the new AUD $65 member of a series of top-end reds dubbed the Legacy Collection. The wine is a pure Barossa cabernet sauvignon sourced from vineyards at Rowland Flat, Greenock and Williamstown, whose name refers to a poignant letter Hugo Gramp wrote to his then young son Colin the night before he died in a famous, tragic plane crash on Mt Dandenong near Melbourne. Also killed were Thomas Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith: the scions of three great family wine companies, Orlando, Hardy’s and Yalumba, all lost in one terrible accident. The plane was a DC-2 named Kyeema and the year, 1938.

Today, Colin Gramp is 96 years old and still resides in the Barossa. The letter, which is touchingly prosaic and focuses on ordinary day-to-day concerns, is in the Jacob’s Creek archive.

In 1983, Orlando (now Jacob’s Creek, and owned by French company Pernod Ricard) released the first of the line commemorating Hugo Gramp. It was the 1980 Orlando St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.

The range has since expanded to include a Barossa shiraz, a Barossa grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre and, as of this year, a white wine: the 2017 St Hugo Eden Valley Riesling. Which is a ripper, by the way.

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