Mount Langi Ghiran’s fascinating ways with shiraz

Ben Haines (Photo: Mount Langi Ghiran)

One of the fascinations of wine is how the same grape variety can produce wine of differing flavours and styles in different parts of one vineyard. Mount Langi Ghiran is a prime example.

Winemaker Ben Haines recently showed me four 2015 vintage shiraz wines from different parts of the same vineyard which were components of the 2015 ‘Langi Shiraz’ commercial blend – which we also tasted for comparison. And finally, a quite different wine, the Mount Langi Ghiran Mast Shiraz, which is a single-block wine from a quite different site on the same property.

All were superb wines and all slightly different.

1) “South West” block (hand-picked, gently crushed, 20% whole-bunch) Violets, pepper, floral and spicy; medium to full-bodied.

2) “Musk” block (neighbouring block to South West. 100% whole berry fermentation, about 10% whole bunches.) Pronounced lavender to musk aromas, fleshy texture.

3) “North East Berry” (100% whole berry fermentation, about 15% whole bunches. The warmest site and the lowest vigour.) Less aromatic, less fragrant; rich, soft, round palate shape, fruit-sweet, complex and ripe. This is always the first block harvested, the earliest to ripen, and has very ripe fruit flavours.

4) “South Block whole-bunch” (35% whole bunches) Deep colour, powerful wine, a big punchy palate with lots of ashy, iodine, peat-smoke aromas from the stalks. Firm-ish tannins with slight bitterness.

Ben Haines says the exciting thing about making Langi shiraz is the ability to ‘layer’ the wine by blending components from the different blocks, each of which has a slightly different nature due to exposure, slope, orientation and altitude.

“This way, we are able to make more interesting wines, more aromatically diverse, more textured.”

Part of this is achieved by hand-harvesting small batches, fermenting them separately, then doing trial blends.

All parcels for the Langi Shiraz are hand-picked today, whereas in the original winemaker Trevor Mast’s days it was machined picked.

“Trevor made very good wines for machine harvested fruit,” Haines acknowledges.

Tasting the final 2015 Langi Shiraz (AUD $150), we can perceive most of the characteristics of the individual components, but the final blend is a more complete and more complex wine. For instance, it combines the fragrance of the South West and Musk blocks with the mid-palate richness and weight of the North East block.

The Mast Shiraz is another story altogether. It has always been entirely from House Block 4, the first vintage being 2012. While all of the above blocks were planted in 1969, this block was planted by Trevor Mast in 1994 with cuttings taken from the oldest vines.

“It’s a steep, east-facing site which is different to all of the others,” says Haines. “The same vine material, same clone*. It receives less sunlight: it is the last to receive the sun in the morning and the first block to go into shadow in the evening. Consequently, it’s the slowest block to ripen and the last to be harvested.

Winemaking is similar to the Langi Shiraz, with lots of whole-berry and even more whole-bunch fermentation (about 90%), and only about 20% new oak.

The various blocks at Mount Langi Ghiran are only about 100 metres apart but they are very different.”

The 2015 Mast (AUD $70) is a fine, elegant style of shiraz with high-toned aromatics, quite ‘bunchy’ with its smoky, ashy characters, also peppery. It’s a more restrained wine than the Langi, with more subtle fruit sweetness. A wine that creeps up on you in a highly pleasurable way.

Speaking of the 2017 Langi vintage, Haines said:

“I’m going to call it early: 2017 is a great year. It was a very late harvest after a very long ripening period, the harvest taking place in late April to the second week of May. It has all the good things 2015 had, but there is more meat on the bone.”

That’s exciting: another vintage worth waiting for.

*The Best’s clone, also known as the old Swiss clone. Haines says this clone has a special synergy with the area.

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