Big, rich, rare and unique
Big, rich, buxom Barossa and McLaren Vale shiraz: they are better than ever these days. Last week I hosted a tasting at the Sydney Wine Centre of six of the best from each of these regions, and reflected on the specialness of these beauties. The issue of price came up as it always does. Why do the top wines cost hundreds of dollars these days?They are relics; like old coins or postage stamps, they have a value that transcends their intrinsic worth.
It’s not only the quality of course, nor the cost of production, although that can be higher for old-vine wines. It’s the x-factor: wines from these old vines are rare and almost unique in the world of wine. The Barossa and to a lesser degree McLaren Vale are custodians to some of the oldest own-rooted vines in the world. Langmeil’s The Freedom vineyard was planted in 1843; Hewitson’s Old Garden Mourvèdre was planted in 1853, Chateau Tanunda’s 150 Year Old Vines Field Blend comes from an Eden Valley block planted in 1858. There are many more examples. Wine lovers appreciate the rarity of these wines and their provenance. They are relics; like old coins or postage stamps, they have a value that transcends their intrinsic worth.
Langmeil The Freedom costs AUD $135, the Old Garden is AUD $88, Chateau Tanunda’s 100-year-Old Vines Shiraz is AUD $140, Coriole’s Lloyd Reserve Shiraz (vines planted in 1919) is AUD $110 and Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz (vines planted by the Kay family in 1892) is AUD $115.
Each of these wines delivers the richness, high-extract fleshiness, effortless concentration of flavour and suppleness of tannin that typifies old-vine wines. And we pay a little extra for the history.
I recalled that the much-maligned (in Australia) American wine critic Robert Parker should be given some of the credit for alerting Australians to the specialness of these kinds of wines. Big Aussie reds, especially – but not only – shiraz, were not as highly regarded at home back when Parker started raving them to the skies in the late 1980s. He told the world these wines were special, and rare, and alerted Australians to the fact that they had something very special if not unique growing in their own backyard which they were not valuing sufficiently.
A lot of Aussies at the time regarded the big Barossa and McLaren Vale reds as a bit clumsy, gauche, over-the-top. Artless blockbusters. And some of them were. At that time some of these wines were overripe, over-oaked, over-alcoholic, over-extracted and ungainly. They have improved an awful lot since then.
The stars of last night’s Barossa v McLaren Vale Shiraz tasting were, by general vague waving of hands, Serafino Terremoto 2012, Chateau Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines 2015, Chaffey Brothers Elijah 2015, and Kay Brothers Amery Block 6; the Two Hands Angels’ Share 2016 (AUD $35) acclaimed as the best value wine. But just about every wine was somebody’s favourite, which is what I like to hear, as it means not only that the wines were all good, but that people’s preferences all vary slightly, which is as it should be.
*This is a big shiraz week: my Thursday post will be on some of the best wines of my recent 200-wine shiraz tasting.