Each year James Young, who sells Torbreck wines in Sydney, drops in to my place and pours the latest batch of Torbreck wines for me to taste. The culmination of this line-up is The Laird, a single vineyard Barossa shiraz, which at AUD $750 is one of the most expensive wines in Australia.Torbreck’s is an extreme style, which appeals to collectors and cellaring enthusiasts.
In the past, I’ve found some of the Torbreck red wines (they’re nearly all reds), challenging. Torbreck’s style is at the later-harvested end of the spectrum, resulting in very hearty, full-bodied wines with quite high alcohol strengths and in the past some overripe or even ‘dead fruit’ characteristics. I haven’t seen this style for some time, though, and I sense that freshness has been more of a priority since the departure of founder Dave Powell. It has to be said though, that even in the Powell era some of these over-the-top styles matured rather well into soft, opulently rich wines, which devotees of the style cherished and for which they would happily shell out big bucks.
I recently opened a 2004 Torbreck RunRig, which didn’t impress me as a young wine, but it has matured into a lovely mellow red at 14 years of age.
Torbreck’s is an extreme style, which appeals to collectors and cellaring enthusiasts. Initially, RunRig was the flagship wine but since 2005 the top dog is The Laird, sourced from a Marananga vineyard formerly owned by Malcolm Seppelt but now by Torbreck itself. Tasted young, some vintages of The Laird are so oaky and dense that it’s difficult to see the quality underneath. These wines can taste radically different after a few years.
Torbreck lovers don’t seem to mind. It seems to me that many aficionados of these wines don’t recognize the aroma and flavour of oak, or at least don’t differentiate it from the wine as a whole. They are far more accepting of what I would call over-oaked wines. That’s no criticism of their taste. They probably think critics like me are overly concerned with balance.
My recent tasting peaked with the 2013 The Laird, which seems an outstanding vintage in the inky, glass-staining, super-concentrated style, loaded with mocha, coffee and chocolate aromas. It’s at least a 20-year wine.
At the opposite end of the price scale is the entry-level red, Woodcutters Shiraz (AUD $26), and the 2017 is a very good vintage of this fresh, early-drinking, fruit-driven shiraz – spicy and brightly fruited.
The 2015 RunRig (AUD $250) is also excellent, generously flavoured, supple and full of chocolate and smoky roasted nuances. I wondered, not for the first time tasting RunRig, what its 2.5% viognier contributes.
And there’s a brand-new wine: 2016 Hillside Grenache (AUD $75), which is truly delightful. I don’t normally enjoy new oak in grenache and Torbreck’s expensive Les Amis (grenache in new oak) often has me scratching my head, but the Hillside, grown at Lyndoch, did not see any new oak. It’s a lovely raspberry and mulberry fruit-driven style.
I also really liked the 2015 The Factor Shiraz (AUD $135), a big tar and graphite northern Barossa style.
Expensive wines, yes, but they do deliver.