The “gold” label is the top of Pirathon’s quality hierarchy, trumping its “black” label. This is a near outstanding wine, and I much preferred it to the “black” of the same vintage. In the glass, there are correct shiraz aromas of spices and plums. The palate is tannic with long length and a well judged cedar influence. Ready to drink now, this wine should cellar well over the next decade or more, and is a classic and serious expression of Barossa shiraz. Rating: Very Good. Abv: NA. Price: ~$100. Website: https://www.pirathon.com. Source: Sample. Reviewed: October 2019.
The Pirathon “Black” shiraz from the Barossa Valley and the 2017 vintage has brooding aromatics of dark chocolate and spice. The palate is full bodied, ripe, with impressions of blueberry pie, menthol, vanilla and very warming sweet fruit. Ready to drink now, this wine has considerable intensity of flavour. Rating: Good. Abv: 15.3%. Price: ~$50. Website: https://www.pirathon.com. Source: Sample. Reviewed: October 2019.
This is a very typical Barossa shiraz from Pirathon Wines. This is their “silver” label, and it has a lovely aroma of rich plums, earth and soy. The palate is full bodied, with good length and a warming finish. Ready to drink now. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 14.5%. Price: <$25. Website: https://www.pirathon.com. Source: Sample. Reviewed: October 2019.
This is easily the best Barossa Valley shiraz that I have tasted recently. Made in the old style, it has saturated fruit, long length, oak in balance and power restrained with grace. A joyous wine that is approachable now. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14.5%. Price: $65. Website: teusner.com.au.
The new Langtons classification (classification VII) of Australian wine was released last week. It is stated to measure the performance of wines in an open market, with the condition of entry being 10 vintages and a track record in the secondary market. The list has been prepared for many years now, and is prepared by Langtons, a company that forms part of an Australian supermarket conglomerate. You can read it here.
It’s actually a pretty interesting list, even though it is easy to cynical about lists and since it’s wine, everyone has a view. The facts are it captures many, perhaps almost all, of Australia’s great wines and helps provide an easy reference point to quality Australian wine for expert and new comer alike. I think it therefore is of use.
In this post, I wanted to sift through the list to see what has changed, as that is potentially of interest in spotting trends. So, I am going to look at the promotions, demotions and departures. The latter two have seemingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly at least from producers, attracted little comment that I have seen. Here’s what I found.
Promotions at the top level (exceptional)
At the top level, there is only one move, a new entrant. The new wine is Best’s Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz. I have tasted this wine on few occasions, but it is a very good wine. There are many outstanding wines at this level. I do think though that Grange and Hill of Grace remain above most of them.
Promotions at second level (outstanding)
At the next level, twelve wines were promoted:
1 Best’s Bin 0 Great Western Shiraz
2 By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Geelong
3 Charles Melton Nine Popes Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre, Barossa Valley
4 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
5 Henschke Euphonium Shiraz Cabernet Merlot, Barossa Valley
6 Howard Park Abercrombie Cabernet, Great Southern
7 Langmeil 1843 Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Leeuwin Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
9 Seppeltsfield Para Liqueur Port, Barossa Valley
10 Yalumba Signature Cabernet Shiraz, Barossa
11 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1 Cabernet, Yarra Valley
12 Yeringberg Cabernet, Yarra Valley
These promotions are from quite a mix of regions and styles, with five wines from the Barossa and three wines from around Melbourne, namely the Yarra Valley and Geelong. But it is a strong list. I haven’t encountered a couple – Howard Park’s wine and the Seppeltsfield fortified specifically. Leeuwin’s cabernet sauvignon has improved over the years.
Promotions at the third level (excellent)
At the next level, twelve wines also have been promoted:
1 Cullen Wines Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River
2 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Cabernet, Margaret River
3 Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz, Barossa Valley
4 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Kooyong Haven Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
6 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
7 Oliver’s Taranga Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale
8 Vass Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River
9 Wine by Farr Tout Pres Pinot Noir, Geelong
10 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
11 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
12 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2 Shiraz, Yarra Valley
I have tasted most, but not all, of these wines. Of the twelve, interestingly ten are from the Margaret River and the wine regions around Melbourne. A couple of wines here will be on a higher trajectory, with Oakridge’s 864 chardonnay the most obvious example.
Now, my spreadsheet was tested by trying to track the various movements, so if there is an error here or anywhere else in this post let me know. These are the wines that have been moved down a level:
1 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River
2 Chambers Muscat, Rutherglen
3 Chambers Topaque, Rutherglen
4 Crawford River Riesling, Western Victoria
5 Dalwhinnie Eagle Shiraz, Pyrenees
6 De Bortoli Noble One, New South Wales
7 Glaetzer Amon Ra Shiraz, Barossa Valley
8 Grosset Springvale Riesling, Clare Valley
9 Majella Malleea Cabernet, Coonawarra
10 McWilliams Lovedale Semillon, Hunter Valley
11 Noon Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale
12 Paringa Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula
13 Seppelt St Peters Shiraz, Western Victoria
14 Wynns Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra
15 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz, Barossa
This group is a bit of a mixed bag, but they all remain in the classification, so really, it is not that the wines have all suddenly undergone some misfortune. I will return to this shortly, as first I want to mention the wines left out of this classification. They are:
1 Bannockburn Serre Pinot Noir, Geelong
2 Greenock Creek RR Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
3 Wolf Blass Platinum Shiraz, South Australia
4 Coldstream Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley
5 Katnook Prodigy Shiraz, Coonawarra
6 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
7 Lindemans Shiraz Cabernet, Coonawarra
8 Paringa Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula
9 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Riesling, Clare Valley
10 Primo Estate Joseph, South Australia
11 Rolf Binder Shiraz, Barossa Valley
12 Sally’s Paddock Cabernet, Pyrenees
13 Savaterre Chardonnay, Beechworth
14 Wantirna Amelia Cabernet blend, Yarra Valley
15 Wild Duck Creek Estate Springflat Shiraz, Heathcote
This is a very interesting list. It would appear to reflect changing styles (rich and bold styles to more elegant), some declining fortunes and perhaps declining interest in a couple of cases.
You can slice and dice these a number of ways to work out trends, but it is interesting to look at which grape varieties and regions had the most net promotions and demotions. Here’s what I found, using a very simple method of promotions minus demotions for grape varieties and regions:
Pinot Noir, net +2
Cabernet sauvignon & cabernet first blends, net +1
Chardonnay, net +1
Shiraz & shiraz first blends, net -2
Riesling, net -3
Margaret River, net +4
Yarra Valley, net +3
Barossa Valley, net +2
Coonawarra, net -4
This is just one means of looking at this information, and wine is notoriously diverse. However, in terms of grape varieties, this may very tentatively suggest that pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet blends are grape varieties on the up, and riesling and perhaps shiraz is not. There is a lot of movement in shiraz both up and down and a lot of shiraz on the list, so I am slow to draw strong conclusions on shiraz, but it is net down.
The funny thing is that this more or less accords with what I anticipated might be seen, except for the cabernet blends. The pinot noir charge is led by the established wine regions around Melbourne – the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong. Tasmania has not yet seen its day, although I think it is coming.
In terms of movements in regions, the Margaret River, the Yarra Valley and the Barossa lead the pack for net promotions. Coonawarra has seen the most demotions. Again, these are not particular surprises. If tentative observations may be made, and there seems no reason not to make them, perhaps it is that the Yarra Valley appears to be rising with more serious producers than ever and the Margaret River has become Australia’s benchmark region for cabernet sauvignon. And Coonawarra, well, I think it could be so much more than it is. Perhaps that is a post for another day.
I thought it worth checking in on the development of the ’09 Rockford Rifle Range, which proved a good decision as it was utterly delicious. Stored since purchase, the cork was in very good condition. It opened to aromas of menthol, chocolate and plummy dark fruits. Perhaps more resolutely a Barossa Valley wine than a varietal expression of cabernet sauvignon, the palate has long length and a savoury, sweet fruited edge that meant the bottle disappeared quickly and I wasn’t really too fussed what the grape variety was. Time is proving the Rifle Range to be an outstanding wine. Rating: Outstanding. Abv: 14.5%. Price: $40+.
Rosé is summer and Turkey Flat’s rosé is always well made. After a particularly cold and long winter in Melbourne, and a patchy spring thus far, it’s an easy choice to accompany an unexpected 28c day. The 2017 has aromatics of musk sticks and florals. The palate is fullish bodied, but not quite full bodied, and is a little fresher than my memory of this wine. (Alc: 13%, Region: Barossa Valley, Rating: Good, Drink: now, Price: $20, Tasted: October, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed:
From the difficult 2011 vintage, the Balthazar Barossa shiraz is an opaque purple in colour. It commences with somewhat distracting aromas of sawn wood, vanilla, cedar, earth and plums. The palate is better with its notes of plums, anise, cooked fruits, oak and a not quite full bodied finish. Mid range length on the finish, and still youthful drinking, if oaky. (Region: Barossa Valley, Rating: Acceptable to Good, Drink: now to 2025, Tasted: July, 2017, Source: Sample)
Other vintages reviewed: [X]
I have had doubts at times on both Barossa cabernet sauvignon in general, and Rockford’s Rifle Range cabernet in particular. Too far from the Bordeaux paradigm, and somewhat rustic. But a combination of balance, weight and structure suggests to me that they may age very well. I have no doubts at all however about the 2014 vintage: it is I think the best Rifle Range I have tasted to date as a new release. In the glass, there are aromas of blackcurrant and olives. The palate is full bodied, with quite long length and a lovely balanced expression of cabernet sauvignon. Tasted out of a 375ml bottle, a format I hope to see more of. (Region: Barossa Valley, Rating: Very Good, Would I buy it based on this tasting? Yes, Drink: now to 2027+, Tasted: May, 2017)
Other vintages reviewed:
Good to Very Good
I was very fortunate to taste these two wines. Supply was not limited either. The first is the legendary 1990 Grange which US wine magazine Wine Spectator awarded wine of the year (in 1995), and I am told set Grange off on its current, as yet unceasing, northward price trajectory. The second is the 2008 Grange which created a scene of its own by being awarded 100 points in US wine magazine The Wine Advocate. Both wines were tasted blind.
The 1990 Grange is an unquestionably glorious wine. A blend of 95% shiraz and 5% cabernet sauvignon, its fruit is sourced from the Kalimna vineyard (Barossa Valley), Clare Valley and Coonawarra. Its aromatics are mature and remind of ripe black cherries and black fruit compote. The palate has astoundingly long length with vanilla, black plum, crushed ants (yes), and sweet velvety black fruit overtones. This wine is delicious and worthy of its benchmark status.
The 2008 Grange is a wine that I have encountered previously, albeit at an enormous trade like consumer tasting back in 2013 (see my notes here). This time, I had my own glass and as much time as I liked to contemplate it. Yet my notes are quite similar. The 2008 Grange is a blend of 98% shiraz and 2% cabernet sauvignon, with fruit sourced from the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and Magill Estate. The wine is a little monolithical at this point in its development, reminding of vanilla, licorice, pure fruited plum liqueur and currants. The palate has long length and primary fruit driven plum characters and is supplemented by generous dollops of vanilla. In style, it reminded me of a Greenock Creek Barossa shiraz.
Both wines are outstanding.
See www.penfolds.com for more.