To come across a review by James Halliday of a wine that was 121 years old when it was tasted is pretty unusual. Even more extraordinary was to see that the review wasn’t for a fortified; it was a shiraz and it tasted great!
The wine in question was the Craiglee 1872 Shiraz, which Halliday tried in 1993. Here’s his glowing 95 point review:
Some browning evident, as one would expect; an ethereal, complex bouquet of gum leaf and dry grass with both spice and mint progressively emerging. The palate was remarkably complex with flavours of cardamom, spice and again a touch of dry gum leaf. The structure was superb, the finish good. (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 1 November 1993)
Not surprisingly The Wine Front’s Campbell Mattinson discovered a fascinating story behind this amazing wine. Here’s a brief recap.
The original owners of the winery, the Johnstone Family, decided to keep bottles of the Craiglee Shiraz 1872 aside after it won a prestigious award at an exhibition in Vienna in 1875. Fortunately the bottles were placed in the winery’s dark, strikingly cold cellar and left undisturbed until the early 1950s.
None other than the late John C Brown of Brown Brothers tasted the remarkably preserved 1872 vintage in the 1970s. According to current owner and winemaker Pat Carmody, Brown told Pat’s father that “any vineyard that could produce a wine that drank that well after 100 years in the cellar had to have something about it.”
Initially not keen on the idea of turning their sheep-grazing property over to vineyards, a disastrous wild dog attack on the sheep forced the Carmody family to reconsider. In 1976 Pat decided to plant some shiraz vines on the Tullarmarine side of the family farm in Sunbury – the closest wine region to Mebourne’s CBD. (Craiglee – in the lee of the craig by Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front, 19 October 2005)
Today this very special vineyard is once again producing wine that has wine critics and connoisseurs raving. One Aussie Wine’s David Hawkins, our occasional New York-based contributor, thought the Craiglee Shiraz 2006 was the pick of the night at a recent Wine Australia shiraz masterclass in New York. In her report, Victoria and Tasmania: Competition is Good June 2011, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown said “I have to give Craiglee a mention because Patrick Carmody has produced some incredible wine in 2008 and 2009.”
Carmody told Mattinson: “I’ve always worked with the monkey on my back. Can I produce a wine that will live a 100 years?” But the baggage hasn’t stopped Carmody in his quest to bring out the magical qualities of the vineyard that led to the creation of the phenomenal 1872 vintage.
Mattinson notes that, interestingly, the 1872 vintage was made from young shiraz vines (only the third crop); a testament to the special features of Craiglee’s unique terroir that Langton’s Andrew Caillard MW highlights in his description of today’s Craiglee Shiraz:
Planted on alluvial river flats close to Jackson Creek, a tributary of the Maribyrnong River, the soils comprise sands over river stones. Since the 1985 vintage, the wines have shown extraordinary consistency of quality. It is quite a different wine to any other, reflecting its own unique site. The wines have earthy/pepper/raspberry and black olive aromas, tightly structured palates and iron-like tannins. They age well as they become more earthy and complex with softer tannins and length. (Craiglee, Sunbury, Langton’s )
Merrill Witt, Editor
Photo Credit: Pat Carmody in front of the old bluestone winery at Craiglee
In France the rare marsanne grape is grown in the Northern Rhône and Hermitage regions where its is called White Hermitage. One of its most famous expressions is Chapoutier’s De L’Orée, which the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker describes as the “most concentrated and richest dry white wine in the world,” noting that in some vintage it has the potential to last 40 – 50 years. (Christmas Eve Dinner 2011 by Robert Parker, eRobertParker.com)
Fortunately Australia makes its own world acclaimed marsanne. Selected for one of my favourite wine books, 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die, the Tahbilk Marsanne is also a wine that develops superb complexity with bottle age. And like the Chapoutier De L’Orée it is made from very old vines. In fact, Tahbilk has the largest single holding of this rare variety in the world and its plantings are also some of the oldest, dating back to 1927.
Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria. It is Victoria’s oldest wine-producing estate. The original ‘White Hermitage’ marsanne cuttings were sourced from the St Hubert’s Vineyard in the Yarra Valley in the 1860s. Incidentally 1860 shiraz vines are still used for the winery’s other flaghship offering, the highly regarded ’1860s Vines’ Shiraz.
Since 1925 the winery has been owned by the Purbrick family. Here’s the Canberra Times Chris Shanahan’s assessment of the multiple award-winning special release 2003 ’1927 Vines’ Marsanne, a wine that’s designed to age for 30 to 40 years:
Winemaker Alister Purbrick’s late grandfather, Eric, built Tahbilk’s reputation for Marsanne, a Rhone Valley white variety. Alister Purbrick worked alongside his grandfather after graduating as a winemaker, eventually taking the reins. Over time, he finessed the potentially long-lived style, brightening and freshening the fruit in the basic Marsanne and absolutely mastering it in this special bottling from the Estate’s oldest Marsanne vines.
At 10 years, it remains absolutely fresh and vibrant – the mouth-watering, citrusy flavours showing barely a hint of honeyed aged character. At 11.0% alcohol, it sits lightly on the palate and invites another mouthful.
The 2003 ’1927 Vines’ Marsanne is available from the winery for $44.95 per bottle. The 2006 ‘Museum Release’ Marsanne is available for $19.75 and the regular release bottling, the 2012 Marsanne is available for $15.45.
Merrill Witt, Editor
Photo Credit: Tahbilk
The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW recently remarked that:
Victoria continues to be Australia’s center for innovation and experimentation. Home to some of the country’s brightest young winemaking talents, I am repeatedly impressed not just with the overall quality of wines coming out of this region, but the individual expressions. This vast region has much to offer in terms of incredibly diverse terroirs, including patches capable of producing wines that reach the absolute pinnacles of greatness. But such vineyards can malinger into insignificance unless they are managed by people with real vision. It is this combination of incredible viticultural potential and the dedication of inspired winemakers that continues to make this region Australia’s region to watch. (Australia’s Victoria and Tasmania: Watch this Space by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, eRobertParker.com June 2012)
Perrotti-Brown’s observations resonated when I read Dalwhinnie winemaker’s David Jones refreshingly candid assessment of the dismal 2011 vintage in Victoria’s Pyrenees:
We actually did make a small amount of Moonambel Shiraz and Moonambel Cabernet but when the wines were finally ready to be bottled and tasted on the bench alongside the impressive 2010′s and glorious 2009′s, we just thought No! we would be kidding ourselves and doing our Eagle Eye members and supporters a disservice by releasing these wines. Enough said. (Vintage Notes, Dalwhinnie Eagle Eye Newsletter)
Integrity is definitely another hallmark characteristic I would add to describe Victoria’s best winemakers! I can’t imagine how difficult and financially painful the decision to throw away an entire vintage of red wines must have been!
But fortunately for Dalwhinnie fans the news was not all bad. Dalwhinnie’s wine have a reputation for being quite tannic when young, which makes them great candidates for cellaring. To compensate for the lack of a 2011 vintage of its flagship shiraz and cabernet, Dalwhinnie has released its museum stock of the 2003 Moonambel Shiraz and Moonambel Cabernet. Holding back ageworthy wines for future release looks like another great innovation!
Fortunately, in contrast to 2011, 2010 was a stellar vintage for Dalwhinnie as well as southern Australia as a whole. Jones describes Dalwhinnie’s The Eagle Shiraz 2010, a single vineyard wine now in its 9th vintage, as “the best Eagle to date.” And the Wine Advocate scored another of the winery’s single vineyard expressions, The Pinnacle Shiraz 2010, an outstanding 97+ points – the highest score the winery has received in the publication to date. Here’s Perrotti-Brown’s impressive review:
Very deep purple-black colored, the 2010 The Pinnacle Shiraz has aromas of creme de cassis, violets, bruchetta, yeast extract and roasted nuts with whiffs of mocha, menthol, potpourri, aniseed and cloves. Medium to full-bodied and packed with taut, muscular black berry and savory flavor layers, it has a firm structure of grainy tannins and lively acid, finishing very long. Consider drinking it 2014 to 2025+. (The Wine Advocate #201 June 2012)
Merrill Witt, Editor
The Cellarit Wine Market has a selection of back vintages of the Dalwhinnie range. Check the winery for availability of the Dalwhinnie The Eagle Shiraz 2010.