The reasons for America’s fading love affair with Australian wines in recent years have been much discussed. At the bottom end, the predominance of the so-called ‘critter’ brands unfairly created an image of Australian wine as cheap and cheerful. And at the high end, influential wine critic’s Robert Parker’s trumpeting of a big, rich, full bodied style of South Australian shiraz possibly inflated expectations to a point that it was hard for the wines to live up the glowing praise. As American wine critic and blogger Alder Yarrow observed, “after several years of hype over huge, extracted, high-alcohol wines from the Barossa (Mollydooker was named as a poster child for this excess), collectors were tasting these wines with five or eight years on them and realising that they were falling apart.” (Some Thoughts on Australian Wine by Alder Yarrow, Vinography, 21 May 2010)

I remembered Yarrow’s comments when I was at a dinner party on Saturday night and our friend opened a bottle of Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz 2005.  I should note that our friend is a very astute collector with catholic tastes, so we worked our way through a bottle of Herzog Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006, an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2005 from the Santa Maria Valley in California and a Pintia Tinto de Toro (Tempranillo) 2005, before we approached the 2005 Mollyooker Carnival of Love Shiraz.  I guess you could say my palate was warmed up, but as the designated driver, I was very careful to have no more than a couple of mouthfuls of any of the wines. So for the record, no, I wasn’t drunk when we eventually imbibed the Mollydooker!

And the Carnival of Love wasn’t just good, it was great! More than a worthy competitor in a very strong field of superb wines. Opulent in flavours and silky smooth in texture, but not cloying or syrupy like I sort of expected. It was superbly balanced with an incredibly long length. Yes, in the context of Yarrow’s observations, you could say that it’s holding up ‘remarkably’ well for its age.

Sarah and Sparky Marquis launched Mollydooker in 2005, and in lightening speed achieved phenomenal success with the brand, especially in the US. Robert Parker scored the 2005 Carnival of Love, the debut vintage, an astonishing 99 points. Harvey Steiman of the Wine Spectator gave the same wine 94 points, and both the 2007 and 2008 vintages made Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Best Wines of the Year List, coming in #8 and #9 respectively.

But it is a definitely a style of shiraz that can polarise opinion. Of the 2005 Carnival of Love, James Halliday, wrote: “Absurd alcohol completely dominates the flavour and texture of the wine rather like an Amarone gone off the rails; in the midst of all of this, a curious touch of bitterness on the finish. 87 points.” (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 7 March 2007)

I did a scan of recent reviews on CellarTracker and drinkers’ opinions of the 2005 were equally as diverse, ranging from “Excellent wine. The nose was a little subdued. However the taste was extremely smooth. Vanilla, and fruit. Finish was long and smooth” to “Beautiful wine, but way over the top for my taste. Syrup-like consistency. Drank at a holiday tasting for about 30 people. A tough environment for such an intense wine.”

For the record, the Carnival of Love is made from McLaren Vale fruit. The 2005 vintage was made from contract fruit, but in 2007 the Classic McLaren winery and vineyard became Mollydooker’s new home.

Don’t be fooled by Sarah and Sparky Marquis’ wry sense of humour when it comes to promoting their brand. Before lauching Mollydooker in 2005, the pair had some serious runs on the board. As Campbell Mattinson of the Wine Front notes, “They teamed up at Sarah’s parents’ winery – Fox Creek in McLaren Vale, run by Jim Watt – in the mid-1990s and turned its on its head, winning awards and setting the newfound brand alight.” (The Whacky World of Sarah and Sparky: the Mollydooker Duo, The Wine Front, 20 December 2006)

Merrill Witt, Editor