Wine Words & Video Tape

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Jim Barry, Vasse Felix and Tahbilk

Written by JW. Posted in Australia

Jim Barry’s decadent Armagh Shiraz

Despite the perception that the country has in recent years lost out to South Africa and the combined forces of Chile and Argentina as the world’s cutting edge wine making powerhouse, Australia remains one of the most exciting places to make wine. Partly it’s because it is a unique place – the country is huge with some of the most diverse terrior in the world – but also importantly because of the open-mindedness and energy of the Aussie wine makers themselves – especially when you get amongst the privately owned wineries. 

Both these elements were writ large at the London Wine Fair where on one stand Jim Barry Wines, the Clare Valley family estate in South Australia responsible for ‘The Armagh’ Shiraz and others sat next to Vasse Felix, the Margaret River pioneers from Western Australia. The wines couldn’t have been further apart – literally given the 1300 miles that separates them back home – but also stylistically. The Barry clan are as exuberant as their Clare reds, strong wines, high in alcohol with bags of flavour and voluptuousness. I’ve already mentioned the heady Armagh, but McRae Wood, another Clare Shiraz is not far behind. Though these wines are rich and alcoholic [some at 15.5%] the style is more decadent than overblown. The Barry joie de vivre is tempered only by their Rieslings, their Florita 2009 is wonderfully crisp and lively with a touch of austerity.

Vasse Felix beautifully balanced intense wines

Vasse Felix reds and whites by contrast are more elegant yet with real intensity and persistence, strong wines yet beautifully balanced. Their super premium Heytesbury range must surely rank amongst Margaret River’s finest Chardonnay and Cabernet blends, wines of great purity and with layers of flavour. I rated the Heytesbury Chardonnay as high as 94+/100. Even at the slightly less exalted levels these are excellent wines with wonderful flavours and are extremely harmonious. I haven’t had the good fortune to see how these wines age, but I should imagine given their balance that with age they should provide increasingly interesting drinking.

Tahbilk’s terrific 1860 Shiraz

Celebrating its 150 birthday this year is Oz treasure Tahbilk from Victoria run by the Purbrick family. I’ve been a great fan of Marsanne from this estate for years, Tahbilk’s plot is the largest planting of the variety outside of France and amongst the oldest in the world. Two different types of Marsanne are made – both fashioned in a simple and direct manner with no oak or barrel influence. The main Marsanne is usually packed with grapefruit and citrus flavours. These age wonderfully adding attractive honeysuckle and spice tones. Then there is the ‘1927 Vines’ Marsanne, from a single plot planted in that year, which is harvested slightly earlier to retain freshness and then aged in bottle before release. These are especially taut wines which still feel extremely young aged ten and have potential for further cellaring. Tahbilk reds are also very good and increasingly interesting. The Cabernets are well made and the Shiraz, particularly the Eric Steven Purbrick’s blend and the famous 1860 Vines are both terrific, the latter a strapping ball of minty blackcurrants and sweet oak, wonderfully attractive. Interestingly Tahbilk, along with Jim Barry Wines, are members of a new winemakers group – Australia’s First Families of Wine – twelve wine estates that are still family run. There’s an interesting video worth looking at which gives an overview of the group plus profiles of each member. Have a look at this link:

Jim Barry, Lodge Hill Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia, 2008: Taut, limes, fresh; good nose; palate taut, trifle short, will develop. 11.5%  88/100

Jim Barry, The Florita, Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia 2009: Some honey and limes; bit more oomph and zest on the palate; attractive 90/100

Jim Barry, The Cover Drive, Cabernet Sauvignon Clare Valley, South Australia 2008: Lifted berry notes to the nose; very big voluptuous wines, some mint. 88+/100

Jim Barry, The First Eleven, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia 2006: Deep, dark wine, black red; ripe, mint, menthol and tar; good palate, quite flashy and open but good bite, chocolate at the back; warm, warn and rich finish. Good 90+/100

Jim Barry, The Benbournie, Cabernet Sauvignon  Clare Valley, South Australia  2004: Ripe, creamy nose; some cassis; big blackcurrants, opulent with sweetness; on the high alcohol side. Big [15.5%]. 91/100

Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill, Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia 2008: Deep dark; fresh; wet stone and minerals; big berry notes; up front and voluptuous, quite alcoholic. 88+/100

Jim Barry, McRae Wood Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia 2006: Deep black red; bright; sweet exotic wine; ripe palate, quite big, berry and warm finish [15.5%] 91+/100

Jim Barry, The Armagh, Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia 2006: Deep arterial saturated colour; some minerals, crushed rocks; nice Shiraz perfume; velvety palate with good structure – a big wine but voluptuous; high in alcohol but not burning – works in a wonderfully exotic, decadent way. 93+/100

Vasse Felix, Sauvignon/Semillon, Margaret River, Western Australia 2009: Fresh, citrus, some real zest; nettles and herbs on the palate; quite neutral. 12.5% 88/100

Vasse Felix, Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia 2009: Pale straw; nicely taut nose; tropical side but some restraint here; good body and some race; good; nice bite at the end. 13% 90/100

Vasse Felix, Heytebury Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia 2008: Pale straw; toast and some butterscotch; but quite taut almost Burgundian palate; some pinneable and citrus elements; great wine; taut and balanced; would go wonderfully with lobster. Great 94+/100

Vasse Felix, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Margaret River, Western Australia 2008: Mid red/black; attractive; some leafy minty Cab notes; attractive also some undergrowth and earth; supple mid weight palate; well balanced wine with nice blackcurrant and mint fruit. Bit of bite at the end. Well balanced and well done. 91/100

Vasse Felix, Shiraz, Margaret River, Western Australia, 2007: Black red; sweet opulent nose; some minerals and crushed rocks; some pretty qualities too with perfume; some violets and red fruits on palate; very clean and precise; nice wines here; attractive. 90+/100

Vasse Felix, Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia 2007: Deep red/black; very minty and intense blackcurrants here; very attractive; good nose; palate very open and attractive; full; maybe lacks a bit of bite on the palate [compared with the grip of the Coonawarra Cabs]. Very attractive nevertheless. 90+/100

Vasse Felix, Heytesbury, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Margaret River, Western Australia 2007: Mid red black; chalky, mineral note; quite pretty red; violets and lift too; nice palate, good balance, well done here; finely balanced with good length and chewy tannins. Excellent Cabernet blend. 93-94+/100

Tahbilk, Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2007: Straw; fresh, real fruit too – apricots and some spices; good and refreshing. 88+/100

Tahbilk, Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2002: Deep gold; honey and attractive roundness; quite fat – lively grapefruit notes with freshness still. 90/100

Tahbilk, ‘1927 vines’ Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2000: Pale straw; honeyed but still pretty neutral; some limes and lemon; taut and will be long-lived. 92+/100

Tahbilk, ‘1927 vines’ Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 1999: Straw; slightly green tinge; fresh, citrus notes; lots of life and zest; some palate development but still feels very youthful; some grapefruit and citrus zest. 92+/100

Tahbilk, Viognier, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2009: Very pale; some floral qualities; some honey and quite attractive; candy on the palate; freshness. Good – very balanced and fresh. 90+/100

Tahbilk, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2006: Deep, dark; lots of eucalyptus and mint notes; attractive; good palate, with sweet ripe fruit with a minty attractive palate; quite chewy tannin; chocolate and espresso on the finish. Quite chewy at end. Good and quite taut. 14.5% 90/100

Tahbilk, Eric Stevens Purbrick Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes Victoria, 2004: Black red; some red at edge; ripe minty notes; some blackcurrants; attractive; more open and less monolithic than I remember their Cabs to be from the mid-90s; palate quite layered; nice tannins and ripe; chocolate; attractive. Quite sweet finish. [14%] 91+/100

Tahbilk, Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2006: Quite black red; quite round and harmonious; some chalk and some dark red fruits; quite seductive palate; quite open and full. Ripeness here plus some tannin. Good 88+/100

Tahbilk, Eric Stevens Purbrick 2004 Shiraz Nagambie Lakes Victoria: Mid red/black; attractive nose; spices; warm; quite open; some pepper and spice; attractive layered nose; very good; palate similarly good with blackcurrants and chew with dark fruits; warm; good, intense wine with good length.  92+/100

Tahbilk, 1860 Vines, Shiraz Nagambie Lakes Victoria 2004: Deep, red black; tight to rim; very vibrant nose; attractive mint and blackcurrant notes; quite fleshy with sweet oak, attractive; lashings of fruit; will age well; good density and bite/chew at the back. Bit of burn but very attractive. [14.5%] 93-94+/100

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