Barossa show turns on a treat

A long winemaking history, varied landscapes, large area under vine and sheer numbers of winemakers underlie the Barossa Valley’s ability to make so many wine styles so well.

Riesling, semillon, chardonnay, viognier, shiraz, grenache, grenache-mourvedre-shiraz blends, cabernet sauvignon and a range of sublime fortifieds all earned gongs at last week’s Barossa Wine Show.

This tasty mix of the traditional and new reflects two decades of change caused by export driven vineyard expansion, producer rationalisation, an explosion in the numbers of small makers and constant reappraisal and fine tuning of wine styles.

While the Barossa remains the home of generally big, burly reds, a shift to greater emphasis on fruit and less on oak and tannin can be seen in wines from many makers around the Valley.

Increasingly, wine judges support this shift in style and at last week’s show, two of the most important trophies went to elegant but complex reds of great flavour concentration.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz 2004 towered above the younger shirazes in its class and won hands down in the trophy ballot against other gold-medal reds. First produced in 1997 by John Duval, RWT aims to capture the sweet perfume and supple depth of carefully selected Barossa shiraz matured in fine French oak.

It provides a remarkable contrast to the power of American-oak-matured Grange, even though much of the fruit for each is sourced from the Kalimna dunes sub-region in the northwestern Barossa.

Runner up to Penfolds RWT Shiraz for the red wine of the show title was Henschke Johann’s Garden 2004, a grenache-mourvedre blend.  This has the limpid colour and lifted perfume of grenache with mourvedre adding depth and backbone to an amazingly silky palate.

These are magnificent wines, beautifully expressing region and variety and inviting another sip. Though the release dates on these screw cap sealed reds is a few years off, they are must buys as they represent a significant lift in Barossa red wine quality as well as a change in style.

Another old Barossa wine restyled in recent years is semillon, the most prolific white in the region. The heavy, oaky, prematurely ageing versions have been replaced by vibrant, fresh, intensely flavoured with considerable cellaring potential – exemplified in the show by Peter Lehmann Reserve Semillon 2001 and 2002 and St Johns Road ‘First Eleven’ Semillon 2004.

Barossa makers nailed the riesling style decades ago and the best from the Eden Valley (the elevated Eastern edge of the Barossa) are truly great wines with long term cellaring potential. The highest scoring wines from this year’s show were Peter Lehmann Eden Valley 2005 and Yalumba Contours Eden Valley 2001. Many of the just-missed-outs, though, seem set to shine as they mature (see wines reviewed below).

While there’ll be more on the Barossa next week (an overview of the landscape from geologist-turned-wine-merchant, David Farmer) it’s fitting to close this week’s column with the great treasures from the fortified classes of the show.

Fortifieds may be in decline. But the ancient stocks held in the Barossa, especially the reserves stretching back for more than a century at Seppeltsfield, are unique in the world.

Yalumba Old Fino and Grant Burge 20 Year Old Tawny seemed good enough. But beside the profound Seppelt DP 90 Rare Tawny, all else is forgotten. This pale tawny, ancient –but-fresh masterpiece is the work of James Godfrey, using the amazing palette of flavours hidden in those venerable old barrels at Seppeltsfield.

WINE REVIEWS

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2004 $19.95 to $22.95
Yalumba offers three viogniers, each outstanding at its price – and little wonder. Since establishing Australia’s first significant plantings in the Eden Valley in 1980, they’ve worked hard to tame and bottle what winemaker Louisa Rose calls an ‘incredibly challenging’ and ‘unpredictable’ variety. The amazingly plush, complex $60-a-bottle ‘The Virgilius’ comes from those original plantings; and at the other end the $10-$13 ‘Y’ is a tasty South Australia blend. In between, at $19.95 cellar door or $22.95 retail, comes this trophy winner from the recent Cowra and Barossa Shows. Partly barrel and partly tank fermented with indigenous yeast, it offers viognier’s unique and delicious apricot-like aroma and flavour and silky, slippery texture.

Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Riesling 2005 $16 to $20
More often than not the very best rieslings reveal more as they age. This was reflected in last week’s Barossa wine show results. Amongst the 2005 vintage contenders, the flagship rieslings of Peter Lehmann, Yalumba and Leo Buring all rated behind cheaper commercial releases from the same companies. But, over time, we are sure to see those delicate, steely flagships surge ahead. Meanwhile, as these mature, there’s huge drinking pleasure in the more revealing, slightly cheaper rieslings like this trophy winner from Peter Lehmann. With lovely aromatics, delicious fruit and taut, ultra-fresh, dry finish, it’s a stunning summer drink. Watch for the specials when it’s released in the next month or two.

Yalumba Barossa Bush Vines Grenache 2004 about $18
This gold medal winner from last week’s Barossa show presents a fragrant, bright, fruity expression of grenache without the confection character sometimes found in the variety. Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury says it’s all sourced from 60-70 year old Barossa vines. The fruit is hand picked, crushed, partially de-stemmed then left in fermenters varying in capacity from 8 to 20 tonnes. After a couple of days soaking on skins a spontaneous ferment begins but this is augmented by the addition of cultured yeasts shortly thereafter. Part of the wine sits on skins for a few months after fermentation. The balance goes to 3, 4 and 5 year old barrels for maturation.  The result is a generous, soft, savoury red featuring slightly brighter fruit in the about-to-be-released 2004 than in the more savoury, currently available 2003.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007

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