O’Leary puts Hardy’s red back on track

South Australia’s 1990 reds are spectacularly good. That was the one sure thing learned visiting a handful of wineries and tasting dozens of reds over there a few weeks back.

At Hardy’s Tintara winery in McLaren Vale, winemaker David O’Leary opened a dazzling array of 1990 reds from the humble $6 a bottle Hardy McLaren Vale Hermitage to the top-of-the-range Reynella Stonyhill Cabernet Sauvignon, Hardys Collection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and Hardy Eileen Hardy Shiraz.

The 1990 McLaren Vale Hermitage is one of the greatest friends the wine drinker will ever find when it is released in a few weeks time. It perfectly demonstrates many of the points made in last week’s column about good vineyards and winemakers’ skills maturing at about the same time.

With a keen appreciation of McLaren Vale’s ability to produce robust reds from the shiraz (or hermitage) grape, O’Leary, with encouragement of the marketing department, set about making the real thing in volume and on a low budget.

With so many new vineyards coming on tap, he had no trouble sourcing grapes from the McLaren Vale area. In fact, about ninety five per cent of the local shiraz goes into this one brand. The balance, the cream of the crop, goes into Eileen Hardy and Reynella.

Gone are the days of picking grapes early to make lighter reds. O’Leary uses only fully ripened shiraz even in the mass-produced budget wine. And while the grapes for this are crushed in a continuous press, not the old basket presses mentioned last week, about half of the total undergoes fermentation in open concrete vats.

These open fermenters allow the fermenting wine plenty of contact with air: two funnels per tank plunge through the wine three to four times a day forcing warmer wine from under the cap of skins to the surface. As well, the wine is drained off sending the header boards and skins (the cap) to the bottom of the vat, breaking it and allowing hot spots to cool as the wine is pumped back over, refloating the cap.

During this process, the wine absorbs oxygen, producing mellow flavours and introducing a firmer texture and structure.

Meanwhile, the other half of Hardys McLaren Vale Hermitage undergoes anaerobic fermentation in modern stainless steel Vin0matic fermenters. Fermentations is at a lower temperature than in the open vats. As a result this portions captures more of the pure fruit aromas and flavours.

After fermentation, both components are blended together and placed in five to six year old oak barrels for a twelve-month maturation period. The wine’s sleep is disturbed several times as it is drained out and put back into the barrels (racked). This aerates the wine and allows winemakers to remove sediment.

By the time it is bottled, the wine retains some of the aromatic characters of the anaerobically handled portion with its lively fresh fruit characters on the palate. But the aerobic part finishes the wine giving it the firm mouth feel…or structure…that all red wine drinkers look for.

In the better reds, where more time (and therefore money) may be spent in production, O’Leary leans ever further to aerobic handling. In his view the wines are simply better to drink.

Thus, the Reynella Stonyhill and Eileen Hardy reds, for example, are crushed in the old basket presses, fermented entirely in open vats, finish off their ferments in small oak barrels, and are regularly racked during maturation.

The quality of these wines from the 1990 and 1991 vintages is nothing short of sensational. There is no doubt in my mind that the Reynella Cabernets are at least the equal of the fabled, long-lived reds produced from the same vineyards under the Chateau Reynella label in the 1960’s. Chances are the new wines are even better, but only a decade in the cellar will tell for sure.

While the 1990 Reynella would have to rank as one of the best and most complete Australian cabernets I’ve ever tasted, the 1990 Eileen Hardy Shiraz is also bound to make its mark.

Here we see that Padthaway, renowned for its whites but tending to make lighter reds, has at least one great patch of shiraz. O’Leary spent three years down at Padthaway where the Hardy winemaking team identified a low yielding block that consistently produced outstanding berries.

Blended with a small amount of Clare shiraz, grapes from the selected Padthaway block have produced one of the best Eileen Hardys yet in the great 1990 vintage.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1992 & 2007