History in a bottle

In the early seventies Lindeman head Ray Kidd began cellaring large quantities of premium wines for later release. The cellar became a treasure trove for consumers (through periodic releases of perfectly-cellared classics) and for the wine industry because of the sheer scale and scope of wines held. This massive wine museum continues to provide great insights into the potential of many regions, but especially of the Hunter Valley, Clare-Watervale, Padthaway, and Coonawarra.

The sublime skills of Lindemans wine makers under Ray Kidd, however, were not matched in the marketing department. And the original Classic Release Scheme, hatched in the late seventies, ignored fundamental changes that had taken place in the retail trade.

Classic Wine Stockists” were appointed to carry the special cellar releases. These were widely sprinkled across Australia, but the majority of liquor retailers missed out. Most probably didn’t care and were incensed not that “Stockists” got a supply of the classics but that they bought Lindemans other premium wines at a substantial discount over the rest of the trade — a discount that, as far as I could gauge at the time, was not being passed on to consumers.

(Such an artificial arrangement could not last in a newly-freed, aggressive market. I well remember a short but pointed phone call from Richard Farmer to Ray Kidd in which the Trade Practices Act was mentioned. Before long the first discounting “Stockist” joined the fray.)

Today’s Classic Release Scheme operates in a far more open market in which most liquor outlets have access to stock, albeit in small quantities, and complete freedom to price it as they will.

Speaking at this year’s release, held on the verandah of Dr Lindeman’s Cawarra homestead at Gresford, wine maker Phillip John recalled the impressive scale of early cellarings. By the mid eighties, the original air-conditioned, humidity-controlled cellar at Nyrang Street Lidcombe in Sydney’s inner western suburbs was full. And there was talk of building another next door to accomodate the constant inflow of wines.

At about this time Phillip Morris New York (owner of Lindemans at the time) questioned the wisdom of so doing. The expansion did not proceed.

Instead wines were classified into “Classics” (the absolute gems) and “fine, aged premiums” prior to a major culling and transferral of the classics to Karadoc, near Mildura. About 200,000 cases made the trip.

John says there was some talk of selling off all the stock after Penfolds bought Lindemans in 1990. But then Penfolds itself was swallowed by South Australian Brewing Holdings (now Southcorp). They’ve decided to keep the cellar and, so, Ray Kidd’s dream is to be fulfilled with annual releases of true classics. Here are my reviews of this year’s releases:

Lindemans Hunter River Sparkling Shiraz 1986 (about $35)

If, unlike me, you enjoy sparkling burgundies, this one is first class. It does offer unusual richness and flavours unique to Hunter shiraz in a great vintage.

Lindemans Hunter River Chardonnay Reserve Bin 5881 (about $31)

A lovely old white, at the venerable old age of 13 showing sweet, honeyed aromas similar to those in old Hunter semillons. The palate has the rich, lush, roundness of chardonnay but with that lovely honey-like sweetness of age.

Lindemans Hunter River Semillon Bin 6855 1986 (About $35)

Simply glorious — a beautiful, delicate, gently ageing white.

Lindemans Padthaway Chardonnay 1986 (about $37)

A very good aged chardonnay in the rich Aussie mould but to my taste not in the league of the 1986 semillon and a style now surpassed by vineyards further south.

Lindemans Coonawarra St George Cabernet 1985 (about $45)

A great red from the vintage when all the development work on St George paid off.

Lindemans Coonawarra Limestone Ridge Vineyard Shiraz Cabernet 1982 (about $45)

The judges love it but some, like me, are put off by the “sweet mulberry” aroma that Phillip John tells me is caused by a compound called dimethyl sulphide. Wine makers now go to great lengths to eliminate it.

Lindemans Reserve Porphry Bin 6436 1983 (about $35)

As good as Australian sweet wine gets.

Lindemans Hunter River Shiraz Bin 5910 1980 (about $42)

Lean, taut, deeply flavoured Hunter Shiraz not yet fully mature.

Lindemans Hunter River Shiraz Bin 7200 1986 (about $37)

One of those rare, truly great reds unique to Lindemans Hunter vineyards with intense, earthy Hunter aromas, rich palate and quite tight structure. Will cellar much longer.

Lindemans Vintage Port Bin 5532 1978 (about $85)

A unique port, far removed from the blood and thunder Aussie style. Elegant but rich, made chiefly from Corowa gran noir grapes with a touch of Adelaide Hills shiraz.