Unlocked: Australia’s First Families of Wine

Tastings

‘We’ve been hanging around for a long time, and these buggers are still making me laugh. They’re like the Rolling Stones,’ said Peter Barry, about halfway through the tasting, rosy-cheeked and on the cusp of causing trouble.

You can see them up there on the stage. Mick, Keith, Bill and Charlie. All talented, a couple quiet and introspective, the others sassy and jaunty, ready to tell a story from past events or the rowdy toga partying days of Roseworthy.

Apart from entertaining and misbehaving in front a crowd of ebullient tasters, the old gener’s all spoke about their wines and their histories. Between the 12 winemaking families there are 16 growing regions, 5000 hectares of vines and, apparently this is true!, 1500 years of winemaking experience.

You could list a paragraph of superlatives to describe the AFFW family. Watching them chiack could have been a performance in itself, and I could have penned a piece on their antics alone. But there was wine, cherry picked from the families private cellars, presented as a serious masterclass that featured some of our country’s best wines.

The first part of the tasting was a sit down event while the old generation offered a snapshot of their story. Afterwards, everyone moved out and had some food and chatted to the new generation about their wines and their brands moving forward into the future. It was an entertaining tasting and a night one won’t forget in a hurry.

I’ve included my tasting notes below, along with the list of wines from the New Generation:

2001 Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne
Nagambie Lakes, Victoria.
Alc: 10.5%
96 points.

What a way to start. Metallic gold with a whitish hue. It smells like a jar of marmalade, although the sugary pungency has softened over the years. The wine comes from a single vineyard, and is thus different to Tahbilk’s entry level Marsanne. It’s (hand) picked earlier. When it’s taken from the skins, it’s a pool of brown oxidised juice. Tahbilk add yeast and then ferment. The result’s a pool of light and strong acidic juice with many layers of minerality. Explains why it ages so well.

And it’s still there, thirteen years later. It’s viscous on the palate. Thick marmalade and honeysuckle. Dares you to leave it in the cellar longer. There’s enough acid around the edges to leave for another couple of decades.

Tasters Approach

2005 McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon
Hunter Valley, NSW.
Alc: 11.5%
93 points.

They say when you first make Semillon it’s a non-descript wine. Colourless, brimming with acid. It explains why they age with grace.

The wine’s almost a decade old but it’s still displaying youthfulness. It’s colour is an Olympic gold medal in the sun. Tastes of lemon myrtle and a chunk of freshly squeezed lemon and lime zest, a touch of grapefruit. Was yearning for a bowl of South Australian prawns to magically appear on the table.

2004 Tyrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay
Hunter Valley, NSW.
Alc: 13%
94 points.

‘Well, the Hunter Valley’s the cradle of the wine Industry,’ said Bruce Tyrell, before Peter Barry chortled and the crowd laughed.

The Chardonnay’s flinty, buttery and finally acidic. Stony and complex. The wine’s hand-picked and hand-sorted in the vineyard. All Vat 47 is basket pressed. Honeysuckle, grapefruit, lots of time left on the clock. One of the best Chardonnay’s around.

1995 Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Margaret River, WA.
Alc: 14%
91 points.

‘I wasn’t that happy to put the ’95 up,’ said Jeff Burch. ‘But my wife did it while I was overseas playing golf. And here we are.’

In the glass, the wine looks like a dark macerated cherry. Redish around the edges. The nose is wet with red cherry and a little daub of cassis. The wine’s still going strong. A little cocoa and clove around the edges to pique the palate.

AFFW Tasting Panel

1999 Taylors St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon
Clare Valley, SA.
Alc: 15%
93 points.

Love 90s Cabernet. Especially the deep, dark and minty style from Clare. ’99 was a dry and cold vintage. Fifteen years later it’s still looking swell. The wine hasn’t gone flabby and the fruit’s still firm. Cocoa denseness. Standing in good stead. It reminds me of walking in the bush at the crack of dawn: herbs and eucalypt and a little bark underfoot. Brandy soaked cherries to finish around your tongue.

2005 Yalumba FDR1A Museum Release Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz
Barossa Valley, SA.
Alc: 14%
95 points.

Robert Hill Smith said Cabernet from a good vintage is often akin to a donut: round around the edges and a little vacuous in the middle. The Shiraz rounds it out. The fruit is predominately from the Eden Valley, and it’s aromatic, a little lighter and spicier than fruit from the Barossa. 80% Cabernet and 20% Shiraz. The wine’s not too heavy on alcohol or fruitiness, and balances beautifully. Robert reckons opening anything like this up too early is infanticide, and while this one’s great now it could go for a few more laps around the track.

2005 Brown Brothers Cellar door Release Shiraz Mondeuse and Cabernet
King Valley, VIC.
Alc: 13.5%
92 points.

Mondeuse was first planted in 1907 by a Victorian viticulturist to reflect a different style. All three varieties here are bravely co-fermented. Ross Brown reckons it’s a ‘good wedding wine’, even if it lasts longer than most marriages, due to the acidity of the Mondeuse. You get the berries and liquorice from the Shiraz, the acidity from the Moundeuse and the final grip from the Cabernet.

2009 d’Arenberg The Eight Iron Single Vineyard Shiraz
McLaren Vale, SA.
Alc: 15%
92 points.

Chester didn’t want to talk much about wine. Before the tasting, he arrived at the front to show us his jacket. ‘It’s snake skin,’ he said. ‘Got it from a taxidermy auction. The only piece of clothing that was there. Everyone was buying deer heads but I found this bargain.’

After a few forays into talking about Toga parties and the Beatles, Roseworthy and Panel vans, the conversation finally slipped to wine.

‘Some might say I was cheeky throwing in an ’09. But it’s the first time we’ve done a Single Vineyard’

The wine’s peppery, with fennel and liquorice, and a little violet and lavender on the finish. This comes from the oldest Single Vineyard in the d’Arenberg lot. Grey loam on top of limestone. No fertilisation or irrigation for 30 years.

‘I don’t know why we have 100 employees,’ Chester quipped. ‘There’s really nothing to do.’

2005 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz
Eden Valley, SA.
Alc: 14.5%
97 points.

What excited me most about this wine was the incredibly long palate and its aroma. The adjective ‘long’, ubiquitous in most wine pieces, doesn’t do this one justice. Language is still behind the senses. You’d swear there were a few sprigs of sage floating around the glass. It runs on the palate like a deck of falling dominoes. Blackberry, blackcurrant, dried thyme and sage, so much herbiness, and the last tug of tannin that arrives out of no-where. Nearly ten years old but tastes like it’s two. Lingers in all its intricate and savoury glory.

Stephen Henschke and Peter Barry

2006 Jim Barry ‘The Armagh’ Shiraz
Clare Valley, SA.
Alc: 15.6%
94 points.

Aniseed in the glass. Cherry hue, deep plummy colour. Quince and blackberries. ‘The Armagh’ comes from low yielding vines in sandy gravel and a north-west facing sloped vineyard. This wine is big on the alcohols, sitting at the 15.6% mark. It’s like sinking into a stick of liquorice, with a little menthol and some cinnamon stick on the sides. This is still big and ripe. Am looking forward to this one in twenty years.

‘I only drink to make boring people more interesting’ said Peter Barry. You’ll only need a couple of glasses of this to get you laughing!

2000 DeBortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon
Riverina, NSW.
Alc: 10.7%
95 points.

Still the stellar Botrytis. Apricots and nectarines, orange zest and sugary glory. It’s how I like my dessert wine: viscous and beautifully bombastic. Sweet with layers of fruit and nut. Find me some Stilton or get a pavlova in the oven. This wine was born around the time of Bon Jovi, big blow-dried hair dos and power chords, after a wet season when the grapes were left alone. Sometime in the early ’80s. Damn.

Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat
Rutherglen, Vic.
Alc: 18%
95 points.

Rare by name, rare by nature. Privileged to sip this Muscat. Soaked raisins, almonds, almonds, almonds. The wine persists like batter from a fruitcake on your tongue. When I was a kid I’d run my finger along the bowl – the gooey flour, dried fruit, remnants of rum in there – and years later, sitting at the tasting, I could have been back in the kitchen of an old house. The power of the palate.

After the tasting we moved out and ate some food and poured some of the new generation wines, all listed below.

-2014 Tyrell’s Johnno’s Semillon
-2013 Jim Barry ‘The Florita’ Riesling
-2013 Campbells Limited Release Roussanne
-2013 McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant 8 Acres Semillon
-2012 Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier
-2013 Henschke Archer’s Vineyard Chardonnay
-2012 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Pinot Noir
-2012 Howard Park Flint Rock Pinot Noir
-2013 Brown Brothers Montepulciano
-2009 d’Arenberg Beautiful View Single Vineyard Grenache
-2010 Tahbilk Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz
-2013 Taylors TWP Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc
-2008 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut

‘We have always had an eye to the future and have continued to search for the new, the edgy and the innovative. These wines – presented by the Next Generation of our families – are the new direction for our wineries and encapsulate our thinking and vision for the future.’

Australian First Families of Wine

-12 Winemaking Families
-16 Wine growing regions
-5,000 hectares of vines
-48 Generations
-1,200 years of winemaking experience

Check out their website: www.australiasfirstfamiliesofwine.com.au

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