Beyond the Graveyard – Brokenwood’s top new red
(This article first appeared in a recent edition of LattéLife magazine. The article is thus written in a more ‘lifestyle’ fashion, the tasting notes that follow are not).
Grapegrowing is a thankless business. Despite the simple joy of spending your days in the peace and quiet of the vineyard, there is no escaping the fact that, once all the romance is gone, it is still farming after all (and I think we all know how hard farming can be).
|I drank a whole bottle of Quail for this review
Suffering for my art I was
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Hunter Valley, a part of the wine world that produces some of Australia’s greatest wines, whilst dishing out some of the most problematic weather in the process.
In 2010 the Hunter dished out a dose of this ‘challenging’ weather too, with Brokenwood’s famous Graveyard vineyard particularly damaged by a combination of 46C heat, hail and torrential rain that ultimately destroyed vines, reduced yields and forced the vineyard’s grapes to be picked earlier than normal.
Unsurprisingly, the resultant wine produced from this torrid season didn’t quite look like a Graveyard Shiraz either. It didn’t quite have the power or the weight of a typical Graveyard, although it did have that classic structure. It was, for all practical purposes, an ‘almost’ wine…
The dilemma for Brokenwood winemaker Iain Riggs was simply what to do with this parcel – still high quality, still well structured and firm, it was too good for a basic Hunter Shiraz, yet not quite a ‘Graveyard’.
For the answer, Riggs looked towards the great blenders of yesteryear, to famous winemakers Maurice O’Shea and Colin Preece, both of whom, some 60 years ago, overcame vintage vagaries in their respective regions (Hunter Valley and Great Western respectively) via the time honoured art of blending. O’Shea, in particular, was known for his ability to take juice from different varieties, vineyards and regions, coupling them together into a blended wine that was much more than just the sum of its parts.
Riggs thus went looking for a component to complete this Shiraz – and found it in McLaren Vale. 2010 in ‘the Vale’ was a cracker you see, and Riggs has at his disposal some wonderful Shiraz from the famous Wade Block. Given how successful previous vintages of the HBA (a similar blend of McLaren Vale and Hunter Shiraz performed it seemed only natural to couple them together again.
Hence the 2010 Brokenwood Quail Shiraz ($95) was born, a super blend of Hunter Valley and McLaren Vale Shiraz that, like those famous wines from the 50s, again shows just how much joy can be had from a good quality blend.
Wines such as the Quail also beg the question – are single variety; single site wines really the main answer Obviously they purport to show more terroir and more individuality, but are they really actually better drinks? Surely super blends – like Grange – show that by blending we can craft more even more impressive wines? Or is that just homogenising our wines?
The verdict is out on that topic, in the meantime, however, there is no doubting the joy of this Brokenwood Quail Shiraz. It’s lovely stuff.
Brokenwood Stanleigh Park Semillon 2007 (Hunter Valley, NSW) $50
I had this with a dish of spicy mussels and it looked tip-top. Hunter Sem with a few years under its belt is seriously food friendly stuff.
As the name suggests this was drawn from the silt flats of the Stanleigh Park vineyard, located just off Wilderness Road between Rothbury and Lovedale in the lower Hunter Valley. Handpicked, crushed and pressed immediately and then fermented with neutral yeasts. 2007 was a warm, ripe vintage probably better known for reds than whites, though top Sems wines were still produced. Alcohol 10.5%, TA 6.6 g/l, pH 2.95, RS 2.4g/L.
A rather open and generous sort of wine this one, all lemon grass and lime in a very open knit and quite citrussy fashion. There is an edge of toast creeping in but still very primary, complete with a slight green pea edge. Palate is soft yet also quite well proportioned, already quite ready to drink, the acidity looking gentle, the edges rounded off. It’s not going to tire any time soon – indeed it will get more complex – yet no doubting the immediate appeal.
Drink: Now – 2020
Score: 17.8/20, 92/100
Would I buy some? On a restaurant wine list, at a fair price, I’d be jumping on this.
Brokenwood Quail Shiraz 2010 (Hunter, NSW & McLaren Vale, SA) RRP $95
Quail is not strictly a new wine in the scheme of things, being actually just an early released HBA. A blend of Wade Block 2 and Graveyard vineyard fruit, with the Graveyard fruit seeing just French oak, the Wade French coopered American (so many winemakers choose this form of American oak. Seems to work). Alc. 13.8%, TA 6.4g/L, pH 3.39.
A very compact, fresh and ‘I’ve just been just bottled’ style Shiraz, the joy here is all about the more chocolatey, more richly oaked overt plum Vale fruit and the lighter, more translucent, more earthen Hunter component. That Vale component is initially more dominant and I was worried it might stay that way but more earthen Hunter notes fill out the finish. Texturally it’s very compact and polished, the whole package silken and very stylish with proper fine tannins. There is a real core of deep polished fruit here, rich yet savoury. Top tier Shiraz, and with many years ahead of it.
Drink: Now – 2030
Score: 18.5/20, 94/100
Would I buy it? It’s expensive, no question about it. I’d happily have some in my cellar and contemplated buying some recently. I just know it will be a tasty old wine…
Brokenwood Mistress Block Shiraz 2010 (Hunter Valley, NSW) $75
I’ve always enjoyed the Mistress Block, particularly as it often as looks less ‘wrought’ than the Graveyard and generally more ‘classically Hunter’. The price has jumped up noticeably in recent years though.
The Mistress Block is located not far from the Graveyard Block, again in ‘chocolate loam’. It escaped the hail in 2010 and was picked very early in good condition. 50/50 French vs American oak maturation, that rich soil said to work better with the slightly more overt American oak. Alc 13.5%, TA 6.3g/L, pH 3.37.
Light and peppery nose of rhubarb and even cranberry with a little leather. Very classic Hunter if every there was one, the wine utterly medium bodied. Purple, pulpy and even palate has lovely purple berry fruit and savoury lines, if not quite the definition of the best vintage. That lightness is quite attractive in context, bound to endear to anyone who loves Hunter Shiraz.
Score: 17.8/20, 92/100
Would I buy it? Hmm. Love the style, not sure if I’d pay the dollars. If it was closer to $50 I think that would be an ‘I’d buy it’
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Interesting article (as always!)
I've bought lots of Hunter Semillon recently. Most of it has a lanolin quality to it which I'm still not sure about. But some has none, just clean lemony qualities. I prefer the latter.
What's your take on lanolin semillons? Do most have it? Is it something people expect? What does it mean if there's none present?