Wolf Blass – old, new and better?
To be honest, I’m historically not a massive Wolf Blass fan. Or, at least I’ve not always been a fan of the ‘house style’, It’s a style that is more about winemaking and impact than any semblance of fruit, or indeed moderation and balance. A style that, as you can see by the reviews below, I think often doesn’t actually improve in the cellar (it just gets older)
Of course my lack of love for the Wolf Blass style is more about personal preference than anything else. Yet the question has to be posed – would some of the older wines look better now if they had been made with less heavy-handed winemaking?
|Wolf Blass Black Label x 2|
I think Wolf Blass winemaking Senior Winemaker Caroline Dunn has been asking that question too. More than just pondering, the Blass team of the noughties – of which Dunn is an integral part – is actually changing the whole ethos away from those sort of wine, as she thinks they’re not as good as they could be (or at least that is the impression I got).
What that means is less new wood. It means less added tannin (still plenty of added acid though). It means (single) vineyards and sub regional wines. It means wines that are not ‘made’ as much as they are ‘grown’, the grapes picked on on ‘fruit, rather than just what can be made of it’ (as Caroline herself describes it).
Of course such moves are still a stylistic ideal, an ideal that is such a divergence from the Wolf Blass recipe that any changes are going to be gradual ones. Still, there is no questioning that the 2010 wines, in particular, are perhaps the best Wolf Blass wines in recent years.
Speaking of the wines then, I had the opportunity to taste through the following lineup of assorted Wolf Blass releases with Caroline Dunn and Matt O’Leary at a function in Sydney recently. As you can see there was a large spread of vintages and labels covering all stages of the Wolf Blass evolution. If I had to pick a favourite generation, I’d be fast forwarding straight to 2010, skipping go on the way through…
Notes are as written on the day with extra bits on the newer releases are in italics. I tried my utmost to bank my prejudices and just judge these wines as examples of their style.
Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Mint and oak. That’s about it. A powerfully minty Langhorne Cabernet nose with very rich, dark chocolate edges. It’s a quite dry and clinical wine actually, if certainly heavy with impact and oak. Ultimately this is too minty, too oaky and too angular for real love, even though I appreciate the power. Score sits somewhere in between. 16.5/20 88/100
Wolf Blass Grey Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Shiraz 2010
56% Cabernet, 41% Shiraz. 51% French 49% American oak for 18 months. 15% alc. pH 3.44
Lovely red ruby chocolate fruits on the nose. Very sweetly oaked and flattering. Bright purple colour too. Plump and red berried palate is surprisingly juicy and less firmly structured than previous iterations. I do wonder if this will ultimately be an early drinker (in the Wolf Blass context)? Regardless I quite liked it – very modern and affable, but attractive because of it. Deserves praise. 18/20 93/100
Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2004
Choc mints aplenty. Lovely chocolate regional mint/oak combo. Very drying and backward style, with something of a hole towards the back. Achingly young. Aching! The extra generosity worked a treat here over the Cabernet. Very old school regardless. 17/20 90/100
Wolf Blass Grey Label McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010
52% French, 48% American oak for 18 months. 15% alc. pH 3.49
Very sweetly vanilla oaked. All red fruit and a hint of confection. Is this a little too sweet pulpy and juicy? Should build in the bottle greatly, but a high tolerance for rich oak is required. 17.5/20 91/100+
Wolf Blass Black Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Shiraz 1978
Under cork. Fully tawny colour, this was all treacle, coffee and leather. Drying and dry, this has still quite firm tannins and a fully resolved style. Carries a little fruit still but largely just tea leaf tannins driven. Like some of the mid palate richness too. Nicely resolved earthen middle. A curio perhaps but still drinkable in its mode. 17/20 90/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Merlot 1985
Cork. Rather more chocolatey and generous and youthful than the 78, this looks quite plummy and fresh really. Very chocolaty if quite scorched almond and concentrated raisined edges. Such concentration! Interesting if a fraction black and porty. I like how this builds through the mushrooms finish. Builds in the glass too. Enjoyable and entirely balanced wine that I’d drink. 18/20 93/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Shiraz 1996
Cork. Back with the sweet oak. A disappointing, overwrought wine this one, with too much oak for that fruit methinks, it’s more like tawny than wine. A difficult wine to rate on that regard as personally I think this is a hulking bulk of oak and tannins with little fruit generosity. Yet many will love it. Do you give credit for those tannins? I think it can’t be ignored. Too much artifice though really. I liked this less and less the more I look at it. 16.3/20 87/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Barossan Shiraz Cab Malbec 2002
Mainly Barossa, mainly Shiraz based wine in a lineup of mainly Langhorne Creek wines. A very differ colour too – much more purple and obviously Shiraz dominant. I’m not sure this should even be a Black Label to be honest, as it is so un-Black label like. Immediately a softer wine than those around it with a sausage meat and plum nose that is actually fresher than some of the straight cabs. Really treacly fruit and lots of tannins, if lacking a little freshness. A fraction stressed through the finish too. Scorched tannins. I think this is lesser in this lineup. More stewed and less classic. Still has recognisably high quality fruit to drag it all through (and bump the score up a bit). 17.5/20 91/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2008
73% Langhorne Creek, 14% Barossa, 13% McLaren Vale. 22 months in French and American oak. pH 3.35.
Rather more purple and juicy in context. Just a fraction raisined and porty black fruit style but retains freshness. Quite juicy and chocolaty if porty around the edges. Quite classic tannins. Much fresher than the 02, if notably propped up by added acid. Still pretty successful wine. 17.7/20 92/100+
Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz 1998
Under cork.Very rich chocolate fruit. A wine of artifice and added acid. Lovely plushness though. That concentration is admirable though – it’s big and unshamedly so. You can’t argue with that weight and tannin. Grange it ain’t but high quality fruit underneath. 17.7/20 92/100
Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz 2002
Sausages! Smoky sausage nose. Smoky, oaky and utterly divisive with so much quite smoky flavours and incredibly backwards fruit. Odd and intriguing this is genuinely rich, layered and has a real wildness to it. Perhaps the most interesting wine of the day. 18.3/20 93/100
Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz 2004
Coffee and volatiles. I think this looks a little overripe actuallly which is plain odd. A luscious chocolate and rum and raisin style but also a fraction hot. What happened in 2004 at Wolf Blass? 17.5/20 90/100
Wolf Blass Platinum Label Barossa Shiraz 2009
Sourced from a block that dates back to 1914 at Dorrien in the ‘Central North Barossa Valley floor. 22 months in French oak barriques. 14% alc. pH 3.37
Few would probably even realise that this is a single vineyard wine now. High fives Wolf Blass. A Very purple and very Barossan wine is this, with a barrel sample esque freshness. Very plump red fruit and loads of red berries. It’s even quite soft really, the tannins light and the flavours all quite generous. You would even call it restrained and complete in the Wolf Blass style. Top Barossan Shiraz in a very new school Barossan mould.18.2/20 93/100