Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006
When I arrived in Australia over five years ago, I knew little about wine. South Australia in particular is a good place to learn, though there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to studying wine in an area in which it’s made. For instance, local knowledge of wines of the area can be both broad and deep, but insufficient if you want to explore wines of other areas. So as I mentioned last week, many Australians claim sparkling red wine as a homegrown innovation, overlooking Lambrusco. Some have made similar assertions which are worth exploring as to the blend of grapes in today’s wine, the Rockford Rod & Spur Barossa Valley Cabernet Shiraz 2006.
Blending different grape varieties is practised throughout most places in which wine is made. The best known area for blending could be said to be Bordeaux, where their red, white and sweet wines are typically blends of at least two grapes each. Blending is likewise common in much (but not all) of the Rhône Valley, with Châteauneuf-du-Pape being a stand out with over a dozen permitted grapes. Even in Burgundy, best known for varietal wines, there are less common blends such as the Passe-Tout-Grains.
There are a number of reasons winemakers might choose to make a blend, but the single biggest is to balance out the different characteristics of individual varieties, and commercial concerns can come into play as well. Traditionally though, blending options were limited to grapes that were grown in reasonably close proximity, for reasons of climate or culture. I believe that is why I have yet to see an Old World blend of Riesling and Palomino. In many places, these traditional grapes and blends have become enshrined in regulations, such that if you were to put together such a blend, it would be outside of all but the lowest official designation of wine quality.
However, if you move to the New World, it’s an entirely different story. While there are some grapes that have a resonance with certain areas, there are few if any restrictions as to what people can plant and blend. This allows perhaps a greater degree of experimentation and innovation, but it also means that if a customer sees a bottle of red wine on a shelf that says Barossa on the label, they cannot make any assumptions as to the grapes that went into it.
So what does any of that have to do with this wine? Cabernet Sauvignon of Bordeaux and Syrah (or Shiraz) of the Rhône are not historically grown near each other and as such are not found together in traditional blends. Some would say that in France since the grapes take on the same role of providing tannins, structure and the ability to mature over decades, to combine them would be redundant. Australia, however, embraced both varieties, often planting them in neighbouring areas and vineyards, and so was born what is claimed to be an innovative blend. It’s even found its way back to France, where some vin de pays is made in the south in that style, notably by Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) with their Val De L’Ours Vin de Pays d’Oc.
However, is it really an original Australian blend? Nearly, but not quite. In the days before strict appellation regulations, winemakers in France had a bit more flexibility as to how they handled vintage variation. Within Bordeaux, when the Cabernet components of their blends were not quite filling their role, it was not uncommon for Syrah wines to be imported and added to the cuvée. This was apparently not unusual up through roughly a hundred years ago, though it has now been largely forgotten. Largely, but not entirely, as evidenced by an experimental Château Palmer blend in 2004 that utilized Syrah from the Rhône blended with fruit from their Margaux estate, as well as by the continuing efforts of Alexandre Sirech who has replaced Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah in a Merlot blend.
All that said, I think it actually is fair to describe Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Shiraz as Australian for three main reasons. The grapes are grown in the same region, they’re blended together because when grown in Australia they have characteristics that can be complimentary and not redundant, and the blend consists of just those two varieties as opposed to potentially including the other Bordeaux reds. Australia must also be given credit for promoting the two grapes together as a blend, as opposed relying on it as a contingency.
Having spent so many words talking about this blend, it’s a good thing that Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and the Barossa Valley are already well known to this blog and we can move on to Rockford, which certainly deserves some attention.
I think Rockford is best described as an institution in South Australia. In 1971 Robert O’Callaghan purchased a set of old stone buildings dating back to the 1850s which would become the heart of Rockford. A winery was built on the location in much the same style, with a rustic feel to the entire property. His family background was in grape growing, and he trained as a winemaker with Seppelt in Rutherglen before setting out on his own. While many Barossa producers have a great deal of history and tradition in the region, Rockford is somewhat unique in that also espouses traditional tools of the trade, including the basket press which gives its name to their flagship Shiraz which is among the most sought-after in Australia according to Langton’s Classification. It’s almost The Woodwright’s Shop approach to winemaking.
While certainly best known for their Basket Press, the wine of theirs that I most commonly encounter is the Alicante Bouchet, a rosé that’s found on a vast number of wine lists in South Australia, despite being made from a grape that is not highly regarded anywhere else in the world. That may be a reflection of the nature of the company in general, in that it is so greatly appreciated within Australia, South Australia especially, that its limited production is not widely exported and unlike many of the names at the top of the Langton’s Classification, it is not so well known abroad.
Rockford also produces varietal wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, and Frontignac, as well as a Grenache / Mataro / Shiraz blend and a fortified wine. This wine, a 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Shiraz blend is somewhere in the middle of the Rockford range, and is named for the pruning method used by their growers.
In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark, brick red colour (I know, garnet is the preferred term), and slow thick legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet spice, dried red fruit (currants, raspberries, cherries), black pepper, and a little liquorice. On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium fine tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium body. It has notes of liquorice, green peppercorn, red currant, raspberries, and some pencil lead. It has a medium length with a sour, black cherry finish.
I’ll give this a good rating. There is a fruit sweetness I associate with Shiraz and Grenache, but there’s also the astringency that I often get from Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. There’s not a huge amount of development for a seven year old wine, and still a generous amount of fruit, so this wine will almost certainly improve with additional time in the cellar.