There was a tasting scheduled for Saturday and I had been looking forward to it all week. Alas, it was cancelled at the last minute, leaving me with some unscheduled time that afternoon. The tasting would have been some high end red wines of Australia, so rather than moping I decided to open up a special bottle of my own and conduct a very small tasting of the Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972.
I’ve covered both McLaren Vale and Cabernet Sauvignon several times, so today I’m just going to write about Hardy’s and about older bottles in general. Thomas Hardy & Sons was established in 1853 by Thomas Hardy himself, having arrived from England three years prior. The family business grew over the generations that followed, and through mergers over the last two decades with BRL and then Constellation, the Hardy Wine Company became the world’s largest international wine business. More recently though, the group’s name was changed to Constellation Wines Australia, and then again to Accolade Wines with a change of controlling interest. The Hardys brand though has remained well respected throughout the recent ups and downs, and remains one of the strongest in Australia.
Eileen Hardy OBE is generally referred to as the matriarch of the Hardy family, and a new wine was named after her on her 80th birthday, January 15th, 1973. The honour was bestowed on the best red wine the company produced, and that year it was the Special Bin 80, McLaren Vale Shiraz 1970. Two years later in 1975, the Eileen Hardy label graced this wine, a 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Tintara vineyards in McLaren Vale. The tradition continued over the years that followed, though at some point it was decided that the variety would always be Shiraz instead of possibly fluctuating with each vintage. With Eileen Hardy firmly established as a flagship brand, a Chardonnay was added to the line up in 1986 and more recently Pinot Noir made its first appearance under the label with the 2008 vintage.
I consider old wine a special treat. As I’ve only been serious about wine for a few years, most of the bottles in my cellar are relatively recent vintages and I expect many will improve with time. However, now and again I manage to pick up a back vintage, such as this one I purchased at auction a few years ago.
There are a few things worth keeping in mind when dealing with an older bottle. If you have the time, it pays to stand the bottle upright and leave undisturbed for up to a day. If under cork, wine is typically stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out, and so sediment collects on the side of the bottle. Therefore it’s best to stand it up for a day to allow the sediment to settle at the bottom instead of in your glass.
If your bottle is under cork, here’s where it gets interesting. After removing the foil, make sure you have a good look at the cork for signs of leakage, and give the cork and mouth of the bottle a good wipe so you can have some sense as to the condition of the cork. If a cork is at all wet on the exterior of the bottle or especially old, I usually use an Ah-so opener. It relies on two prongs on opposite sides of the cork instead of a screw that goes through the centre, and can be extremely useful for fragile corks. Finally, I almost always decant red wines. For younger wines, the exposure to air can help them to open up. With older wines it’s more a matter of racking off the clear wine from any sediment that has accrued in the bottle.
With this bottle I managed to get the cork out in one piece, but it was very soft and wet throughout. I decanted the wine and ended up with roughly 1cm of wine left in the bottle, but the wine in the decanter was fairly clear. I poured myself a glass, and the cork, though wet, seemed to have done its job.
In the glass this wine was clear and bright with a medium garnet colour but an opaque core. When swirled there were some slow legs. On the nose it was clean and fully developed with medium minus intensity and notes of dried red currants, sweet spice, leather, potpuorri and cocoa powder. On the palate it was dry, with medium minus intensity, medium minus alcohol, medium minus very fine tannins, medium acidity, and medium length. There were notes of dried red currants and cranberries, black liquorice, tobacco leaf and milk chocolate.
This wine was a real treat. I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate to put an evaluation of quality on a wine that’s 40 years old, but I will give it a very good to outstanding. It very clearly was a fantastic wine and I’m drinking it past its prime. That said, while the intensity and tannins have faded, the acidity still has a bit of zip, and while the fruit has all progressed to being dried, it’s certainly still there. The developed characters give it plenty of complexity, and there is no doubt as to its typicity as a Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s unusual to come across a bottle of Australian wine from the 1970s, and rarer still for it to be neither fortified nor sweet. Even though I sourced this from a reliable auctioneer, I didn’t fancy my chances of finding anything drinkable inside, but I’m so pleased I did. It’s reminded me that while there were not only quality dry table wines being produced in Australia in the 1970s, there were some quite capable of ageing gracefully for decades.