Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

Thomas Hardy & Sons Eileen Hardy McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 1972

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.

Coriole Vineyards Vita Reserve Sangiovese 2007

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Coriole Vineyards Vita Reserve Sangiovese 2007

Coriole Vineyards Vita Reserve Sangiovese 2007

I just had a quick look to count how many Sangioveses I’ve tried recently, and was surprised to find none listed.  I have mentioned the variety a few times, and I know I’ve tasted it within the last five months, but clearly have been slacking in terms of writing about it.  For some reason I always clump it together with Tempranillo, another grape I enjoy but rarely pursue because there are so many lesser known varieties in both Italy and Spain that I have yet to explore.  Fortunately, I have the opportunity today to put that right, and to talk a bit about a winery I like with this Coriole Vineyards Vita Reserve Sangiovese 2007.

Sangiovese is a cornerstone grape of fine wines of Tuscany, and indeed the most widely planted red grape throughout the entire country.  While the literal translation is “Blood of Jove” the origins of the grape are now thought to be much more modern, perhaps as recent as the 18th century.  Despite what could be a recent genesis, it has managed to build up an impressive collection of pseudonyms across Italy.  One familiar name is Brunello, which as a varietal is made into Brunello di Montalcino, though it is more commonly part of a blend as it is used in Chianti.  It also is typically a part of Supertuscans, which are a class of wines made in Tuscany but outside the DOC/G guidelines and often including international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Further south in Italy, it is prized often more for its ability to deliver quantity rather than quality.

As a grape, it ripens slowly and only comes to full ripeness very late in the season.  It is thin-skinned and susceptible to rot under cold, wet conditions which can sometimes coincide with the end of the growing season.  When fully ripe with controlled yields, the wines can produce structure which will allow for extended ageing, but without sufficient heat the acidity and tannins can make the wine nigh undrinkable.  The many names for the grape throughout Italy represent not just local nomenclature but also different clones, and modern research has been focused on matching them with terroir, viticulture, and winemaking techniques to make the most of this highly variable grape.

Outside of Italy, it’s something of an emerging variety in parts of the New World.  It has a following within California, and plantings have expanded rapidly over the last twenty years, driven in part by an interest in the Supertuscans.  Within Australia it has had similar success with plantings from the early 1990s now mature and use of the grape fairly widespread across more than 200 producers and most major regions..  However, much of the Sangiovese planting was done without the benefit of the more recent research, particularly to do with clonal selection, so there is almost certainly room for improvement.

Coriole Vineyards, owned and run by the Lloyd family, has been working with Sangiovese since 1985, possibly the first in Australia to do so.  While the structures on their property date to the 1860s and the original vines were first planted nearly a hundred years ago, Coriole released their first wine, a Shiraz, in 1970.   While Shiraz remains the majority of their plantings, they have expanded conventionally into Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills), Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  However, Coriole Vineyards are at least as well known for the range of Italian varieties, including Barbera, Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills), Sagrantino, Fiano, and this Sangiovese, which are largely used for varietals.  However, when I think of Coriole my first thought is always of their Chenin Blanc.  I took an interest in the variety after visiting South Africa, and was pleased to find that Coriole produces not just a standard varietal, but also an excellent reserve wine they call The Optimist.  Unless otherwise noted, all the wines I mentioned are from McLaren Vale, but they also produce a Fiano from an Adelaide Hills vineyard (in addition to the one they produce in McLaren Vale).

I have written about McLaren Vale in terms of climate and soil, and the Italian influence, so I hope I can be forgiven for having nothing much to add to it at this time.  However, a few words about this wine in particular are in order.  Coriole has a few reserve wines, two Shirazes, a Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend, the Optimist Chenin Blanc.  Most of them are made fairly regularly, but this wine, the Vita, has only been released once prior to this year back in 1998.  There’s not a great deal of technical information available about how this specific wine was made, but Coriole generally uses open fermenters of either stainless steel or wax lined concrete.  They hand plunge, and for Sangiovese they use older oak for maturation.  This wine was in barrel or tank for roughly two years after vintage, followed by another three in bottle before I almost immediately took it right out.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright with a dark brick red colour, lightening to garnet at the rim.  It has quick legs of a pale garnet colour.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of Mexican hot chocolate, some strawberries and cherries, and some iodine.  The palate is dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, and medium plus flavour intensity.  The palate delivers what the nose promised in terms of chocolate and sweet spice, though the fruit is more tart – more cranberries and pomegranate than strawberries or cherries.  There’s some earthiness, particularly on the finish, though more chocolate mud pie earthiness than actual dirt.

This is a very good wine, and what I believe to be a fine example of a varietal Sangiovese, though I admit to not being as well versed with the grape as I would like.  It certainly has a great deal going on as far as flavours, and I like how the acidity changes the fruit I perceived on the nose to what I tasted on the palate.  I was prepared for this to be very austere as I took my first sip of a bottle that had been decanted an hour earlier, and it was that, but as I sit here writing my notes four hours after, the wine has really opened up and is much more giving on the palate.  As with yesterday’s Moss Wood, I am probably drinking this wine far too young, and it will potentially be a much more rewarding experience in another decade.  However, I’m not regretting my choice for this evening, provided I can find another bottle to stick in the cellar.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Roussanne 2010

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Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Roussanne 2010

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Roussanne 2010

I first became acquainted with Rhône white varieties about four years ago, before I had taken any formal courses in wine.  Not having had much experience beyond the basics, I found them to be more savoury and weighty than most white wines I had tasted, and took an instant liking to them.  Today, it’s a Rhône white grape but from Australia, the Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Roussanne 2010.

So Roussanne, as I mentioned, is a white Rhône varietal, and frequently seen in the company of another of the same, Marsanne.  The name of the grape is to do with the colour of the grapeskin, which can be a particular shade of reddish brown, russet, or roux in French.  As with most grapes though, the juice is clear.  Like Tibouren of yesterday’s rosé, it’s a difficult grape in the vineyard, with irregular yields and susceptibility to powdery mildew and rot.  It ripens late, though it need not be fully ripe to express its varietal characteristics .  Like many varieties, its expression can vary greatly depending on the growing conditions, with a delicate, acidic character being common in cooler climates and full bodied, honeyed notes coming out under warmer conditions.

Within the Rhône, Roussanne is made into a number of wines.  In the Northern Rhône, it is used in the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and St-Joseph, as well as St-Péray where it is used in both sparkling and still wines.  In all those appellations, it is typically blended with the more widely planted, more productive and better behaved Marsanne.  In the Southern Rhône, Roussanne is one of the components in the white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Piquepoul Blanc, Picardan and Bourboulenc (but not Marsanne), and some producers have released successful varietal Roussanne with oak treatment.

Outside of the Rhône but still within France, Roussanne is also found in Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Savoie where it is known as Bergeron.  Beyond France, it is found in parts of Italy, in particular Liguria and Tuscany.  There are plantings throughout the New World, typically in areas with an interest in Rhône red varieties, such as California and South Australia.

I’ve written about McLaren Vale to some extent when I wrote about the Pertaringa Tannat but it’s worth perhaps another word or two in this specific context.  While McLaren Vale has an Italian influence from the early days, the region to which it is most frequently compared (locally at least) is the Southern Rhône, which has had something to do with the Grenache and Shiraz plantings.  Recently, there’s been a great deal of experimentation, and if you look hard enough you’d likely be able to find over a hundred different varieties planted from all over the world.  However, two trends that seem to have some steam are  Italian varieties and Rhône whites.

Wineries such as Coriole, Primo Estate and Oliver’s Taranga produce excellent varietal Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Sagrantino respectively, just to name a few from a growing field of Italian influenced producers.  While Rhône whites are not as trendy, D’Arenberg, Penny’s Hill and Woop Woop Wines all produce Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, as part of a movement that I hope will continue.

Speaking of specific producers, our producer for today is Yangarra, which apparently means “from the earth” in an Aboriginal language.  If I’m reading their website correctly, all their wines are produced from estate grown grapes, which constitute 250 acres of vines across 420 acres of property, with the remainder being native vegetation.  The produce a range of eight wines, with Viognier, Chardonnay and this Roussanne making up the whites, and the reds being a variety of different Shiraz and Grenache based wines.

Their particular terroir is all about 100 million year old mountain ranges which are now sand dunes.  That, combined with proclaiming that they’re replacing the imported European trees with native Australian species, to the delight of the local birds, does rub me the wrong way a bit.

Once upon a time, I read something in the early days of the Web that included a section “Words Which Will Make Me Leave the Party”.  For me, with respect to wine, “Native” is on that list, along with “Natural”, but more about the latter for another post.  I love Australia, and I appreciate a respect for things native, but really, those 250 acres of vines that make up the Yangarra vineyards are not native.  Being proud of swapping some trees around when your entire business is based on an imported species strikes me as ever so slightly hypocritical.  But what appears on a website only rarely has very much to do with winemaking, so let’s put that aside and have a look, sniff and taste at/of what’s in the glass.

The wine has a pale lemon green colour with slow thick legs.  On the nose are notes of honey, pear, and sweet spice.  It is developing and of medium intensity.  Brown pear, white pepper, and sandalwood make up the palate, along with some of the herbal tea for which Roussanne is often known.  It’s dry, with medium plus acid, medium plus body, medium plus length, and a slightly sour finish.  I didn’t check the ABV on the bottle, but I felt the weight of some alcohol, even if not the heat.

This is a good wine.  It certainly has varietal typicity for a warm climate Roussanne, and I could have enjoyed it purely on that basis.  It’s a big white, and while that’s not to everyone’s taste, it hit the spot for me.  There’s body, length, complexity, and just a lovely textured mouth feel which to me says that someone cared when they made this wine.

Pertaringa McLaren Vale Single Vineyard Tannat 2009

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Pertaringa McLaren Vale Single Vineyard Tannat 2009

Pertaringa McLaren Vale Single Vineyard Tannat 2009

So before anyone else gives a shout about this, yes, I know that Pertaringa and K1 have a great deal of overlap in terms of their owner and respective management teams, and so it could be argued that I’m revisiting a winery.  I’ve done this once before with the Zweigelt that wasn’t obviously the same producer as the Blaufränkisch, albeit unknowingly.  In this case, I am aware of what I’m doing, and apologies to all the wineries that are chomping at the bit for me to write about one of their wines.  (As if.)

There are actually two good reasons I’m writing about Pertaringa so soon after K1.  First, I’m obviously keen to rip through a century of varietals as quickly as possible, and varietal Tannats are a bit thin on the ground (though I do have at least one Juanicó in the cellar).  Second though, I wasn’t hugely impressed with the K1 Grüner Veltliner I reviewed, and I wanted to have another look.

So having done far too much explaining before even getting to the wine, I have before me a bottle of Pertaringa McLaren Vale Single Vineyard Tannat 2009.  I’m going to start with Tannat, because both the region and producer are more familiar and can wait.

Tannat is a classic red grape from Madiran AOC in the southwest of France.  Black and tannic, it’s known there for producing highly astringent wines, that are typically blended with other reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, to make them a bit more drinkable.  It was the desire within the winery to soften this otherwise somewhat harsh grape that led to the technique of micro-oxygenation, or the controlled introduction of small amounts of oxygen as part of the winemaking process.

Whenever I think of Tannat, I generally group it with Malbec, and to a lesser extent Carmenère.  They are classic but lesser known/loved grapes of France that have come into their own in South America, that is Uruguay, Argentina and Chile respectively.  It’s not just that grapes that are relatively marginalized in their home country have been embraced somewhere else, but more than that they are now the hero grapes in their new homes, and have emerged with their own distinctive styles.  The Tannat that’s produced in Uruguay is much softer, due both to winemaking techniques and blending with medium to light bodied reds such as Merlot and Pinot Noir.

There is some Tannat outside of France and Uruguay, including California and neighbours of Uruguay.  In addition to this Australian example, I know of a few other producers in McLaren Vale and there are scattered plantings in Victoria and New South Wales.

McLaren Vale, unlike some other neighbouring areas, is very obviously a valley.  As you enter the region heading south from Adelaide, you climb a hill and when you reach the top the region spreads out before you to the east and south with the Adelaide Hills clearly marking the end of the valley.  The area is closer to the sea than many that are classified as maritime, but it is in fact a warm Mediterranean climate with very little rain, particularly during the growing season.  The sea does mitigate the heat to some extent, though that influence is highly variable depending on the particular patch of the Vale in question.  As the region nestles up against the Adelaide Hills, there are some altitude influences.

Loamy sands dominate the soil of the Vale, though there are areas where lime or clay turn up.  There are also areas of terra rossa what’s more commonly found a couple of hours south in Coonawarra.

The region is best known for red wine, and though whites were once plentiful, the fashion for them has somewhat shifted locally to Clare and the Adelaide Hills.  (Coriole McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc is a notable exception.)  In particular, Grenache has a special place in McLaren Vale, as well as the ubiquitous Shiraz.  However, the conditions are such that nearly any red will reliably ripen, and so there’s an odd smattering of lesser known varieties, including many Italian reds.

Pertaringa, like K1, is a Geoff Hardy winery.  Established in 1980 in a partnership with another viticulturalist, Hardy took full ownership late last year.  They have a wide range of wines, particularly reds, including the usual suspects of Grenache, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also this Tannat and an Aglianico as varietals and Tempranillo, Graciano, Petit Verdot, turning up in blends.

I’m always happier writing about a wine that I like, and I like this wine.  The colour is very deep – purple with a hint of ruby, and thick purple legs.  On the nose are spicy black and blue berries, and a developing character.  The palate is dry, though the fruit itself is juicy and fresh in a way that hints at sweetness.  The body is fairly full, which is in balance with the alcohol.  It’s listed as 15% ABV, but I think they’re possibly being slightly modest.  The acidity is moderate, and the flavours on the palate match the nose – black and blue berries, with some sour plum underneath.  There’s a touch of white pepper almost lost in the fresh fruit.  Being Tannat, the real question is “how are the tannins?”  Well, they’re nice.  They’re inky and absolutely mouth-coating.  However, they’re quite soft, bordering on being more of a texture than anything else.  They work well with the body and alcohol levels.

This is a wine I’m happy to recommend.  More Montevideo than Madiran – a very gentle approach to Tannat with plenty of fruit and gentle, but abundant, tannins.  I enjoyed it as a young wine, but I would hope that it will have more to offer in terms of complexity in years to come.

Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale The Oddball Saperavi 2007

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Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale "The Oddball" Saperavi 20007

Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale "The Oddball" Saperavi 20007

So tonight it’s another interesting varietal, with Saperavi being the star of the show.  The wine in particular is The Oddball 2007 from Hugh Hamilton of McLaren Vale.  First, the winery and region.

Hugh Hamilton traces his family back five generations to the first people to plant grapes in South Australia, which locally is considered back quite a ways.  The winery is interesting for a few reasons.  First, they have a wide range of different wines.  It’s not just red and whites, but rosé, sparkling and fortified wines as well.  That’s not so uncommon in McLaren Vale, but it’s not just the standard varietals, as demonstrated by this wine.

Wax seal on the top of the bottle.

Wax seal on the top of the bottle.

Second, Hugh Hamilton is one of the most heavily branded and merchandised wineries I’ve ever seen.  At some point they decided on sheep and have run with it.  Hugh himself is described as the black sheep of the family, and all of their wines have sheep branding and names.  Visiting their cellar door it, there are far more branded products (and not just hats and t-shirts, but all manner of items) on offer than wines.  The individual products that you can see online are all reasonably tasteful, but it’s all a bit much in the confines of their cellar door.  That said, I like the wax covering the cork with a sheep seal, though I’m afraid my photo doesn’t do it justice.  Very good production values (Hugh Hamilton – not this blog).

So Saperavi – an interesting grape, and not widely planted in most of the world.  It’s origins are in Georgia, the country not the state, and as Georgia claims to be one of the oldest regions of wine production, this grape is potentially quite ancient.  It is typically quite acidic (in a good way) and also very dark in colour.  One of its selling points in the vineyard is its ability to withstand cold weather.  How this has convinced people that Australia would be a good place for it is not at all clear to me, but I’m never one to turn down an interesting grape no matter how unlikely the pairing of it with a terroir might be.

The wine in the glass in front of me is as interesting as one could reasonably expect.  The first thing you notice is the colour – it’s intense right up to the rim.  And even going on five years old, it’s not taken on any hint of brick.  It’s not a really young purple, but it’s certainly holding steady at ruby.

On the palate, there’s certainly the intense berry flavour I was promised, though the body is a solid medium.  There are also some secondary notes starting to come through – I’m getting dark chocolate which is very pleasant and long lasting.  However, what I’m not getting is the searing acidity that I might have expected from my book learning.  It’s not that it’s flabby – it’s just a matter of expectations.  Just a guess, but might it have something to do with being grown in McLaren Vale, which is a fairly warm climate?

In conclusion, this is a very good wine for me.  I love trying new things, especially new varietals.  I have had this wine before, as well as another Australian Saperavi from Domain Day, but I think it’s about time I tracked down one from Georgia to see how they stack up next to their progenitor.  Until then though, I enjoyed this wine as more than just a curiosity, particularly the intensity of flavour and length of the finish.

So on an unrelated note, I’ve started working on getting some maps together with minor success.  Ordinarily I’d say something about not wanting to get too technical because people are here to read about wine, but honestly I think so few people read this that I won’t be getting too many complaints.  So I’m using Google Maps, and it’s interesting.  Project for today was writing up an web page that had three zones on it in different colours.  First problem, not reading the intro section about needing to get an API key.  Next, the Google interface takes coordinates in latitude, longitude pairs, but for some reason the KML files I’ve generated have longitude, latitude, altitude trios.  Final weirdness, it seems polygons can’t have more than 500 coordinates.  Other than that, things are interesting.  I hope to put up a sample wine region map in the next week.  Next step, writing a script that reads in different KML files and gives me a region for each one, so I can keep code and data separate.  After that, figuring out if there is a way to deal with the 500 coordinate limitation.