A weekend of tasting events, the most physically challenging of which was a tour of the Rutherglen region on Saturday. Conveniently (or not, depending on one’s point of view), our visit coincided with the Tastes of Rutherglen festival. This had three implications:
- Tasting required the purchase of a rather oddly shaped glass for $10;
- Cellar doors featured a range of live music and, in the case of the wonderfully daggy Chambers Rosewood Winery, what appeared to be a kind of blue light disco; and
- We often had to negotiate throngs three or four people deep to be served (though cellar door staff were invariably patient and informative).
Tasting selectively is a must, it seems, at Rutherglen cellar doors, simply because they more often than not have a startlingly large range. The region also seems to be the spiritual home of some unusual varieties in the local context, including Durif and Blue Imperial (Cinsault). Here, some solid, fully flavoured Durif and Shiraz Durif table wines gave way to the main event, which was a vertical of this producer’s VPs.
We tasted the 2004, 2002, 2000,1998, and 1983. The 2004, almost entirely made from the traditional Portuguese varieties, is an elegant, coherent style, with good fruit freshness and balance. The 2002 is similar, but with some distinct aged notes on the aroma in particular. The 2000 stands out a little for its volatility and larger scale, whereas the 1998 is back to a more elegant, shapely expression. The oldest wine is quite different, mostly Shiraz, and very much the Australian VP style, with a more sweetly fruited palate and quite a different tannin profile. A nice example of VP in this idiom.
Interestingly, the Muscat and Tokay are made in a lighter style than most, the classic Tokay especially. For my taste, these wines lack some intensity and definition, but might please someone whose preference runs to a less powerful expression of these regional specialties.
At Campbells, we indulged in the $10 premium tasting, which meant a lot of back vintage table wines and the grand and rare fortifieds.
I found the back vintage reds variable, at times lacking fruit presence to balance out what are quite fierce tannin structures. The Muscat and Tokay wines are another matter entirely, with plenty of everything. The classics are satisfyingly rich and varietal. The rare Tokay was a particular highlight for me, with incredible length and drive right down the line, and the most outrageously delicious aftertaste that reminded me of barbeque chips.
After a nice burger with the lot in Rutherglen township, we hit Warrabilla for some more palate punishment. This house has a very idiosyncratic style, centred on “big red wines” that take scale and alcohol to their logical regional conclusion. Taste aside, one has to admire such clear intent, followed through so completely.
To my taste, Durif responds best to the style being sought, resulting in wines with a flavour profile that strikes me as quite achieved. The Cabernet Sauvignons are a surprise, recognisably varietal and almost elegant, within context. An oddity is the Zinfandel, made in a light red style with plenty of ease and fun. Overall, definitely worth a visit to see how one’s taste interacts with the style.
A time capsule. This utterly old school producer has a massive range of table wines, including what is surely the most unusual wine we encountered all day: a Blue Imperial rosé. Basically a large shed, the cellar door is mostly self-service and shows all the trappings of the Australian wine industry of yesteryear, including an alarmingly large number of wines available by the flagon.
As expected, the highlights here were again the Tokays and Muscats, made in a finer, more varietal and apparently drier style than in some other houses. The classic Muscat sings with pure, grapey Frontignac goodness, and would be great as a picnic wine, lightly chilled perhaps. The grand Tokay is magnificent, beautifully defined, unfolding in the mouth both gently and with precise articulation. No rares were on tasting, so I can only imagine what they are like.
I absolutely loved this visit.
This producer showed the table wines I enjoyed the most all day. Solid across the board, though I felt the Blue Imperial to be a particularly interesting, food-friendly dry red, if slightly anonymous in flavour. The Shiraz Durif sparkling wine is also excellent and mercifully dry.
What’s striking about this producer’s fortifieds is the extreme opulence of the style at all levels, classic through rare. On the day, I liked the grand level wines the least, as they seemed to fall in a vague middle ground between classics that are light enough to show some youthful definition, and rares that are simply knock-your-socks-off wines of sensational drive and opulence. In any case, these are all benchmarks at the rich end of the stylistic scale, and I feel they are well priced for the quality.