Browsing back through my notes, I see I never wrote up the 2008 Thomas Wills Shiraz in a comprehensive manner, though my first impressions are to be found within this post on Clayfield’s range as a whole. This wine forms part of an emerging collection of labels the makers of which seem intent on engaging more deeply with the regional and stylistic histories within which they are working. I’m thinking of the Mountain X project, for example, as well as producers like The Story, who are applying modern thinking about terroir and style to ultra-traditional regions such as the Grampians.
In the case of this wine, Clayfield takes inspiration from an idea of what wine might have been like one hundred years ago in the Grampians. Whether real or imagined, the style is full-throttle and robust, very much take no prisoners in vibe. It has been especially interesting to show the 2008 to several friends over the past months. Their reactions have been far from neutral, and on the whole very positive, which suggests an earthy appeal to its powerful delivery of flavour. Alcohol levels approaching 16% abv also provoked interest, though my feeling was the wine held its heat perfectly well.
To this, the current release. Unusually, Clayfield has taken a non-vintage approach, blending material from the 2008 and 2010 vintages and, although the same liquerous earthiness I liked so much in the 2008 remains present, this release has a degree of finesse that elevates it above the previous wine.
The nose is heady with ultra-ripe plums, hints of dry earth and a whole rack of brown spices. Those looking for a peppery expression of Grampians Shiraz may not find what they’re looking for here. However, this is clearly a wine of the region, and the character of the fruit is, in particular, highly regional. There’s something extremely cuddly about the way this smells; like a prickly wool jumper. It’s not a regressive or simple aroma profile, though; its emphasis on powerfully savoury plums and rich spice is both complex and sophisticated.
The palate is where this wine departs most from its predecessor. There’s a whole dimension of detail and finesse here that wasn’t present before, and this brings another level of pleasure to what remains a muscular wine. It’s as if all the brawn has more shape and definition this year, transforming from a slightly brutish physique to one with some dashing and swing. One must put this into context, though; the flavour profile remains idiosyncratic and quite rustic, full of ripe plums, bark and spice. In particular, the tannins recall the 2008, coarse-grained and prickly, sweet and spiky.
If you liked the rough and ready vibe of the 2008, you may miss a degree of wildness in this wine. For my palate, though, this is the superior release, blending the same intensity and power with a finer flow through the mouth. This label remains a daring experiment, albeit one whose maker is clearly intent on refining year after year. This is a lot of wine for $35.