My considerable regard for the Grampians is no secret. Of all the expressions of Shiraz made in Australia, that from this region seems, at its best, an ideal balance between deep, luscious fruit and cooler climate spice. Then there’s the matter of its other wines — Riesling, Sparkling Shiraz — and its long history of wine production, including a birth centred on, by contemporary accounts, sparkling wine of exceptional quality. All this without invoking Colin Preece’s name and table wine legacy. All in all, it’s a region that has long flown near the top of the quality tree in Australia, but whose reputation seems to inhabit a space somewhere between wine nerds and ageing wine lovers with long memories of Great Western.
In amongst this, there is Best’s Great Western, the oldest of the old school. Still family owned, Best’s has existed more or less quietly since the 1860s, producing wines from its renowned Concongella Vineyard in effortlessly traditional styles. It’s a seductive story and one that embodies the sort of unadulterated history that can’t be faked. As such, it’s honey to an audience of wine lovers eager to connect with producers of genuine lineage.
I was fortunate to get a preview of Best’s new releases recently and to talk with Jonathan Mogg, General Manager of Sales and Marketing. I raised the question of how to market a brand with such heritage to an audience that can be so sensitive to notions of authenticity. From the conversation that ensued, I’m in no doubt Best’s is aware, and tremendously proud, of its history. But I also sense in its wines and its marketing a genuine fascination with the past, rather than any kind of cynical exploitation of it, and an interest in shaping a portfolio that pays homage to its heritage. In this, it reminds me strongly of the wonderful work Ridge Vineyards does with its Dry Creek Valley vineyards in Sonoma.
Here are some brief impressions of the wines I tasted.
Best’s Great Western Riesling 2013 – $25
The last few vintages have seen the winery play with residual sugar levels for this label, and the 2013 edition lands at around 9 g/L. The result is a fragrant, delicate wine that shows good clarity of aroma and a palate structure that slides down the tongue before tightening with phenolics through the back palate. It’s not especially austere, quite delicious and very drinkable.
Best’s Great Western Foudre Ferment Riesling 2013
This one will get sommeliers excited. Fermented in a 2500L oak foudre before being racked to stainless and bottled. The ferment stopped spontaneously, resulting in 10% ABV. As one would expect, this has greater palate weight than the standard Riesling, along with greater perceptible sweetness and caramel oak flavour. A refreshingly mineral back palate sweeps this through to a clean finish. Totally crowd pleasing, despite its unconventional style in Australian terms, and quite unforced.
Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2012 – $60
I have a rather large soft spot for this wine, and the 2012 edition is a cracker. Explosively fragrant, this showers the taster with bright red, sappy fruit, attractive leafy notes and powdery, fine spice. The palate is light in weight, with loose knit tannins and a bright acid line. The fruit character is quite sweet but in balance thanks to those fresh sap notes. This is so delicate and fragrant, it never feels like it’s going to age when it’s young, but the label’s track record in this regard speaks for itself.
Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2012 – $25
What’s interesting about the three Shirazes is how consistent in character they are, with each progressively stepping up in intensity, complexity and structure.
Taken on its own, though, this is quite a serious Bin 1. Dark fruit flavours predominate on the nose, which is nicely expressive. In the mouth, structured but nimble too, with plum fruit and spice the dominant notes. It doesn’t have the liquerous intensity of the Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines, but it’s emphatically regional, and tasty too.
Best’s Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2012 – $85
A significant step up from the Bin 1, this is immediately more expressive aromatically, oak playing a larger role but mostly communicating a sense of intensity and youth. Tannins are the highlight in the mouth, blanketing the tongue with even, ripe texture and concentrated fruit flavour. There are some savoury complexities in the flavour profile too, perhaps slightly autumnal in tone. I loved the 2010 vintage of this wine and this release feels less slick in some ways, but is no less a wine for it.
Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 2012 – $200
This makes the Bin 0 taste light on. It’s made from a few rows of Shiraz vines planted in 1868, which in 2012 yielded about 800 kgs of fruit.
And what fruit: plum liqueur of almost painful intensity, deep layers of spice, tannins that one simply wants to bathe in. This wine is a showcase of exceptional, though not flashy, quality. Indeed, this wine’s lack of artifice — no overwhelming oak, no overly forbidding structure — means it’s quite drinkable now, though clearly it will develop over a substantial period in bottle. In any case, emphatically the top of this range of wines.