Clarnette & Ludvigsen Shiraz 2010

One of Australia’s most visible viticulturists and long active in the industry’s practice and governance, Kim Ludvigsen died late last year. His vineyard in the Grampians, which I visited mid-2013, is one of the most carefully established and tended I’ve ever seen. Clearly, he was deeply thoughtful regarding his profession, a fact his long running monthly newsletter amply demonstrates. So sad, then, he’s no longer able to share and learn as he was so clearly passionate about doing.

This wine, made in partnership with winemaker Leigh Clarnette, comes from that beautiful vineyard nestled in the rolling hills behind Rhymney. It’s a startlingly elegant expression of Grampians Shiraz, quite different from relative heavyweights like Best’s Bin 0, Langi’s flagship or Simon Clayfield’s wines. The aroma is bright, almost cherry-like in its fruit character and quite floral. With some air, spice encroaches on this core of red fruit, along with a hint of snapped twig. It’s sweet and savoury in equal measure, always fleet of foot and playfully elusive.

In the mouth, an almost Italianate acid structure. This wine is formed around a line of bright, crunchy acid that lends a freshness to its red fruit and an urgency to its loose-knit tannins. Fruit seems too sweet at first but is quickly rebalanced by tart plum skins and spice. I’d say it’s only light to medium bodied, trading the sort of liquerous intensity one often finds in this region’s wines for a clarity and elegance that are totally unpretentious. Length is good, with a particularly persistent finish of fine, bright cherry fruit.

I believe the 2012 is currently available direct from the winery.

Update: day two and the wine is quite pleasing. It’s savouriness has become more marked, as has its texture. Still a nimble, light wine, but with plenty of interest. A couple more years in bottle will be kind.

Clarnette & Ludvigsen
Price: $30
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Best’s Great Western Icon releases

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.

Best’s Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

I have a slight obsession with still Pinot Meunier. I try to taste every example I can, which isn’t hard as I’m only aware of a couple of producers in Australia who pursue this Pinot Noir mutation as a single varietal. Best’s has two in its range, one from young vines and this, from some of the oldest Pinot Meunier vines known to exist (planted in 1869). I think part of my fascination comes from the knowledge that many legendary Great Western table wines had a significant amount of Pinot Meunier in them, and yet today the variety has almost disappeared from the table.

To this bottling, then. The aroma is expressive and sweetly-fruited, with caramel-edged red berries sitting underneath mixed spice and a herbal twang. There’s a lot going on aromatically, though its profile tends towards ease and approachability rather than density or forbidding seriousness. Layers keep building in the glass, with a fresh sappiness adding vitality as well as a savoury edge.

The palate is similarly approachable and shows tension between sweet, cuddly fruit and a spiced, sappy edge. Structurally the wine is more driven by acid than tannin, neither of which, however, are especially strident. Consequently, the wine is allowed to swell on the mid-palate, and its fruit really shines at this point. The after palate and finish are more savoury and spiced, and what tannins there are descend on the finish, adding textural interest as well as a nice, dry end to the wine’s line.

This wine flips between ease and angularity, fun and seriousness. I can’t quite figure it out, yet at the same time am enjoying it tremendously.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Best's Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2009

Shiraz is undoubtedly Great Western’s raison d’être. Bin 1 is the baby brother to the mighty Bin 0 and Thomson Family wines (of which the superb 2006 was previously reviewed) but in its more modest way still offers a nice view into this classic regional Shiraz style. In some ways, this makes it the most important wine in the portfolio, in that it’s an affordable entry point into something quite distinctive. A gateway drug, if you will, into the region’s wines.

I’m pleased to note the nose offers an immediate hit of typically Great Western plum and spice. It’s heady and rich within the parameters of the style, showing softness and a halo of vanilla oak that is quite attractive. There’s some good detail to the aroma profile too, perhaps unexpected in this level of wine, that keeps me sniffing.

The palate is styled for generosity and pleasure above all else. Its most outstanding feature, for me, is a rush of plum juice that kicks in soon after entry and whooshes right down through the after palate. Delicious. There’s also plenty of spice and the sort of soft nougat oak character that can clash with some wine styles but which here seems completely right. A nice lift of lighter fruit carries the after palate to a fresh finish that is tinged with softly sweet flavours.

My favourite of the new Best’s Great Western releases.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Best's Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I’ve tasted this wine twice now and both times have come away impressed with its drinkability. It’s not an especially sophisticated wine; in fact, there’s a rusticity to the flavour profile that suggests generosity and ease rather than intellect. But that’s not a bad thing in my book.

The aroma shows good varietal character, a nice hit of dusty leaf overlaying squashed dark berries and spiced oak. It’s all a bit blurry perhaps, and those looking for a chiselled expression of Cabernet may not find their ideal wine in this. For me, though, its value lies in savouriness and a meaty, chunky vibe.

The palate shows an interesting interplay between clean dark berry fruit and a range of brambly, dusty characters. Entry is savoury and bright, introducing a line of acid that is quite firm and supports the wine along its line. The middle palate is really flavoursome, again showing clean, vibrant dark fruits in an earthy, oak-influenced cage that really grounds the wine and gives it plenty of vitality. Fine, rather astringent tannins on the after palate introduce a long finish that treads into red fruit territory, along with just the right amount of oak.

This is a really genuine, regional wine that places enjoyment above perfection.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Best's Great Western Riesling 2010

Riesling is one of those varieties we do especially well in Australia, and what’s exciting for me is that, in addition to the beautiful, unique Rieslings from the Clare and Eden Valleys, there are a range of other authentic styles that are either emerging (as in those from the Canberra District) or long term classics that fly under the radar. Rieslings from Western Victoria fall into the latter category for me, so it’s with some anticipation that I tasted this new release from Best’s. 

The 2009 was, from memory, a rather searing experience, but this wine is somewhat different. It’s more elaborately perfumed for starters, all florals and talc with hints of fuller, cumquat-like fruit. One could never describe the aroma as rich, but there’s a softness here that is nicely approachable. There’s a streak of minerality too that runs beneath the higher toned aromas. I can see some spritzig in the glass, which isn’t surprising for such a young wine. 
The palate shows a similar range of flavours as the nose but, given the slightly fuller notes, is surprisingly tight, and very much in the regional mode. Entry is driven by minerality before lime blossom and citrus rind thicken the middle palate. Acidity is full-on to say the least, aided by some light spritz and a flavour profile that remains angular along the line, but offset by a nicely rounded mouthfeel on the after palate. I don’t think the palate structure is hanging together quite yet and feel some time in the bottle will help things to cohere. The finish is delicate, mostly minerals and flowers. 
Nice wine. Give this a few months then tuck in! 

Best’s Wines
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Best's Thomson Family Shiraz 2006

I’ve just returned from a very exciting, though quick, trip through the Grampians and Pyrenees regions of Victoria, and find myself with a backlog of thoughts and not enough time (or energy, for now) to put them into words. I do, however, have a bottle of current release Thomson Family Shiraz in front of me now, and am compelled to make a few notes.

This is on its third day after opening. My first tasting, at the winery, revealed a wine so backward in structure that I found it hard to tease much from the glass. What I did manage to extract — classy oak, dark plums, dense spice — seemed very promising at the time, and it’s only now that I have an opportunity to retaste.

What’s wonderful about it on day three is how elegant a wine it is, perhaps unexpectedly given its initially dense structure and reluctant expressiveness. Now, indeed, this wine is classic medium bodied Great Western goodness, an array of spice notes leading the olfactory way to complex plum fruit aromas and a background of slightly charry oak. It’s less high toned than some, preferring brown spice to sharper cracked pepper. Nonetheless, the wine is regional to its core, and that’s a great thing for lovers of Western Victorian Shiraz.

The palate shows a degree of restraint that is most impressive. There’s a light, almost casual, edge to the clean plum flavours running along the line that makes me smile in this context, because such confident simplicity goes against the grain of many self-consciously brutish “reserve” level wines. No such pretension here, though. The palate structure is easy and elegant, flowing cleanly through all stages with good continuity. Textured red and black fruits mingle with a range of spice flavours and relatively restrained oak, precisely layered and all sitting within a medium weight frame. There are all sorts of complexities to the flavour profile too — some interesting tobacco notes, for example — that help the wine evolve in the glass. An excitingly extended, spiced finish is impressive in quality terms but for me comes across simply as delicious.

One would be hard pressed to find a truer, more relaxed, expression of Great Western Shiraz than this. A great example of one of our great regional styles.

Best’s Wines
Price: $A150
Closure: Cork
Source: Sample