In late October the 120 best wines in the 2013 New South Wales Wine Awards were announced. NSW is Australia’s largest wine-growing state.
The half dozen best dry reds were later judged in a separate category, and I had a chance while in Australia to taste those six blind. One of the six received an award as the best red in the state. The task of our group of 11 tasters was to choose which one.
Here are my thoughts on the six 2011 reds the awards judges chose as the best, in the order in which I tasted them.
The Xanadu Margaret River cabernet sauvignon, though labeled a cabernet, contains small amounts of malbec and petit verdot. So it is probably best described as a Bordeaux blend. After years of lauding the qualities of cabernet from places like Coonawarra and the Margaret River, I find myself leaning towards red blends because of the extra layers of subtlety and complexity.
Xanadu experienced a warm and dry summer. The fine weather continued during harvest and most varieties were picked one to two weeks earlier than normal. This meant the wines retained plenty of natural acidity. This acidity was apparent in a wine full of fleshy and juicy fruits suggesting cassis and dark berries.
The wine offers aromas of ripe blackcurrants and dark plums entwined with hints of dried herbs like thyme, integrated with toasty oak. It will become more complex with bottle maturation if cellared for half a decade.
The second wine was also a cabernet sauvignon, from Dorrien Estate Vine Vale Road in the Barossa Valley. Since its first vintage in 1988 Dorrien has become recognised as one of Australia’s best wineries. It has won a host of national and international awards and trophies.
This is a generous wine, with savoury (perhaps slightly green) tannins providing a structure for lots of ripe and spicy fruit to display their elegance. Layers of blackberry, dark plum and black cherry integrated lovingly with subtle spicy oak flavours. I found this wine slightly unbalanced, but this situation could be remedied by half a decade in the cellar.
The Di Fabio Estate Marietta from McLaren Vale is a classic blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro. Goe Di Fabio was Geoff Merrill’s chief winemaker until 2000. Since then he has remained as a consultant. This wine is a tribute to Goe’s mother Maria Michela, known as “Marietta”.
This was my favourite wine, the three grapes working together to produce a balanced array of ripe berry fruit mixed with subtle spice and savoury notes. The aromas reminded me of a bitumen road in summer mixed with the licorice scents of fennel growing by the side of the road. The fine tannins and subtle toast sensations of the oak lead to a lingering finish.
The Dolan Barossa Valley shiraz comes from another pedigree vineyard that has twice won the Jimmy Watson trophy for the best one-year-old red in Australia.
Aromas of stewed plums, blackberry and mulberry mingle with hints of chocolate, licorice and bacon. This wine spent time in high-quality oak and exhibits all the characteristics of a world-class Barossa shiraz: rich yet soft and full bodied. Hints of semi-bitter dark chocolate and caramel at the end reinforced the idea that the fruit was picked when very ripe.
The David Lowe Wines reserve shiraz came from the Rothbury estate in the Hunter Valley of NSW. Like the Dolan, it was made from ripe fruit that gives the wine plum and earth notes and tastes of sweet, toasty oak. The palate is long and textured.
This is a classic Hunter Shiraz with spicy leather characters integrated with ripe berry fruit aromas. I particularly enjoyed the perfumed aromas left behind in the empty glass.
The final wine was the Langi Ghiran Colonial Road shiraz from the Grampians region of Victoria. Ripe fruit was again a feature of this wine, with its complex aromas of raspberry, violets and mixed spices. The violet notes appear to be a feature of wine from this vineyard, based on a re-reading of my earlier reviews.
At first this wine seemed tight and reluctant to open, with finely structured tannins giving it a feeling of restraint. But the wine opens on the palate with flavours of ripe blueberry, complex spices and tight acidity. A classic example of a quality Grampians shiraz.
And the winner? The 2011 Dolan Barossa Valley shiraz. Interestingly, none of the 11 chose the wine that the NSW judges selected as the best. This shows how subjective wine judging can be, and why it is important to have blind tastings with a large number of judges.