Saturday, May 05, 2007

Two older Australian shiraz wines

I have enjoyed two good older Shiraz wines over the past few days. By coincidence both were from the 1993 vintage. In my budget-constrained middle age (school fees, viagra bills etc) I am constrained to drink off my vineous wealth so there might be a few more of these types of posts over the next year or so.

The Craiglee Estate vineyard was established at Sunbury - 15 minutes by car north of what is now Tullarmarine Airport, Melbourne - in 1863. Craiglee produced an outstanding 1872 shiraz (no, the date is not a misprint!) which drank well after a century. It was one of the great early wines that Australia produced and an early indication that shiraz could be a centre-stage wine. The vineyard was ripped up and returned to dairy farming in 1928 but nearly 50 years later, in 1976, Patrick Carmody took over the old winery and replanted it with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sunbury itself can be a fairly bleak and cold place – it doesn’t have much rainfall - but, like Victoria’s western districts, it produces a medium-bodied, though peppery, shiraz wine that is, again, one of the great wines of Australia. Incidentally the 1872 apparently had the same peppery characteristics – terroir rules.

In the early nineties I was smart enough to buy a dozen of the 1993 shiraz. A glorious wine after 14 years, that probably won’t improve much, but which will remain sound drinking for another decade. Color slightly faded purple without browning. This wine is pure sophistication and elegance with intense peppery flavors plus sweetness. A very un-Australian wine that does not overpower you - it has French sophistication. I couldn’t get a price on it – I imagine it would be difficult to find at auction but would be around $120.

The current vintages of this wine retail at around $50. They are good immediate drinking and, as noted, aged well despite their early approachability. Great wine and far better value than the ridiculously priced Penfolds and Hensche flagship wines.

At the other end of the spectrum is a purely commercial Wynns Shiraz 1993. This is the sort of reliable moderately priced wine, for everyday drinking, that many of us purchase or consume at a restaurant when the wine list is nothing special. The only twist here is that I cellared.

At around $12 for the current vintage I have always thought Wynns shiraz was a little above its rather humble stature. But this aged beauty convinces me that, like its legendary black-label cabernet brother, this wine is worth cellaring. It does come from the Coonawarra and critics, like James Halliday, have always pointed to the excellent cellaring potential of the shiraz wines from there.

Initially the Wynns seemed washed out and almost insipid although it had some quaint gamey characteristics that kept you entertained. After an hour or so the wine blossomed into an aged beauty. Intense very sweet fruit only slightly faded with intense sweet again, slightly feral, perfume. Color – browning just a little but still very strong and vibrant purple. Is there another bottle? The wine would probably last another 5-6 years but won’t improve. Why should it – an outstanding drop right now!

It is often worthwhile shoving a couple of the Wynns type wine for a decade or so to see what happens. To be reasonable cellaring prospects they must have a bit of acidity but they do not have to have overly aggressive tannins. You may uncover a gem as I did in this case. I couldn't get a price on the Wynns but a pure guess is that it would be about $30 at auction.


Francis Xavier Holden said...

sounds like you decant to a decanter and letting plenty of air in and letting it sit for an hour? or do you pour a glass straight away and let it sit for a few minutes then lett the bottle sit?

I'm amazed at how some ordinary cheap wines improve after being opened a while and even better if poured into a decanter letting in lots of air. Seem pretentious but to me its a cheap way of improving a bit of glugging plonk.

hc said...

Sometimes I think decanting works - sometimes not. Some very old wines die quickly - others blossom. Generally I open - if it seems a bit closed I decant otherwise not. Bioth these bottles were in a restaurant so didfficult to decant - the Wynns would have benefitted from decanting.

I agree its a cheap way of improving everyday plonk.