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Three shirazes: Fox Creek, Kay Bros & Rockford

April 25, 2010

Almost every wine-drinker has heard of the Barossa Valley, but McLaren Vale, on the other hand, seems to suffer from an inferiority complex. Certainly, I knew nothing about it in 2002 (when I first became acquainted with Adelaide, South Australia) but my boss was most insistent that I take his car for a drive down Main South Road to McLaren Vale. It was only later during my actual sabbatical in 2003-4 that I came to appreciate the lovely 40-min drive down this picturesque region that produces some of Australia’s most robust shirazes, marked by a forward fruit character of charming rusticity (its cabernet, similarly, is characterised by dusty tannins).  The 2002 Fox Creek reserve shiraz, over lunch at Imperial Treasure T3 on the 23rd, is a premium example of  a top quality McLaren Vale shiraz. Dark red with a purplish rim, exuding a bouquet of plum, cassis, pepper and blue- and blackberries. Full-bodied and saturated but not overbearing, imbued with loads of quality ripe fruit coated with svelte velvety tannins, ending in a long minty finish without any of the disjointed alcoholic trail. A shiraz with a cool-climate feel, for a change. Quite harmonious and well crafted, for sure. More sophisticated and less rustic than usual for a McLaren Vale shiraz. Obviously still has a long life ahead.

On the other hand, the 2001 Kay Brothers Amery Hillside shiraz, at a family function at Jade Palace on the 24th, double decanted for 2 hours and aired further in bottle for another 1-2 hours, perhaps best epitomises a McLaren Vale shiraz. In spite of double decanting, this dark inky red was still hugely dense, though perhaps not quite as intense as a Block 6 from the same estate, but this is unmistakably Australian all over – very forward, warm, overflowing with licorice, plum, very ripe dark berries and blackcurrant with a touch of bramble, supported by a tannic back bone and ending with a medicinal minty finish, contributed probably by the still discernible alcoholic bed. Rather one-dimensional, whereas the Fox Creek (above) possessed greater structure and layering. Nevertheless, this wine has managed to shed quite a lot of its rusticity, for I remembered a sample tasted at its cellar door in 2004 was utterly monstrous, tannic and disjointed, almost brutal. I don’t think anything can really be done about the jammy wines produced by such an arid continent. Not my preference, I’m afraid.

The very best Aussie shirazes still hail from the Barossa, as exemplified by the 2003 Rockford Basket Press shiraz, over dinner with my boss from Adelaide at Imperial Treasure T3 on the 25th. Again this was double decanted for an hour, followed by another hour of decanting at the restaurant. Deep inky red with a purplish rim, the warm shiraz fruit producing flavours of plum, spice, a hint of licorice and ripe blackberries, ending in a mild medicinal finish, but the difference that sets the Rockford apart from other shirazes is that the flavours are much more lifted and deft, managing to avoid heaviness, and the wine infinitely much more well crafted and sophisticated with tannins that are superbly integrated and smooth without any tannic backlash. Little wonder that I’ve kept a vertical going since the 1997 vintage (sans 2000).

And, finally, a note about the 2004 Grosset Piccadilly chardonnay, a gift from my boss that I hand-carried back from Adelaide in 2008 which I’m glad to share with him this evening at Imperial Treasure T3. Piccadilly of Adelaide Hills is well known for its wonderful cool-climate chardonnay (the most famous example being the over-priced Petaluma Tiers), although I must say the first thing one associates with Grosset is its fabulous Polish Hill riesling of Clare Valley. This chardonnay might just make me change my mind: very pale, but the bouquest has unmistakable top drawer minerality, butterscotch and limey biscuity character, aromas that were highly floral and lifted with refreshing acidity. Beautifully integrated and lovely. I’m reminded of a Chassagne-Montrachet, albeit a notch lower in intensity and richness.

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