Last night I was a lucky man. These were the wines I tasted (in alphabetical order)
2012 Best's Bin 0 Shiraz
2010 Elderton Ashmead Cabernet
2010 Elderton Command Shiraz
2010 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz
2010 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz
2009 Penfolds Grange Shiraz
2010 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
2012 Spinifex Bete Noir
2012 Spinifex La Mouline
2010 St. Hallets Old Block Shiraz
2009 Torbreck Descendant
2009 Torbreck Les Amis Grenache
2009 Torbreck RunRig Shiraz
2011 Tyrell's Vat 9 HV Shiraz
2013 Ulithorne Dona GSM
2012 Ulithorne Chi Grenache Shiraz
2011 Ulithorne Paternus Cabernet Shiraz
2011 Ulithorne Frux Frugis Shiraz
2012 Wynns V & A Cabernet Shiraz
2010 Wynns Alex 88 Shiraz
Western Australia was absent, and much of Victoria, but the tasting provided a good overview of the state of play of the major red varieties in Australia nonetheless. The wines were of excellent standard across the board. I will not focus on point scoring, but rather discuss my findings.
Ulithorne was a revelation to me. I was not familiar with this small winery from McLaren Vale, but mightily impressed with all their wines: great purity of fruit, precise winemaking and true varietal expression. Their Cabernet, with silky tannins and good ripeness was the wine of the night for me. The Grenache was dark fruited and elegant. No confectionery flavours there.
Henschke's Mount Edelstone was very complex and impressed me with exotic spice flavours, its smoothness and great balance.
Clearly, a number of Barossa makers have toned down alcohol and ripeness, with mixed success: Peter Lehmann's Stonewell Shiraz and St. Hallets Old Block were examples. I like the vibrancy and freshness of the Spinifex wines, but would I go for their wines if I wanted the 'Aussie Shiraz' feel? Some producers stick to their formula of quite ripe wines, such as Elderton and Langmeil. The 2010 vintage helped with balance.
The Bests and Tyrell's examples were less full bodied, with some red fruit flavours coming through. I enjoyed the silky tannins and balanced acidity in the Wynns V & A Cabernet Shiraz.
Now to the extremes: The 2009 Grange was the most heavily oaked wine of the night. No doubt it will come around over time, but the fruit is not of the quality of a number of years of the recent past. This is astonishing, given the strong vintage.
Robert Parker once described Torbreck wines built like skyscrapers - big in all dimensions. This has not changed. I found the floral impact of the Viognier in the Descendant as well as the alcoholic finish too strong. However, the Les Amis and the RunRig were impressive in their own way. The Les Amis was super smooth on the palate, despite the ripe black cherry fruit. And similarly, the RunRig was smooth, quite approachable with fantastic fruit intensity.
This was a great tasting, showcasing improved winemaking and different styles. Based on this, Australian wine should be able to refresh its image overseas sooner rather than later.