The first of these wines has the highest alcohol content of any wine I have ever drunk. The second comes from the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the world. Both are Barossa wines. The first wine is the 2004 Chris Ringland Shiraz, the second the 2004 Penfolds Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chris Ringland is the most meticulous winemaker I know; in the vineyard, in the winery and in record keeping. This wine used to be called Three Rivers and came from what is now Torbreck's Laird vineyard. Later it was simply called Shiraz, Dry Grown, and came from the home vineyard Stone Chimney Creek in the Flaxman (Eden) Valley, a 100 year old vineyard, which Chris Ringland restored.
So here it is: this wine has 17.7% alcohol. Before you stop reading, hear me out: this wine has incredibly powerful pristine, pure fruit. It can match the alcohol. There is of course 100% new French oak as well. This is a wine on steroids. While many wines at 14-15% alcohol taste more alcoholic, I have a major gripe with this wine. It does not taste like Shiraz. It tastes like a dry red, not clear which variety. And ultimately the alcohol dominates the fruit on the finish. As an aside, the wine is still fresh and vibrant.
I find it difficult to rate this wine. It is extreme, well made at that, but is it typical or enjoyable?
The Penfolds Block 42 comes from a section of the famous Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley. The vines were planted in the 1880s. It is only released as a separate wine in exceptional years, otherwise the fruit goes into Grange and Bin 707. There is an incredible blackcurrant fruit intensity in this wine. It is very ripe and generous, with chocolate and licorice rounding out the profile. The wine has a big mouthfeel and no gap in the middle. The 100% new oak is noticeable, but well integrated. Alcohol is labelled at 13.3%, but this is clearly a lie. One is allowed to have a variance of 1.5%age points from the mentioned level, so lets add this to the 13.3%. The tannins are dry and have softened a bit. This wine leaves a lasting impression and will easily live well for another 15 years.
Both these wines are characterized by big fruit, oak and alcohol, and are structured well. They almost form a different category of wine.