June 15, 2012

First Families Shine

There is something about family. In the simplest sense of the word, we have all had one at one time.  While it may bring to mind idyllic memories with beatific smiles, even the most dysfunctional are still some of the luckiest despite not feeling it. It is the ones that stay together that we are talking about though. And in times of crisis – financial & otherwise, these families have shown the temerity to hang in there when stockholders are fleeing or demanding heads to roll.

This sense of continuance is why when you are given the opportunity to taste the wines close to the heart of the current generation of 12 of some of the greatest families of wine in Australia, you certainly don’t say no. Even more so when these wines are then countered by wines made/chosen by the next generation.

The Ivy Ballroom was like a big family embrace with a unique tasting that started with the current generation of the Australian First Families of Wine. Here we tasted wines significant to that generation whether it be a significant vintage or just a wine that held a special place in the heart – kind of like a brag book of wines. The stories are as unique & engaging as the wines themselves. For example the Alister Purbrick offered an apology for only bringing along an ‘entry level wine’.

While there was a lot of sediment in the Tahbilk 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘sentiment’ was just as lovely as the graceful wine.  This was a wine that when first tasted in its infancy by the then current generation of Purbrick was pretty much declared a bit of a dog. In Alister’s words, he was told that it could have been better……  Alister, like many a next generation winemaker, stood up for his wine. So much did he believe in his wine, a bet of a 1931 penny was made by Alister that the wine would last the distance & reveal its quality.   And the proof was certainly in the glass 21 years later & considering this was an ‘entry level’ wine – impressive.

The 12 current generation responsible for Australia’s First Families of Wine

As stories like these unfolded, so to did the wines.  Here are just some of the highlights from the tasting:

McWilliams Lovedale 2005 Semillon – This is the current release of this wine. Seven years on, age has really not touched this Semillon as yet. It is showing some honey waxiness to the still floral, lemon minerality.  Still firm with length and poise – still a youngster.

Tyrrell’s Wine Vat 47 2005 Hunter Chardonnay – A hint of gold with some smoky honey, stonefruit & grapefruit on the nose. A silky wine with a long & firm toffee cashew finish.


The Ivy Ballroom

Brown Brothers Patricia 2004 Merlot – A wine that gives you hope for this varietal in Australia. Rich plum, earth, cinnamon are plentiful & some mint characters to remind you from where it comes.  Smooth, silky but still lively enough to go another 5 years.

Tahbilk 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon – Minty cassis with chocolate & cloves. Smooth long firm tannins with some earthy vegetal notes showing through.

Yalumba ‘The Reserve’ 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz – Cigar, mint, pepper, black currant & cinnamon plums shine through with hints of cedar, earth & a whiff of dried herbs.  An incredibly fresh & fragrant wine that at a decade on is still a pup.  Grippy tannins over a fuller body and long long length.  Enjoy the freshness now or wait for another half a decade or more for those tannins to smooth out – it will be worth the wait.

D’Arenberg Dead Arm 2005 Shiraz – A savoury wine with dried herbs, liquorice, blackberry cloves and some toffee shards on the nose. A wine that is full bodied, soft & juicy and long. Generously giving now developing even more interest in years to come when the oak integrates further still.

Jim Barry ‘The Armagh’ 2006 Shiraz –  Showing a very black ruby colour.  A big wine with plenty of caramel, cherry cola, blackberry, earth and milk chocolate to offer. The tannins are long & fine with generosity at its core. Needs time for the melding of fruit & oak.

Henschke Hill of Grace 2005 Shiraz – Blackberry fruit, cloves, pepper, with some smoky toast & attractive dried rose nuances offer complexity in a continuously evolving nose. Fuller bodied but still elegant.  A length that is lip lickingly long and a hint smoky.  Approachable now or leave it in the cellar.

De Bortoli 2006 Noble One – Amber with golden highlights & aromas of deep apricot fresh & dried, honey, with some smoky minerality. According to Darren De Bortoli a great year- a drought year where the grapes were still able to get enough moisture.  Sweet with fresh acid & a long generous weight.  Even the Pope thought so!

And the ‘next’ generation:

Tahbilk 2011 Viognier – first planted at Tahbilk in 1990s. A spicy ginger & honeysuckle example with varietal peach. Generously fruited with a satisfyingly persistent length at a value that will cause you to do a double take.

Mt Pleasant Leontine 2011 Chardonnay – A modern chardonnay with a minerally citrus nose joined by some creamy vanilla spice on the palate. Fleshy & fresh, it is a lovely wine to enjoy on its own or with food.

Taylors Winemakers Project 2010 GSM –  A lifted nose of floral roses, cherry, pepper & cloves and a touch of meat. A generously concentrated wine that is fuller bodied and well balanced.

De Bortoli Bella Riva 2010 Sangiovese Merlot – is a good example of foodability. It has plenty of cherry & cloves to offer with some savoury meatiness. A stylish medium bodied wine to be enjoyed with friends.

For more information on Australia’s First Families of Wine initiative – please visit www.affw.com.au


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  1. Darby from Vinodiversity

    Yes Muse, these guys are quality, in their wines and in the leadership they are showing. Most Australian wineries are small and don’t have have the resources to develop new varieties and then bring them to market. Big companies just can’t be bothered looking past the next shareholders meeting, and that means just filling supermarket shelves with supermarket wines. In between, the First Families are doing some of the heavy lifting. If they succeed all Aussie wine consumers and the smaller wine operations will all benefit.

  2. admin

    Hi Darby.
    I love these guys for their resilience & their innovation. When they innovate it has some provenance without ending up looking like a marketing graduate’s project (although sometimes their innovations are so prolific that it becomes messy). You are right on the mark – as they continue to succeed, the industry benefits – consumers & all.

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