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Building better wines from the vineyard up


Whitey revisits Wirra Wirra, coming in through the top end of its McLaren Vale belfry to sing with the red Shiraz knights and Cabernet queen ’round the table way below.

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As the proportionate importance of really good wine increases in Australia’s export portfolio, this development is pushing more winemakers to attempt the launch of better wines domestically.

Many producers think this means a more arty or extravagent label, a heavier bottle, more extravagent oak, and a $50 hike in price. Some even revert to stopping the neck of the bottle with a lump of bark from a tree in Portugal, a quaint, rustic, corrupting romance upon which many of the wine’s imperfections can later be blamed.

Then, there are those who feel an obligation to build better wines from the vineyard up; to design them from the start with more viticultural wisdom and a heightened ecological sensibility and only then a great deal more gastronomic intelligence in the winery.

A company which is pursuing this method with great determination and success is Wirra Wirra. I wrote here in February of this outfit’s clever and sensitive purchase of Steve George’s Pinot temple, Ashton Hills. Time now to address the Wirra Wirra home patch in McLaren Vale, and three bold new reds. Two of these are certified bio-dynamic. All three are responsibly sealed with screw caps. Given their uncompromising quality, their prices, while spendy to those committed to sub-$20 bottles, are modest, given the quality of the opposition.

Wirra Wirra Woodhenge McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 ($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is named after the late Greg Trott’s mighty red gum log fence at the winery. Given its solid nature and provenance, the wine seems likely to live nearly as long as that indestructable monument.

Like the other two wines, this really thrives with a proper decanting: its tendency to bloom for two to four days after opening also indicates it will cellar beautifully. It’s a compressed, intense, surly brute upon first opening; with the gradual ingress of air it becomes more sultry. Its beautiful oak is never intrusive, but always present in its complex, velvety, fruitcake juice.

The flavours are true to all these opening expressions. It is first and foremost a stalwart example of the best of McLaren Vale Shiraz. The velvet, the old-fashioned fruitcake, the insinuations of bitter cooking chocolate all hover round the sensories like the ghosts of great knights hover round old cathedrals. With that recommended airing, these seem to replace their armour with fresh new flesh, take to the table beside you, and sing richly of past triumphs. It evokes a vast history as much as glimmer with a more peaceful, harmonious future. Five or more years in the dungeon will simply add richer timbre, more volume and higher tenors to the old boys’ bass choir.

The Wirra Wirra Amator Biodynamic Vineyards Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2014 ($30; 14% alcohol; screw cap) has all the above, with a darker streak of carbon in its resolve, offset by a touch more lively primary fruit. It is never quite so surly or sultry, although it’s still very obviously of the same stable.

With a proper airing, the fruit even dares a felicitous topnote: the berries of the fruitcake freshen up while those velvet tannins soften. It leaves the sensories tantalised and tingling more than satisfied, and reminds me of the great rounds of cheddar Trotty always had on his tasting bench. Juicy lamb cutlets with a potato, pumpkin and parsnip mash riddled with fresh parsley and chopped raw onion would set it off just jim dandy. Otherwise? Cellar.

Wirra Wirra Amator Biodynamic Vineyards Mclaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap) is from the start a more feminine and perfumed delight. It has all the pretty Cabernet topnotes of violet and lavender, blueberries, blackcurrant and blackberry dusted with musky confectioner’s sugar.

The slightly lower alcohol here has an influence at least as profound as the change of variety: while it also deserves a proper airing, the wine will be more supple and sinuous well before those monolithic Shiraz wines.

It makes me dribble in the direction of country chicken stewed very slowly in a casserole with Sauvignon blanc, shallotts, baby carrots and a handful of fresh tarragon.

So. There are three bold new beauties that boast the best of our new intelligence, but with a deep respect of what went long before. They are perfect pointy-end ambassadors for their region and producer, and now I realise I’ve been pondering these bottles for five days with only increasing admiration, I guarantee that if you’re one of those rare birds with a cellar, you can exile them with perfect confidence that the years can only see them ring your bells more profoundly.

This trio begins to explain the importance of McLaren Vale’s essential contribution to the most expensive top-end blends of Penfolds.

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