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Wine from old rocks and shaved-out barrels


Whitey has been wallowing in some little-known Shiraz from his favourite Barossa Valley geology at Greenock.

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There’s a bunch of real old rocks – like 700 to 800 million years old neoproterozoic stuff – that pokes up through the very recent alluvium near Greenock in the Barossa. They all brag about real old rocks and soils and whatnot, but this stuff is rare there and it’s the best of it.

Great red wines come from this, and bits of the clays and loams that have washed over it, some of which have surface calcrete, which is like limestone. You need old deep roots to reach right down into its cracks. One of the sleepers of the genre is Ballycroft, the work of Joseph and Susan Evans, who have recently picked their 15th vintage.

Most enticing are their two Shiraz wines from 2012, partly because they matured some in American and some in French oak, and bottled these separately. Both lots were old barrels which were shaved to expose some raw wood to the wine. Shaved old oak doesn’t always ring my bells, as it can be very raw and splintery of flavour. Imagine licking the plank. It’s like walking it.

I recall, for example, Geoff Johnston’s first McLaren Vale Pirramimma Petit Verdot decades back, which he’d matured in new barrels made from freshly-sawed staves hewn from the planks of a very old standing vat. Other presstitutes raved, as did the show judges, but the wine reminded me of an old pine hut full of dried-out lumberjacks somewhere way out in the woods. It was as if they’d all died there looking at each other around the pot-belly stove, dreaming of television. It was all dry, dusty gingery oak; certainly not petit.

The Ballycroft Vineyard and Cellars American Oak Small Berry Barossa Shiraz 2012 ($45; 15.3% alcohol; screw cap; 170 dozen made) spent 36 months in what Joseph calls “bone-dry, shaved-out AP John hogsheads”. This scared me. AP John, the Tanunda cooper of 125 years standing, has made a distinctive contribution to Barossa Shiraz with its new American barrels. It’s worked out a Quercus alba forest source and a toasting and air-curing method which creates what I call classic Barossa chocolate, or at least draws that very distinctive flavour from the region’s best Shiraz.

Both, probably.

I had no reason to freak so thoroughly. The wine has climbed all over that wood. Like showed it a thing or two. Filled its open pores with Greenock goodness. This is a majestic, syrupy wine, more typical of its home than the rest of the Valley. It has that chocolate, sure, and it does show a splinter or two of the wood, like just enough to make the inside of your lips squint or pucker or whatever your mouth does, and it’s even seemed to regenerate some of your actual sap.

But seriously, it’s a delicious, slightly macho schlück that will perform a gradual miracle in your cellar if you’re into that sort of traditional Barossadeutscher torture. And it’s not shockingly alcoholismo, even given that honest steep figure. Like the best of the Greenock reds, it handles its own strength more politely than some of the old local biffo boys did. The late Ross Kalleske comes to mind. He gave me a mighty love pat to the cheek one night in the pub, I think for resembling the Englitsch. He never explained it. We quietly drank on while my bruise bloomed.

Ballycroft Vineyard and Cellars French Oak Small Berry Barossa Shiraz 2012 ($45; 15.8% alcohol; screw cap; 137 dozen made) is from the same garden in the same geology on the same slope and made the same old-fashioned way, but has been sentenced to French tonnellerie. It smells sweet, and despite its slightly higher alcohols, is a better-balanced sniff from the start. It has a little more berry in a vanilla bean way, and doesn’t remind me at all of old Roscoe. There’s just a tickle of the dry wood that’s more obvious in the other wine, but that will recede in the chill of the dungeon if you can wait. I could wash quite a bit of winter away with this unctuous balm.

While the AmOak boyo needs something along the lines of your cast-iron missionary pot full of defrosted woolly mammoth haunch and beets, this is more of your pink steak and field mushroom in creamy pepper sauce sort of jobby, with or without the steak. And real crusty white bread-and-butter to sop up the sauce. Look her straight in the eye as it dribbles down your chin.

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