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On the bar at Harry's


Whitey has been lounging around the new Harry's Café eatery at Wirra Wirra, tasting some mighty fine reds.

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Because he would not exaggerate the number of jobs the project would create, Wirra Wirra managing director Andrew Kay did not get government assistance in building the handsome new Harry’s Café at Wirra Wirra. But he went ahead and built it anyway, and a bonnie rambling deliciousity it is if you’re in McLaren Vale and you need a casual lunchtime repast, a tasting, and a long slow chatter in the shade.

Harry’s is quickly becoming a popular hangout for both the local and wandering peckish, and adds to the gastronomic adventures of the region. It’s always busy and features such famed local produce as the crunchy bread of Andy Clappis from the Willunga hills and special coffee blends by Dawn Patrol.

Many local viands are available from specialist Vales suppliers – you can see the menu on the Wirra Wirra website.

I can feel Greg Trott’s presence when I sit there: he’d love this sympathetic and creative reconstruction of the front of what we used to call his magnificent ironstone erection.

With the assistance of viticulture manager Anton Groffen, winemaker Paul Smith is always combing local vineyards of exception, including Wirra’s own suite of unique blocks. There are several very good wines on the bench which are made only for the cellar sales and tastings.

I spent a couple of days there this week, one kicking barrels with Andrew and Paul, then another partaking in the mind-blowing McLaren Vale Shiraz Geologies tasting, which I will report once I have digested its vast complexities and implications.

Wirra Wirra Esperanza McLaren Vale Tempranillo 2015
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

Smelling immediately lean and alluring, while intense and appetising, this Spanish variety seems unlikely for those who understand it seems to produce the best wines in the high deserts of Spain, where there’s hardly a grain of relative humidity and there’s a mad diurnal daily temperature range during ripening, baking in 40C-plus in the summer sun, yet plunging to freezing each night.

Neither of these conditions occur in McLaren Vale, whose proximity to the tempering gulf named after Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of winemakers and viticulturers, give it a constantly high relative humidity, compared, say, to Barossa and Clare or regions further into the hinterland. In the Vales, there’s not much variation in temperature from day to night.

So, after that dark earthy and slightly leathery bouquet, with all its twists of polished harness and insinuations of black satin and bolero-cut tuxedos, the wine is sinuous and lithe like a tango dancer, and finishes lingering and tantalising, just perfect with the casual cuisine available. This is one for the charcuterie meats on Harry’s Platter.

Take your time, shut your eyes, sit back and you’re in the Vales had it been settled by the Spaniards. Pretty cool.

Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale Esperanza Touriga 2015
$30; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap

The Portuguese Touriga loves the maritime nature of the Southern Fleurieu, whether it’s grown on the western seaside or the estuarine eastern boundary on the freshwater lakes near the Murray mouth. This swarthy beauty seems both more rustic and meaty to sniff, again triggering yearnings for charcuterie/dark cured ham dainties or piquant cheeses with Andy’s bread.

It’s also got a pleasing whiff of dark bitter chocolate in with all that freshly dressed leather. Think of the piquant air of a gang of gaúchos fronting the taberna in their Sunday best.

On the other hand, it seems a little more frivolous to drink than the austere Tempranillo, while sharing its Iberian source. It’s more slender and tapered; maybe even a tad more generous of flesh, with quite grainy, yet soft tannins. It’s built for black olives and slightly salty Portuguese sardines, and those too tired to tango.

Wirra Wirra Biodynamic Vineyards Amator Shiraz 2015
$30; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

Biodynamic vineyard management really seems to suit the Shiraz of the Vales, somehow maintaining a natural vibrancy yet softening its chocolatey earthiness to comfort and reassure the tippler rather than offering the challenging linear tightness of more industrial models. It’s a lot more velvet than their refined, polished and filtered humdrum.

More focussed and less complex than the Iberian reds, this wine is once again the perfect partner to just about anything on Harry’s menu. Compare it to one of the more conventionally-grown and made Shiraz offerings available if you’re curious about the influence of Bio-D. Discuss.

Wirra Wirra The Absconder McLaren Vale Grenache 2015
$70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

There’s a great deal of bullshit being spread about Grenache as its popularity grows apace and a conga line of winemakers say they saved the variety from oblivion: we’re lucky it wasn’t all uprooted and lost in the mad misunderstandings of the ’90s and ‘noughties … most of those laying claim to the Grenache revival weren’t even on deck when the second battle to save it began barely a dozen years back. Or even during that cursed Vine Pull Scheme of 30 years ago, when most of South Australia’s ancient pre-phylloxera bushvines were bulldozed and burnt. I know who really fought the war, and who the enemies were, but that’s another story.

I got a terrible shock recently. Having long lauded the Vales Grenache – and the Vales easily does Australia’s best job of it – for the savoury sweet-and-sour pickled morello cherry character its best examples exude, I bought a jar of said cherries to confirm and check my theory. Land sakes they were bleached, bland and forgettable. They were barely cherries. I suddenly doubted that readers have ever got my drift. Time for the local providores to begin importing some proper quality brands of Amarina from Italy’s Marche, no? Or grow and pickle them locally. There’s a challenge.

The Absconder – named after Wirra founder Greg Trott’s infuriating tendency to disappear from sight at all the wrong times – has quickly risen to the rare atmosphere at the very top of the new Grenache wave. It’s gorgeous: offering a moody deep in a polished silky sheen. It’s long and alluring and luxurious and makes a much more accessible drink than most of the local Shiraz, which is grown more for its resilience and ease than for any real gastronomic reason.

It seems that McLaren Vale, like the other famous Shiraz regions, simply forgot what it was doing other than making easy, lazy money.

Not all winemakers are gastronomes; even fewer grape farmers. Pity.

Wirra Wirra Chook Block Single Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014
$130; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap

In the ’60s and ’70s, many of the more famous McLaren Vale vignerons were also chicken farmers, Trott included. Chook Block is an eccentric, tiny Shiraz garden adjacent to one of his big old chook houses: it still seems to thrive on the remnants of the manure they donated to that sparse, bony terroir.

Regarded by many as the pinnacle of Wirra winemaking, this is almost Grenache-like in its bouquet, but a touch darker and deeper. It’s similarly silky initially, but its distinctive lemon-and-bergamot flavoured acidity rises quickly, drawing its finish out to a very long appetising taper. It’d be ravishing with juicy tea-smoked or Peking duck. (Writer dribbles into keyboard.)

Ideally, it’s one for 20 years in the dungeon. Right now, it’s a savoury prize for the connoisseur seeking to explore the wildly-varied, distant backwaters of the variety: if Shiraz is the Amazon, this is from one of its tiny tributaries away up on the Andes snowline. It is utterly unique, memorable and madly collectible. Just don’t forget it’s a drink, and a beauty.

The Chook Block is tiny – it produced only 90 dozen in 2014 – it’s of such rare character that I reckon it’d sell out even more quickly if they doubled or trebled its price. Which they must be tempted to do. Its sheer brilliance and unique demeanour put it in Hill of Grace territory.

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