As Wirra Wirra sits back into what looks like a very comfortable armchair as far as its bold front-of-house evolution proceeds, releases like this top-flight trio quietly show there’s no armchair business going down out the back.
Paul Smith and his winemaking crew are obviously thinking hard about the direction their top wines take, and working hard to nail it with more authority each time the vintage makes it possible.
At a time when much emphasis is cheekily applied to leaving wines unfinished, by avoiding the tricky matters of filtering and fining and even simple cold settling, it is clear these Wirra Wirra folks know how to polish their most premium products to a most luxurious silky sheen.
Much of this key work is done long before bottling. Like in fastidious vineyard selection, choice of the percentage of whole berries and/or whole bunches included in the ferment, very crafty intelligence applied to making the cut of soft from harder, more tannic fruit in the basket press, and then the ongoing matters of just what types of oak are best suited in which formats and at the most appropriate age.
Then comes the bit the accountants hate: deciding which barrels are good enough to go in the top cut, and which are demoted to products of lower prices.
Which is followed by the moment the naturalists choose to decry: actually straining the wine so no remnant grooblies get in the bottle, and choosing how much sulphur – a common non-metallic rock once called brimstone – to add to stabilise and protect the wine after all that work.
With slick exquisities like this trio, it’s obvious that the effort they’ve put in early in the piece relieves the need for last-minute correcting. There’s no hint that they’ve been over-filtered or over-sulphured. Unlike a million lesser products, corrections late in the piece are hardly required with elixirs of this calibre.
Wirra Wirra The Absconder McLaren Vale Grenache 2016
($70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)
This is at the forefront of the silky-smooth Grenache school. The damn thing glows with the calm persistence of a burnished sea captain’s lamp. It has all the dark berries and cherries and stuff we’ve learnt to find in grand Grenache, against grand old oak beams. Then there’s the slightly sinister deeper darkness in the corners: spooky juniper and blackberries on the dusty twilight briar … shadowy flickers at the edge of organoleptic vision, just to make you happier about that lamplight.
Drink. After that healthy fleshy beginning the bouquet promised, the wine tapers ever-so-gently to a long, lithe, acidic twist with barely a flake of tannin. The titanium trident has 24 carat gold on its barbs.
Wirra Wirra RSW McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015
($70; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap)
Following the same polished style, vineyard selection is the cornerstone of this shiny, dark assemblage. It has glorious florals among its glowering berries and gentle fresher oak, reminding us that out among all that mindless gloop-on-a-stick Shiraz that clogs the Shiraz shelves, you’ll find utterly seductive, very much alive dainties like this dancin’ around.
Add semi-dried dates and figs to the juniper and berries of the Grenache, and some star anise and licorice root, and you’re in this heady realm. It’s both darker and more shiny. And this one has a shade of very gentle velvety tannin.
Wirra Wirra The Angelus McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
($70; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap)
One of the most vivid vinous memories of 2017 was an Onkaparinga Hills Cabernet batch Smithy showed me at Wirra: man that was bright and vivacious and just a hint at the sublime Cabernets the Vales can produce in the sorts of priceless upland siltstone currently disappearing under villa rash at Seaford Heights. There are odd patches still productive north of the Onkaparinga. I can smell, taste and feel that stuff in here. It’s a bit like the Cabernet Michael Waugh gets off his tiny Roennfeldt’s vineyard at Greenock Creek in the Barossa, which has all this floral brightness when picked below 13.5 per cent.
Otherwise, this is the perfect pointy tip to this southern triumvirate: clean and cheeky, shiny and blue-black, as glossy and polished as a lacquer screen.
If you prefer your reds with a few more corners on them, you’ll find them abundant among the tasting-room-only biodynamic and organic trials at the Wirra Wirra cellars. Go have a slow lunch in the courtyard.
But if you’re committed to the luxury spend and you want concourse shimmer, few establishments can offer this sort of polish at the top.
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