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Wine reviews: Gloria in excelsis from Sevenhill


Philip White’s been chasing black angels round a Jesuit belfry, finding glory and joy in this trio of reds from Clare Valley’s Sevenhill Cellars.

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As the big birthday draws nigh, it seems appropriate to turn to Clare’s oldest winery, Sevenhill, established by Austrian Jesuits to make altar wine and provide a retreat, church and school.

They bought the land in 1851. Rather thoughtfully, they also built the Sevenhill pub as a sort of retreat from the retreat; a place to which one could retire with a more frivolous libation. Well done on both counts, I say. Nothing wrong with the well-balanced life.

Sevenhill Inigo Estate Grown Clare Valley Shiraz 2015 ($28; 15.8% alcohol; screw cap) is about as Clare as Clare ever gets: deep and furry and strong. There’d been lots of rain, then a last-minute heatwave ripened everything so quick vintage seemed to finish in a flash. Winemaker Liz Heidenreich and her team had to give those beautiful old Mintaro slate fermenters a total thrashing to give us this surly beauty.

The 70-plus years these vines have spent getting their roots into the Sevenhill rocks seem to have built up a head of pressure just for 2015: that intense Shiraz aroma seems to explode out of the bottle, then the glass, then from the drinker’s breath. It’s a thing of glory and joy.

I’m sure Vivaldi wrote a Gloria just for the release of wines like this. It seems to leave big angel feathers fluttering down from the rafters. I say big because this is one big brawny fully growed-up angel: there’s nothing cherubic about it.

While that alcohol number seems steep, it’s a lot more honest than the rivals from the region, which rather miraculously all claim to be 14.5 per cent, which can really mean 16 per cent, given the slack in the legislation.

It doesn’t seem that strong to drink, mind you, like it’s not porty, but instead offers that sort of hammered lozenge of concentrated Shiraz as a neat sweetie that sits about the laughing gear for a while, then it’s gone, leaving more of that feathery tannin. At this stage the drinker will notice them feathers are black.

Sevenhill Inigo Estate Grown Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($28; 15% alcohol; screw cap) is a more genteel critter. It has that meaty aroma of the blueberry dominant; somewhere between the charcuterie and confectioner’s musk it’s there, laying hints at the field mushrooms, beets and roast meats that would best suit it. Then there’s the flavours flooding through in a gentle, but persistent wave, hearty and human and as honest as the day is long.

Rarely is something so determined to be both raw and sensual in such a rustic unpolished manner. I mean, it’ll gain a polished sheen with another five or 10 years in the crypt but I’d rather enjoy it without the sophistry of age. It’s big, but never boisterous.

Sevenhill St Ignatius Clare Valley Cabernet Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc 2014 ($45; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap) is already one step closer to heaven: the intelligence of its blending and structure have already got it hoisted way up past the rafters into the belfry. Lookout steeple! Oh? They haven’t built the steeple yet? Then lookout sky!

Leaving aside the mystifying notion that this upland ridge in dry old Australia manages to grow beautifully the Riesling of Germany and Austria alongside all these types which are classically the ingredients of great Bordeaux, let’s still point out that in 2014 vintage slowed and cooled after thick rain put an end to a burst of threatening heat, giving us mercifully elegant, beautifully aromatic wine like this.

After its petite, polite perfume, with all those fresh fruiterer’s berries and pretty confections wafting through from the lolly shop with the fairy floss next door, the flavours gear up with a touch of all those deep Cabernet greens: the teas and beet leaves. Meaning this wine still has a bit of a juvenile twist in it for now: three or five more years should see all that smooth out and shine over and you’ll reach a different altitude again. Which is not to say it’s not great fun now, chasing that big black angel around the steeple that will sure get built eventually. I mean, look: they extended the pub 70 years back!  Praise the Lord!

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