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Cool shed reds from a McLaren Vale recluse


Wine writer Philip White likes a suite of modestly-priced reds from the elusive Ross McMurtrie, private shedster of McLaren Vale.

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No rock star, Ross McMurtrie is a reclusive bloke who grows and makes some cool shed reds in McLaren Vale. They’ve been a local secret too long.

From the road named McMurtrie after Ross’s forebears – the one from the Salopian Inn, where they were born to grow beside this vineyard as it grew … the road that runs right along the foot of the ridge from Richard Hamilton’s famous Hut Block Cabernet, his best, on through Frank Mitolo’s, past Wirra Wirra, over the faultline, and straight up the range.

That McMurtrie McLaren Vale Sangiovese 2015

(14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80 dozen made)

What? That? That’s no superEtruscan! Not a hope in hell aiming your pretence in that direction if you’re in this southern country. This here’s real abrasive briary bitter cherry: somewhere between what they’d call a narrow conceptual model and a Chianti punk with its collar-and-cuffs turned up… make that a hillbilly Elba punk .. the dude in the Armani herringbone waistcoat but oh no it’s just his grandfather’s old one like the Fiat 500 … kid put a filthy Suzy Busa donk where the back seat used to be … “82? Shit Filippo that’s cubic inches, not my IQ … so you’re not getting in my car?”

Okay just chug it as you would at a long barnyard table in the middle of that irony isle and if there are savage hare frightening the kiddies on the football ground you could sneak one into a jug for nearly too long and use its juices with strip noodles pappardella alla lepre … with a real wormy casu marzu cheese … oh yes, if the hare didn’t have ticked fur it was probably a goat.

Otherwise, you could let it mellow to really syrupy morello of simple elegance with a good airing in the same jug but that’d be silly. I shared it with a Napa winemaking mate with a terrible Barolo fetish who didn’t like it but then he reflected fondly on his time at the wheel of a Veyron, which should preclude him from access to this rustic purity.

The McMurtrie McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014

(14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 89 dozen made)

When first snapped, this seemed pretty much the grown-up, embarrassed older sister of the zitty Fix It Again Tony (FIAT) fanger: tight with twisty angst, she just can’t wait to get away from him and right off the island. On the boat.

After a good airing, it went through a more satisfied phase when it brought me to where McLaren Vale’s Blewett Springs and McLaren Flat Shiraz hits the sparser black cracking clays of the Wok around the Aldinga airport. A sort of mixture of the cherry florals of the Blewett Springs sand and ironstone, the soulful mud of the Flat, and the tortured hard harsh yields of the southern clays, which pull the vines’ hair roots apart every time the summer dries them out til they crack.

So it’s a bigger deal structurally than your Elba adventure, and its tasty geology is not much like any of the above anyway. In spite of those slightly burny alcohols, it’s a fairly lean, appetising Shiraz for the Vales. Which I like.

More of that hare, please… and send another jug to the accordion player.


This McMurtrie McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2014

(14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 80 dozen made)

Now we change gears. Or cars, really. Whole mediums. Just rethink everything. Try haute couture. This isn’t the The or the That, this is the This. This is Cabernet country; this is the purpose of the McMurtrie Road dune/ridge thing.

This viny, winy Cabernet just grabs the errant and listless Shiraz by the arm, obviously jerking it out of its porky food dreaming, and suddenly you have a seriously distinctive fashion house for the slender. It has all the willowy sensuality that only this blend seems to achieve: you don’t get this with a Cabernet Merlot mixture whether it’s from Medoc or Madagascar.

The lantana and crême de cassis extremes of the McMurtrie Cabernet wrap around that Shiraz and damn well carry it to school on their shoulders. It reminds me of sweet Ross Hannaford singing Fats Domino’s Josephine:

You used to live over yonder
By the railroad track
When it rained you couldn’t walk
I had to tote ya on my back

Amongst the French trees, the touch of American oak helps sharpen the pencil.

Suddenly you have a Carson McCullers in with the Rosses, Hannaford and McMurtrie, telling you about everything, including yourself and your hunger.

Lithe, strapping, intelligent, bright red wine.

Valiant McMurtrie McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

(14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 50 dozen made)

It could be said the Barossa and McLaren Vale have always had too much of their money on Shiraz. Both regions grow far too much of it from their laziness as much as our propensity to mindlessly funnel it down or flog it to China.

I’m not talking of great Shiraz, which is scarce and quite rightfully highly-valued, but just dead lazy nose-pickers’ Shiraz. Because when you really pick the overload of the shittier Shiraz away, both Barossa and the Vales can pour stonking Cabernet which too often goes unsung.

Of course, the best of the original Barossa vines of Penfolds Kalimna are revered without question, like Greenock Creek’s Roennfeldt Road, but it seems to me that the old king McLaren Vale Cabs of Tintara, Reynella, Kays and Jim Indgoldby are in danger of fading from the page.

Maybe it’ll take something like this to get us back on track. The McMurtrie’s CL Valiant. Made in Adelaide. Indestructible. MoPar. Hemi. Holy hell. Having bled out through head wounds, I was once, only once, delivered with no radial pulse to the Royal Adelaide Hospital after a battle defending Shiva, my old Police pursuit CL, from a barbarian who sat on its roof.

Some sensible soul had dropped a worked 360 hemi w Holley into SHV-123 and I’d dropped it on its chin, with likky straps up front and baggies out back. Change gears once after breakfast, again after lunch, sit on about 2500 revs and have a quiet dinner in the Hydro Majestic.

Ross McMurtrie

Big Vals are like that. You die for ’em. Not in ’em.

But while this delightful wine has that formidable body and soul, its form and spriteliness are more along lighter, less tractorly Valiant Pacer lines.

Rather than share it with a Bugatti and Barolo bloke, I drank some of this with another winemaker I deeply respect, who arrived in a Mitsi farmer’s ute.

“Jeez that’s good Cabernet,” he said. “Jeez. What’s that?”

“McMurtrie’s Val.”

“Wow. That’s good. Who’s McMurtrie?”


Getting off the road, this is lovely: intense, elegant, strapping and lithe wine. You don’t get this without decades of fanatical, sensitive vineyard management in the right place for the right purpose by the right people. It’d sing with saltimbocca or simple lamb cutlets. Even Andy Clappis’s baccalà.

Chanterelle mushrooms. Yellow caps. Porcini – I reckon if you found an old CL you could fill it with coffee grounds and grow fungi like these in it to go with delightful wines like this.

Imagine that back label. “Recommended with Boletus edulis mushrooms grown in Black Ivory coffee grounds in the body of a CL Valiant Station Wagon facing south with no wheels and the tailgate window wound right down so its silica eventually subsides as sand into the original ferruginous ground.”

Yeah, I know: we’re in the Anthropocene Epoch now. But while there’s no dead CL resuming into rusty geology there is pre-Valiant ironstone in the sand, loam and clay of the bonnie McMurtrie vineyard.

You can have a mixed dozen of these wines (delivered free) through the McMurtrie website for about $20 a bottle, which is one tasty buy if you like your red with plenty of local character, but more appetising finesse than mega-spendy gloop.

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