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Pinnacles of the Barossa Tops


Philip White is impressed by the new dux duo from the vineyards the Thorn-Clarke families have strung along the Barossa Ranges.

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Thorn-Clarke came about when respected geologist David Clarke married Barossa Ranges lass Cheryl Thorn. Her family had been upland grapeprowers there since the 1850s – those ancient inherited vineyards were gradually extended with David’s input.

He planted various old rock geologies along those rangetops from Mount Crawford to St Kitts, along with a large slab of the recent clays north of Rockford on the Barossa floor.

Under son Sam Clarke, this family business is now one of the region’s biggest grape-growers. They have always been major sellers, but have gradually built up their own winery brand to gather its own provenance and reach new heights of respect.

Here are their two top examples:

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Barossa Shiraz 2016
($60; 15% alcohol; cork)

Classic old-style silk-and-velvet Barossa Shiraz of such high order has been a bit of a rarity on this desk: it’s great to be reminded of just how solidly accomplished and matter-of-factly seductive they can be when fed a proper range of fruits from such a range of sites. Single-site wine growing is one thing, and it’s become very popular indeed. But the capacity to blend across various sites almost always offers a more consistent, reliable and impressive drink.

All the regular business went into this wine: small open fermenters, pump-overs by hand, best parcels into American oak barrels (40 per cent new) and then only the most exemplary barrels were chosen for the assemblage.

So? All those lovely silky prunes and plums, the mulberries and blackberries, the gentle fleshy mushroom you’d expect of the best of the big valley are in this wondrous thing. With that edge of Quercus alba sap that I called right wing when it stuck its head out of a Penfolds extravagance with an extra zero on it a few weeks back.

In fact, if you smarted at those new Penfolds prices, this is a brand you could quite honourably retreat to and emerge with dignity and the satisfaction of saving a great deal of money.

This would make hearty celebratory drinking with beef or cheddar at Christmas, or be a very safe bet left mellowing for a decade in the dungeon.

Thorn-Clarke William Randell Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
($60; 14.5% alcohol; cork)

It’s perfumed perfection, this level of high country Cabernet. All those demure but alluring whiffs of violets, a lavender dash and fresh meadow blooms with hedgerow berries and their blossoms … bergamot mint … add the marshmallow flesh and inky silk of an elegant crème de cassis and you’re getting close. It’s a gorgeous bouquet, made all the better with French rather than American oak, but again, about 40 per cent of it new.

It’s altogether a more lissom and sinuous drink: an elegance that calls for a finer level of cuisine than that great haunch of brontosaurus you dribbled through with the Shiraz. This would be grand with goose, maybe turkey, but if you can get your hands on some guinea fowl, with that contrasting pale and dark flesh, there’d be a great Christmas, right there.

It’ll cellar, too. If that cork works, expect shimmering brilliance.

Thorn-Clarke has several ranges of less-expensive premium red wine making up a full product pyramid beneath this pinnacle. The Riesling, Chardonnay and cult Pinot gris are also rock-solid high-country drinks and great value.

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