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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jaysus mister, have ya nuttin' younger dan da?

It's very simple, really. Australia has the oldest vines in the world - that's a fact. There are more vines from the mid 19th century here than anywhere else and they're still producing. The oldest cabernet vineyard in the world is here, as are the oldest shiraz vines. This is just one of the fascinating aspects of Australia's wine heritage and our afternoon session took history as its theme.
Andrew Caillard MW introduced us to the best tasting I have ever attended. I have been fortunate to taste many great wines in my time but to get so many in one go was fantastic. I have mentioned before about the generosity of our hosts but this session took that to extremes. Not only did we have the marvellous James Halliday on hand to share his wealth of personal experience of these great wines but we had 50 years to taste through, starting with a 1954 Seppelt Great Western K72 Shiraz. This was a really interesting wine. I have no doubt that it is past its best but, still, it had an astonishing toffee and raisin nose, with sweet flavours on the palate but was drying on the finish. How many of us will be so lively after 50 years?
Then a Penfold's Bin 95 Grange Hermitage 1955. Well, what a wine! Fantastic - incredibly drinkable even now with a superb mocha and dried fruit nose, sweet palate, supple but still with good depth and a lovely elegance.
How do you follow that? Easy - Wynn's Michael Shiraz 1955. A gorgeous wine with a still tight structure and tasting more like cabernet than shiraz! Slightly leafy notes but a long savoury finish.
So, they have some old wines. Well, it gets better. Next up was Penfold's Bin 60A 1962 Cabernet Shiraz from Barossa. I think this is probably the greatest wine I've ever tasted. A complex nose of black fruits, slightly leafy, with back notes of mocha and brown fruits. The palate has a sweet, soft, ripe entry showing rounded shiraz fruit. Middle palate is rich, balanced and complex with an astonishingly clean finish of sweet prunes, raisins, figs and no drying tannins at all. This one, for those of you who need to know, fetches between AUD3,500 and AUD5,500 per bottle at auction. And we tasted two bottles! And they were gorgeous so nyah nyah nyah LOL.
No way to follow that, eh? Well, how about Penfold's Grange Shiraz Cabernet 1971? At only 11.5% alcohol you might think not much hope but, hang on there. Ripe, rich, sweet, chocolate and raisins, spicy oak and a gorgeous finish. I normally can't stand Grange as it takes forever to mature and change but... well, if this is how it turns out then what a wine! It may be a multi-regional blend, it may be one of the most designed wines there is but with this heritage it is truly a greatly important wine.
So, what a first flight of wines. Another 15 to go and getting younger so we can't expect anything that exciting, can we? Well, the next flight of four was well able to stand up and account for itself - no shrinking violets here.
Wynn's John Riddoch 1982 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon - the first vintage of this great wine. Wow and gosh both got into my tasting note as this wine was fantastic. Youthful more than anything, suggesting a great many years before it. Classic cabernet style, even some lifted leaf characters but rich, supple, sweet and gorgeous.
You know, when you have a lot to taste you dehydrate and tire easily but these wines were so good it was easy to keep going. Next, a Wendouree 1985 Shiraz. Words are starting to fail me as they're all so god. This was excellent due to it's fabulously complex nose of spice and chocolate and the amazing balancing act between rich, round, spicy chocolate fruit and still firm but well-structured tannins on the palate. It may be 24 years old but looks and tastes only 10 or so!
Hill of Grace 1986 Shiraz. This is like name-checking all the greats and, to be fair, that's exactly what we were there to do. It was 23 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, so let me introduce to you....
A really, really good wine with an amazingly lively palate following from sweet, spicy fruits on the nose. The American oak shows up somewhat but is well balanced by the depth of middle palate fruit.
Now to a classic in the sense of being a great wine from the ur-region: Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 1986. Well, having had two bottles of this yesterday the Hunter style starts to make sense. Rich red fruits, fresh acidity and lively but, at the same time, broad, elegant and long. Excellent wine, going at AUD900 or more at auction.
Then we changed to cooler climes and more cabernet-based wines. We started with Mt Mary Vineyard Lilydale Cabernets Quintet 1990 from Yarra. This was a beautiful cabernet and that's not something you say that often. Still a bit tight but fantastic blackcurrant flavours and a long, long finish.
To follow, a Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1995 from Margaret River. Wow - for such a cool climate what a level of cassis and ripe blackcurrant fruit. Sweet and savoury palate, quite rich middle palate with some merlot plums and fruitcake showing. The finish was long and still tight but with really ripe fruit. Excellent stuff.
Next, Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz. A gorgeous wine showing menthol and pepper spice nose but with deep, rich sweet fruit on the palate, some gorgeous prune and chocolate flavours and a long finish.
Next Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. Perhaps overshadowed by so many great wines this fell short for me. It was definitely good, possibly very good but I found it finished slightly green.
Then a Best's Wines Thompson Family Shiraz 1996 from Great Western. Port and liquorice on the nose but big, brawny, spicy palate. Old-fashioned in a way, the kind of wine a bloke would order in a pub in Alice Springs - nothing wimpy there, mate! Just fantastically unreconstructed Australian leathery but ripe shiraz.
Petaluma - it comes up everywhere and why wouldn't it? The 1998 Cabernet merlot from Coonawarra showed such a classic and classy Coonawarra style that you wondered where it all went wrong in the region. This was just gorgeous - classic blackcurrant notes, proper tannins (i.e. supporting rather than hiding the fruit) and really elegant.
Next, a real oddity - and why not? Australia was settled by tough outsiders and this next wine... well, I don't know. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 from south Gippsland. For me, it was interesting, very like a real old Burgundy but utterly weird. Not undrinkable but I'm not sure I'd drink it. Sweet to start, with a sour cherry note coming quickly and then finishing with raisined fruits. If you enjoy gambling...
Clonakilla 2001 Shiraz Viognier: I finally get the whole shiraz viognier thing - and the whole Clonakilla thing, maybe. Amazing stuff - peachy/apricotty nose (this is red, remember) with an astonishingly fragrant palate entry. Spicy and peppery then a rich, dense dark fruit evolves and the wine firms up. It finishes clean, big and almost black in style. Say wow! and repeat. Wow!
A Torbreck Run Rig Shiraz Viognier 1999 was amazingly elegant for this quite typical Barossa wine. Black fruit and violets with a rich, deep, round palate yet supple and elegant.
Finally into the 21st century with Seppelt St Peter Shiraz 2002 from Great Western. A very young wine still and needs time to open up - gorgeous. Then Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. The youngest of them all and, for me, a really classic Coonawarra wine. Elegant, classy, long - a great end to a fine afternoon.

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