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Karrawirra Red 1973 – Old and Remarkable Barossa

In 2013 a neighbour of Glug customer Alan Ramsey gifted him an old Karrawirra red The Karrawirra Barossa Valley Claret 1973 had lain in the neighbour’s Canberra cellar since purchase well over 20 years before.

The delights of drinking a 1973 Karrawirra Claret
The day the 1973 Karrawirra met its end – (from the left) David Farmer, Alan Ramsey and Paul Jonson

Now drinking old bottles is pretty much a gamble. The wine can please but often the years of cellaring disappoint. But having added the Karrawirra label to the Glug stable in 2004 I was delighted to join in the ceremonial opening. It is not often I have the opportunity of trying a Barossa Valley wine with nearly 50 years of age.

The level of this Karrawirra Claret was good, so our hopes were high. The cork crumbled easily. It took a delicate touch to extract the pieces bit by bit. This is what we experienced:

Pale red-tawny colour; fragile sweet bouquet, warm climate nuances with faint leather and old wood; unexpected liveliness on the palate with the last rays of sweet fruit giving enjoyment. The wine held together quite well for several hours. A remarkable experience.’

By the 1970s profound technical, even revolutionary changes in how red wines should be made in the warm Barossa climate were in practise at Penfolds and Orlando. Even so change takes time to disseminate across to small wineries. The tasting of this 1973 suggests the new ways had not worked down to the small Keelyn winery in Lyndoch where the Kies family made Karrawirra from the late 1960’s.

The current Karrawirra wines

The current range of Karrawirra Barossa Valley red varieties provide customers with deeper, fuller bodied reds that those of the 1970s. Currently on offer are four wines from the 2018 vintage and the first of the 2019 releases.

Langhorne Creek deserves more fame than it gets

Langhorne Creek deserves more fame than it gets. It is the forgotten gem of Australian wine. Its reputation hides behind the big brother regions Barossa and McLaren Vale. The region deserves better.

Occasionally it burst through to prominence. Langhorne Creek grapes provided the base for Jimmy Watson Tophy wins by the Wolf Blass Dry Red Clarets in 1973, 1974 and 1975. For a while back then Stonyfell Metala was one of the country’s most acclaimed reds.

But the fate of that famous label illustrates Langhorne Creek’s fluctuating fortunes.

Metala has returned homw to Metala

The original Stonyfell Metala brand changed hands many times over the years. It eventually ending up in the stable of Australia’s largest wine company Treasury Wine Estates alongside the likes of Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Wynns and Saltram.

Treasury kept making a Metala branded wine but stopped using grapes grown in the original Metala vineyard in 2017.

In that year the company told the grower that they were going to make the brand multi-regional and they stopped taking fruit from Metala.“They kept using our story and our history but the fruit was coming from wherever” explains vineyard owner managing director Guy Adams.

Returning home

Earlier this year the founding family bought the Metala brand and associated trademarks from Treasury.

“The homecoming and relaunch of the brand means that when wine lovers buy a bottle of Metala wine they will once again be getting the original, rich and full bodied Metala fruit they’ve come to expect” Adams told the InDaily website.

“My family has been growing grapes since 1891 and those vines still grow today on the property. So it’s fantastic news and it’s really made me proud to be able to get it back in our control.

“People will still recognise the traditional Metala label but we need to get the younger generation to start consuming it …

“It’s been going as long as Grange has been going. And it’s got a real following with the older generation but we’re a dying generation.”

Glug is proving Langhorne Creek deserves more fame than it gets

Bleasdale Wines bringing the 2019 Jimmy Watson Trophy back to Langhorne Creek is proof again of the region’s fruit quality. And at Glug we are delighted with the Albion Hills Langhorne Creek Shiraz 2021. Complex flavours and great density of colour. Appealing in its youth it will go on to develop for the next five years.

An absolute knockout. And because the Langhorne Creek revival is still just getting under way, a bargain priced $14.80 a bottle. Try it and be convinced that Lsnghorne Creek deserves more fame than it gets.

GSM’s growing popular – Welcome Three Hares

Wikimedia Commons, User:Zefram or Wikimedia Commons, Benutzer:ZeframCC BY 3.0-2.5-2.0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

GSM’s are growing popular.

Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro – the three heritage varieties of the Barossa Valley – when blended in this varietal order produce a style of warm climate red that has steadily grown in popularity.

GSM blend’s origins trace back to the Rhone Valley, France. There Grenache is a favoured variety used for centuries in reds and the expensive Chateauneuf du Pape. Strange that the winemakers of the Barossa Valley took well into the 1990s to begin promoting Grenache via GSM’s. Fortunately they are catching up fast.

The three varieties are remarkably different. If you enjoy Barossa Shiraz then include it with Grenache and Mataro (also known as Mourvedre). While a good Barossa vintage favours all three varieties Benjamin, now in his 18th vintage, noted how in some vintages always using Grenache as the major variety masked other profoundly interesting blends.

Thus was born the Three Hares chasing each other. The image above, shows their heads near its centre. The animals each appear to have two ears. Yet only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle. Two hares share each ear. Clever.

From Christian churches in the English county of Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East. And now to South Australia’s Barossa Valley!

Three different GSM blends

To illustrate this idea for the 2020 vintage Benjamin created three blends. They create positive changes to the role of each variety in the three. These are currently available on the site.

Choose between the three variations:

Three Hares Barossa Valley No.1 Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2020 (15.2 alc/v)

Three Hares Barossa Valley No.2 Mataro Grenache Shiraz 2020 (15.2 alc/v)

Three Hares Barossa Valley No.3 Shiraz Mataro Grenache 2020 (15.3 alc/v)

Our winemaker is not a popstar

Australia has another wine maker making headlines in the UK. “Light, fun and bubbly: how Kylie Minogue’s rosé prosecco conquered Britain”. That’s the London Daily Telegraph verdict on how the singer’s branded fizz made £7.7m last year.

“Is this the most perfect brand extension ever?”

Its report says Kylie seems to take winemaking seriously. The prosecco is one of nine wines she sells. The others include a “plush and juicy” merlot, a “layered and creamy” chardonnay and an organic brut reserva cava with “pronounced biscuity flavours”.

One reason for Kylie's wine sucess? "Wine is difficult, people are stupid and sometimes it’s just easier to buy a bottle of something if it’s got a pop star’s name on it."

At Glug our winemaker Ben is not a popstar. But he specialises in good, honest and drinkable wines. Wines like the South Australian Cabernet Sangiovese Pinot Gris Rose 2021 Ben discovered. And because we are not paying some exorbitant fee to a celebrity it is available for a mere $8.90 a bottle.

Tiny Little Tanks Arrive

For years I’ve been sitting on couple of 9000 litre stainless steel tanks. They came in handy when we used to make wine for a hotel group but that was a lifetime ago. Way too big for what we do now.

To put that into some scale… there are 9 litres in a dozen bottles. So each of these tanks holds 1000 cases worth of wine. That’s a lot, even for a very large liquor store!

So the tanks got sold to my mate Jimmy Lienert who runs a large winery. And we have reinvested in these tiny little tanks.

600 litres each is perfect for preserving the little parcels of wine we buy and make. 600L = 2 hogshead barrels.

Keeping the tanks full, ‘off ullage’, is essential. So no oxygen gets at the wine. Oxygen being the great destroyer of almost everything. The small tanks allow us to keep all the wines separate instead of ‘blending for convenience’.

A small step forward but I hope illustrates our commitment to making tiny little specialized batches of wine for you in these tiny little tanks.

Terroir should remain where it was found

Why is the promoter of Australian wine James Halliday still rabbiting on with the French term terroir when describing wines from the Eden Valley, South Australia?

Introducing the Henschke reds of 2017, The Australian, 28/5/2022, begins with, ‘Bruno Prats, proprietor of a leading Bordeaux Chateau: ‘Terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil, and the landscape. It is the combination of an infinite number of factors: temperatures by night and by day, rainfall distribution, hours of sunlight, slope and drainage, to name but a few.’ The late Peter Sichel, another chateau owner in Bordeaux, added another view: ‘Character is determined by terroir, quality is largely determined by man.’ And ‘Viticulturist Prue Henschke and her winemaker husband Stephen own undeniably the most valuable terroir in Australia.’

Here we go again. Terroir is an odd term that is used as a catch all to impress those seeking further wine knowledge and means everything experts can think of. Not all that helpful really. What there is agreement about is that terroir was first used in France, I recall around 1880 but this is from memory, and as the term suggests implies that wine flavours have some connection to soils and the rocks that soils are derived from.

Plants grow, the roots stop them being blown away while accessing water and basic elements and that’s about it.

To explain the mysteries of wine to consumers in the post-war year’s terroir took on a life of its own and in that beautiful French way the term evolved so it could not be grabbed, slipping away to take on another shape. I suspect explaining terroir assisted the vineyard owners in charging their preposterously high prices since it allowed makers to develop whatever tale they wished for each enquirer. Often these were wine writers who then gave the rabbit another good run in the back garden.

For unknown reasons the wine scientists of Australia have been sent on a hunt for the unique terroirs of Australia and I hope this sad burden will one day be lifted from their shoulders.

The French own the term and like plasticine let them make of it whatever they wish. C’est la vie.

Why Not Leave Penfolds Grange Alone

The world of wine is a big place and to create a growing recognition for a country or a brand requires sustained effort. Remarkable then that Penfolds Grange has gained acceptance as a desirable collectable by the wealthy, now being seen on par with the Bordeaux first growths.

Alas those less fortunate and with a desire to become fashionable are attracted to the use of the Grange name in marketing efforts that can be termed ‘by association’. Likely those at Treasury Wines, the owners of Grange, take the view that borrowing Grange is part of ‘all advertising is good advertising’.

Recently the owner of the Yarra Valley winery Levantine Hill, property developer Elias Jreissati released entries into the collectables field, the Levantine Hill Optume Shiraz and Levantine Hill Optume Cabernet priced at $800 a bottle.

The Australian’s Eli Greenblatt, 24th March prompted by the press release and interviews with Mr Jreissati and the winemaker Paul Bridgeman mentioned Penfolds and Grange, nine times, quoting several unflattering remarks.

These included;

‘Grange is one of the greatest wines in Australia and certainly one of the greatest wines in the world,’ added Mr Jreissati, ‘but It‘s not my cup of tea, Grange is a very Australian wine and so is Hill of Grace … but you know, we are about making a cool climate, sophisticated, silky wine.

Mr Bridgeman said Optume offers a cooler climate alternative to the current crop of luxury reds. It is more finessed and complex rather than an ‘in your face’ big red.

No mention of how the wine ranks with Mount Mary or Yarra Yering yet taking free use of the Grange name and then bagging warm climate reds.

I have noted similar comments over many decades and these ill-considered outbursts must stop. All Australian wines are equal. Australian premium wines are not selling well in export markets and something is very wrong. The image we create is up to us and Levantine Hill is not rowing in a different boat to Penfolds Grange.

Many Australian wines are still made as copies and this must stop

Having some knowledge of the big wine themes increases the appreciation of what is in your glass and a good place to start is by understanding these two fundamental points of view. Why were wines referred to as Claret and Burgundy and why Australia cannot be a France down under?

Claret of course is the English term for Cabernet wines from the Bordeaux region while Burgundy is a general term derived from the French region where reds are made from Pinot Noir.

The two were seen as making different styles, Claret recognising a firmer, leaner, drier style with Burgundy being a softer, plump, rounded style.

These terms were used on bottles and wine casks and were not dependent on the varietal mix as in the 1950s Cabernet and Pinot Noir barely existed. Over time these terms were phased out and replaced with varietal names which has evolved into the variety being seen as offering a style when the differences between varieties are mostly marginal.

As the interest in table wines grew the search began to find locations which would reproduce the original French styles meaning a move away from the traditional settler warm districts to cooler locations. In this contest the favoured varieties of Cabernet and Pinot Noir would be judged on how close their reproductions were to the French originals.

This promoted the idea that the best wines would be produced where an approximation of the western continental European climate was found in Australia even though our geography is vastly different.

This European focus has not been helpful and continues a cultural cringe long past its use by date, one surprisingly still favoured by the industry promotional body Wine Australia.

I have run out of space to remind you of the late 2005 clash between the great expert American Robert Parker and local experts over the worth of cool climate Cabernets from the Yarra Valley producer Mount Mary which is relevant to this story.

And a reminder that Glug makes Australian wine that are not Clarets, Burgundies or any others being the full flavoured styles that only Australia makes and cannot be duplicated.

When should you ask for help about wine?

So much is written about wine every week that a casual observer would surely conclude the product must be confusing.

Up to the mid-20th Century using a wine merchant made sense since they sorted out the good tastes from the many marred by microbial infections, oxidation or worse. Even into the 1980s taking advice was helpful. Now when even wine casks provide a decent drink it is time to move on. Who then reads all the articles, books and global web sites offering advice and what are they seeking?

I’m at the end of a long career when all my mysteries about wine have been resolved. Consider then that what I know you can place on the table every night with a Glug wine as they are my essays.

The wine journalist Tony Love, In Daily Adelaide 13th May, summarised Australian Chardonnay this way, ‘Its evolution in style in Australia alone can tell us so much: from the days of being rich and buttery, blown out with over-ripe fruit and clumsy oak treatment, to more contemporary, fresher, brighter, pure expressions where the flavour profile tends towards citrus and white stone fruits with neatly balanced acidity and well-tempered fermentation and maturation in fine French oak barrels…’

This Chardonnay yarn has entered the books as fact, yet the style change was not driven by customers but by administrators. The original Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay as developed by Philip John and others was a great drink and would still sell well.

Regrettably the belief that the taste of all wines will proceed to some pre-determined end point as decided by a group that knows better now dominates thinking. I serve customers and remain impressed by their broad tastes and have learnt there is no end point.

So being guided by say the Halliday Compendium, and other authorities, makes no sense to me. A new time has arrived where customers know enough to make up their own minds which is the sensible way of letting the market decide.

To recap the views of Benjamin and myself about the taste of wine can be found in our diverse range of wines and for the big picture use the information age to become your own wine merchant as relying on experts is not the way forward.

Biodynamic Nonsense and Your Wine

I have a few heroes one being Martin Gardner who gave us some of his busy life to debunk pseudo-science wherever he found it. This form of misbehaviour I suppose is easier than seeking out the truth and naturally the wine business has its share.

Biodynamic farming methods are pseudo-science yet recently in Italy its many vineyard practitioners almost gained legal status for biodynamics missing out by one vote being blocked by the President. Official status would allow growers to gain access to the same funding and promotions given to organic farmers.

Alas when nonsense is repeated often enough and is not quickly refuted by those that know, then the many that do not may believe it to be so. Thus I was concerned that The Times wine writer, Jane MacQuitty wrote; ‘Trust the Italians to come over all sanctimonious about biodynamic wines. The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner may have had some wacky theories, but biodynamic wine is just a step up from organic wine production, encouraging each vineyard to be the best it can be.’

In November, the Italian Nobel-winning physicist Giorgio Parisi stated about biodynamics: ‘Frankly it’s witchcraft’ and Ms MacQuitty did herself no favours in calling the Italians sanctimonious instead of explaining to her readers how dangerous this mischief is.

The 2022 Halliday Wine Companion Viticulturalist of the Year inaugural award went to Vanya Cullen of Cullens Wine saying, ‘It was feeling and intuition more than science that led Vanya to pursue biodynamics 18 years ago; the determination with which she has since embraced this regime makes it impossible to overstate the impact she has had on the reputation of biodynamic viticulture in Australia.’
I wonder what scientists at the Australian Wine Research Institute make of this rubbish.