ROSE KENTISH is the new monarch of McLaren Vale's winemakers. She was quick to crown her consultant, veteran McLaren Vale winesmith BRIAN LIGHT, for his guidance in the making of her stunning ULITHORNE PATERNUS CABERNET SHIRAZ 2006 which won her the McLaren Vale bushing crown at a gala feast for 600 at Penny's Hill on Friday. As Sam Harrison, her artist husband, and father of her four kids, was surfing at Cactus, on the Great Australian Bight on the day, Rose had no hesitation in sharing her throne with Brian, her good friend and mentor. PHOTOGRAPH by JOHN KRUGER
“My husband’s surfing at Cactus” Rose Kentish royally announced above the cheering mob, the McLaren Vale Bushing crown fresh upon her head. “So my King will be my winemaking mentor”. Up stepped the beaming veteran winesmith and consultant, Brian Light.
Rose had won the annual Vales wine races with The Ulithorne Paternus McLaren Vale Cabernet Shiraz 2006.
Sam Harrison, the surfing husband, is a painter. His parents planted the first 30 acres of contoured vines at Ulithorne, just north of the Onkaparinga Gorge National Park, across the gully from Samuel’s Gorge, in 1971.
The vineyard was planted to absorb the waste from a piggery they’d planned but was wisely disallowed by the Council. Wirra Wirra, then Rosemount, bought the fruit for many years, but the vineyard ran down until Sam the artist and Rose the fashion marketing strategist took over ten years ago, and determinedly set about weaning it off the old synthetic chemicals regime.
Ulithorne’s in the neoproterozoic siltstone which rock doctors call the Tapley Hill formation. This is a sparse, lean remnant of deep still ocean that covered the joint when the ice melted between five and six hundred million years ago. Wherever it coincides with viable viticulture – Greenock Creek; Willunga; Mintaro; east Clare – great wines grow. When it’s capped by limestone and clay, as it is at Ulithorne, even greater things seem possible.
“Sam was passionate about the vineyard”, Rose says, “but he’s more passionate about his painting. One day he got off the tractor and said ‘I can’t drive around in circles any more’, so we bought Bromley’s studio in the old mill on Mill Terrace at Middleton, and sold the vineyard to Tinlins with an ongoing agreement that I can buy whichever parcels of fruit I prefer. So we live in the Mill with our four children, and use it as a cellar sales outlet and studio.”
One might be forgiven for uttering a well-aimed “whew!” at this point, but the wise counsel of consultant Brian Light takes a little pressure off the winemaking side of Rose’s busy life. I first encountered Brian when he made exquisite bargain-priced wine for his Dad Lloyd at Coolawin in the late ’seventies. That fruit grew on the alluvial flats on Baker’s Gully Road west of Kangarilla, between Ulithorne and Yangarra. The Coolawin winery, on the ridge above Clarendon, eventually became Chais Clarendon, then Norman’s, before Tinlins recently bought it and renamed it Fleurieu. Like in politics, everything winy’s connected to everything else, see?
Which brings us to the wine which quite correctly got Rose Kentish her throne. The Ulithorne Paternus McLaren Vale Cabernet Shiraz 2006 ($35; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points) was selected by the judges of the McLaren Vale wine show at about the time I was writing last week’s column, begging winemakers to consider bolstering and tempering cabernet sauvignon with the varieties the old Bordelaise traditionally blended with it: shiraz, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and carmenere.
The Paternus has an acrid high tone which actually does smell like the freshly-split flagstone of the Mintaro or Willunga quarries. This is spiced neatly by perfectly unobtrusive, but supportive oak. But it’s what’s below that nose-tickling topnote that counts: opulent, rich, beautifully harmonious prune, fig and mulberry, with just a tease of the lollyshop side of cabernet: musk, marshmallow, raspberry and confectioner’s sugar. Only after all this is the minty nature of cabernet evident.
The palate has that silky viscosity that you’ll find in Moss Wood Margaret River cabernet and some of Julian Castagna’s Beechworth shiraz. I suspect this texture cannot be achieved with standard petrochem vineyard regimes: it’s more like a cordial of perfectly organic fruit. But then the mealy – nay, slatey – tannins emerge with great – nay, royal – authority, more insistent and persistent than Margaret River or Beechworth. More like Bordeaux, in fact. Enough tannin to see this glorious slurp mature and mellow for twenty years beneath the safe reassurance of that screwcap.
Australians blithely claim the cabernet shiraz blend to be their own invention. Last week I explained that the colonist James Busby brought the idea, and the cuttings, home to Australia from France in 1831. If, indeed, there was any improvement to be made to Rose’s exquisite claret, it might involve some of the violets and blueberries of cabernet franc. It needs none of the gunblue of malbec; the shiraz fills that gap. Its natural tannin precludes any need for petit verdot. The soft, gently tarry nature of the shiraz makes merlot unnecessary. Maybe some carmenere would add more poofy perfume – try the Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Chile Carmenere 2006 ($14.50; Vintage Cellars; 1st Choice) and you might get my drift. (Carmenere was a popular Bordeaux variety two hundred years ago when they blended it with cabernet franc in Medoc).
But I’m being pompous. Make a booking (0419 040 670), get your plastic down to the Middleton Mill, buy a case of the Paternus – named after Sam’s Dad, the prospective pig farmer - and decide for yourself.
This was published in The Independent Weekly on 7 November 2008