Linfield Road The Black Hammer Single Vineyard Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
$26; 14.8% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points
"Planted in the 1980s," says the blurb, "but Dad and Grandpa can't remember which year." At least the blacksmithing Wilsons know they first planted vines at Williamstown in 1860, when they were outnumbered 10:1 by the Williamses, who've thinned out a little since. This village of the Williamses is also very special to me for its unique take on the art of spelling. The Post Office there has forever worn a bold sign which proudly announces that it's not just a postal office, but also a "telegragh" station. This southern end of the Barossa is cooler and damper than most of the Valley, as it's higher. So this is not like your typical chocolatey/pannacotta Barossa floor Cabernet with all those raisins and figs. Instead, it's intense, elegant and fine, with tweaks of beetroot and licorice. It also has a hint of chicory essence, like the old Bickfords' Essence of Coffee and Chicory, which was handy for making an iced coffee of a quality threatened only by the version Moss Howard used to make with his incredible fresh full-cream milk at his Kangaroo Island dairy, but that's getting right off the track and Moss shut down long ago. The other thing this wine smells like is not so much the smithy's anvil hammer, but a tin of brand new Stædtler 6B pencils, with all their soft black carbon and bright red paint. It never once tastes like it's 14.8% strong - it's more like a full point lower to schlück. Supple, sinuous and stylish in a Carmen Miranda sort of way, it's one of those drinks that slinks around the stage of your sensories, and seems to still be there like a magnificent phantom in the dark long after the applause subsided with the lights. Triffic right now, it'll be even more wondrous in five or six years. It's probly against the law to say this, but right now, I can't think of a nicer, blacker way of getting gently hammered. Osso bucco with some black olives in the sauce.
Lane Block Ridge Creek Station Run Estate Classic Reserve Hill of Goannas Single Vineyards Mangalanga Shyrahz 2010
"It's Australia's first super-natural wine," vigneron Rick Burge says of this masterpiece. "But I can't get it to stay cloudy. I couldn't get it to go orange, either." In spite of this, the maker himself has awarded the wine a rating of seven stars. Grown a little north of Williamstown, and a little lower of altitude at Lyndoch, it has more of that dense cooking chocolate aroma - almost bitter - typical of Barossa floor Shiraz. Sorry, Shyrahz. Here, the licorice tingle is more along the lines of the salty Dutch variety, there's a whiff of tea tin, and yes, there's plenty of that thickish aroma of figs and raisins. After all that, the flavours are more slender than you'd expect, but while there's none of that gloopy glugginess of the killer alcohols of the Barossa of, say, a decade back, there's no shortage of hearty flavour, as in $36 worth, not $18. If you yearn for those old-style leather-and-coaldust Hill of Grace style reds that came before the Parkerilla's alcohol boom, this one's for you. The finicky would suspect Brettanomycaes yeast; the lover of Lagavulin and Laphroaig malt whiskies might call it peaty and get right down and guzzle. Try it with a stack of hearty Portobello mushrooms and smoky Barossa bacon and you're done for.
Nurihannam Wines Barossa Scholar Shiraz 2010
$100 per dozen; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 80+ points
"Our wine program is part of our varied agricultural faculty, it involves students from years 9-12 in all areas of viticulture and winemaking with some senior students going on to produce their own individual wines," says the Nuriootpa High School website. "The name 'Barossa Scholar' was derived from our students vocational links with Lindsay Park stud," says the back label. The blunders of punctuation, grammar and syntax in these lines might suggest the English faculty could show a little more interest in the school's noble winemaking venture, while the confounding link betwixt Barossa scholarship and a posh racehorse joint might suggest a little more interest was due from the formal logic and history divisions, but there you are. These are mere Barossadeutscher cutenesses in their own sweet way. Maybe it's all a deliberate ploy from the marketing faculty. As far as the wine goes, the sweetness is an illusion assisted by very clean, neat, north Barossa fruit from the school's own vineyard, as cute as all get out. It is indeed as clean as a whistle, with healthy hints of marshmallow bedecking primary mulberry and blackcurrant, all entwined tidily with modestly sooty oak. The flavours are silky smooth and modern; the style sanitised in a textbook example of the sort of ultra-clean wine science invented by the late Dr. Ray Beckwith, without venturing much into the next field he suggested in his mantra "there you have the science; now let's see some art." In this wine, the art department is limited to the label design. Which all adds up to the notion that the graduates of the Nuriootpa High's agriculture sector can emerge with a knowledge of winemaking about as good as that delivered by the Adelaide University's winemaking faculty. Which is saying something. Thankyou for the science. Let's see some art.
PS: If you want to practice some art, try a blend of one third Hill Of Goannas with two thirds Barossa Scholar. This provides an interesting example of how a little of the dreaded Brett might make a more interesting wine from a hyper-clean, sanitised scientific sanctity. It also proves how such a tiny amount of this strange wood yeast can make such a dramatic difference in a blend.