A slightly grey Melbourne spring day saw a collection of most of Australia’s top wine writers, sommeliers, key retail and some very bloody lucky wine club members at the eyrie-like Vue de Monde for the celebration of (Chateau) Tahbilk’s 1860 Vines Shiraz 2010 release.
Tahbilk in Nagambie, have some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world (most likely Hermitage clone from Busby’s original cuttings) and in 1979, started to keep the juice from these ancients as separate parcels for bottling. Alister Purbrick, current CEO and winemaker led the tasting in brackets of decades, and with 3 brackets to get through (and lunch after) there wasn’t a large amount of time to sit, contemplate and marvel at the collection of wonderful wines presented. Unfortunately, not all years were represented between 1979 and 2010, Alister advising that sometimes vintage wasn’t up to scratch or didn’t offer enough volume….or maybe a touch of human error in a lost batch.
At the end of each bracket, the crowd was asked to nominate their favourites so that there could be an eventual “winner” on the day, but this was truly an arbitrary exercise, and was far more interesting a study in people’s tastes and preferences rather than the quality of the wines. Accompanying notes gave us all the technical details we could ever want: yields, oak treatment, vintage notes and technical analysis. But often these were red herrings leading your mind to a place of expectation before your senses showed you the true path. All wines sealed with cork unless otherwise stated.
Bracket 1: 1979 – 1989:
1979: Browning mahogany colour. Nose: Just mushroom, baked plums, mint, a touch of animalistic soy, prune. Palate: Smooth chocolate oak and dark plums and berries. Mature, but with a tannin grip still clinging to life. (Crowd favourite of bracket 1)
Alc: 12.3%, pH: 3.50, TA: 5.9g/L, Degree Days: 1815, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 455 dozen.
1981: Walnut stain colour. Nose: Earthy with brown sugar/demerara crystals. Palate: A touch of satiny polish, plums, baking spices, earthy and still with silty tannins. Just holding on.
Alc: 13.9%, pH: 3.50, TA: 5.9g/L, Degree Days: 2020, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 115 dozen.
1982: Light burnt toffee colour. Nose: Rich and fortified with Christmas cake spice, a briny soy note and polish. Palate: Mint and red fruit ghosts; not yet headed to meaty and soy secondaries. Elegant and still some way before moving to the next stage of maturity.
Alc: 12.5%, pH: 3.50, TA: 5.6g/L, Degree Days: 1921, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 388 dozen.
1984: Rich dried blood colour. Nose: mature meaty nose hiding red fruit, rose petals and cooling mint. Palate: Vanilla/choc notes, sandy tannins and plentiful red fruit. Still strong with a lovely length of flavour.
Alc: 12.0%, pH: 3.40, TA: 6.1g/L, Degree Days: 1672, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 198 dozen.
1985: Bright, light cerise colour. Nose: Nutty and briny. Lightly spiced with softer vegetal matter. Palate: Delicate flavours of light red fruits with tongue coating tannins. Still with an acid profile that cuts the teeth.
Alc: 12.0%, pH: 3.35, TA: 6.4g/L, Degree Days: 1747, Oak: 45% new French, Yield: 437 dozen.
1986: Deep amount of sediment, once filtered showed a dull, tarnished copper colour. Nose: Soy, smoke and black fruits. Palate: a deep core of black and briar fruits. Regional mint and maturing earthiness. Fruit starting to fade, but still plenty of structure
Alc: 12.7%, pH: 3.40, TA: 5.9g/L, Degree Days: 1684, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 390 dozen.
1987: Tawny red colour. Nose: Full and powerful red fruits. Palate: Soft red fruits, raspberry jam, coffee, gun powder. A lovely balance and structure to the wine.
Alc: 12.2%, pH: 3.60, TA: 5.8g/L, Degree Days: 1486, Oak: 35% new French, Yield: 276 dozen.
1988: Light copper colour. Nose: Minty, flinty and strawberry. Palate: Elegant, with light red fruits that dance like a pixie across the palate with plenty of sandy tannins.
Alc: 11.6%, pH: 3.40, TA: 6.2g/L, Degree Days: 1892, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 294 dozen.
1989: Cerise hearted, with tawny edged colour. Nose: Mahogany and vanilla, stewy prune, green plum. Palate: Prosciutto meats, wet hay and straw. Light strawberry with negligible remaining tannin. (wet vintage)
Alc: 10.8%, pH: 3.40, TA: 5.5g/L, Degree Days: 1836, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 384 dozen.
In between each bracket, the staff worked quickly to clear the plethora of Riedel stemware and pour the next bracket whilst we tried not to consume too much of the appetisers. Cheeses of Brillat Savarin and Brie Nangis, served with muscadelles and house made light wafers whilst more staff circled the room with truffled marshmallows and twice cooked polenta chips.
Bracket 2: 1990 – 1999:
1990: Slight tawny colour. Nose: Initially coffee and black fruits. Flint and mineral. Strawberry jam leading to citrus tinged spiced. Palate: Elegant with bacon lard and strawberry red fruits. Delicate with Pinot-esque light tannins.
Alc: 12.3%, pH: 3.50, TA: 6.1g/L, Degree Days: 1814, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 290 dozen.
1991: Browning with visible sediment. Nose: Cabbage and blackberry, light toasty oak still prevalent. Palate: Regional mint and choc with tart, sour red and black fruits.
Alc: 12.7%, pH: 3.50, TA: 6.4g/L, Degree Days: 1840, Oak: 100% old French, Yield: 353 dozen.
1992: Coppery red, almost tawny colour. Nose: Elegant and inviting with roses and strawberry red fruit. Palate: Delicious, full palate with plenty of solid red fruits and a mere hint of yeasty, Vegemite maturity.
Alc: 12.3%, pH: 3.45, TA: 6.4g/L, Degree Days: 1800, Oak: 20% new French, Yield: 181 dozen.
1994: Tawny colour. Nose: Gunsmoke, seaweed, stalky and milky, vanilla American oak. Palate: Deep red fruits, that moved lighter through the mid palate. Maturing but holding a quirky soapy note.
Alc: 12.2%, pH: 3.75, TA: 5.7g/L, Degree Days: 1515, Oak: 55% new American (rest old French), Yield: 316 dozen.
1995: Cerise red colour. Nose: Reticent. Had to work hard to get much from the nose, but it gave up plum juice, dried figs, briar and Christmas cake spice. Palate: Softer, juicy red and black fruits with a sour acid profile and sandy tannins.
Alc: 12.4%, pH: 3.42, TA: 6.8g/L, Degree Days: 1754, Oak: 50% new American (rest old French), Yield: 327 dozen.
1996: Red, burned copper colour. Nose: Heading towards maturity with soft mushroom gills, but still roses and fresh cabbage slaw. Palate: Gripping tannins. Plenty of juicy red, almost raspberry and plum fruit. Solid. Regional cooling mint lingers. Classy. (One of the coolest years on record, crowd favourite)
Alc: 13.0%, pH: 3.38, TA: 7.3g/L, Degree Days: 1471, Oak: 26% new American, 26% new French (rest old French), Yield: 306 dozen.
1997: Tarnished tawny colour. Nose: Maturing, earthy, soy and soft stock. Palate: Beetroot mud cake, earthy, coffee grounds and just black fruits falling into marshy black tea tannin.
Alc: 13.6%, pH: 3.44, TA: 6.4g/L, Degree Days: 1652, Oak: 50% new French, Yield: 422 dozen.
1998: Bright red in the glass. Nose: Plenty of mint, roasting meats and hint of band-aid. Palate: Fruit is present, but dulled. Sour tannins: sandy and blocky. Unfortunately not where it should be (cork issues?)
Alc: 13.7%, pH: 3.30 TA: 7.0g/L, Degree Days: 1816, Oak: 51% new French, Yield: 434 dozen.
1999: Dull strawberry red colour. Nose: Raspberry fruit, coffee sugar crystals, mint and a smear of sweeter jam. Palate: Sweet raisins, warming and fuller bodied. Plenty of red fruit and life. Softer tannins are plentiful. Thoroughly enjoyable, if a touch fruit sweet.
Alc: 13.6%, pH: 3.55 TA: 5.7g/L, Degree Days: 1678, Oak: 50% new French, Yield: 314 dozen.
Bracket 3: 2000 – 2010:
2000: Bright red colour. Nose: Starting to mature, but with mint, plums and Port Royal tobacco. Palate: Meaty with fleshy plums and plenty of spice. Cool mint length and toothsome acidity.
Alc: 13.5%, pH: 3.31 TA: 6.5g/L, Degree Days: 1587, Oak: 38% new French, Yield: 302 dozen.
2001: Soft tawny colour. Nose: Seaweed. Bretty/Animal. Chlorine. Palate: Muddy, dirty, caramelised and toffeed. Shot.
Alc: 13.1%, pH: 3.30 TA: 6.9g/L, Degree Days: 1759, Oak: 55% new French, Yield: 438 dozen.
2002: Plum juice purple colour. Nose: Deep, cool plum and briar. Palate: Lovely blue plum fruits, with some strawberry red after hints and toasty oak. (coolest year on record)
Alc: 13.3%, pH: 3.27 TA: 7.3g/L, Degree Days: 1460, Oak: 59% new French, Yield: 271 dozen.
2003: Screw cap. Deep strawberry red colour. Nose: Toasty oak fresh. Ripe red fruits and a smear of sweaty saddle maturity. Palate: Blue to black fruit depth. Lots of lovely primary fruits, soft gravelly tannins, plenty of length and residual mint. First screw cap bottling.
Alc: 13.5%, pH: 3.37 TA: 6.4g/L, Degree Days: 1821, Oak: 58% new French, Yield: 295 dozen.
2004: Screw cap. Light purple colour. Nose: Perfumed nose,with roses, black currant and toasty oak. Palate: Sweet red fruit that seems slightly hollow initially, before leading to smoky dark fruit on the finish with plenty of sandy tannins.
Alc: 14.3%, pH: 3.19 TA: 7.2g/L, Degree Days: 1662, Oak: 65% new French, Yield: 294 dozen.
2005: Deep purple, almost black colour. Nose: Black fruits and briar. Sweet oak that prevails early into sweaty red fruits. Palate: Plenty of sandy earthy, primary tannins. Cool fruited with plenty of mint and chocolate with great balance. One of my favourites.
Alc: 13.1%, pH: 3.40 TA: 6.0g/L, Degree Days: 1642, Oak: 82% new French, Yield:221 dozen.
2006: Screw Cap. Light purple core, hints of tawny edges. Nose: Woody, mahogany and walnut furniture. Damson plums and clove spice. Palate: Sweet fruit: black/charry fruit is dominant. Lingering clove spice with serious and firm tannins.
Alc: 13.2%, pH: 3.54 TA: 6.7g/L, Degree Days: 1807, Oak: 53% new French, Yield: 289 dozen.
2007: Dense, almost opaque. Nose: Sweet choc/mint and alcoholic. Palate: Blocky dark fruits, chewy tannins (almost feel rubbery/elastic). Broad palate, darkly fruited which leads to an alcoholic bubblegum-esque finish.
Alc: 14.2%, pH: 3.38 TA: 6.9g/L, Degree Days:2043, Oak: 100% new French, Yield: 97 dozen.
2008: Screw Cap. Mulberry juice purple colour. Nose: Minty, chocolate with mulberry fruit, graphite and smoke. Palate: Powerful, yet smoky. Bright plummy, juicy fruit leads into darker berries with portent of firm tannins.
Alc: 13.3%, pH: 3.27 TA: 6.9g/L, Degree Days: 1957, Oak: 85% new French, Yield: 117 dozen.
2009: Screw Cap. Dense and opaque purple. Nose: Graphite, flinty. Softly herbaceous with juicy yet serious black fruit and violets. Palate: Match strike flinty-ness with ripe and and balanced rich purple and dark fruits. Serious wine, fine plentiful tannins. Mine (and Sophie Otton’s) pick out of this bracket.
Alc: 12.7%, pH: 3.31 TA: 6.6g/L, Degree Days: 1868, Oak: 100% new French, Yield: 124 dozen.
2010: Screw Cap.Slightly clear edges, primarly cerise. Nose: Gentle earthy rose petals, cabbage leaf and cedary oak. Palate: Balanced and elegant. Deep purple plummy, playful fruit. Beautiful fruit work and tannin structure for sure, but it dips in and out of excellence for me. (Crowd favourite of bracket 3)
Alc: 13.5%, pH: 3.36 TA: 6.7g/L, Degree Days: 2109, Oak: 100% new French, Yield: 191 dozen.
The hand count of top wines was whittled down to the 1979, 1996 and the 2010. James Halliday was authoritative throughout the day, and as is right, when the mass was asked for their thoughts, all waited until he’d spoken. He picked the 2010 and the 1979 as the two favourites, bookends to a (yet to be completed) range of masterpieces. Ultimately the 1979 won out, also as is right.
I sat for a moment head-shaking after being exposed to such an amazing display, as the group was shepherded down the hall to a delicous lunch, matched with other top Tahbilk marques: A 2011 Coueslant Sparkling Marsanne cleansed the palate, the 1927 Vines 2007 Marsanne (looking incredibly youthful) matched with duck egg and kale. The weight of 2010 Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz and the Cabernet with the main courses (line caught barramundi, swede, horseradish and Blackmore Wagyu, onion and mustard respectively) and a return to the motif of the 2010 1860 Vines Shiraz with Comté, apple, macadamia and truffle.