Post by Chuck Hayward |November 30th , 2010
A while back, I caught up with my friend James Lindner, who was in town for the Wine & Spirits event in San Francisco. An energetic and passionate chap, he travels the globe representing Barossa Valley’s Langmeil Winery, an estate with a rich history dating back to the 1840s. The Lindner family purchased this historic property in 1996 and set about renovating the buildings and vineyards, including a small plot of shiraz that turned out to be a national treasure.
Planted in 1843, the now named “Freedom Vineyard” was abandoned at one point and in a state of disrepair. Following a period of careful nurturing, the vines were brought back to health and are now producing incredible fruit as demonstrated when the 2005 release was poured. (Click here for tasting note.) The “Freedom” vines are considered to be the oldest shiraz vines on the planet in continuous production, and the 3.5 acres struggle to produce 350-500 cases per year. Tasting history like this is a thrilling experience for sure.
A few days later, my co-worker Cory Gowan and I caught up with Iain Riggs of Brokenwood Winery from Australia’s Hunter Valley. Brokenwood poured at the Wine & Spirits event after being named as one of the magazine’s top 100 wineries of 2010. Sitting outside in the afternoon sun, we had an opportunity to catch up with Iain during his first visit to San Francisco in almost twenty years.
Hunter Valley is principally known for making long-lived semillons and traditionally styled shiraz; Brokenwood specializes in both. One of Australia’s unique contributions to the world of wine—Hunter semillon—is typically picked very early at low sugars. Rains come to the valley right as the fruit begins to ripen, so the grapes are harvested before the storms hit. The resulting wines have bracing acidity and low alcohols of 10-11%. In their youth, the wines are clear in color and offer delicate, lean flavors of citrus. But given some time in the bottle, bright yellow-gold colors appear, as do richer textures, and aromas of toast and honey develop.
Brokenwood, like most other wineries in the region, ferment these wines in steel without any wood contact. The use of screwcaps has greatly improved the quality of Hunter semillon, preserving freshness and prolonging their ageability. Besides the random cork taint that can affect all wines, it was quite easy for the delicate nature of semillon to pick up cork-affected flavors. Nevertheless, the showstopper this particular afternoon was the 1999 ILR Reserve Semillon which was bottled before screwcaps became de rigueur. This vintage was just starting to show the richness and some golden color that comes with bottle age, without any ill effects from the cork. We ended the day and that bottle by pouring the wine over the oysters in their shell and slurping them down. Delectable!