Kevin O’Brien is a man that is compelled to know about the terroir in the McLaren Vale of Australia, and to put that knowledge to the best use in planting vines and growing expressive fruit. The types of rocks, which wear down to form soil, can guide the vineyard owner to plant certain types of grapes. Certain grapes do better in particular soils. For example Chardonnay grapes grow best in limestone soils (e.g. Burgundy).
McLaren Vale is a wine region located about a 45 minute drive south of Adelaide, starts along the coastline and moves inland. The area has produced wine commercially since the 1850s. 60% of the grape growing area is planted with Shiraz. With the cold southern ocean current and storms, McLaren Vale should not be a grape growing region, except for the large east-west oriented Kangaroo Island that is situated to the south of McLaren Vale, which blocks the cool current, and moderates the storms coming up from the south.
The McLaren Vale is known for their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz wines, which Kevin had us taste through, but the wine makers are experimenting with other grapes like Sangiovese, Primitivo and Nebbiolo, so don’t be surprised if you stop by your bottle shop in the future, to pick up a bottle of one of these wines too.
McLaren Vale is composed of very ancient rocks, 500 million -1.6 billion years old. An ancient sea came in and out of McLaren Vale for many million of years which provided limestone deposits in the region. The geology of the area is very complex. Kevin, and a group of geologists, and others embarked on a detailed geological survey of the rock types in the McLaren Vale, known as the Scarce Earth Project. They determined that there are 45 different geologies in McLaren Vale. The geologies have been grouped into 7 “terranes”. The Scarce Earth Project (started 25 years ago) was meant to identify these unique areas and for the wine makers to determine how these specific rocks affect the shiraz grapes. The map produced from the Project was released 4-5 years ago to the public. Every known vineyard in the area has been overlaid on this map. It is still just the start of the project in some ways, as now the wine makers have to work with the shiraz grape vineyards, quantitatively analyzing the results of wine making over time to see how the grapes, soil, rocks, topography and climate interact.
Aging Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz
We had a chance to try a mini vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from Kangarilla Road, to maybe give us a peek into how these wines may age over time. My notes:
- Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (SPEC $24.99) – Deep garnet/black in the glass. Dark fruit, dusty, with some capsicum on the nose. Medium body, very round in the mouth, with tea leaves, capsicum, black cherries, ripe raspberries, dark fruit, mocha and dark chocolate on the palate. Fine, soft tannins. My wish was that the finish was a bit longer.
- Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Pre-Order) – Dark garnet in colour with hints of bricking at the rim. Not as expressive on the nose as the 2011, but you still get ripe fruit together with some meatiness. Full body, round, mineral, with soft tannins. Ripe prunes or stewed fruits. Mouth watering finish.
- Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2011 (Specialty $24.99) – Very deep garnet coloured with sweet ripe plums, berries, and vanilla aromas. Medium body, with silky tannins that progressively get stronger in your mouth. The tannins for the Shiraz are more prominent than in the Cabernets. Ripe berry flavours. Wine gets peppery toward the finish and is complemented with minerality. A very nice wine.
- Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2004 (Pre-Order) – Deep garnet, with some translucency. Ripe, stewed fruit, woody, nutmeg, and vanilla aromas. Full body, round with soft tannins. Ripe, dark fruit flavours. There is minerality to this wine but more subdued compared to 2011. Also some pepperiness on the finish. A bit short on the finish.
With 10 years of aging for both the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, the colour was still holding firm. Although the fruit were more subdued, and tannins have softened, the wines still have good flavour and structure and can be enjoyed for more years.
A Few Other Noteable Reds
Although I came to this tasting to find out about their organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery processes, I learned more about the geology and terroir about the region, which to me was also very exciting (I am a geographer and map maker by trade). There were a few other wines to taste but two stood out for me, which are, or will join, the Scarce Earth Project.
- Kangarilla Road Scare Earth 2012 (SPEC $59.99) – Opaque ruby in colour. Ripe dark purple fruit, blueberries, nutmeg, and vanilla on the nose. Full body, with ripe black fruit, blueberries and spice. Heavy mouthfeel. Some vanilla and blueberries on the finish. This wine is one of the site specific locations as defined by the geological mapping of Kevin’s group. As such, I noted that this wine feels very site specific and focused.
- Kangarilla Road Q 2009 (SPEC $69.99) – This is a single vineyard wine, which will join the Scarce Earth project. It is opaque garnet in the glass. A nice nose, with vanilla, woodiness, and hints of flowers and nutmeg. Full bodied, mouth filling, with high minerality. Ripe black and purple fruit, with some chocolate and cocoa. Fine tannins, but provide good structure to the wine. Should last for many years.