Tasting Barossa Dirt Through Old Vines Shiraz

Old Vines in Barossa (Image courtesy http://www.barossa.com/wine/wine-chapters/the-barossa-old-vines)
Old Vines in Barossa (Image courtesy http://www.barossa.com/wine/wine-chapters/the-barossa-old-vines)

Did you know that Australia’s Barossa Valley contains some of the oldest vineyards in the world?  There is some vineyards dating back to 1843.  To help recognize these, and other aged vines in Australia, in 2009 the Barossa Old Vine Charter was instituted. The Charter groups vineyards into 4 categories by age:

  • Old (vines greater than or equal to 35 years of age)
  • Survivors (vines equal or greater than 70 years of age)
  • Centenarians (vines equal or greater than 100 years of age)
  • Ancestors (vines greater than or equal to 125 years of age)

These vines with their age have shown their worthiness to the vineyard owners and wine makers.   With increasing age, the vines show which terroir they are best suited and decrease in yield, but in theory those fewer grapes show a greater intensity of fruit flavour and softer tannins.  At the Vancouver International Wine Fest I had the privilege of tasting Shiraz from all 4 categories, during the Barossa’s Old Vine Heritage seminar.  I enjoy the idea of actually classifying what an “old” vine is.  There is no standard for old vines.  You see the term on wine labels from around the world, but at least here with the Barossa Old Vine Charter, you actually know the age ranges of the vines.  It would be nice for the world to standardize the old vine term.

The Barossa Valley is actually composed of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, which the Barossa being lower elevation and more southerly of the Eden Valley.  The Barossa Valley is a mere 35 km in length (the BC Okanagan is about 150 km long),  The high country vs low country can produce different wines, with differences in strength of tannins, acidity, and flavours.

Tasting Barossa dirt in the shiraz glass
Tasting Barossa dirt in the shiraz glass

As we sat down at our table, set before us in two rows of six wine glasses, were tones of garnet and ruby, together with the heady aromas of ripe black fruits. The 12 wines we had during the seminar:

  1. 2012 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz ($195)
  2. 2009 Saltram The Journal Centenarian Wine Estates Shiraz ($175 – not available in BC)
  3. 2012 Teusner Avatar Grenache Mataro Shiraz ($40 – not available in BC)
  4. 2012 John Duval Plexus Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre ($55)
  5. 2012 Bethany LE Reserve Shiraz ($50)
  6. 2013 Peter Lehmann VSV 1885 Shiraz ($60)
  7. 2010 St Hallett Old Block Shiraz ($81)
  8. 2012 Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz ($180)
  9. 2010 Kaesler Old Vine Shiraz ($63)
  10. 2010 Jacob’s Creek Centenary Hill Shiraz ($50)
  11. 2010 Teusner Righteous FG Shiraz ($160 – not available in BC)
  12. 2006 Bethany GR11 Reserve Shiraz ($100 – not available in BC)
Jane Ferrari shares her insights
Jane Ferrari shares her insights

To lead us through these aged vine wines, were wine makers from the Barossa.  I quite enjoyed hearing their stories about their vineyards, their family history in some cases, and the production of these bottles of Shiraz.  Let me say that Aussies do not necessarily hold back with their wit by crikey.   Jane Ferrari, from Negociants, connected the dots to various vineyards and wineries from the past to the present.

The old vine shiraz we were told have a wonderful, mellow, silky tannins and great colour that the younger shiraz vines don’t have.  Younger shiraz are more testosterone filled, with aggressive tannins.

One of the reason for the longevity of these shiraz vines in the Barossa are because the vines are own-rooted, meaning not grafted on other root stock.  We were told that in general grafted vines do not live as long as own-rooted vines.  In addition, you may say that own-rooted vines give you the truest flavour in the wine, as the grafted root stock, is like applying a filter to the grape’s flavour profile <my comment>.

I would like to concentrate on my 4 favourite of these wines, otherwise this article would be a little bit too long.

  • 2012 John Duval Plexus Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre ($55) – The grapes come from the Money Garden vineyard.  The vineyard has this odd name because on Sundays the family would go to church.  After church and they headed home they had to pass through the vineyard. Their home is to the west of the vineyard and the vines are north/south, so they had to climb over the vineyards, which caused money to fall out of their pockets. Funny story. Mataro (Mourvedre) sits at the centre of this wine, providing dark fruit, savoury flavours and tannins; the structure of the wine. Grenache provides bright, red, spicy fruits. Shiraz adds richer, dark fruits.  You can play with the percentages to make a blend to your style.
    This wine was produced by John Duval, who worked at the past at Penfolds.  It is a blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Shiraz, and 30% Mataro (Mourvedre).  This wine was deep garnet in colour.  Nice nose, very fruity with dark fruit and raspberries. Full body, soft and silky in the mouth.  Dark and red fruit flavours, some cherry, and dark chocolate flavours.  Fine tannins.
  • 2010 St Hallett Old Block Shiraz ($81) – St Hallett works with 65 different growers in the Barossa, as there are so many growers that have only a few acres of vineyards.  St Hallett built a rapport with each of their growers, encouraging them to increase the quality of their grapes over time. This wine was opaque garnet in colour.  Purple fruit nose.  Full body, with higher acidity.  Bright flavours of purple fruit followed by sweet cherries and plums.  Fine tannins.
  • 2010 Kaesler Old Vine Shiraz ($63) – The grapes for this wine come from 3 blocks that are 65, 52 and 118 year old. The cuttings for these vineyards came from their Old Bastard vineyard, which is their oldest vineyard I believe.  The wine was opaque, dull garnet in the glass.  Very nice purple fruit nose.  Full body, dry, very round in the mouth, with sweet, juicy purple fruit flavour and chocolate flavours.  I visited this winery around 15+ years ago and was really impressed with their wines back then, and was happy to see this wine in my top selection.
  • 2010 Teusner Righteous FG Shiraz ($160 – not available in BC) – This wine was a Very Good, or some may say a FG, wine. Opaque garnet in colour with a nice nose that showed apples, purple fruit, and a hint of mintiness.  Full body, soft and round mouth feel with dark fruit flavours, and a background of pepper.  Medium acidity and fine tannins.  This wine was made from grapes grown on a 3 acre plot from 120 year old vines.  In a good year these vines produce 2 tons per acre, so quite a tiny amount is produced of this wine each year.

I’m adding in a fifth wine, although it wasn’t one of my top 4 wines, it was quite interesting as I felt like I was tasting the soil.  The wine in question was the 2012 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz ($195).  Made from 100 year old vines, this wine was still a bit closed, needing more time to decant I think, but did have aromas of dark, purple fruit.  Full bodied, round, with understated dark, ripe black fruits and soil.  Medium acidity with fine tannins.

I’ve talked before about wines having a minerality to it, which to me is a saltiness, like mineral water, but this wine was different.  I really meant it reminded me of soil.  I am not sure what type of soil the vines for the Henschke were grown, but the roots seemed to really draw the essence of the soil.  It was quite interesting and exciting for me.

BTW, 2012 was an excellent year for grapes in Australia, so buy up this vintage if you see it in your local bottle shop.  You can learn more about the Barossa through barossadirt.com.  Enjoy.


Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.