A friend was inventorying his cellar and decided it was time to open some Australian Shiraz wines that he had squirreled away and feared might be passing their peak. We planned a brief meal of a sausage and grape appetizer, a coupe of cheese plates, and a grill roasted pork with some side dishes. We began tasting in the late afternoon and finished with the meal after watching the Kentucky Derby on television. That gave four of us the opportunity to taste the wines over a five hour period. They did change with breathing time, and my preferred order changed somewhat. The bottom line, of the six wines there was only one that I felt was at its peak. The others had plenty of life left in them.
The wines in my order of preference:
1994 St. Hallett Old Block, Barossa Valley. My initial favorite and it stayed there. Lighter in color but with a nose of mature fruit, especially blueberries and plums, but red plums instead of the darker varieties. Much fuller body than the color predicted . Good acidity and a nice long finish with just a touch of soft tannin at the end. Elegant wine that was totally balanced and was perfect with the sausage and grape appetizer and with the pork. Very much an old world type wine and one that I would love to drink again. For a 14 year old wine it was in great shape. It was also the favorite of the group. 13% alcohol.
1998 Kilikanoon Oracle, Clare Valley. Much darker color and a more restrained nose. Dark fruit, mostly black plums and berries. Full bodied with a long finish that left just the right amount of tannin and acid on the back of your tongue to make you eager for the next sip. The wine was a little closed at the start but it opened up nicely over the course of the evening. After three hours the nose became much more giving and the fruit just bloomed. I originally had it in third place, but once it began to blossom it quickly jumped ahead. The best part is that I have a bottle of this wine in the cellar. I will hold it for a couple of years. A very nice wine. 13.5% alcohol.
2001 Brooksland Valley Verse 1, Margaret River. Nose of light leather and dirt with some fruit peaking through. Very tight and restrained. Had the second most tannin of any of the wines, but there was enough depth of fruit to compensate. Plums and blackberries and almost a hint of cedar in the taste. I originally had this wine fifth but it opened and changed more than any of the wines over the course of the tasting. At the end the fruit was coming forward and the tannins were receding. Great with the roast pork. 14% alcohol.
1998 Larrikin, Barossa Valley. Very fresh fruit on the nose, and it was almost candy like in its sweetness. The second darkest wine of the group, but the lowest in acid. Blueberries and some currants on the taste and just a touch of earth on the finish. A very nice, drinkable wine but not the equal to the first three. 14% alcohol.
2002 Reilly's Stolen Block, Clare Valley. A huge wine full of fruit and tannin. Huge body, almost syrupy in the mouth-feel. Black plums bordering on prunes in the taste. Decent acidity. The wine was loaded with tannin. Still, it was balanced and did not over power the food. Definitely a wine to put away for five years and try again. I have two bottles of this wine in the cellar and that's where they will stay. 15.5% alcohol
1997 Rosabrook Abattoir Block, Margaret River. Certainly the most interesting wine of the day and the most different. It all began with the nose. Wet, dark dirt and horse manure was about all that was coming through. "Earthy" would be an understatement. After swirling I could get wet leather out of the nose as well as some herbs (thyme primarily). What I couldn't get was much fruit. On the first sip all I got was tannin, tannin and more tannin with a healthy shot of acid at the end. I finally decided this wine was tainted with brettanomyces, but there were other interesting kind of earthiness going on also. Over the course of the evening this wine finally showed some plums and berries, but the wet dirt and damp leather remained, as did those tannins. This was not a wine that I disliked, but it is one that probably needed 24 hours in the decanter to show its true colors or we needed a second bottle not tainted by brett. A totally fascinating and thought provoking wine. 14.5% alcohol.
In summary, there were two exceptional wines, three very nice wines and one enigma. For wines that were supposedly at their peak they showed more youth than I expected. This was a very fun and enlightening evening.