Wendouree: a tasting bonanza, 17 wines!

When I first visited Australia in 2004, it was in the company of a possé of sommeliers from Michelin starred restaurants.  During our whistle stop tour across Australia we tasted many great wines.  A bottle of Wendouree Cabernet Malbec was a stand out, lingering in the memory for almost as long as it seemed to last in the mouth.

Though we’d visited the Clare Valley, with no cellar door and no wines to sell (wines are sold exclusively though a mailing list), Wendouree is some way off the beaten track.  It probably tells you all you need to know about the wines’ rarity value when, referring to his annual wine guide (James Halliday Australian Wine Companion), the veteran wine writer confides “I buy three wines from Wendouree every year…This is the only way I am able to provide tasting notes.”

Until this year, Wendouree wine had only passed my lips once more.  Happily, 2010 has been something of a bonanza.  First, on account of the generosity of the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation, who invited me to this year’s Landmark Tutorial. Second, thanks to a truly remarkable tasting in London organised byFindwine, who showed no less than fourteen different wines which co-founder Martin (“I’m obsessed”) Jeffery has steadily amassed.

It seems to me that these idiosyncratic wines (a breed apart from other Clare Valley or Australian equivalents), owe their formidable structure and savoury, mineral and earth profile to relatively early picked old vine fruit, high in seeds and skin, which is vinified traditionally with no additions.  You’ll find my tasting notes below and, by way of background, rather than summarise reports I’ve read about Wendouree, here are two from those who’ve got a foot in the door:

  1. Andrew Caillard MW, author of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, runs through the history and winemaking process here (Wendouree Shiraz is one of  the classification’s 17 exceptional, top tier wines); and
  2. Jamie Goode The Wine Anorak reports on a visit here which, complete with a great photo of the old vines, really lifts the people and the place off the page.

The Landmark Tutorial

Wendouree Shiraz 1976 – a surprisingly deep core still, opaque with a bricky rim.  The nose shows boot polish lift, the fruit fading, little more than a whisper.  And without that fruit, it’s a fearsome somewhat unforgiving, angular wine on the palate, all elbows and knees with its acid blackbone and drying tannins, which James Halliday captured with his description “they grab the upper lip.”  Not a wholly successful bottle, but it certainly reinforces the estate’s reputation for assertive tannins and acidity.  (Tasted 22 September 2010, Landmark session: “An Historic Perspective”).

Wendouree Cabernet/Malbec 1983 – this one stirs the memory of that first taste.  An iodine quality to both nose and palate underscores its intensity.  In the mouth it reveals long and lingering layers of earth, cedar and dark chocolate, its tannins fine but firm.  The balance is wonderful – absolutely on song, holding the stage with aplomb and more than happy to deliver a few encores, such is it length! (Tasted 21 September 2010 – from James Halliday’s cellar).

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2006 – Very deep in colour with a characterful nose, much less polished, seemingly more rustic than its companions in this line up of Cabernets (see here for the line up under the blog post dated 21 September).  Yep, the only polish here is a lick of boot polish, which, together with linseed oil, follows through on a deep, dark, concentrated palate with savoury black olive, earthy black fruits, minerals and toast.  The acid is high (9g/l TA apparently!), angular even, which might strip some of the depth were it not for the sinewy, anchoring tannins.  A virile wine, with a long, long life ahead.  (Tasted 21 September 2010, Landmark session on Cabernet Sauvignon).

Findwine tasting, 16th November 2010

Wendouree Shiraz Mataro 1989 – deep garnet with oyster shell, plum and well worn leather on the nose, which notes follow through on a very supple, long and savoury palate.  Very good and drinking beautifully now. £100 at Findwine

Wendouree Shiraz Mataro 2002 – still bright, a reddish hue, with overt meaty Mataro (Mourvedre) and a whiff of iodine to the nose.  In the mouth it’s quite raw, brutish even with quite strident acidity and angular tannins – not giving much away at all yet, a hint of dark chocolate here, some dried herbs there.  A cool vintage and a cool customer.  Needs another five plus years before it starts coming together. £65 at Findwine

Wendouree Shiraz Malbec 2000 – a lovely nose and palate with gamey, savoury notes of dark chocolate, dried herbs and liquorice, cradled by weighty yet very fine, smudgy, powdery tannins.  Wonderful mouthfeel and intensity. £45 atFindwine

Wendouree Shiraz Malbec 2001 – the flavour spectrum is similar with dried herbs and chocolate, some oyster shell minerality too, but there’s a little more power, push and persistence here, with more perceptible acidity and tannin.  Suspect this will last longer and benefit from a few more years in bottle.  Very promising. £45 atFindwine

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1990 – a super spicy nose, dried spice with star anise/aniseed, a lick of boot polish too.  In the mouth, the Cabernet brings girder and line with high but fine tannins, which cleave to the palate making for an extremely long, lingering palate tinged with earth and aniseed spice.  Wonderful vitality. £100 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1998 – one of my picks of the tasting, fresh and vibrant still, perfumed even with violets and pronounced oyster shell notes (an aspect of freshness as well as minerality).  Terrific perfumed length, supported by sensual, silty tannins which impart a sense of high extract but, at Wendouree, it’s refreshing because it comes with none of the oak, sweetness or alcoholic warmth of over-ripe, over extracted fruit. £65 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 1999 – this bottle a touch “beefy” and oxidative, so not as fine or balanced as the others.  £65 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Malbec 2002 – Another pick of the bunch from this cooler vintage.  It shows beautiful freshness and lift/perfume to its tightly coiled black fruits with an undertow of dark chocolate and fresh dug earth.  Firm, tensile tannins reinforce its youthful vigour.  A keeper, which will benefit from a few years in bottle to open up, though it’s pretty impressive now. £65 at Findwine

Wendouree Shiraz 1997 – a very lifted nose with violets, dried herbs and Cadbury’s Bourneville dark chocolate.  Though it’s more generous in the mouth given the variety, its juicy, blackberry fruited palate is shot through with well integrated, mineral-sluiced acidity.  Very good.  £85 at Findwine

Wendouree Shiraz 1999 – I tasted two bottles of this wine, both of which I felt suffered from a touch of oxidation which detracted a little from the purity of nose and finish, if not the length.  Shame because otherwise there’s lots to like with concentrated savoury, earthy notes and layers of spice, dried fruits/panforte, dark chocolate and roses. £100 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 – a very dark nose with bitter chocolate and linseed oil with a hint of mint, which notes follow through together with blackberry on the well structured palate.  Fine and long but for me, not half as compelling as the other three vintages shown.  £100 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 – one of my picks of the tasting, this has fabulous vitality and length with a charge of subtly chocolate-edged black fruits, savoury lees and oyster shell.  Terrific length and vibrancy. £100 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – another pick of the tasting, though you’d find it hard to guess from the nuts and bolts of my note!  Probably because, with its leesy, feral nose and lean entry, it’s not in a hurry to impress (much like its maker according to Jamie Goode’s report  – see link above).  Ah, but then it makes its presence known, building in the mouth with an impressive show of intensity.  A visceral wine. With time to tame, 3-5 years, I reckon this will start to strut its stuff and reveal its true potential. £80 at Findwine

Wendouree Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 – another wow wine – clearly I’m more a Cabernet girl than Shiraz when it comes to Wendouree…This shows a terrific intensity of spice, tight-knit black fruits and oyster shell salinity/minerality on nose and tight knit palate.  Fabulous freshness, line and purity, if quite angular.  Like the other 2002s, it’s a keeper – I’d not broach this for several more years.  £90 atFindwine

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