February Wines of the Month: a Victorian pair from Wantirna Estate & R. Lane Vintners
January may not have been as awash with Australian wine tasting opportunities as usual, but this stunning Victorian pair provided great pleasure over three days. Less, as they say, is more. Certainly moreish. And moreish because, being multi-layered, they just kept on giving.
Wantirna Estate was at the vanguard of the Yarra Valley’s modern renaissance during the 1960s. The unusual location between Melbourne and Mount Mary came about partly because the founder, legal eagle Reg Egan, needed to be near his practice.
I visited with Reg and his winemaker daughter Maryann in 2018. You can read my report about this truly boutique family operation in this earlier post. Given most of the Egan’s output is sold on allocation The Vinorium have done well to snap some up. Amelia Cabernet Merlot forged Wantirna’s reputation and it was my pick of the range (The Vinorium also list the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).
Coincidentally, my second wine also comes from a vineyard planted in the 1960s. True to its name, the Westgate vineyard is in the west of Victoria, in a Shiraz/Syrah hotspot – the Grampians. It is a glorious example. Like the Wantirna, intensely characterful. But where Amelia Cabernet Merlot is elegant, most refined, R. Lane Vinterners Westgate Vineyard Syrah is a touch feral. And all the better for it. True Syrah!
Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot 2018 (Yarra Valley, Victoria)
The vineyard is not only unusual in location. It is also unusual because the original 1963 plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are a true field blend. Petit Verdot joined the party in the 1989. The vines are dry grown on clay soils. The blend typically comprises 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. The wine is fermented in cement tanks, then aged in French oak. Ever so fragrant and enticing, a waft of mint, tea tree and twiggy tinder-box with fresh blackcurrant whisks you off to Australia. Notes which follow through in the mouth, together with juicy blackberry, mulberry and blueberry. Mouth-watering savoury tomato paste and balsamic nuances with earthy puy lentils and gravelly minerality pull you in. Fleet of foot, fresh, persistent acidity and soft, seamless tannins make for an elegant, medium-bodied palate. With lovely intensity and flow, it drank beautifully over three days. On song, this is a characterful class act. If you can resist it, the Egans expect Amelia to age for 15 years or more. Sure enough, when I visited in 2018, the 2009 vintage was just starting to develop tertiary notes. 13% £36.50 at The Vinorium
R. Lane Vintners Westgate Vineyard Syrah 2015 (Grampians, Victoria)
Rory Lane of The Story bottles the cream of his Grampians’ crop under his eponymous top tier label. This Syrah comes from his premier Grampians grape source, the Westgate Vineyard. Planted in 1969 in the hills south of Great Western, the vines yielded a meagre tonne and a bit per acre in 2015, accounting for the deep, inky hue and intensity of this Syrah. Adopting the French moniker, it is emphatically savoury, with an edgy, sinewy rawness about it (tannin and acidity), suggesting a long life ahead. It reveals liquorice, clove and earth to the nose. A hint of malt/baking spices too. In the mouth, it is intensely savoury, with smoky, spicy layers and the region’s signature meaty, cracked black pepper. With air, violets. Brooding but frisky, fresh, juicy blackberry, wilder bramble and sloe fruit make for a persistent palate, with staccato, scattergun shots of black pepper which follow through, in retro-nasal rasps. Brawny, hugely engaging and persistent, with graphite and Mighty Imp spicy, menthol liquorice and graphite to the finish. Terrific. Averaging 60% whole bunch, Lane split the harvest into 3 batches – some destemmed, some with a small percentage of whole bunches and then a smaller amount fermented as all whole bunches. Each naturally fermented batch matured for twelve months in barrel (a mixture of French puncheons and barriques, 20% new). The final wine – a ‘best barrels’ selection – was blended and held in tank for a further four months. Bottled with no fining or filtration. 14% £51.75 RRP Stockists: South Down Cellars, Vin Neuf, The Wine Reserve, Ex-Cellars
Click here for last week’s post, which also feature Lane’s maiden Grampians Grenache and delves into his winemaking philosophy.