The Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: a dozen prized wines reviewed
The Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021 marks the second global release program of the company’s portfolio of prized wines. I caught up with impressive examples from Hardy’s, Grant Burge, St Hallett, Houghton and House of Arras in a one-to-one Zoom with Accolade’s affable Global Wine Director, Nigel Sneyd MW.
I think ‘global’ describes Sneyd as much as his role. He has made wine around the world in Australasia, Europe, South Africa and California, including for Hardy’s Languedoc project, Domaine de la Baume in the 90s. He joined Accolade in 2019.
You will find my notes on the new releases below. First, I’ve given a summary of key points discussed and an important new acquisition.
Recent developments, future direction
For Sneyd, Australian wines have been through incredible fashion swings – the big fruit, big oak, big ripeness, big alcohol phase, then the pendulum swing “to almost anaemic in search for lightness and freshness.”
He believes – full circle – “the pendulum has settled at the bottom a bit” and, whilst lots can be done in the winery, there is a recognition that wines are only as great as the fruit that comes in. So in other words, “vineyard sourcing is primordial,” with a return to classic terroir, focused around balance – having the right vines in the right areas which, he noted, includes water availability.
As for vintage, Sneyd observed that the new releases include three standout vintages: 2017, 2018 and 2019. According to Accolade’s overviews, the 2017 growing season experienced slightly milder temperatures, allowing the vines to produce rich and complex flavours. The 2018 vintage continues to be a highlight in most regions of Australia, and there continues to be great excitement around these wines. Sneyd describes the 2019 vintage as “one of the driest we had experienced across the country. From this vintage we are seeing incredible concentration in the wines.”
Earlier this year, Accolade added another Barossa string to its bow – Rolf Binder. Sneyd explained that the acquisition brings with it some 100 hectares of vines, including “fantastic old vineyards with a good mix of varieties.” The wines from this year were fermented under the old regime. Sneyd expects that the approach to maturation might change a bit in favour of making less traditional, “big” wines, with a greater focus on drinkability on release (whilst being able to keep a decade or more). Watch this space.
Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: Arras
Ed Carr of House of Arras is Australia’s most decorated sparkling winemaker. It shows. Committed to ageing on lees (tirage) for lengthy periods, fermenting in oak and malo, these complex, structured wines drank beautifully over four days. Sneyd mentioned that Carr is shifting to larger format oak (foudres not barriques) for fermenting the base wines.
Arras Grand Vintage 2013 (Derwent Valley, Coal River Valley, East Coast & Pipers River)
The 15th release of the wine is a blend of 62% Chardonnay and 58% Pinot Noir. It was partially fermented (10%) in first use French oak barriques, followed by 100% malolactic fermentation (as is the practice at Jansz). The blend spent seven years on lees. It is dry and firm, with lemon posset and sea spray to the tight, biscuity nose. In the mouth, you find lemon posset and hints of strawberry ice cream, together with complexing savoury layers of mushroom, toast, miso (subtle), toasted brioche and dried and bruised apple fruit, with lemony counter-balancing acidity. A fine bead, with tension and snap to the finish – more tightly wound than the Jansz style (latest Jansz releases reviewed here) – even a touch of (attractive) sappy greenness. 12.5% T.A. 7.7g/l, dosage 2.6 g/l, pH 3.02 RRP £49.99
Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 2006 (Derwent Valley, East Coast)
First made in 1998, this 9th consecutive release is a blend of Chardonnay (67%) and Pinot Noir (33%). It has a distinctly savoury quality to the nose and palate, with miso, truffled honey, roast peach, sweet mandarin. It is fuller bodied than the 2013, with some almond cream/calisson, which brings mouthfeel and texture. Persistent acidity (and fine bead) teases out cognac and mushroom nuances – great retro-nasal ‘ying and yang’ complexity – flavour-wise (savouriness and freshness) and texture-wise (the creaminess with, to the finish, hints of sesame seed tuille – a tension). According to the technical fiche, only the high quality ‘heart’ juice selected for this blend. The 2006 was aged on lees in tirage for 14 years. 12.5%, dosage 2.6 g/l, TA 6.8 g, pH 3.1 RRP £99.99
Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: Hardy’s
Sneyd recommended double-decanting the reds, which certainly benefited the youthful Eileen Hardy Shiraz. He confirmed that there has been no Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir since 2014. Pinot is, he said, a scarce resource – “everyone is after it and there is not enough of it.” A contributing factor was the loss of Tolpuddle vineyard as a fruit source (now producing wines for Michael Hill-Smith and Martin Shaw), however Accolade have acquired the Tea Tree vineyard (like Tolpuddle, in Coal River Valley) from Taltarni. Sneyd believes it has future potential for table wines.
Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2019 (Yarra Valley, Margaret River)
The Eileen hardy label is a Hardy’s classic and, true to tradition, the Chardonnay is a multi-regional blend. A memorable vertical in 2016 to celebrate its 30th anniversary (since when Chief Winemaker Tom Newton has retired) tracked the shift to sourcing from cooler climes, including Adelaide Hills, Tumbarumba and Tasmania. In fact, the last vintages of the vertical comprised an almost unbroken run of Yarra/Tassie blends, so I was surprised that no Tasmanian Chardonnay featured in this vintage. I asked Sneyd if it reflected that pendulum swing, with a return to a richer style. He explained that the 2019 blend is more function of the year than stylistic goals. Multi-regional sourcing is about making the best blend from top notch fruit and, for Sneyd that means going beyond the Yarra Valley and Tasmania in the longer term. Singling out the 2004 vintage – a standout from the vertical – he said it is still drinking beautifully today. Sneyd also remarked on the importance of hedging against bush fires because “you can be almost sure there will be bush fires in one region or another,” referring to bush fires in the Yarra Valley in 2018, Tasmania in 2019, the Alpine Valleys in 2020. And so to Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2019. It is a melange of sweet white peach, fresh fig, with lime (peel) oil notes, grapefruit acidity, creamy lees, oatmeal and toast. Full-bodied and ripe, but balanced if a touch sweet for my taste. 13.87% RRP £48.99
Hardy’s Eileen Hardy Shiraz 2018 (McLaren Vale)
Whilst the Chardonnay casts the net wide, home is where the heart is when it comes to Shiraz. And why not in McLaren Vale. It is the region’s most planted variety. This is a lovely example. Plush, yet buoyant, with a spring in its step. It reveals juicy blackberry, blood plum and mulberry fruit, delicious meaty, peppery undertones, black olive and well-judged charcuterie and creamy mocha oak nuances. With fine grained tannins, lovely balance and persistence, it is thoroughly enjoyable now, but has good cellaring potential too. 14.3% RRP £48.99
Hardy’s Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Coonawarra, Margaret River)
Like Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Thomas Hardy Cabernet – the flagship – is not tethered to any one region, continuing the tradition which produced the sensational 1959 Cabernet, which I tasted in 2013. It’s all about making the best possible Cabernet. This vintage comprises 82% Coonawarra Cabernet, with Western Australian Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec from Margaret River and Frankland River. It is a deep aubergine skin hue, with a narrow plum rim. Perfectly opaque. The nose is complex, with nori/iodine and enveloping rich, glossy blackcurrant and velvety cassis through the supple attack and mid-palate. Lovely mouthfeel. A confident display of rich, ripe fruit before – as if remembering to play the long game – it holds back, making for a brooding, teasing finish, more savoury, with liquorice, cedar, ironstone and dusty, terracotta tannins. Redcurrant acidity maintains flow. On day two, saturating the palate like ink on blotting paper, the fruit – ripe and exuberant, now with black olive – cannot help itself. But the tannins are up to the job, bedding down the flavours. The muscular/denser South Australian fruit differentiates it from the more classical Houghton style. 14.3% RRP £49.99
Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: Grant Burge
Of the five brands, Grant Burge is the only producer I have not visited and I’ve not tasted the wines as often as the others either. My bad, as they say, because these were lovely wines – balanced, complex. Filsell and Holy Trinity struck me as great bang for buck.
Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 2019 (Barossa)
Planted in 1920, the Filsell vineyard near Williamstown is located in the south of the Barossa Valley. The vine age and location show in the spice and garrigue notes – lifted and deep-seated – and the persistent undertow of acidity. The nose reveals pronounced liquorice spice with sage and lavender riffs to the blackberry fruit. On day two, sweeter damson jam and malt notes add to the mix and follow through in the mouth. Fine but firm, sinewy tannins spiral through balancing the sweetness – a touchstone, with baking spice inflections. I sense this will go in a spicy fruitcake direction in time. Flavoursome, with good drive and persistence, the 2019 vintage was one of the driest in recent years, producing smaller berries and and concentrated wines. Filsell was fermented old school style in a combination of stainless-steel and concrete open fermenters with header boards and aged in a combination of French and American hogsheads and puncheons. 14.5% Lots of history & wine here for RRP £25.99
Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2019 (Barossa)
I verily believe that I have never tasted this label before. The bottle shape and embossed Grant Burge ‘shield’ leave you under no illusions as to where this Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre tilts. And it’s very good – purer fruited and cleaner than (old school) Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but with a dryness and a savouriness which distinguishes it from old school ‘GSMs.’ Bright in hue and on the spicy (liquorice, nutmeg), meaty palate with sage, violet and saddle soap nuances to the well-defined, succulent plum, blackberry and cherry fruit. Lovely freshness and persistence, with fine, sinewy tannins – tendrils – that deftly keep the fruit in line. There is a cocoa powder dustiness and nutmeg to the finish. Succulent, sappy cedar too – part of the freshness. There’s nothing showy about this understated savoury but fresh, focused GSM. But that is the pleasure. A beautifully executed lithe, medium bodied delight to take to dinner. 14.2% RRP £25.99
Grant Burge Nebu Cabernet Shiraz 2019 (Barossa)
This is the third release of Nebu. Cabernet Shiraz wines are ascending again, especially premium wines – the blend has the most distinguished history in Australia. Blackcurrant with a touch of earth cedar and super-subtle mint to the nose. In the mouth, the Cabernet – that perfumed fresh blackcurrant with a leafy edge – leads the attack. Lovely freshness, with sappy cedar, wattle (light coffee), black sesame and ferrous notes. The Shiraz may flesh it out, but it is subtly and seamlessly done – beautifully stitched, with no interruption to the flow, until the coffee grounds on the finish. I was pleased to find confirmation that the Shiraz – juicy, I suspect plummier, more red-fruited than black – originates from the southern Barossa, hence the elegance. A poised Cabernet Shiraz blend, with lovely restraint; each variety was aged in French oak hogsheads. 14.5% RRP £59.99
Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: St Hallett
For Sneyd the high acid line distinguishes the St Hallett style from the Grant Burge wines, the latter plush, St Hallett more angular and muscular.
St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 2019 (Barossa)
The 2019 Blackwell Shiraz is a case in point – for me, still coming together because of that acid line, which is a little at odds as yet with the creamy mocha oak, with its heady toasted coconut lift (it aged for 12-16 months in American oak barrels). In the mouth it reveals classic Black Forest Gateaux flavours, with succulent black cherry, chocolate and cream, mochachino even. The fruit is predominantly sourced from the Northern Barossa, especially Ebenezer, Greenock and Moppa Hills. Finishes youthfully firm, with some tannin grip. First released in 1994, this Shiraz honours Stuart Blackwell, who was St Hallett’s winemaker for more than three decades 14.3% RRP £28.99
St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 2017 (Barossa)
This is the 35th release of this flagship Shiraz, which has evolved from a single block into a selection of the best old vine parcels from the Barossa and Eden Valleys, the oldest dating back to 1870, the youngest from 1936. The Eden Valley component and mild vintage certainly make for a step change. This is not as ripe or densely black-fruited as previous vintages I have tasted. On day one, it has meaty, savoury nuances to the spicy, brooding nose. On day two, it reveals herb sausage with leafy, mulchy notes to the medium-bodied sweet plum and blackberry palate. Fine but firm, mineral tannins rise to meet the fruit, clasping it firmly into the tapering finish. It closes out with layers of ironstone (ferrous), baking spices, nutmeg and cinnamon and a hint of radicchio– lots to see (taste). On day two, the ferrous and mulch notes are more pronounced, so it tastes older than you might think. But make no mistake, it is firm, with great persistence of mineral-sluiced acidity. This is a savoury, mineral expression of Old Block(s) – block busted rather than blockbuster…. It was aged in French oak hogsheads and puncheons (25% new ) for 12-18 months. 14.7% RRP £74.99
Accolade Fine Wines Release 2021: Houghton
The Justin vineyard in Frankland River – one of the region’s oldest – is the bedrock of Houghton’s top reds. How I enjoyed a mature bottle of the flagship Jack Mann at a dinner a few years ago. Can I remember the vintage? It was that good – transporting. For Sneyd, it is Western Australia’s best Cabernet; certainly, the latest release is outstanding, with time on its side.
Houghton C.W. Ferguson Cabernet Malbec 2019 (Frankland River)
This wine pays tribute to Charles William Ferguson, an early Houghton winemaker. Like the Jack Mann, it was sourced from the Justin vineyard, near Rocky Gully. It is a deep purple aubergine skin hue with dark chocolate and ginger (think Green & Blacks) to the nose and palate, creamy cassis, fresh black currant and fleshier mulberry and fleshier plum, with hints of tobacco pouch and sandalwood. Ripe but present, layered fine-grained tannins groom the fruit going through, making for stately progress, with pencil shavings and cedar riffs aplenty. On day two, it reveals raspberry and cured black olive with a subtle eucalyptus lift to the finish. 13.9% RRP £24.99
Houghton Jack Mann Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Frankland River)
Named after one of Western Australia’s most celebrated, pioneering winemakers. Jack Mann presided over winemaking at Houghton for 51 consecutive vintages. This flagship Cabernet has consistently been sourced from the Justin vineyard, planted by Justin Roche in the 1960s on classic ironstone gravel soils. It is a deep purple hue, with a richly perfumed cedar and graphite-laced nose, with deep-seated violet and dried rose florals and dried curry leaf. Measured in reams, the tannins are fine but have a density – a charge – about them, simply because they are plentiful. But they are not in the least aggressive – rather, all brooding with latent power. This wine is built for the long haul and, with concentrated fruit (lovely intensity) and sustained acidity, this beautifully crafted, balanced Cabernet has a long, long life ahead. Tapering gradually, the long, precise finish has a ferrous, ironstone tang, with bitter chocolate. On day two, inkier violet, dried rose, mulch and kelp nuances chime in, together with dried red cherry. The tannins are pleasurably ruffled. An outstanding Cabernet, which really speaks of its place. 13.9% RRP £79.99