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I was fortunate a few weekends ago to finally try a wine from the revered Australian winemaker, Maurice O’Shea.

O’Shea is regarded as a master and pioneer of the winemaking craft in Australia and his best wines still have the potential to be great, despite the basic conditions under which they were made.

The wines range from the 1920s to the mid 1950s when O’Shea passed away and are incredibly rare, many were made from a single barrel (resulting in around 200 cases production) and obviously as time goes on the number of bottles available diminishes either due to cork failure and oxidization or their consumption. Even fewer become available to purchase as well, since those lucky enough to have any bottles hold them very closely.

Earlier this year a bottle of the 1952 “Stephen Hermitage” came up at auction. The level was quite low, around mid-shoulder, so there was some risk involved. Some members of a wine group I’m involved with were interested and we split the cost to minimise our exposure. We ended up getting the bottle for a very reasonable price.

There is very little information that I’ve found available about the wine, but it is from the Hunter Valley region and probably made from mostly Shiraz grapes. 1952 was regarded as a good vintage in between 2 lacklustre years in 1951 and 1953.

We opened the wine just before serving and the cork was soaked through and in poor shape. The colour was great for a 60 year old wine, maroon in the middle and fading away toward the edges. The nose was very much in the style of great Hunter Valley Shiraz – leather and earth with tobacco, cherry and some of that brown sugar character that these old wines can take on. The palate is alive with sweet old red fruit that carried across the length of the wine and some integrated acidity to give it drive. The flavours held and didn’t fade away in the hour that we spent with it. The condition was all we could have hoped for – it isn’t the very greatest old wine I’ve had, but it was still a great old wine – true to its place and maker and an experience to remember.

As for the other wines, they were a mixed bag, in fact our strike rate with old wine was well down on normal – but overall it was a truly memorable lunch.

  • NV Demarne-Frison Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature Lalore – France, Champagne, Côte des Bars (Aube), Champagne
    From 2009 fruit, disgorged October 2011. This was served slightly warm but was still appealing with biscuity aromas, floral notes and some oyster shell character. The palate has nicely clean acid and good persistence. Should improve with a couple of years in bottle. 90/100

  • NV Demarne-Frison Champagne Goustan Brut Nature – France, Champagne, Côte des Bars (Aube), Champagne
    From 2009 fruit, disgorged October 2011. There was some citrus and more earthy character on the nose. Tasted next to the same release of the Blanc de Blancs, this had more driven power and body, but also crackling acidity. Consistent with a previous bottle. 91/100

  • 2009 Vouette et Sorbée Champagne Cuvée Fidèle Extra Brut – France, Champagne
    Just had a small pour of this but it still left a good impression. Intense cherry, pear and floral notes on the nose. The palate has a flavour profile that is bursting with richness and intensity. Very good length. 91/100

  • 1988 Pipers Brook Vineyard Riesling – Australia, Tasmania
    Still golden coloured. The nose has plenty of attraction with honey, lots of toast and some kerosene (which I happen to enjoy). The palate has some decent honeyed fruit left, though it finishes a little bit short. This was holding up well for a 24 year old Tasmanian Riesling! 88/100

  • 1998 Tyrrell’s Sémillon Vat 1 – Australia, New South Wales, Hunter Valley
    Much more developed than a great bottle earlier this year, with buttered popcorn, wax and lime. The palate has good length and retains some of the acid line I remember on the previous bottle, but this one was ready to drink now and unlikely to improve. 90/100

  • 1973 Ferdinand Pieroth Guldentaler Schloßkapelle Auslese – Germany, Rheinhessen
    No grape type listed on the label, so a slight mystery. The nose has aromas of grapefruit, ginger and honey. The palate has an interesting texture and I liked it but it fades away just too early. 87/100

  • 2008 Benoit Ente Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champs-Gain – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
    My favourite of the three white burgundy on the day. Slate, lemon and orange zest on the nose. The palate is restrained and driven by beautiful minerality, with a backbone of fine acidity. 90/100

  • 2009 Michel Tessier Meursault 1er Cru Poruzots Dessus – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Lots of banana/ester character on the nose with some light florals coming through with effort. The palate has a nice splash of richness and good structure but the nose is tough to get past right now. 88/100

  • 2007 Jean-Philippe Fichet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
    Smothered in oak, there are some pine needles and melon as well. The palate is of a similar ilk, though some fruit is peeking out in the background. I found it a difficult wine to enjoy now, maybe some time will help but I’m not sure. 86/100

  • 2009 Sadie Family Palladius – South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland, Malmesbury
    Nutty, lemon, pear and smoky aromas. Complex and rich on the palate, there is great structure and acidity. Some at the table found that the alcohol was a bit too prominent but for me it didn’t distract. 91/100

  • 1976 Jean Sanders Echezeaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Echezeaux Grand Cru
    From a Bordeaux (Barsac) negociant house. Swampy, hoisin and wet soil aromas, I thought it might blow off but it got worse and then quickly fell over. I was brave enough to taste it and it was short and had no depth. NR/100

  • 1963 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Hermitage – Australia, South Australia, Limestone Coast, Coonawarra
    Cedar, raspberry and some caramel notes on the nose. Palate still has some tannin and grip, it is decent to drink and has some elements of interest but it is fading away and past its best. 87/100

  • 1968 Penfolds HV/SA Bin 333 – Australia, South Australia
    The aromas are promising with mint, earth and coconut. The palate however is flat and much too short. Well past its peak. 82/100

  • 1968 Hardys Shiraz Reserve Bin C715 Burgundy – Australia, South Australia
    Cherry, ground coffee and some nail polish remover (though some found it more prominent than others). The palate had some decent red fruit initially, but this dropped away quickly after pouring leaving it flat. Another wine without enough life. 83/100

  • 1952 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Riserva – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barolo
    Liquorice and cherry, with leather and some bacon aromas. Palate still has some bright fruit and both tannin and acid are present and are well balanced. Really nice drinking, though I didn’t find it incredibly complex. 90/100

  • 1977 Lake’s Folly Cabernet Sauvignon – Australia, New South Wales, Hunter Valley
    Totally gone. NR/100

  • 1986 Henschke Shiraz Mount Edelstone – Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
    Almost seemed more Cabernet in style with capsicum, raspberry and mint aromas. The palate has beautiful soft red fruits and great balance. Fully mature and delicious. 91/100

  • 2000 Gaja Barbaresco – Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
    Poured without a decant and even though it has appeal straight away, it really started to soar with time in the glass. Cherry and graphite, pencil shavings and cherry, with floral notes entwined. Structurally excellent, with super length. In 7-8 years it should be on another level. 93/100

  • 2009 Motörhead Shiraz – Australia, South Eastern
    Cherry, blackcurrant and blackberry on the nose. Lively red fruit on the palate with some good power to it. Better than expected and a pleasant dose of fruit after a run of wines that were past their best. 88/100

  • 2008 Sadie Family Columella – South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland
    Tobacco, raspberry, cherry and blackberry. Bright and vibrant fruit on the palate with great persistence and coiled power. Lovely wine that is drinking well already but another 10 years should serve it well. 91/100

  • 1985 Niederthäler Hof Munsterer Liebeholl Bacchus Beerenauslese – Germany, Nahe
    Tropical fruits – pineapple and quince with nutty and vanilla elements. Palate is round but not as rich as expected. Fairly low in acidity but tasty. 89/100

  • 1969 Seppelt Ondenc GW 88 Sauternes – Australia, New South Wales
    Lime and ginger with honey and sugar. The palate is holding up well, there is a touch of sweetness and some cleansing acidity. It could be said that it is not overly long but it’s in much better shape than I thought it would be. 88/100

  • NV Scanavino Moscato d’Asti – Italy, Piedmont, Asti, Moscato d’Asti
    From 2012 fruit, a quick palate cleanser. Grape, musk and floral notes. There is a fair amount of sweetness but good countering acidity. I should buy some for summer drinking. 89/100

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