I organised a tasting recently with the intent to compare two top-tier Australian cooler climate Shiraz, both from the Grampians region in Victoria (plus a few ring-ins, here and there).
The Seppelt St Peters Shiraz was originally released as Seppelt Great Western Hermitage in 1964 (winning the Jimmy Watson trophy in 1965, a prestigious award, especially back then) and is mostly a blend from two vineyards adjacent to the Seppelt winery, St Peters and the Imperial vineyard. St Peters was one of the first vineyards in the region, planted in 1863 and subsequently replanted during the 1930s and 1960s. Occasionally there is some material from other vineyards around 4 kilometers to the south blended in, but the two mentioned always form the majority. In 1998 the wine underwent a branding change and is now known as St Peters. The wine is matured in a mix of new and old French oak, for between 12-18 months.
We also tasted two “reserve” wines in the Seppelt lineup, from 1997 and 1998. These were winemaker selections of the 10 best barrels, and those 10 barrels happened to be a higher percentage of new oak compared to the final wine but they did not spend any extra time in oak as a number of sources online indicate. I think there is sometime a touch of pre-judgement involved where people expect them to be heavily oaked based on the incorrect belief that they had spent a good deal more time in oak. Unfortunately the “normal” 1997 was corked, but the 1998 flight was offered blind as well and I asked people specifically to see if one stood out as having significantly more oak and while one might have seemed to have a tiny touch more, the general feeling I got from around the room was that it was far from obvious. The flight was split evenly with 5 voting for the normal and 5 for the reserve before they were revealed.
Mount Langi Ghiran is about 30 kilometers south east of Seppelt and the vineyards here at the base of Mount Langi were replanted in the 1960s. The wine is from a single block known as the “Old block”, planted to “swiss clone” material sourced from Best’s Great Western Concongella Vineyard. The clone is apparently only found in the Great Western region in Australia and Mount Langi Ghiran are working with Michel Chapoutier to find out more about this clone via ampelographic and DNA research. This clone is one of the reasons that Trevor Mast, former owner and winemaker, believed was responsible for the distinct pepper character often found in this Shiraz. The wine we tasted saw a mix of American and French oak and it was mostly new. The wines that we tried at this tasting ran up to the last vintage where Mast was head winemaker, and the style was changed following his departure, including switching to entirely French oak, with less % new.
Overall I think the tasting was quite successful, there were plenty of diverse opinions about the wines we tried and I thought it was good to see that not many flights had a clear “winner”, with 3-4 flights ending in a tie and I believe in every flight there was at least one vote for each wine, meaning there was plenty of interest across the line up.
I feel like we got a good idea of the styles of both wineries by the end and it seemed like half the people fell on the side of Mt Langi and the other half on Seppelt. The Seppelt wines seemed very consistent in style (and also consistently very good), where as the Mount Langi were more up and down, which for many proved much more interesting.
Two wines were corked, one from both brand, each winery has offered a replacement with no drama, which is great customer service and was much appreciated. Both were also helpful when I was compiling information for a handout to pass out at the tasting, but especially Seppelt who put me in touch with Melanie, a winemaker there who went the extra mile to help with my questions!
- 2009 Vouette et Sorbée Champagne Cuvée Fidèle Extra Brut – France, Champagne
Fairly consistent with other bottles – Pinot Noir dominant and intense nose with cherry, earthy, autolysis character and honeyed aromas. The palate counters the richness and punch of the nose with a cleansing citrus acidity, while still having great depth and intensity to it. Not sure that others at the tasting liked this as much, but I think it is an interesting wine that is worth looking at. 91/100
- 2012 Kalleske Viognier Plenarius – Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
Another really lifted nose – this time is is orange peel, nutty, mandarin, musk and apricot. The palate has brilliant texture, I was quite smitten by it actually. There is some light tannin that gives it some grip and I think it is really well balanced with a rush of acidity to finish. This really impressed me, I’ve had only a few wines in this style that I’ve really liked, and this was definitely one of them! Super value at around $25 for a wine with this much interest as well. 92/100
- 2009 Grampians Estate Shiraz Rutherford Sparkling – Australia, Victoria
Crown seal. Quite a lifted nose with cherry cola, violets and some light earth. Nice savoury mouthfeel while still having a dose of sweet red fruit. The fruit sweetness isn’t overpowering and I think this is a well balanced wine with good intensity and length. I haven’t tried this sparkling Shiraz previously and I’m keen to give other vintages a go at some point. 90/100
- 1988 Seppelt Shiraz Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
The cork was in poor shape, though the level looked to be fine and the wine seemed in reasonable condition. The nose in particular had lots of interest with dense earth and spices, as well as a splash of florality right at the start. The palate did not have the same character to it – it was resolved and holding on to life but also a bit flat, especially towards the finish, confirming its best years were probably past. It still had some fans in this flight but I think the 89 Mount Langi had a better showing. 87/100
- 1989 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Another poor cork but the we must have just got to it in time as the wine was very pleasant. The nose is pretty classic with white pepper, some stems and earth. The palate is well structured, the tannins are still quite firm and it’s quite possible that they will outlive the fruit. Still, there is good flow of flavour through the palate and it doesn’t dip away. Drink now and in the short term. 90/100
- 1995 Seppelt Shiraz Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Charcoal, flint, roses and a bit of cherry still in the background – in fact the nose was a bit hard to pin down as there was a fair bit going on and it was shifting around with time, something that for me is always enjoyable when spending time with a wine. The palate is quite lithe, with good savoury texture and elegance. This had medium depth and probably slightly better length. I liked it more and more each time I came back to it in the flight, with the last sip being my favourite. Drink now and over the not too distance future but spend some time with it if you can. 91/100
- 1996 Seppelt Shiraz Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
I last tried this wine 7 years ago and I loved it, thinking that 3-5 years would be a good time to come back to it. On this occasion it was just as good and possibly even a touch better. The nose is intense but at the same time it is quite pretty; there is red cherry, plum, some smoky meat and graphite. The palate has a core of bold fruit, but there is the structure and drive to keep it from ever feeling like a burden. Especially good persistence and length to it. A very different wine to the 1995 Seppelt Shiraz, but just as interesting and even has potential to improve. A friend mentioned he has had some bottle variation with this wine, this bottle was on song though. 93/100
- 1995 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Cloves and pepper, with a nice truffly earthy character – along with the cloves there is a touch of gamey animal element to it, which was possibly some low level brett – the good kind in this case! The palate is medium weighted, with soft red fruits combining with structure that is starting to fold into the wine. Good length and I’d be starting to drink these now. 91/100
- 1996 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Badly corked. NR/100
- 1995 Rockford Cabernet Sauvignon – Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
An interlude in the vertical to have with dinner. A bright high-toned nose of cherry, raspberry, licorice and plums. Palate is medium weight, showing a bit more development but still has quite pure red fruit and it is delicious. I don’t think it has the structure to age a large amount more, but it should make it to 20 years if the bottle is sound. 90/100
- 1997 Seppelt Shiraz Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Corked, a shame as I really wanted to see how this wine was travelling and also to have it next to the 97 Reserve. NR/100
- 1997 Seppelt Shiraz Reserve Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Quite a strong animale character, probably the most evident of all the Seppelt wines tried tonight for me – there is also leather, light mint and some charcoal. The palate is a good mix of forward fruit and more of that animale style meatiness. Still well structured, there are a lot of elements in play here and some additional years in bottle should have it showing very nicely. 91/100
- 1997 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Superb floral notes leap out of the glass at first, as well as leather and smoky meats – there was some funk/brett as well, at first it was just in the background but I found it start to come through more with time. The palate is pleasant but it doesn’t have the structure or driven character of some of the better wines tonight. Still very good and I’d be drinking this soon. 89/100
- 1997 M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon – France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Hermitage
Smelled amazing at first but it seemed to recede into itself quickly – stalks, cherry, game and some light capsicum aromas. The palate is more impressive, with beautiful texture and length. It doesn’t have as much complexity as I would have hoped for and while the structure was fine, it wasn’t so imposing that I thought it would develop greatly over more than the medium term. It really didn’t stand above the other wines in this flight and even though was probably just my favourite wine of the flight, if you look at the comparative costs involved it was not good value, even though I know that this is not the best vintage for Hermitage. 91/100
- 1998 Seppelt Shiraz Reserve Great Western – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Pepper and spices, black cherry, blackberry and slightly charred coffee notes, it is cleaner in style than the 1997 Reserve but still has great complexity. The fruit is ripe and persistent but well controlled by some serious structural components. The texture and depth is brilliant and this was one of my very favourite wines on the night. This was very close in both style and quality to the 1998 St Peters in the same flight, but this just held the edge for me. 93/100
- 1998 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Shows a fair bit of pepper and spices with cherry and graphite – it is quite similar to the 1998 Reserve, maybe being very slightly less intense. The structure is a bit looser on the palate in comparison, giving it a more open character and even seemed to be a bit more stylish with the fruit showing through a tad more, while still having a feeling of overall restraint. The fruit is still very deep and textured and it is probably more appealing right now while still having potential to age over the next 5+ years. It was a very close contest between this and the 1998 Reserve and the table was split equally as to their preference. 92/100
- 1998 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Sage and herbs, very earthy and some leather. It’s nicely savoury and complex on the nose, the palate isn’t as interesting unfortunately. It is fairly lightly weighted, which isn’t a problem in itself, but I felt the depth and length were not playing enough of a part to shine in this company. Drink now and in the short term. 88/100
- 1999 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Lovely five spice aromatics here, there is also red cherry, liquorice and truffle. The palate is bold and fairly forceful, the balance is fine for me but the extra fruit intensity definitely stood out at this tasting. Very good, but with a bit more restraint and complexity on the palate it would be an even better wine, I’d like to see it in a few more years to track how it is progressing. 90/100
- 2000 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
The nose was fairly odd on this wine, I wasn’t sure if I liked it but in the end it was good over the course of the glass. There is a dark chocolate, nutty and very ripe berry character while also hinting at stalky and slightly green notes – with more time in the glass the green started to show through more. The palate is much more standard, with nice mouthfeel from some restrained red fruits and good length as well, while not having the same depth as some of the other wines in the lineup. Probably one of the weaker wines on the night even though it was interesting trying to work it out. 88/100
- 1999 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Black pepper, graphite, cherry and a light touch of leather – this seems to be very much classic Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz on the nose. The pepper carries onto the palate giving the red fruits an interesting kick, there is great texture and length here as well. Very consistent with a bottle from late last year, maybe a touch better even and probably my favourite Langi wine other than the 1992 tonight. 92/100
- 2000 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
First bottle was not right, dirty and flat. NR/100
- 2000 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Considerably better bottle than the first. Chocolate and cherry on the nose with a just a hint at green character. The palate is medium bodied and quite well balanced initially, though it finishes slightly thin. Like many of the Langi wines, it does have plenty of character so it is interesting despite any downsides. 88/100
- 2001 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
The intensity and vibrancy ramps up a notch on this wine, almost as though it is considerably younger than some of the other bottles we tried from just a few vintages prior. Lots of licorice, violets, plum, blackberry and just a touch of regional spice. The oak is much better integrated since I last tried it close to release. The balance is really top shelf, the concentrated but vibrant fruit and very fine tannins work harmoniously and the length and drive is fantastic. There is a great deal of potential with this wine to develop over the next 10 years. 92/100
- 2002 Seppelt Shiraz St Peters – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Great Western
Five spice, red cherry, vanilla and violets – there isn’t as much leaping intensity compared to the 2001 but it is a little bit more deep and serious. The seriousness continue on the palate, with great purity and fruit richness that is reigned in by fine tannin structure and a framework of light oak. Still very primary in nature, but with great depth and the balance to age, I’ll leave my other bottle alone for another 7-10 years. I’ve tried this wine a number of times now – twice close to release when it was stunning and again about 4 years ago when it was awkward and relatively disappointing. I left my next bottle until now and thankfully I think it is swinging back upwards, even if it isn’t up to the same level as those early bottles just yet. 92/100
- 2002 Mitchelton Shiraz Print – Australia, Victoria, Central Victoria, Nagambie Lakes
A ring in to show a different style/region within Victoria. A nose with lots of bright fruit – cherry, blackberry and raspberry with graphite and peppery notes also. The fruit is bold but still has that bright quality to it, with good acidity playing a big part in balancing out the density. Has very good potential over the medium term as it is still very youthful now. 91/100
- 1992 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz Langi – Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Grampians
Served blind by Dave at the end of the evening. Deeply coloured, I probably wouldn’t have guessed 20+ years old. Clean and engaging nose – black cherry, five spice, blackberry and liquorice. Beautifully balanced palate, with spicy savoury elements combined with the still bright mid weight fruit. Great length and very classy, this was a fantastic way to finish looking at these wines and my equal wine of the night. 93/100
Then a cavalcade of “backups” thanks to Dave including a 1970 Mildara Shiraz Cabernet Malbec, 71 Best’s Bin 0 that was sadly past it and some stunning whisky and bourbon!