What’s a “Silent Tasting”? you may ask…one where talking isn’t allowed? But hand gestures encouraged? The mind may indeed boggle.
But no, a Silent Tasting is one where the tasters pour for themselves without the producer or importer giving them the background behind the wine. The upside is that the taster can consider the wine purely on its merits, according to his/her palate, without any distractions. The downside is that there’s no one to tell the story behind the wine, if it’s interesting, so it’s always good to have comprehensive notes provided in advance, as was the case here.
Taste In Music, Taste In Wine
Now I’m striking out on an apparent detour here when I mention some similarities between taste in music and taste in wine. I’m not talking about music affecting how wine tastes (see this Wired article, for example). Instead, I’m talking about the fact that, over the years, our taste in music changes and evolves, particularly as new sounds, movements and fashions come along.
The exact same could be said of the wine world – Chardonnay was the “in-thing” in mid 90s, only to usurped by Marlborough Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio. In the 70s there was Blue Nun, Liebfraumilch, Black Tower and Mateus Rosé Now it’s all about Picpoul, Albariño and Sherry.
Some people like being at the leading edge of fandom, and quickly disown anything which has fallen out of fashion.
I’m not one of them.
I still like Queen, Dire Straits and the Pet Shop Boys that I started liking in the 80s, though I love discovering new music. I still like Aussie Chardonnay and Shiraz (as long as they are good examples), though I love Godello and Furmint (and yes, they have to be good examples too).
So what is the relevance of this detour? The wines tasted from the Coman’s portfolio are fairly familiar – in fact many are personal old favourites of mine. Of course, the wines will have evolved a little over the years, but they remain fairly modern classics in my eyes. They aren’t all at the cutting edge of wine fashion, but they taste good and people still want to drink them.
Back when I started exploring Australian wine in the early to mid 90s, the big sellers on the supermarket shelves were Jacob’s Creek and Hardy’s Nottage Hill & Stamp Series. A step above that was Rosemount Estate (especially the purple diamond label Shiraz-Cabernet and black label straight Shiraz). A step still higher was Peter Lehmann’s Barossa series – the Shiraz was great, but I actually preferred the Cabernet Sauvignon.
That preference still remains when tasting the 2011s, but it’s a very close call.
Like many in the Barossa, Peter Lehmann was of German ancestry. In 1977, while working for Saltram, he was told to buy less grapes in from Barossa growers, but refused as he had given his word to them. As a compromise he was allowed to start up his own company to buy and process the additional grapes. When Saltram was sold to Seagram two years later he was forbidden from having a foot in both camps so he left and went full time on his own. His loyalty to local growers and innovative methods gave rise to his sobriquet “The Baron of the Barossa”. Although ownership of the company left family hands in 2003 (shortly after my visit!), the standard of the wines remained high. Peter sadly passed away on 28 June 2013.
As well as the standard Barossa range above (too good to be called “entry level”!), there are other – increasingly serious – Shirazes. The first is the Futures Shiraz 2009, named after the first wine Peter Lehmann sold under a “pay now, pick up in 2 years” future contract arrangement which helped generate cashflow for the fledgling business. This particular example is co-fermented with a small portion of Muscadelle, Bordeaux’s third white grape and previously known as Tokay in Australia. This serves to balance the powerful Shiraz, just as Viognier is used by some producers in Côte Rôtie, Mclaren Vale and Stellenbosch. Furthermore, it adds complexity to the wine’s aromas… Next up is the Eight Songs Shiraz 2008 which takes a different approach from the norm for the Barossa. The fruit is from vineyards over a century old, meaning fantastic intensity of flavour from low-yielding vines. The wine is matured in 100% new 300 litre French oak barrels, so it’s a wine for the long haul – though being Australian, it’s approachable in its youth. As any serious Aussie wine fan knows, 2008 was an amazing year down under – see how much of a premium the 2008 vintage of Penfold’s Grange trades as compared to other years – so this is definitely a wine to stock up on and drink over the next couple of decades.
And so to the flagship, Stonewell Shiraz, named after one of the oldest areas of the Barossa. When tasting this 2009 I was reminded that I bought my cousin Stuart a case of the 1995 vintage as a wedding present back in 2001. I wonder how long they lasted?..I thought to myself. The answer came out of the blue the next day in the form of a photo of some wine that my Aunt was clearing out from her late husband (RIP) Tony’s cellar. Lo and behold some very nice Stonewell 1995! This 2009 is still a baby and needs lots of time to develop and open up, but my bet is that it will be spectacular . The final Lehmann delight was the 2011 Botrytis Semillon. As the name suggests this is a noble rot-affected dessert wine, with luscious sweetness and huge depth of flavour – and more to come as this will continue to improve with age.