Friday, 31 October 2014

Tahbilk: Something out of the ordinary


Not too many wine lovers are overly excited about tasting Australian wine (including myself), but how wrong this attitude can be! I had the opportunity to taste some very fine wine from Tahbilk, one of the members of Australia’s First Families of Wine, and it was just mind-blowing.

Alister Purbrick, the fourth generation and chief winemaker of Tahbilk was in town and shared some of these very rare wines with members of the Hong Kong Wine Society. They were:

Tahbilk Marsanne: 2013, 2011, 2007, 2002, and 1999
Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne: 2005, 2003 and 2000
Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz: 2008, 2003 and 1999

Most people regard Marsanne as the lesser partner of Roussane. I had tried a few 100% Marsannes before and didn’t really think much of them. I had heard of Tahbilk, and that it has the largest planting of Marsanne in the world, but had never tried the wine, so I was really looking forward to the tasting.

By the way, Tahbilk also has some of the oldest vines in the world. The 1927 in Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne is the year when the vines were planted (87 years ago). The vines for the Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz are 154 years old.

As usual with Hong Kong Wine Society tastings we didn’t know the order of the wines, and Alister wanted us not only to identify which three Marsannes were made from the older vines, but also the vintage of all of them. His hint to us: the entry level one was made at low temperature in stainless steel tanks to retain the flavour, while the 1927 Vines was picked early to retain the acidity, fermented with no temperature control and relied on bottle age to develop into a complex, textural and mineral-rich wine somewhat similar to a Hunter Valley semillon.

Both Tahbilk’s Marsannes were indeed full of surprises. Instead of being alcoholic, fat and bland, they were light, refreshing and delicious. The younger ones were more on the floral and citrus part of the spectrum, gradually evolving into a spices, honeysuckle and dried fruits bouquet as the wine aged. The 1927 Vines Marsannes were crisp, mineral and delicate. If I have to use one word to describe them, it would be 'elegant'.

The 1860 Vines Shiraz is even rarer. Tahbilk used to produce about 200 dozen back in 2007 but the vines never really recovered from a frost attack and now the production is only about 100 dozen. After maturing in oak for 18 months, the wine is further aged for four yeas in bottle before release. Again, it is elegant and complex. The 2008 is too young to drink and the 2003 still has a long life ahead.

Apart from the wine, Alister is equally proud of his conservation efforts. Through re-vegetation and investing in carbon reduction schemes, Tahbilk first achieved carbon neutral status in 2012. Alister’s aim is for the operation to be naturally carbon neutral (ie, no offsetting of carbon emissions) by 2020.

Tahbilk is located in the Nagambike Lakes wine region about 90 minutes drive from Melbourne. It is the only wine region in Australia (and one of only six in the world) where the meso-climate is influenced by an inland water mass. The soil is also unique because of its high iron oxide content. Wine is an expression of place, and Tahbilk wine certainly reflects its terroir—an interaction between climate, soil, vines and the dedication of the people.

Tahbilk is available from Armit Wines, limited stock only.

Thanks to Chris Robinson for introducing Tahbilk.

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