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Australia ♯6 The Barossa Valley

Jacobs Creek Steingarten Vineyard Jacobs Creek Steingarten Vineyard
Incredibly dry no rain since August Incredibly dry no rain since August
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Amazing evening light Amazing evening light
Bernard Higgin chief winemaker for Jacobs Creek Bernard Higgin chief winemaker for Jacobs Creek
The Creek of Jacobs Creek no water today The Creek of Jacobs Creek no water today
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Bernard Higgin chief winemaker for Jacobs Creek Bernard Higgin chief winemaker for Jacobs Creek
What a change. A couple of hour flight took us from a cool wet Sydney to a warm dry Adelaide and then on to The Barossa Valley and hour and half North by comfy Mercedes minibus. The Barossa is a legendary name in Australian wine. It is probably the central hub for the industry and most big producers have base here. It’s also an incredibly historic area with vines being planted by German settlers speaking way back 1842. It feels very different to the Hunter and certainly to Orange, a bigger wider landscape and right now dry, parched and brown. It’s been a long, hot, dry summer here, there’s been no rain since September and it shows in the landscape. Of course, for winemaking that’s potentially good news. Everything is irrigated anyway so the dry conditions mean ripe grapes and no fungal disease. The vine growing challenge here is managing ripeness to avoid over high sugar levels and to keep acidity. There is a reliable, cooling, afternoon breeze that helps. Elevation also matters, particularly in the Eden Valley section, this is the hilly end of Barossa going up to 600m and here the evenings are certainly cooler giving the all important change from day to night. We spent our first evening here with Jacobs Creek. And there really is a Creek, there was no water night, nor is there for 10 ½ months of the year, but there is a creek. It was fascinating to share a table with Bernard Higgin, chief winemaker for Jacobs Creek. He will make this year around 7m cases of wine for the Jacobs Creek brand alone, that’s a lot of wine. The following day we spent time at Yalumba and it was fascinating to see their cooperage and the most incredible cellar of old wines, both their own and a huge array of top Australian and European classics. Like a museum of everything you would love to taste. It must be worth millions. Here we tasted wines from Charles Melton, Thorne Clarke, Turkey Flat and Yalumba. The key styles are: Riesling here is always bone dry, usually from the higher, cooler Eden section, they are not quite as lean and austere as those from Orange or Clare Valley but they show great acidity and lime flavours when young. We tasted a couple of older vintages too and with time the round out to more of a lime marmalade style with some spice, smoke and a rounder broader mouthfeel. Grenache and Grenache blended with Shiraz and Mataro. This is probably lesser known but was my personal favourite. Grenache loves the heat and it needs to give a really low yield if it is to make good wine. There are some incredible old vines here that prove just how good it can be. These wines had powerful spicy fruit but with a lovely soft sweetness and with age brilliant meaty, leather and savoury complexity. A lot of Grenache is being planted and it is easy to see why. Shiraz. Barossa Shiraz is a brand in itself and the producers pull together to keep it that way. All talked about the elegance rather than the pure grunt of the wines but make no mistake these are big dense powerful wines with plenty of tannin and extract. The best do keep a lovely freshness of acidity that balances out the fruit. Chocolate and black fruits are common adding fruitcake fig with age. There was some really well handled oak here with great smoke, clove and five spice flavours that melded perfectly with the wines. So, the Barossa, a lot of expectation for such a famous place but it really did deliver.

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