Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series’ 2012 McLaren Vale Shiraz
Wines are the result of paths taken and decisions made at many points of their journey from the vineyard to the bottle. There is an exponentially increasing number of outcomes as one goes further from the start. The question, not only in the winemakers’ minds but also in the thoughts of the inquisitive consumer is "What would the wine taste like if the winemaker had done something differently?” There have been a number of trials and experiments conducted in New Zealand on this topic, the most well-known and repeated being the ‘Calvert Vineyard’ Pinot Noir where Craggy Range, Felton Road and Pyramid Valley made their versions of a wine from the fruit from the same vineyard. And to celebrate the first ‘Summer of Riesling’, 12 winemakers were invited by Mud House to make their own expressions of Waipara Riesling from fruit from the one vineyard for the ‘New Zealand Riesling Challenge’ (click here to see my notes). In both these cases, winemaker signature has a profound effect on the style of the finished wine.
The same exercise has been conducted by Chalk Hill in the McLaren Vale, Australia, with their super-premium ‘Alpha Crucis’ Shiraz wine under the ‘Winemakers’ Series’ release. Despite the youth of the label, the Alpha Crucis Shiraz has already been received with great acclaim by the Australian and international wine press (click here to see my review of the 2010 vintage). The ‘Winemakers’ Series’ wines come from ‘The Heritage Vineyard’ which adjoins the ‘Chalk Hill’ vineyard, and is based on yield delimiting ‘Blanche Point’ limestone. There are only 36 rows of Shiraz vines in the block totalling around 2.23 ha. The Harvey family sourced 20 different clones from special blocks in the Barossa Valley from 80+ y.o. vines for planting in 1998, and added 3 clones of their own. All the clonal material selected was based on the vines’ ability to provide deep colours, small berries and propensity for low yields. The ‘Heritage Block’ is thus appropriately named. The vines are ungrafted and single cordon VSP trellised. It is managed by viticulturist Jock Harvey.
Six Winemakers’ Expressions
Tom Harvey of Chalk Hill invited 6 high-profile winemakers, adept at small parcel winemaking with proven results at the top level, to make their version of an Alpha Crucis Shiraz from the ‘Heritage Block’ with the fruit from the outstanding 2012 vintage. The winemakers were given complete control of the crucial decisions from time of harvest through to the vinification and elevage processes. To ensure initial fruit equality, each of the winemakers received fruit from 6 of 36 rows allocated to ensure uniformity. Once each winemaker gave the instructions to pick, the fruit was harvested and subsequently delivered to the winemakers’ respective wineries. The winemakers involved, three women and three men, were: Emmanuelle Requin-Bekkers of Chalk Hill, Corrina Wright of Oliver’s Taranga, Rebecca Willson of Bremerton Wines, Mike Brown of Gemtree Wines, Steve Grimley of Loom Wine and Peter Schell of Spinifex. Each winemaker made 1,000 bottles and was asked to bottle their wine in July of 2013.
Chalk Hill call the wines made "a collection of individuals”, as with the winemakers, and prefer tasters to appreciate the different styles, rather than ranking them according to perceived quality. After all, style judgement is subjective, isn’t it? Chalk Hill also ask tasters to see if there is any perceived difference in the wines based on gender. For those who know the winemakers well, they report the wines reflect their makers’ personalities. There already have been reviews of the ‘Winemakers’ Series’ wines by highly respected critics, who have indeed scored and rated them. It’s just another way of expressing style perception and the critics’ preferences to aspects of a wine.
To complete the picture, the ‘regular’ ‘Alpha Crucis’ Shiraz 2012 came from 45 y.o. vines from the elevated section of Chalk Hill’s ‘Winery Old’ vineyard. According to Chalk Hill’s general manager Stuart Mosman, the wine is more elegant the ‘Winemakers’ Series’ wines, being lighter in colour, possessing a complex flavour range including secondary and spice characters, and has a different tannin profile. 300 dozen of this wine is usually produced. There is also an ‘Alpha Crucis’ Syrah 2012 made from Clarendon-sourced fruit, which is different again.
Stuart Mosman - GeneralManager, Chalk Hill
The Alpha Crucis 'Winemakers' Series' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012
Stuart Mosman - GeneralManager, Chalk Hill
The Alpha Crucis 'Winemakers' Series' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012
Here are some conclusions from tasting the wines. It may be best to read this section in conjunction with the reviews. As a group of wines, the 2012 Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series’ Shiraz are very high in quality, befitting the Alpha Crucis nomenclature. They all share ripeness of fruit and are wines of character on nose and palate. Although identical in appearance, the wines are very evidently different, even on bouquet alone. Their individuality is confirmed, once tasting the wines. Clearly, the winemaker inputs have resulted in stylistically very different wines.
One of the more obvious observations is the difference according to gender. The wines made by the women are more elegant, fragrant, more refreshing and poised, and with subtle but definite complexing additions. The Bekker wine with funky minerality, the Willson wine with an array of flavours along the herbal spectrum, and the Wright wine with its significant oak inputs. Do women winemakers have a lighter touch? From these wines, yes. The wine made by the men are fuller bodied, more solid and stolid, and not as aromatically fruited in expression. Generally the wines were more dense and concentrated, and more traditional and typical.
I’m not familiar with the personalities of the winemakers, but it has been suggested that the wines reflect the people making the wine. It’s a concept that I believe in too, based on the wines and characters of the winemakers I know in New Zealand. From a purely subjective angle, I feel the wines are well-represented by the portraits of the winemakers on the bottles!
Is there a vineyard character present? Is the ripeness and sweetness of black berried and dark raspberry fruit a vineyard, varietal or vintage expression? There is no lack of tannins and structure. Is that the vinification and time on skins, or the site speaking? The richness of all of the wines is a commonality, as is their potential to keep a decade plus. How much this is attributable to the vineyard can’t be answered yet…
However, stylistically, there are always winners and losers whenever subjective assessments are made. Here, I’m attracted to elegance and detail, the Bekker wine showing these traits most attractively and with complex interest. I also enjoy the exotic oaking of the Wright wine. However, traditionalism has its place, and here, the Grimsley wine has it all in classical spades, this wine equally appealing as the Willson wine, which has herbal and mineral complexities with both positive and less desirable nuances. The more straightforward and typical Shiraz style of the Brown wine has some reduction notes on nose for me, and the Schell wine just somewhat restrained and dulled overall, but relatively so.
The exercise of investigating the concept of winemaker input this way is to be applauded. On this first release of wines aimed to allow winemaker style show, one can see the varied hands at work in the wines. The Harvey family and team have invested plenty of thought, time and no doubt money into the project, and to do it well. They have succeeded, and in doing so started a most fascinating project. I can’t wait to see future releases, where maybe I will be able to detect some consistency in the winemakers’ hand. Equally interesting will be if the terroir of the vineyard exerts itself as the vines age, or as the wines develop in the bottle.
FEATURED WINES IN THIS REVIEW
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Peter Schell’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Full, saturated black-red colour with purple hues. The nose is full and seamless with restrained aromas of ripe black berry fruits with a firm core, revealing subtle layers of sweet oak, savoury black ink, liquorice and tar, all integrated and harmonious melded. Full-bodied and densely concentrated, the flavours of black fruits are ripe, fresh and bright, but tempered with a restraint. Oaking is sensitive and unobtrusive. The tannins are fine and balanced with the fruitiness, with lively acidity a feature. As the palate flows, nuances of plums, boysenberries and liquorice unfold, with growing tannin textures and extract becoming apparent, leading to a dry textured finish with underlying racy acidity. This is a fulsome and harmoniously balanced Shiraz with reserved fruit expression and distinct underlying acidity. Serve with roast lamb and beef, and with Mediterranean fare over the next 10-12+ years. Fruit from rows: 3, 9, 15, 21, 27 and 33, harvested 24 February, picked with 30% whole bunches, the remainder destemmed. Fermented to 14.5% alc., temperature peaking 28°C, the wine on skins 15 days and aged in one-third new French oak barriques. Bottled in July 2013. 18.0+/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Emmanuelle Bekkers’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Full, saturated, black-red colour with purple hues. This has a voluminous, aromatic, fragrant nose of bright, ripe, dark plum and berry fruit lifted with ethereal, funky herbal, mineral and reductive detail adding real interest and complexity. Oak and spice elements emerge with aeration. Full-bodied, the palate has strong underlying alcoholic power and drive, carrying concentrated and densely packed fruit flavours of succulent and lusciously ripe black and fresh blue berry fruits. Subtle nuance of funky herbs and minerals merge with oak and spices. The palate has a creaminess to the mouthfeel and follows a very fine-grained, firm and serious tannin line, driven by the alcohol to a very long and sustained, lingering finish with acid poise and lift. This is a powerful and driven Shiraz with subtle, funky detail and a fine structure. Serve with duck and pork dishes, and Asian cuisine over the next 10-15 years. Fruit from rows: 1, 7, 13, 19, 25 and 31, harvested on 29 February, destemmed and cold soaked for 3 days, the wine fermented to 15.5% alc., the wine spending 12 days on skins and aged in new French oak hogsheads and puncheons. Bottled in July 2013. 19.5-/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Rebecca Willson’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Very full, saturated black-red with purple hues. The nose is tightly packed with concentrated aromas, with a seamless integration of black berry fruits with black pepper, herbs and tar. The expression is stylishly restrained, unfolding subtle hints of dark raspberry fruit interwoven with brackish undergrowth and reductive notes. Full-bodied, the palate is open and accessible with an array of vibrant fruit flavours of dark raspberries, herbs, black pepper and tar. There is excellent depth and density, and balanced oaking, which allows the fruit to feature. The fruit is supported by grainy tannin extract and fresh, lively acidity which enhances the fruit sweetness, carrying the flavours to a lively, textured and long finish with positive complex reduction elements. This is a vibrant, lively and balanced Shiraz with a complex array of fruit, herb and minerally flavours. Serve with barbecued and grilled, herb-marinated red meats over the next 10-15 years. Fruit from rows 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36, harvested on 1 March, given a cold soak, inoculated and fermented with temperatures oscillating between 22-17°C, for 14 days, to15.5% alc. The wine was aged in 70% French and 30% American oak, of which 60% were puncheons, and 15% of the barrels new. Bottled July 2013. 19.0-/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Mike Brown’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Full, even, saturated black-red colour with purple hues. This has a full, bold and solid nose with densely packed aromas of very ripe black fruits entwined with funky sulphide reduction and black mineral and earth notes. The fruit expression is a little masked, but nuances of game and meat emerge, along with ripe raspberry notes that blossom. Full-bodied in presence and weight, the fruit is presented with a sense of elegant proportion, showing up-front, lively, and juicy sweetness, along with robust, grainy, tannin grip and fresh acidity. The fruit is textbook blackberry and raspberry with plum, black pepper and liquorice, with subtle reduction and spices providing detail. The palate line leads to a nuance and fine-textured finish with sweet oak notes. This is a classical McLaren Vale Shiraz with succulent fruit and good textures and structure. Some initial reduction fades. Match with slow-cooked game meat dishes over the next 10-12+ years. Fruit from rows: 2, 8, 14, 20, 26 and 32, harvested on 1 March, destemmed, inoculated and fermented to 14.5% alc., the wine pumped over and plunged daily. MLF in barrels, French oak barriques, one-third new. Bottled July 2013. 18.5/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Corrina Wright’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Very full, saturated black-red colour with purple hues. The nose is very refined, elegant and intense with penetrating aromas of fragrant and lifted black fruits entwined with oak vanillins and spices, all beautifully detailed and seamlessly interwoven. Exotic bacon-like and toasty oak elements grow in depth, adding layers of interest. Medium-full bodied and very finely proportioned, penetrating and deep fruit flavours of ripe black fruits, chocolate, liquorice, spices and oak vanilla form a smooth, silky-flowing core. The tannin extraction is fine-grained and the textures velvety, and the palate has wonderful linearity and discreet acidity that carries the flavours to a seamless, lingering, sweet-oaked finish. This is a beautifully refined, fragrant and oak-spiced Shiraz with silky flow. Serve with Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine over the next 10-12+ years. Fruit from rows: 5, 11, 17, 23, 29 and 35, harvested on 2 March, sorted and given a cold soak for 3 days, and indigenous yeast fermented initially in small open fermenter then in barrel to 14.5% alc. The wine was aged in 25% new French oak hogsheads and bottled in July 2013. 19.0/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95
Alpha Crucis ‘Winemakers’ Series – Steve Grimley’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012Syrah from Australia - South AustraliaReview Date : 26-May-2014Very full, saturated black-red with purple hues, This has an elegantly presented, firmly-concentrated and packed, taut nose of ripe dark raspberry and black plum fruit aromas, enhanced by aromatic and sweet oak, liquorice, mineral and tar notes. This is classical and archetypical, ripe McLaren Vale Shiraz in a traditional sense. Full-bodied and with plenty of mouthfeel and presence, the flavours of ripe black plums and dark raspberries are restrained in expression, but exude richness, juiciness and succulence. The oaking is strong and positive, but balanced and well-integrated with the fruit, and the palate is framed by serious tannin structure which carries the flavours to a sweet-fruited, textural and very long finish. This is a fulsome, up-front, dark plum and raspberry-fruited, traditional Shiraz with plenty of structure and length. Match with roasted red meats and hard cheeses over the next 10-15 years. Fruit from rows: 4, 10, 16, 22, 28 and 34, harvested on 7 March, destemmed but not crushed and fermented over 9 days to 15.0% alc., with plunging 3 times daily and pumped over every second day, the wine on skins a further 7 days. Aged in 20% new French oak barriques and bottled July 2013. 19.0-/20 May 2014 RRP $72.95