Wine Reviews: Red ShowDownUnder

13 06 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

FullSizeRender-646I first got seriously into wine about 10 years ago, when the Australia Phenomenon was in its heyday and Argentinian Malbec was just a glint in some clever investor’s eye in Mendoza.  Yellow Tail Shiraz was my gateway drug, a fact that is assuredly true of more than one of you currently reading this as well.  Looking back now on the Australian wine scene then, there are still tons of similarities.  Critter wines, like it or not, are still a thing. On the quality pinnacle, the high-end wines from Down Under rocking people’s worlds in 2017 aren’t that different from those doing so in 2007.  But I’ve noticed a couple clear differences in the imports from Australia that have evolved over the last decade:  first, a welcome explosion of site-driven elegance from the cooler areas of the country, be it Pinot from Yarra or Mornington or bubbles from Tasmania or the laser purity of some of the post-modern wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills.  Second, a new focus on bottles like the ones below, step-up bottlings, a shade above entry-level in price and a world above the critters in authenticity and quality.  The $20-$30 tier of wines has never had stronger representation on our shelves from Australia than it does currently, as more and more producers zone in on these bottles as the best way to build a lasting relationship of trust with consumers as opposed to an $11 fling.

So what better way to celebrate how far Australia has come as a mature wine producer, and how far I’ve come in my 10 years of Yellow Tail-catalyzed oenophilia, than by lining up two step-up bottles, each from highly respected multi-generational family wineries and legendary regions, and tasting them side-by-side?  It’s not about picking a winner — the mere fact that the exercise is possible is a win in and of itself — but I’m sure that won’t stop Jim Barry and Yalumba from exerting full effort in this battle of reds under screwcap.  Let the showdown from Down Under begin.

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Wine #1:  2015 Jim Barry “The Barry Bros.”

Jim Barry was the first certified oenologist in Australia’s Clare Valley, located just northwest and up from the Shiraz-famed Barossa Valley.  He worked for over two decades in the area before starting his own eponymous winery geared towards marrying the Clare’s elevation and cooler climate with the openness and richness for which Australian wine is known.  Jim (who died in 2004) would surely have been proud that the third generation of Barry family members now carry on his legacy, and he may have been prouder that his two grandsons, current winemaker Tom and commercial manager Sam, have managed to emulate his successful family pattern of three-letter first names ending in M.  Together with Jim’s granddaughter Olivia (winery brand ambassador), the Barry Bros. Tom and Sam are now putting the winery on their shoulders and marching into the future.

FullSizeRender-644Perhaps as a monument to this familial succession plan, Tom and Sam Barry have crafted The Barry Bros. bottling as a way to put their own stamp on the winery.  A blend of 65% Shiraz and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Clare Valley, they call it a modern take on traditional Clare style, and it’s not hard to see why.  The wine’s bright but borderline opaque ruby-purple colour coats the glass, and its cheerful, almost bouncy fruit-laden aromas of blueberry, huckleberry, blackberry and grape Jolly Ranchers coat the nostrils, adding trailing elements of mocha and black jellybean in an utterly joyful aromatic package.  Clare Valley’s cool climate control clamps down a bit on the palate, lending a juicy bite of acid and a feisty scrub of tannin to the otherwise playful mix, making the fruit a touch sharper and crisper, the black cherry and currant flavours more honed.  This has the expected exuberance of Australia with impressive balancing structure, the latter of which is emphasized in a dusty hot-rocks finish.  Long live the Barry Bros.

89+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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Stelvin Ratings:  7.5/10 vs. 6.5/10 (Both impressive, but the JB’s avoidance of black and barbershop striping that extends down the neck are the difference-makers.)

Wine #2:  2016 Yalumba Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

Yalumba sees Jim Barry’s three generations of family proprietorship and raises it two more:  first established before Canada was, back in 1849, the landmark producer is now led by the fifth generation of family owners.  Yalumba’s relationship with Cabernet haven Coonawarra does not go back nearly that far, but they have had an estate vineyard in the area for 30 years, the Menzies Vineyard, named after a former Australian prime minister who was a strong proponent of Yalumba’s wines during his governance.  Coonawarra, located close to the ocean far south and a touch east of Barossa, is globally known for its eye-catchingly red terra rossa soils, rust-coloured dust laid over limestone in a tiny geological rectangle ideally suited to grow Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yalumba already makes two higher-end bottles from the rust in the Menzies Vineyard, The Cigar and The Menzies Cabernets; this is now their third Cab expression from Coonawarra, geared towards the entry-level market.  Yalumba’s difference is that even this third-tier Cab is made from 100% estate fruit.

FullSizeRender-643The base Coonawarra Cabernet only sees 4 months in oak, but the soils of the region add in the complexity that additional time in wood otherwise would.  The wine is an eerily similar colour to the Barry above, perhaps a shade more purely purple as a nod to its 100% Cab heritage.  It is more layered on the nose, nutmeg and eucalyptus and earth framing a more restrained core of currant and plum fruit.  The mouthfeel is also silkier and smoother, reflective of the warmer growing area, with the wine’s acid not kicking in until the back end.  Redder cherry and raspberry fruit swirl with black licorice, violets and grip tape, picking up a touch of Cabernet’s menthol herbaceousness on the finish, but the various elements are not quite as anchored or connected as they are in The Barry Bros. above, perhaps reflective of the $9-10 gap in their prices.  This starts out very strongly and is eminently drinkable (and $22ish Coonawarra Cab is an increasingly rare presence on the market), but its ShowDownUnder competition ekes it out at the end.

87+ points

$20 to $25 CDN

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