Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out.

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2017 Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Eden Valley Viognier (~$25)

Eden Valley and Viognier make an interesting combo, the former earning its chops as a cool-climate Riesling haven and the latter best known for its luxurious, silky mouthfeel and blowsy personality.  In an effort to bridge this gap, the Yalumba team picked this Viognier at understated ripeness levels (13.5% ABV) but then pressed the juice 60% into old French barriques and 40% into stainless steel tanks and allowed it to oxidize slightly prior to native yeast fermentation, attempting to achieve a leaner expression of the grape without any accompanying bitter phenolics.  Ten months of lees aging with batonnage sought to bring back in the textural elements that early picking might have forgone.

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My first ever Eden Valley Viognier was a fairly pale glimmering lemon colour with a shock of surprising spritz, beaming out delicate and careful aromas of salt and vinegar chips (credit to my 6 year-old for pointing this out with deadly accuracy), flint, matchstick, apple pear, spearmint, bath salts and watermelon rind.  Restrained and almost sharp for its varietal despite the softening efforts noted above, the texture comes across honed, crisp and precise as opposed to rich and sensuous, the flavours bordering on austere and poised over a knife’s edge of nervy acidity.  This is Australian Viognier??  Golden apple, green papaya, mandarin sorbet, steel and pistachios are intriguingly present but pulled out with strain in this lean and demanding expression, which is full of brightness and intensity but lacking the sense of brainless hedonistic enjoyment that I quietly count on from Viognier.  Even so, it is a stylistic choice executed well, and definitely makes me want to try the other Samuel’s whites.

88 points

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2018 Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Bush Vine Grenache (~$25)

If the new Samuel’s Collection had a flagship wine, it would almost have to be this, which was no stranger to critical accolades in its prior standalone form and which is everything that you would think a big-producer Australian Grenache would not be:  transparent, elegant, controlled, effortless.  Fermented using wild yeasts and partial stems, this old-vine Grenache saw extended maceration on the skins post-fermentation to boost complexity and then a measured 6 months of aging in a combination of American, French and…Hungarian (??) barrels.  A 2018 vintage wine, this is brought forward to market even before the Viognier (from the vintage prior), but it needs no further time to succeed.

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How can anything from the Barossa have this colour?  An utterly see-through demure clear ruby-purple, this shows thin as a veil and with nothing to hide.  Gorgeous red fruit aromatics immediately pour from the glass, fresh strawberry and cranberry, rhubarb and redcurrant, the notes pristine and preserved as if frozen, a constantly repeating snapshot of the essence of this red.  Then you taste.  I could sit and contemplate the physical feel of this wine endlessly, the lightness and deftness and yet the impeccable silkiness of texture, a gentle satin caress whose presence lingers.  The plum, cherry, rosewater and pomegranate flavours are pure and elegant, dusted with sage, and all elements are poised, balanced and working in harmony.  This has to be in the running for the most compelling $25 Australian wine on the market.

91 points

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Stelvin Rating:  7.5/10 (Classy.  Sometimes monochrome works.)

2016 Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Grenache Shiraz Mataro (~$25)

This was once adorned with both a cartoony name and a cartoony label, perhaps a sop to prior buyer expectations but not a look that allowed for a serious contemplation of the merits of the wine within.  Now that it is lined up side by side the Bush Vine Grenache in Samuel’s Collection and considered as a member of this group, some similarities and differences become immediately apparent.  This GSM sees native yeast fermentation in both oak barrel and stainless steel tanks and is held back longer than its Grenache-only counterpart, spending 11 months in mostly used French, Hungarian (again) and American oak barrels of various sizes and then further time in bottle before release a couple vintages behind the Bush Vine.  While it is largely Grenache (55%) and Shiraz (40%), the small dose of Mataro, a.k.a. Mourvedre (5%), plays a massive role in the finished wine’s identity.

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Here’s what’s similar to the Samuel’s Grenache:  that stubborn translucence of colour, that deft lithe texture, that innate sense of elegance that is imbued in all of these wines.  But this is deeper, darker, more purple, laced for the first time with more bitter, reticent aromas, sandpaper and salted licorice and Fisherman’s Friend and lava rock, anchored for the first time in blacker fruit and dank tar and asphalt grime.  Powdery tannin gains prominence for the first time in this set, and the added dose of structure provides a remarkable sensation of control, as if the wine is humming along as exactly the frequency that Yalumba is seeking.  I have no doubt that is the case.  I know of no other large-scale warm-climate Australian producer that tones down and focuses in their wines to this degree, and the results are highly compelling.

89+ points

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