Australia has traditionally had a dearth of premium and super-premium wines, Penfolds Grange being the exception to the rule. Now a whole clutch of estates are releasing top dollar cuvees destined for the luxury end of the market. Clare Valley winery Taylors – known as Wakefield in the UK – was always inspired by the 1966 vintage of Mouton-Rothschild when it established 50 years ago. Now, to celebrate that landmark anniversary the winery is launching Wakefield The Legacy, a $1000 wine, launched in London last night by Wakefield’s Neil Hadley MW. Peter Dean got a ringside seat.
Wakefield The Legacy is a Bordeaux blend that displays a bewildering range of innovation – from the vinification process through to the original over-cap that includes a tamper-evident Near-Field Communication device.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The day that Bill and John Taylor first set foot on the land in Clare Valley that they had persuaded their father Bill Senior to buy, after selling their chain of pubs and bottle shops in Sydney, was the self-same day that Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.
Fifty years on Taylors, or Wakefield as they are known in the UK, are celebrating their 50thanniversary with the release of their Bordeaux blend Wakefield The Legacy that retails for an eye-watering $1000 a pop and comes in a presentation box that ‘boldly goes where no wine has gone before.’
It’s one small step for wine… one giant leap for Aussie ultra-premium.
“We like to think that we did more with our land than Neil Armstrong did with his,” quipped Neil Hadley MW, during a London-based masterclass to showcase The Legacy alongside some of the other jewels in the Wakefield crown.
The Taylors were always inspired by Mouton-Rothschild 1966 when they defied perceived logic at the time and started planting Cabernet Sauvignon in Syrah and Grenache-dominated Clare Valley. So it was natural that they should turn to the Left Bank when sowing the seeds for The Legacy – a wine that would justly celebrate 50 years of their winemaking, and sit above their premium Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary.
“What do you do when you have created the Visionary?” Hadley continued, “Mitchell Taylor said that the 50thanniversary is coming and what are we going to do to celebrate? When this vineyard was established it was the Medocs that was the inspiration so it was a case of why not do a Medoc blend and show how it expresses in Clare Valley and then why not turn that into the crown at the top of the portfolio? We tried in 2012 and that failed, we let it go, but then with the 2014 vintage we had another go.”
The Legacy is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc, the majority of the first two grapes coming from the best parcels of land on the Taylors estate with a little of both and all of the Cabernet Franc coming from “grower partners” in Coonawarra – the region from which it sources roughly 50% of the fruit for the Wakefield Jaraman wines.
The Cabernet Sauvignon fruit is destemmed, cold soaked for five days and then fermented in French oak pear-shaped Pearle fermenters with the must stirred by the company’s gas-mixing system it borrowed from chocolate manufacturing – enabling stirring without heavy pumping and over-extraction. The Merlot is fermented in steel. The wine has had 36 months maturation in oak, two months of which was on the skins, with Jean Vicard being the French cooperage that has supplied the fine-grained, lightly toasted barrels. The wine was bottled in May 2018 and released a year later.
“The process of extended skin contact in barrel gently softens the tannin profile and creates a sublime texture to the wine,” says head winemaker Adam Eggins, who will celebrate 20 years with the company next year.
The packaging, remarkable even by today’s standards, has been four years in the making and includes an original over-cap which incorporates a tamper-evident NFC (Near-Field Communication) device to reassure collectors of authenticity as well as record each bottle’s cellaring history, the cap being released by a pin. The bottle is then enclosed in a bespoke sculpture of three slightly twisting polished pillars – each one representing a generation of the family and is engraved with a signature from each.
The company’s seahorses logo has been fashioned by a jeweller out of polished rhodium, a rare metal that is considered to be the most precious metal in the world.
The wine’s AUS $1,000 price tag makes it more expensive than Grange and is one of a number of new wines from Australia, such as Yalumba’s The Caley which is starting to fill the premium wine gap that has always existed in the country.
Hadley agrees that Wakefield is making a statement with The Legacy “It’s like The Visionary when we launched it at $200 – it’s a start. The market has responded remarkably well to the price but it’s a luxury game, it wouldn’t actually matter if it was $2,000 a bottle. If it doesn’t sell then maybe we have over-stated our ambition.”
The wine’s 1080 allocation has already been placed with over half the wine travelling to China. Denmark has bought three cases with the UK having just nine bottles.
“I completely think it’s a part of the regeneration that’s happening in Australia,” says Hadley, “ The Global Financial Crisis caused a lot of rethinking and resetting and we came out of that door – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“ And it’s not just Penfolds who created Grange, that’s not enough – there has got to be more – the reset went across the industry and in our case it was to do with a particular anniversary. And the other wines like The Legacy – it is not completely coincidental given what was happening in the industry in the 1960s and 1970s it is probably a lot of people’s 50thanniversary across the industry.”
So what does Wakefield The Legacy taste like?
The Legacy 2014 is clearly a young wine and, although it is in line with the philosophy of Wakefield’s winemaker Adam Eggins – to release wines when they are ready to drink – it will clearly benefit from some cellaring. The wine is deep ruby with a slightly shy nose (bramble fruit, violet, a hint of cheesecloth), the palate is surprisingly light on its feet, elegant, restrained with well integrated fine-grained tannins and a texture like the finest grade of sandpaper; raspberry and cassis flavours. It is seriously good, with an enormous length that continues for almost a minute.
“The Legacy is showing a more complex, bramble dimension,” said Hadley, “like the Visionary, it displays the cool heart of Clare Valley focussed fruit. The different elements stand out across the palate which is remarkable given how little is not Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Although The Legacy was produced to mark Wakefield’s 50th anniversary, there are successive vintages in the pipeline.
Wakefield’s wines are distributed in the UK by Louis Latour Agencies. You can read more about the agency by clicking here.