Armed with the new 2013 vintages of The Pioneer Shiraz and The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon, plus the latest releases of its St Andrews range, Mitchell Taylor was in London to prove a few points about the world-class standard of his wines – released as Wakefield Wines in the UK. Peter Dean attended the tasting at London’s South American Temper restaurant and put the company philosophy to the test – that these are wines that are intended to really sing when drunk with food.
The Wakefield Wines portfolio is proof that you can have exceptional quality and scale with a range that includes St Andrews Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon plus an awesome vertical of the The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon and The Pioneer Shiraz.
I’ve met Mitchell Taylor on two occasions. The first was when he took me to see Australia play England at rugby, a game we of course invented and which our Antipodean cousins play with a somewhat lacklustre style these days (we won, ahem). The second time was for dinner at Temper in London, for a close look at his range of wines.
On both occasions, the second one perhaps a little inappropriately, Mitchell wore a garish yellow Wallabies rugby scarf bearing the date 2012. Why this date is significant (as an English fan) I conveniently forget.
He’s one of those Australians that sees the world through the lens of a sportsman.
When talking about screwcap closures which he claims Wakefield Wines was the world’s first winery to adopt 100%, he has a dig at New Zealand who championed screwcap in a concerted fashion, of course.
“Frankly they need something to talk about, our little cousins, what else can you talk about with Sauvignon Blanc… cat’s pee? We’re very fond of them though, really we are.”
When explaining why the company trades under the name Wakefield Wines rather than Taylors, which is the name of the winery and the brand name for the rest of the world, he says it’s because of the port house which he refers to as a ‘little English startup’.
Temper is a Latin American restaurant in London’s Soho and the wines we are going to look at are the new 2014-16 vintages of the four-strong St Andrews varietals range and the 2013 vintages of Wakefield Wines’ two flagship wines The Pioneer, a top end Shiraz named after family patriarch Bill Taylor, and The Visionary, a top end Cabernet Sauvignon named in honour of Bill Taylor Snr who, in 1969 planted 209 hectares of largely Cabernet Sauvignon vines in a bid to change the way Australian wine was regarded.
At the time it was Australia’s largest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.
One of the reasons the tasting is over dinner is that the company’s philosophy has always been to make wines that work with food “wines that are approachable, elegant and complement the food and adds characteristics of its own,” Taylor says.
Let battle commence: St Andrews takes on the tacos
The St Andrews range is from the historic winery and vineyards purchased by the Taylor family in 1995.
We start with St Andrews Riesling 2016, which has bright aromatics and zippy natural acidity which has benefitted from night picking, whole berry pressing and chief winemaker Adam Eggins only using the free run juice.
It is textbook Clare Valley Riesling that has linear acidity, plenty of lemon and lime and a refreshing mineral finish that begs a second glass.
“Riesling really is the unsung hero… unlike Sauvignon Blanc which is just so one dimensional,” Taylor joshes, starting to repeat himself a little.
The starters of tacos with three different fillings threaten to swamp the wines with their profound heat, but the St Andrews Chardonnay 2015, copes bravely. Taylor says that Australian Chardonnay used to be a bit too forward in the past “Like Dolly Parton, but we like to think that the St Andrews Chardonnay is a bit more like Elle MacPherson.”
The oak regime of the wine is evident (80% new and 20% one year old French barrels) more so without the food. The barrels incidentally come from Louis Latour, Wakefield’s UK importer.
The Chardonnay is a medium-bodied wine with a nutty richness but pleasing acidity and citrus zest on the finish. It would be good to try this again in a year or two.
When tasting the St Andrews Shiraz 2014, Taylor explains that the estate’s aim is to make oak a part of the wine which is why they opt for 100% American oak headless barrels with this wine. It is deep ruby red, blackberries and fresh, wet stone on the nose, with a lot of juicy fruit, spice and texture on the palate finished by a good blast of mocha.
2014 is a vintage Taylor describes as “a vintage from Heaven… the most important decision was really just when to pick the fruit.”
Taylor credits the altitude of 350 metres and the topography for allowing his wines to have such a high fruit profile. “Warm days and cold nights…when the vines cool down at night it gives the ability to accumulate sugars much more slowly.”
The St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 completes the range. It is steel-fermented and then spends its malolactic fermentation in French oak, pressed, then aged for 18 months in French oak (40% new, 60% 2-3 year old barrels).
The St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is no shrinking violet at 14.98% alcohol but there is enough freshness and acidity to carry the fruit which is rich cassis, with a considerable cedar-textured length. This has the capacity to age long and well, for at least another decade.
The Visionary and The Pioneer take on the barbie
If the last two reds were screaming out for an Aussie barbie, that duly came with the arrival of an enormous plate of goat leg, shoulder of lamb, pork belly ribs and beef feather blade and shin – all smoked and slow-cooked to perfection South American style. It’s pretty much carnivore heaven.
With this meat-fest we drink a spectacular vertical of The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 and 2013 vintages of The Pioneer Shiraz – wines that collectively form Wakefield’s ‘Exceptional Parcel Releases’ and are described by them as luxury wines.
We kick off with The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 2010, 2012 and the new vintage 2013. All four very different wines with everyone around the table having their own particular favourites.
The wines range from black (09) to deep ruby, the nose on all having cassis, oak, tobacco, mint components turned up or down according to the vintage. The palate is full-on rich blackcurrant, cherry, red apple with fine-grained tannins but with a refreshing elegance at its core.
The 2009, the wine’s first vintage, which was released in 2013 was a bit too big and rich for me, even though there is acidity and freshness on the finish, the 2010, however, was sublime, much more Bordeaux-like on the nose with mint and gum-tree to the fore and drying, but refined tannins which are the result of the intensity of the vintage. The 2012 and 2013 are mere pups of course and display immaturity that will develop nicely in time.
The Visionary is an impressive wine. Interestingly Wakefield hold back vintages and release them for the on-trade, the 2009 and 2010 being available now in the UK.
How The Pioneer Shiraz 2012 was my wine of the evening
The evening concludes with The Pioneer Shiraz 2012 and 2013, both 100% Shiraz or, as Taylor says in a delightful Aussie drawl, “Sheer…arrrz.”
The wine was first made in the 2011 vintage which unfortunately was a bad year with a lot of botrytis. Clearly they haven’t look back since.
The new vintage The Pioneer Shiraz 2013 is a tad dumb on the nose at first and has faint purple edges on its cherry skin colour, I picked up more soy, balsamic, olive and pepper than on the 2012, with lots of tannin on the side palate. A classy wine, though, especially as it’s just out of the blocks.
The Pioneer Shiraz 2012, however, is my wine of the evening, (closely followed by The Visionary 2010). This, the inaugural vintage, displays all the characters that epitomise a classic Aussie Shiraz, as oppose say to a Northern Rhône Syrah – juicy, deep, rich compote flavours with complex layers of dark fruit, licourice, pepper, coconut, chocolate all wound round a tight frame of fine tannins. The acidity again keeps the wines fresh and lingering.
This is a hugely memorable wine that’s in it for the long haul and will last 20 years at least.
You have to hand it to the Taylors, they are making wines with an Old World estate philosophy of creating great wines in the vineyard with New World innovation and schutzpah. Mitchell Taylor oozes pride in what he and his team at the estate have achieved both with the wines themselves and the recognition they have received, almost as much as the pride he has in his national teams.
But next time Mitchell I promise to wear my scarf.
All of the Wakefield Wines are available through Louis Latour Agency in the UK.