The Buyer
Ian Hongell on Torbreck's future and tasting through 20 of his wines

Ian Hongell on Torbreck's future and tasting through 20 of his wines

Ian Hongell had big shoes to fill when he took over as chief winemaker at Barossa-based Torbreck Vintners, following the controversial departure of Dave Powell. In the seven years he’s been there he has consolidated the estate’s success – reining in the oak, overseeing improvements in both the vineyard and winery and trying to be fair with global allocations. Over lunch, ex-Michelin star chef Roger Jones certainly got his fair allocation and reports back on what can only be described in the trade as ‘a long Friday lunch’. Jones gives detailed notes on 20 Torbreck wines including all the new releases.

Roger Jones
18th April 2024by Roger Jones
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

The tasting was hosted in the downstairs bar of Noize Restaurant set up by Mathieu Germond over six years ago,this was my first visit, and what an exceptional experience from the perfect ‘trade’ wine service with the glass-never-empty and food that was matched perfectly with the wines we tasted.

That menu in full

Big reds generally need meaty dishes, here at Noize the chef got everything spot on, intensity of flavour matched with the lightest touch, plenty of umami but clean, fresh, bright flavours, and compact portions.

Prior to lunch Hongell guided us individually through a range of his wines, whilst over lunch he shared the Torbreck story and his vision for the future, including an increase in white Rhône varieties in the Barossa, and mused that “Grenache Blanc has that flinty note of Chardonnay.”

Torbreck was set up in 1994 by Dave Powell, where he got together an incredible band of Barossa wine growers to provide grapes to him, and encouraged these growers to bring old vineyards back to life. Hongell continues this mantle although there are no ‘bargain’ old vineyards now left in the Barossa. Powell named the winery after an old logging forest near Inverness in Scotland where he worked, with many of the labels having a nod to Scottish heritage.

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"The Chinese can't have any wine!" Ian Hongell, Noize, London, 2024

In 2017 Hongell was appointed chief winemaker, and subsequently general manager of Torbreck, after spending nearly two decades at Peter Lehmann, under the guidance of Andrew Wigan in the early years.

Torbreck sources over 50% of its fruit from its own Barossa Valley vineyards - the Hillside Vineyard, The Descendant Vineyard, The Laird Vineyard, Daylight Chamber Vineyard, and Keller Vineyard. The rest are sourced from selected family growers from the Barossa Valley, many of who have been supplying Torbreck with premium fruit from the very start.

Hongell stated “we make 15% alcohol Shiraz and stick a cork in the bottle and it works,” although ask the accountant what he thinks of the financial liability of the AUS $2.50 cork!

But don’t ask the accountant the cost of the Dominique Laurent ‘Magical Casks’.These 225-litre oak barriques selected for the maturation of The Laird are considered to be some of the finest in the world; Dominique Laurent was a great French winemaker who was so ‘pissed off’ with the quality of barrels that he made his own; so good were the resulting barrels that they became sought after by great wineries such as Torbreck.

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Let lunch commence

Hongell talked through a range of matters during lunch: he stresses the importance of tighter, finer oak, if anything pulling back a bit on the oak from earlier wines; In the vineyards they have spent time fencing the ‘feral’ animals out and the good animals (sheep) in; He states that the winery has no plans to grow in the short term and he has not purchased any new tanks since his arrival, the estate having an average production of 70,000 cases year across the board; He is, of course, very happy that most of his production is on allocation.

“What about The Chinese when they come back?” quipped one of the guests over lunch, which got the reply “we have no wine for them.” 50% of Torbreck is sold in Australia, with both the UK and USA important clients, but they also ship to 50 countries.

Tasting the Torbreck wines

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Torbreck Hillside Vineyard Grenache 2021

Fresh, clean red berries on the nose – think Pinot freshness – clean, gentle perfume then, on the palate, it is refreshing with juicy cranberries that add some spice, vanilla, clean cut finish. Happy to drink this young and fresh.

Torbreck Les Amis Grenache 2021

Single vineyard planted in the 1960s, sourced from local growers, and named after a restaurant in Singapore whom it was originally made for. Sadly the restaurant is no longer, but the Torbreck team was so happy with the wine that it is now available for general release.

This 2021 is dark fruited, hint of licorice, focused, with outstanding purity, balanced with a touch of perfume and dusty notes, and a mere hint of bacon.

Torbreck Les Amis Grenache 2018

Wow. Incredible. This is rich and textured, big bold, full throttle with textured notes, cocoa, red fruit in abundance, polished – as it opens up and evolves you can feel the true future of this quite outstanding wine, this has decades to please everyone.

Torbreck The Steading 2022 Blanc

62% Roussanne, 28% Marsanne, 10% Viognier

Hognell is full of bullish hope that The Barossa will become the natural base for white Rhône varieties and this white wine confirms Ian’s hopes – it is quite outstanding. There are beautiful, elegant, floral beeswax aromatics on the nose, buttercups and fresh summer green herbs. This wine has white nuts, fresh pink grapefruit, layers and layers of fresh, vibrant, exciting flavours, a stunner.

Torbreck The Steading 2022

50% Grenache, 31% Shiraz, 19% Mataro

Youthful with blackcurrant and blackberry, gentle spice, evolving quietly. Needs time.

Torbreck The Steading 2018 served from magnum

53% Grenache, 28% Shiraz, 19% Mataro

Just stunning. Gentle perfume and spice on the nose, it’s clean, elegant, with perfect balance. Billberries, blueberries; delicate blue fruit then a hint of perfume evolving on the palate, giving an amazing finish.

Torbreck The Descendant 2021

Gently perfumed nose, then Wow! on the palate it is a fabulous, textured, spiced, plummy, liquorice-tinged wine, there are also herbaceous, mint and tobacco notes. Silky long finish.

Torbreck, The Descendant 2019

The first hit is the mesmerising perfumed nose, then the silky dark-fruited, mid-palate and balance; pretty amazing now but will age with such grace… magical.

Torbreck The Struie 2022

92% Barossa and 8% Eden Valley Shiraz, The Struie reflects the cooler side of the region, and the subtleness of hillside viticulture, the vines having an average age of 50 years.

Still in its youth, there’s good balance here with spice, savoury notes and blackcurrant and blackberry. Gently sits on the palate and gifts a gentle aromatic flavour across your mouth.

Torbreck The Struie 2019

Fresh and perfumed on the nose, then on the palate an amazing flavour of aromatics, perfume, blush fruit, fresh clean acidity that balances the wine together giving a WOW factor.

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Torbreck The Forebear 2019

Named in honour of Torbrecks’s ancestors, 100% single vineyard Shiraz from The Hillside Vineyard planted c1852. This wine is all about elegance; it is refined, gentle with aromatic spices, very impressive. My notes kept reverting back to ‘refined’ and ‘elegant’, the fruit is a balance of beautiful blue and red, uplifted with a gentle, peppery spice.

Torbreck The Gask 2021

100% Eden Valley Shiraz, the name Gask refers to the stone burial grounds on the hills above the Torbreck forest, rocky outcrops that are scattered throughout Scotland, similar to the Eden Valley landscape. Cocoa and spice, blue fruited, with hints of crushed cranberries. Savory notes, granite, spiced, continues to evolve, cassis and mulberry on the finish. Drink in a decade.

Torbreck The Factor 2021

The Factor is about the growers who care for the old vines. This is both silky and taut, spiced plummy and herbaceous. Velvety, silky, tobacco, redcurrants. There is a lovely purity of blackberries on the finish.

Torbreck The Factor 2013

Vibrant, silky, long, lingering, seamless delicate fruit, hints of bacon fat, pure. Great wine.

Torbreck The Factor 2005

Concentrated, a lovely uplifted perfume, rich blackberries, espresso and milk chocolate, leather – it has it all. Has evolved so well.

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Torbreck Runrig 2020

98% Shiraz, 2% Viognier

First taste on the palate is spice then clean, silky fruit, blueberries to the fore. Layered with an aged, serious feel to it – you know you are drinking something special. Needs time, and it was impressive as it opened up in the glass over an hour or so… a superstar.

Torbreck Runrig 2018

98% Shiraz, 2% Viognier

Thought that this was quite remarkable, black cherry, graphite, silky purity, cocoa, fresh clean perfume – a magical wine.

Torbreck Runrig2014

98.5% Shiraz, 1.5% Viognier

Aged, dry grown vineyards, giving way to luxurious, spiced, intense perfection – it is focused, fragrant, think top Côte-Rôti with an Aussie kick. This is inky, the focus just stunning, a rare treat. So clean and pure on the finish.

Torbreck The Laird 2019

Smoky and inky on first nose, blue-fruited, hint of farmyard then a beautiful mouthfeel, this has incredible purity and freshness to the fruit, the balance is stunning, the finish leaves a moreish refreshing feel. Still youthful, but a star in the making.

Torbreck The Laird 2010 in magnum

Sourced from The Gnadenfrei vineyard in the Barossa sub-region of Marananga, was first planted in 1958, a 5-acre site, dry grown, aged in Dominique Laurent’s ‘Magic Casks’. 2010 is recognised as one of the best and this superlative Shiraz is truly one of those wines that you will remember trying, especially from magnum. Exotic spice, meaty, bilberries and blueberries, stunningly good.

(These wines were tasted both at the lunch and over the past year by Jones from various sources)

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Later... tasting notes of British beers not taken

Torbreck is imported and sold into the UK by Fells who do hold back a limited amount of rare back vintages.

Fells is a commercial partner of The Buyer. Discover more about them by clicking here.