Making a great wine is not that difficult according to Wakefield Wines’ chief winemaker, Adam Eggins, the challenge is to “make affordable wine great.” The Clare Valley wine producer has done this in spades, according to Robert Mason who discovers how Eggins achieved this with the 2022 release of Wakefield’s four-wine St Andrews range, as well as the three premium wines ‘The Pioneer’, ‘The Visionary’ and ‘The Legacy’ all from the 2015 vintage.
“Through emulating and then adapting the Bordeaux blueprint, Wakefield has created its own unique style through an holistic and inclusive philosophy,” writes Mason.
In July 1969, when many people were looking up and contemplating space exploration, two men were looking down and seeing the vast opportunities beneath their feet. Bill Taylor Snr. and the late, great oenologist and winemaker Jim Barry took a stroll through a patch of dirt next to the Wakefield River. Bill’s vision for the land was to create an iconic Bordeaux blend, to be recognised as ‘amongst the top six wines of its type’.
Something truly special encompasses this 50+ year family pursuit of South Australia’s prestigious Clare Valley terroir.
Wakefield Wines (aka Taylors in Australasia) is run by 3rd generation members of the Taylors family. The decision to brand as Wakefield in the UK was, sensibly enough, to avoid confusion amongst those who enjoy the famous fortifieds of Taylor’s of Oporto. Since the establishment of the export brand name in the mid-1980s, the wines have been marketed strategically as an accompaniment to food, drawing on the UK wine industry’s established love of fine wine & food culture.
Nestled in the historical and iconic backdrop of the City of London, Bob Bob Ricard in the Leadenhall Building provided the gastronomy for this great Australian First Family of Wine to show the latest vintages of their Flagship collection.
The atmosphere for this 2022 release was one of quiet anticipation mixed with a sense of casual ceremony and meaningful methodology. Neil Hadley MW and chief winemaker Adam Eggins guided our small group of sommeliers and writers through “a journey of continual improvement and excellence”, as Hadley eloquently stated.
And so to the tasting itself
Wakefield is often known as the ‘red specialist’ of Clare Valley, with three-quarters of its vineyards dedicated to red and a large focus given to the classic claret varietals.
Of the white grape vines grown, Riesling is primarily destined for the overseas markets, whereas Chardonnay is typically sold nationally. Wakefield’s 2022 ‘St Andrews’ Riesling hits the palate full of purity and precision – both delicate and complex for one so young. As Eggins comments: “It is easy to make a great wine. The challenge is to make affordable wine great.” At approximately £22 RRP with an abundance of fresh-cut limes, cracked oyster shell and apple blossom, coupled with the quality-laden hallmark of white ginger spice on the back palate, the 2022 offers a lot of bang for your buck.
The famous Aussie wine critic Jim Halliday once said of Clare Valley Chardonnay that “Dolly Parton isn’t going to cut it”. A bit harsh about the woman who wrote ‘Jolene’, but you get where he was going with the bling and bombast. Well, the ‘St Andrews’ 2019 Chardonnay might not be dressed up like Dolly, but it does have her complexity and depth that’s for sure, aided by ageing in 100% new French oak. Eggins explains that the blending is benchmarked against a Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne. It is not difficult to see why.
Displaying a rich Burgundian profile, this 2019 hot vintage Chardonnay is expertly balanced. The integration of barrel fermentation and 12 months ageing is exceptional, supported by a finely poised precise acidity, only achieved by inhibiting malo and allowing the natural acidity to shine through. Lashings of ripe stone fruit and yellow plum support delicate nuts and wisps of gunflint. Savoury, gastronomic and gorgeous. Easily, I think, one of the best Chardonnays from any part of the world at the moment.
Wakefield Shiraz, perhaps rivalled only by Jim Barry’s own plots, produces elegant, characterful wines in youth and deep, robust reds with age. The ‘St Andrews’ 2018 Shiraz is a little bit of both at present. Displaying soft, floral and slightly closed aromas which blossom into bright, attractive and ripe red fruits peppered by a sprinkling of spice. Barrel fermented for texture, it is well structured with a silky smooth finish.
The last of the ‘St Andrews’ quadruple is arguably the most forward-thinking. The ‘St Andrews’ 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon underwent a staggering ten months at 12°C on skins. Eggins admitted that he effectively “went off into a room for ten months and prayed”, such was the nature of the risk.
But this risk was not uncalculated as Hadley explains: “From research, skin and pip tannins bind to create a polymerisation – cancelling each other out”. The result is a juicy and harmonious Cab which is both aromatic and powerful. Eggins defines the ultimate balancing paradox for winemakers as creating a wine with both “massive finesse and quiet complexity”. The 2018 shows both and more: classic mulberry perfume, notes of spice, red apple & plum. Pure, rounded with voluptuous acidity and delicate power.
The best barrels from each vintage of the ‘St Andrews’ Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are further selected to be chosen as ‘The Pioneer’ and ‘The Visionary’ respectively. Representing the purist expression of only the best fruit.
‘The Pioneer’ 2015 shows sublime Shiraz pedigree. After undergoing 12 months ageing in 75% new American and French oak, each barrel is painstakingly re-assessed to ascertain which are the best of the best, the wine then blended and oaked once again for another 12 months. The finished wine is incredibly smooth with very fine tannins, flavours of walnut, smoke and refined spice. Very approachable now but has huge potential to age.
Like its pioneering brother, ‘The Visionary’ Cabernet 2015 shows a concentrated richness, smooth and silky with plenty of dark chocolate, spice, chai tea and elements of tomato leaf creeping in under the brooding dark fruits.
The crescendo of the evening culminated with just the second release ever of ‘The Legacy’. “Dedicated to the Left Bank from the New World”, here Eggins honours the great Clarets, as Bill Taylor Snr. envisaged 50 years ago. A classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the 2015 is hauntingly great, silky and sublime with power, heft and finesse. The Wakefield legacy, indeed!
Aside from the wonderful wines on show, Wakefield continues to inspire and innovate. Whether that be experimental blending or the extensive environmental projects the winery continues to drive, Wakefield has an unified vision. The overall sense of the wines is one of harmony. Through emulating and then adapting the Bordeaux blueprint, Wakefield has created its own unique style through an holistic and inclusive philosophy.
The current Wakefield vintages available on the Louis Latour Agencies portfolio are:
‘St Andrews’ Riesling 2019
‘St Andrews’ Chardonnay 2019 (newly arrived)
‘St Andrews’ Shiraz 2018
‘St Andrews’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
‘The Pioneer’ Shiraz 2015
‘The Visionary’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Wakefield Wines are imported and sold in the UK through Louis Latour Agencies which is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about Louis Latour Agencies click here.