Sunday, September 5, 2010

St Hallett & the Barossa Valley

The Barossa Valley is on the nose amongst a number critics and aficionados. As a region it has become a bit of a whipping boy for many of the apparent ills of Australian wine. Over-oaked, overripe, and too alcoholic are the general criticisms of many Australian wines and of the Barossa in particular. Andrew Jefford has recently even gone so far as to say that the Barossa isn’t a suitable environment for Shiraz (a notion I find laughable).

While I think many of the above criticisms were quite valid in plenty of instances 5-10 years ago, I also think there is an ever increasing number of Barossa producers who judiciously use oak, and whose wines are lower in alcohol, are very much in balance, and are of genuine interest. In particular there is a growing focus by many on sub-regions and single sites.

St Hallett is a winery that definitely fits into this positive trend. I was fortunate enough to go to a tasting earlier this week put on by Fine Wine Partners with St Hallett’s winemaker Toby Barlow. Along with some partners in crime in this wine blog malarkey (,, I tasted through a number of wines in their range, and RedtoBrown will do some fuller tasting notes at a later date. What I wanted to discuss were some of the broad, positive trends in the Barossa and how St Hallett is a great example of this.

Wines of genuine interest – many Barossa wineries are doing some unique things with their wines, including exploring the potential of different varietals, different sites, and different techniques. The line-up that we tasted through included

- A single-site Riesling that has undergone malolactic fermentation (the only Riesling I’m aware of that has this treatment). This was St Hallett’s first attempt at this difficult technique with Riesling and it’s an undoubted success.
- A single varietal Touriga Nacional as a table wine (as opposed to a fortified wine). It was a unique and highly enjoyable wine to taste and one of the aroma descriptors was “Orange Tang” (courtesy of Ozwinereview)!

Cellarability – One of the wines tasted was a 2004 Gamekeeper’s Reserve Shiraz Grenache Touriga. It’s drinking beautifully now having developed some savoury, gamey notes, and has got at least another 5 years in it. As a wine that retails for about $15 this is an impressive effort and underscores the ability of Barossa reds to age well, particular in the better (cooler) vintages like 2004. We also tasted the 2009 version of this wine and I found it to be similar in profile to the 04, but obviously a lot younger and still dominated by primary fruit. It’s a steal of a wine for both enjoyable drinking now, as well as cellaring for a bit more complexity and interest 5 years down the track.

Judicious use of oak – St Hallett’s wines range from the Gamekeeper’s Reserve SGT (above) which sees no oak at all, through to the Blackwell Shiraz which uses American oak, and everything in between (French oak, old oak etc). There is no low oak regime across the board, nor an approach of lavishing up everything with new oak. Oak is matched to the variety as well as the sub-region and vineyard, and tasting through their range of wines, oak had been used intelligently for each of their wines.

Alcohol – Barossa reds are never shrinking violets when it comes to alcohol levels, but the key for me personally when it comes to alcohol is whether there is any noticeable heat, and whether the fruit can match the alcohol levels and provide a sense of balance. All the St Hallett wines that were tasted on the day provided that sense of balance with no noticeable heat.

St Hallett is a traditional Barossa winery that exhibit all the positive traits outlined above. The result is a range of wines of true quality and genuine interest. Importantly, there are plenty of other wineries in the Barossa following a broadly similar path, belying many of the current clich├ęs about the Barossa.




Andrew Graham said...

I think we arrived at orange tang by consensus :)
Really enjoyed that tang through the middle of the Touriga. Go Touriga!

Brown said...

Was a shame to have missed this event (cursed training), though I am glad Red flew the R2B flag.

St Hallet are a great winery with a particularly interesting modern history (eg: last 30 years) that charts the fall, great rise and possible besiegement of the Barossa Shiraz style. I will hopefully write something about this general topic to add to what Andrew has done, though will have to think it though to avoid it becoming a polemic / repeat!
Suffice to say, I am impressed with the winemaking trends in the Barossa (and quite a few other regions as well), remain a fan of the wines the region produces, and look forward to seeing how the 2009 and 2010 vintages turn out. I expect the 'Artisans of the Barossa' tasting to provide some type of guide.

PS - though I will not enter the orange tang debate/consensus, I definitely could taste the Touriga in the Gamekeeper GST's I have had in the past. Like the Touriga in Stanton and Kileen ports, the Touriga is distinctive.

PPS - from a marketing point of view, we may need to find a grape starting with E to go into an ETS blend - E (?), Touriga, Shiraz - the wine choice of a new (Minority Government-led) Australia? :-)



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