Wood You Believe It?

It doesn’t take much to make me want to open a good bottle of wine, but reminiscing about great bottles past is a sure fire way to make me grab a corkscrew and head down to the cellar. Mention of the bottle of 1992 Yalumba Octavius Shiraz that returned with me from Australia (see “An Old Flame” 05/12/11) started me thinking that it was about time that I tried a bottle from the case of the 1996 vintage I bought ten or twelve years ago. Is it a bit weird to buy a case of wine on the basis of its reputation and then not to try a bottle for twelve years? You can at least start to see why I have a problem with bottles falling off the far side of their maturity plateau.

The Yalumba Octavius Shiraz 1996 (14.5% ABV) was a deep blood red, turning pinker at the rim. It didn’t leave tears, it just coated the glass. Talk about growing old disgracefully, this was a real rock ‘n’ roll wine: if some fruit and oak is good, then the most of both that can be squeezed into a bottle must surely be better. The full, powerful and complex nose saw sweet, ripe fruit matched blow for blow by the sweet vanilla of American oak. Raspberry and blackberry fruit, coffee, a medicinal menthol/eucalyptus edge (it reminded me of Vicks Cough Syrup) balanced by a faintly meaty or leathery undertone all swirled around my nostrils. Pretty much every box was ticked in the Barossa Valley Shiraz handbook. There was a tickle of alcohol as you might have expected, but it was in no way overwhelming.

Yalumba, Octavius Shiraz 1996

Yalumba, Octavius Shiraz 1996

After the sweetness suggested by the nose, the palate was dry yet rich and voluptuous. Dark fruits, coffee, and Vicks reappeared, as did bags of soft sweet oak, all held in check by plenty of firm but refined tannins. There was so much of everything that this was wine squared. The drying tannins, the gentle warmth of alcohol and a salty, mineral core combined with the moderate acidity and tamed the fruit and oak. All of the flavours lingered and melded throughout the long finish.

The amount of oak was hardly surprising given this wine's 26 months in American oak hogsheads (100 litre barrels); the surprise was that it was not only balanced and well structured but really rather splendid. This easily has another ten years or more of life left in it and, although it is not my usually preferred style of wine, I do look forward to drinking the rest of the case in the coming years.