The garage at Old Stack Yard has recently been converted from a dumping space (bikes, golf clubs, scooters, tents, 100 tins of used paint and Guillaume le Grand’s modest wine collection) into a bar. It’s a heath robinson affair made from some old pallets, some planks of wood and a lot of love..it is open for business (strictly friends and family) whenever we are allowed to gather. There will be more on this home improvement in the near future.
Meantime, as part of the process of clearing out we have unearthed some unexpected (and quite good) bottles of wine, and we are collectively finding it hard to keep our hands off them. We found three consecutive vintages of Rockford’s legendary Basket Press Shiraz and succumbed instantly to the temptation of opening them for a comparison, vertical tasting.
A word of explanation about Les Deux Guillaumes: Jack and Simon are both Guillaumes, of course. Jack is studying winemaking and viticulture at Plumpton and has developed a passion for Pinot Noir at a dangerously young age. Simon is more than 30 years into his wine career, hasn’t done any formal winemaking qualification, but likes a glass of wine. At the same age as his son is now (21), Simon was on a year abroad studying (occasionally) in Nice and mostly drinking 10 franc a litre wine from the local Cave out of a 5 litre plastic bottle. The guy who ran the Cave could never understand how he kept losing the screwcap, and was very impressed how rapidly the bottle was brought back in for a refill.
It’s safe to say that we come at wine from different angles…so let’s see what impressions we have of wines that we taste together…let’s start with a winery we have both visited independently, Simon first in 1996 while on extended honeymoon with Louise and Jack in 2018 while on gap year tour around Australia and New Zealand. …Rockford on the Krondorf Road in the heart of the Barossa valley.
Rockford Winery was founded back in the early 1980s by Robert O’Callaghan and quickly established itself as one of the most prestigious and cult wineries in Australia. It’s a winery with it’s roots very firmly planted in tradition and sense of place. The grapes typically come from ancient vines, up to 130 years old, the crusher/destemmer dates from the 1880s (Jack, as an aside: ‘About the time you were born dad“), all the reds are fermented in open top fermenters and go through a basket press before draining down to hogsheads. At first glance the winery is almost like one of those tiresome re-constructed Victorian working villages which you force your kids to go to on rainy holidays.
But come harvest time it comes to life and gives a real insight into the true basics of winemaking. It must be hugely rewarding to work there. What’s clear is that demand for the wines exceeds supply, and the winery philosophy is not to try to meet demand, but to concentrate on making the very best wine each vintage: growth for growth’s sake is not high on the agenda at Rockford. So, it’s quite rare to find Basket Press Shiraz in the UK these days, even more reason to open and appreciate them.
We tasted 2008, 2009 and 2010, three quite different vintages in the Barossa. 2008 was subjected to a burst of heat towards the end of the growing season and perhaps the least well regarded of the three. 2009 was very good, and lower yields delivered some great, typical spicy Shiraz flavours. 2010 has drawn great reviews, with well structured and more opulent wines.
Being the first one of these tastings together (not the first time we have enjoyed a glass together for sure!) we cogitated separately and wrote our pearls of wisdom independently before comparing. We marked out of 20 (“a bit old fashioned maybe, but Jack is a very old fashioned 21 year old – ha.”..Dad). So, the generational divide didn’t divide opinion on our preferences, although Le Petit marked them much more closely than Le Grand. (By the way, Le Petit is 6 inches taller than Le Grand…must have been all the McDonalds in his formative years.)
2008 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Petit; Good legs (“one track mind”). Blackcurrants to begin with on the nose, less intensity but real dark berry fruit and hints of vanilla. Good structure, long mouthfeel, cherries, some oak, alcohol stands out a little but a nice body, well rounded and balanced. Age more. 16/20
2008 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Grand; Nose has distinct ripe red fruits (god these are good glasses!) There’s a real sense of place and character in the wine – you sense it can really tell some stories (Dad’s getting all emotional). Palate shows some alcohol (but they are all 14.5% Dad!). As the wine opens the fruit gets darker and spicier. It’s not entirely balanced on the palate, perhaps the fruit is drying a tiny bit? Finish is long and powerful and this is a smashing (“Smashing!!!) glass of traditional earthy Barossa Shiraz. 15/20
2009 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Petit: Long legs (“one track mind”) More fruit on the nose, redder than the 2008. Not as much obvious oak on the nose, it has a little vanilla and some black fruit and chocolate. The palate is smoother than 2008, tannins are present though. Good length, well balanced, excellent acidity and good mouth feel. 17/20
2009 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Grand: There’s a touch of eucalyptus on the nose to begin with, a little surprising but it’s lovely. There are some intense rich spicy mocha (‘when you grow up son you can use words like mocha’). Smells delicious! Palate is much more refined, long, balanced and elegant with riper, more voluptuous tannins. Absolutely textbook Barossa Shiraz in the more elegant mineral style. 18/20
2010 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Petit: Dark ruby, good legs (“again….”) More intense concentrated fruit with some oaky tones, some sweeter, riper fruit aromas. (“My boy is using words like Tones“….). Lovely mouthfeel, well balanced acidity. Long ageing potential but not currently any more intense than the previous too wines. Alcohol at 14.5% fits in nicely. 17.5/20
2010 Basket Press: Guillaume Le Grand: Colour almost more intense and dreamy..(“Dad – stop“). But this really does have a great nose – some iodine along with the spice and liquorice. This has great ripe tannins, they stand out a little from the fruit at present. It has that lovely ethereal quality of top class wines – it delivers intensity but it’s not heavy or clumsy. Can’t really detect oak at all on the palate, very well integrated. 19/20
So, we came to the same conclusions in terms of order of preference. All three are typically Barossa, but in an elegant way. This is not an exercise in cramming as much flavour and structure into the bottle as humanly possible..this is refined and balanced. The tasting was great fun, and continued into dinner – BBQ chicken which seemed appropriate!