Wine as Old as Dirt — Australia’s Domaines Tatiarra

cambrian500,000,000  years is a long time. It’s long enough for molten rock to turn to solid stone, and for stone to turn into crumbly red soil.  And for 499,999,970 years that rock/soil baked in the Australian sun, just waiting for its destiny…

Which tuned out to be these red grapes that the Aussies call “Shiraz.”

Now, there’s  LOTS of Shiraz grown in Australia, because the Aussies love the rich, jammy black-raspberry-tinged wine that it produces (and so, incidentally, do we). But none of it tastes quite like the Shiraz grown on the world’s oldest soils — the Cambrian soils of Heathcote, Victoria province.

It was about 30 years ago that grapes were first planted in this area, and about 20 years since Bill Hepburn planted a 10-acre vineyard on the site that is now Tatiarra. There’s been about 10 years of drought that threatened the vines’ existence, but they’re scrappy Australian vines managed by savvy Australian vineyard managers. They’ve not only survived, but have produced intense, concentrated, inky-colored grapes for an unparalleled collection of wines.

Of course, they had some help: enter Ben Riggs, the talented winemaker that created Tatiarra’s amazing wines. After learning his craft at wineries in France, Italy and California, he came back home to Australia to do what he does best.tat

Ben loves these Cambrian soils, and the extreme temperature changes (remember that old dog, “Diurnal Temperature Shift”) that give Heathcote grapes their intense flavor and structure. These grapes make BIG wines — wines like Barolo’s and Rioja’s that are still young at 10 years, and don’t even grow whiskers until they’re 15 or 20. Heathcote Shiraz is like that: muscular, dark and mysterious, and loaded with complex flavors.

The first wine we tasted was Tatiarra Heathcote Cambrian Shiraz 2005, and I was blown away by the depth and complexity. It was inky dark in color, with a nose of leather, cocoa and black berries. The palate stopped me short, because just five years after vintage date it was dense and muscular. But some sloshing and swirling revealed the incredible rich fruit, balanced by firm tannins and moderate acid. Licorice and vanilla were lurking somewhere in the background, too. Amazingly, this thing was BALANCED! It was huge, but  it was balanced.

Tatiarra The Pressings Shiraz 2006 had less earthiness and more lush fruit than its cousin. I got dark berries, chocolate and cedar on the nose, and the  palate coated my mouth with blueberry and blackberry fruit. A good hit of vanilla comes in on the end, thanks to 18 months aging in new American oak, and the finish lingers… This wine needs time to reach its peak, that’s for sure, but even now it’s a pleasure to taste such hedonistic loveliness.

Both these wines are over 15% alcohol, and no doubt there will be critics who lament the high alcohol content. But they wouldn’t be Cambrian wine without it. The truth is that this terroir needs to produce massive wines, and I for one, will just sit back and enjoy every one of them. Cheers!

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