Just What The Doctor Ordered: Small Gully The Formula Cab/Shiraz


Stephen is the one sleeping...

I was navigating a busy wine trade show when I saw Stephen Black. He was the dashing, somewhat diminutive man in a black shirt who solidly occupied a space in the middle of a crowded aisle-way.  People-traffic, all laden with semi-filled wine glasses, bumped against him and then parted to flow around him, as though he were a rock in a stream.

I approached to taste his wines, and he waved me away: “I want you to taste the New Zealand wines first!”

OK, whatever you say…

So once I’d done with the grapefruit-y Sauv Blancs and delicate Pinot Noirs, I tried Stephen again.

“OK, now we can talk.” And Stephen can talk. He told me about his first career in the pharmaceutical business, which grew from his background in chemical engineering. While he’d found a fine career, he didn’t find his passion until he found his way into the wine business.

He started at Barossa Valley Estates  in 1992 and then did graduate work in winemaking. It all came together when he hooked up with two grape growers in 1999. One of them, Darren Zimmermann, came from a family that had been growing grapes in Barossa since early last century, and together with Robert Bader they formed Small Gully Winery. It’s in the heart of Barossa, built in (you guessed it) a small gully on Zimmermann’s property.small

They named their wines with a nod and a wink to Stephen’s past — “The Formula” was supposed to be The Prescription until some government wine bureaucrat gave it a thumbs-down.

But what’s in a name, anyway?

Their intent at Small Gully was to make “wines of a distinctive bold and intense style with great expression of fruit character.” In Australian wine-speak, that means “ballsy.”

And ballsy they are. I reviewed one of their wines, The Formula Shiraz 2006, a few months ago, but this was the first time I’d seen The Formula Cabernet Shiraz 2007.

I expected a big giant fruit bomb, but that would have been too simple. The Shiraz alone, harvested from older, low-yielding vines in warm-climate Barossa, brings bold, extracted, rich berry flavors.

But Stephen adds about 50% Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Clare Valley vineyards are at higher altitudes, bringing much cooler nights that allow the grapes to ripen more slowly and develop good acid and structure.

Add Lot A to Lot B and you get — intensity without jamminess.

So let’s get to the wine. The color in the glass was dark purple and opaque, and the nose jumped up to meet me. I got round, rich aromas of dark fruit, vanilla and a hint of savory herbs.

The palate made me go “Wow!” (really). “This tastes like chocolate-covered boysenberries!” which to me is a good thing — a very good thing.

It wasn’t just sweetness, though. There was firm, underlying structure that kept the fruit in check. This is a wine that’s not just “a meal in a glass” — it would be great with a steak (on the barbie?).

It’s no secret that I find Australian wines easy to like. I enjoy the bold style of the wines and the winemakers. Some reviewers love them and give them great ratings.

But the best rating system is my customers: When I recommend The Formula wines, customers buy it and come back for more. What better rating system can there be? Cheers!

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