1996 – top year for Octavius Shiraz!

9.12am, Sunday 10th February, The Kitchen, underneath Yalumba Winery, The Barossa, SA

Morning folks, and whilst most of the good people of the Barossa are off at their various forms of worship, we’re in the midst of a serious flurry of visitors through Yalumba – mostly from Canada and the United Staes of America. We have a group arriving in an hour or so for a masterclass……but I’ll get to that next!

Firstly……last night we had an invitation to dinner at one of the homesteads on the Yalumba home block, that has been turned into a bed and breakfast for our guests visiting the Barossa. We are distributed in the Canadian province of Ontario by B & W wines, and the “W” in that equation – Howard Wassermann – and a group of lovely young blokes from the Toronto trade in tow, have been with us for the past 4 days. They’ve explored most of the Valley during their stay, and you would have seen them yesterday morning at the Barossa Farmers Market, stocking up on local produce for last nights ‘farewell’ dinner. Did I mention that they had their own chef ‘JP’ from the family owned Hockley Valley Resort (about an hour north of Toronto) along, so with a genuine Aga stove in the homestead kitchen……we’re talking ‘artist at work’! So the least we could do was show up with something special. I’d been saving all three bottles for a special occasion, and had my fingers crossed that they wouldn’t let me down. A chilled to frosty 1994 Peter Lehmann ‘Black Queen’ Sparkling Shiraz, a half bottle of Bill Chambers’ ‘Rosewood Rare Tokay’ from Rutherglen, and a 1996 Yalumba Octavius Old Vine Shiraz.

Now, 1996 is my favorite vintage year across the 25 odd years that I’ve been lurking around in the Barossa – why? – because it was a perfect year. Reasonably low set, all the leaves on the vines pumping lots of goodies across a really mild even ripening season into not a lot of bunches. Result? Wine grapes with so much flavor you could eat them like table grapes! I tagged 1996 as the ‘juicy fruit’ year. And how did it look in the glass 17 years down the track? I wish I could put the raised eyebrows and exclamations as all of our Canadian visitors – high flying sommeliers amongst them – took that first deep sniff and mouthful!! All the Christmas pudding aromatics of spice, dark fruit and brown sugar are there, and on the palate, it’s settled, stretched it’s legs and smoothed off nicely. Very impressive with JPs roasted local Barossa chook and vegetables, not to mention the three varieties of local in season beets steamed with fresh bay and thyme!! Not sure what JPs secret is……..they never taste that good normally. Guess we’ll just have to make the trek to Hockley Valley if we want more!!

Any rate, even the colour of that 1996 Octavius is still deep and dark – here it is on the edge of the Aga stove as the main course……the only course …….was served.


Oh…..and the beets….


And the good news? I still have one more bottle of the 1996 Octavius in my cellar, earmarked for a very special occasion. Something along the lines of when our man Dan Stevens just finishing a magic run this weekend on the Broadway stage…..comes to visit Yalumba!

PS The 1994 Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz from Peter Lehmann was also in extremely good shape! The base wine was a solid chunk of purple dark fruit stacked full of choc cherries and with a smooth sweet dry finish. Something along the lines of winemaking alchemy goes on when these old sparkling big reds are put together. They go through some sort of weird Dorian Grey moment where they get even more youthful after that secondary ferment……and even when ancient and all bubbles can be lost…..they hang together even better than they would have as the original dry red Shiraz base wines. Track one down if you can!

And last but not least, the Rare Tokay. Think sump oil consistency, and brown green lights, but with molten molasses raisin laced flavours and Szezuan five spice aromatics!! Proof positive that there’s some natural occurring fabulous things that you just can’t duplicate. Rutherglen tokay in the hands of an expert…..enough said!

So thanks for the dinner invite Howard, JP, Lenny and Curtis – see you when it’s your Autumn, and we’re all in Toronto!

OK. Back to setting up today’s tasting for some of our friends down from Queensland. See you when it’s later on.

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