Like a lot of Australia wine enthusiasts from the 90’s, I was weaned on the Robin Bradley “Gold Book”. I would trawl his guide, finding the treasured wines with 5 Gold Stars, believing they were the best Australia had to offer. I would buy the ones I could source locally and try them and decide which were the ones for me and which were the ones that weren’t.
From there I graduated to the Halliday Guide and I was fascinated by the entry for Wendouree. Five stars and summary that reads so: “The iron fist in the velvet glove best describes these extraordinary wines. They are fashioned with passion and yet precision from very old vineyards with its unique terroir by Tony and Lita Brady, who rightly see themselves as custodians of a priceless treasure.” The recommended cellaring for these gems was 20+ years, and I had never seen them in a retail outlet in Brisbane. Luckily, I found some from the 80’s and bought as many as I could. My memory, hazy though it is, was that I liked them, and I decided to buy more. And I was patient.
I have my first Halliday Guide in front of me now. I’ve looked at the well-thumbed pages, the notes scrawled at the edges of the pages, the telephone numbers, and co-incidentally I found a receipt from Wendouree. On the 24th of June 1996, I bought my first wines from the winery direct; a mixed case of 1994 Shiraz Mataro and 1994 Shiraz Malbec. The Shiraz Mataro was $16 per bottle, and the Shiraz Malbec was $17.50 per bottle. Freight and insurance came to $16.70.
And I’ve been buying whatever I could since then, sometimes from auction.
Eight years have passed, and I’ve had one or so bottle a year, but now it was time to be put the “collector” inside me aside away, and make a decision about whether or not I would continue to buy them year-in, year-out. So I went into the cellar, found 2 bottles of each of the Shiraz- and Cabernet-based wines, and over the past 3 weeks I’ve tasted them. Admittedly, most of them were young, especially by Wendouree standards, but all the wines were decanted before tasting, and tasted on the next day if possible. Here are the notes:
Shiraz 1995: Dark red. Black fruits and a touch of mint on the nose. The palate shows red cherries and blackberries, with some silky and huge tannins, like a giant in a wedding dress. There was also some charry notes, but not a lot of finesse, but maybe some more time in the bottle might see it soften. 88 points. Drink 2007-2015
Shiraz 1996: Dark red. Initially subdued, but opened up to be quite interesting: black fruit pastilles, butter, some dusty oak and a dash of camphor/menthol. The palate was true to the nose, with a fair swag of acid too. Quite a rustic wine really, and I cannot see it declining for any years. 91 points. Drink 2008-2016
Cabernet Sauvignon 1993: Red with tawny notes. Tomato leaf, a touch of menthol, but really dominated by tomato leaf. The palate shows red currants, capsicum and candied red fruits. Quite a silky smooth palate, with red currants, fine tannins, and strangely is fruity more than tannic. Quite a revelation really: not a rustic wine at all. 90 points. Drink 2004-2007
Cabernet Sauvignon 1996: Medium red. Mint, camphor, red currants, blackberries, and green capsicum. On the palate, thin and green, with green olives, some smokiness, and finishes characteristically with grippy tannins. It filled out with time, developing some confectionary notes and adding some breath to the palate. 86 points. Drink 2006-2012+
Cabernet Malbec 1995: Medium red. Black fruits, liqueuered cherries, some VA, but smells of power. Red cherries and blackberries on the palate, some liquorice and finishes with huge and drying tannins. Really, a wine that is unfortunately swamped by tannins which only got worse with time in the glass. 83 points. Drink 2006-2010
Cabernet Malbec 1996: Medium/dark red. A complex nose: liqueuered cherries, some dark fruits, warm balsa wood, dry spices, VA, liquorice and camphor. The palate is quite extracted, not overly fruity, with lots of acid and tannin. Very good with food. 89 points. Drink 2006-2011+
Shiraz Malbec 1994: Red with some bricking. Some VA and red berries. Dusty wood, red cherries, red currants, mixed with leathery notes. Lemony oak, liquorice, warm and mellow, rounded and cuddly. 87 points. Drink 2004-2008
Shiraz Malbec 1996: Red purple. Creaminess, butter, red berries, plummy, very very young with some spice. Tannic on the palate, showing acid and cedary oak, but excellent structure and definition. The best Wendouree I tried, and I would like to try it in a few more years. 92 points. Drink 2007-2012
Shiraz Mataro 1994: Red with some bricking. Red berries, sweat and VA. Quite a tannic palate, with secondary leathery characters, varnishy notes and fruit that is missing-in-action. 83 points. Drink Now.
Shiraz Mataro 1996: Brick red. Rusty savoury characters: camphor, fondant, confectionary notes, menthol and spice. Deep seated leathery fruit that made it seem older than the other 96’s. 85 points. Drink Now.
The verdict: I suppose the notes speak for themselves. It would have been easy to pump them up with expressions like “iron fist in the velvet glove”, but by the time the last bottle came around I must say I was a little tired of drinking wines made in this style. They are just so tannic, and disturbingly, tannins that in most cases I think will never integrate or soften in sufficient time to make a good drinking wine. As a whole, they also seemed to exhibit camphor aromas, and occasionally mint. And somewhere in the background was the fruit. Initially I was attracted to Wendouree because they were an icon wine, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re just not my cup of tea. Luckily, they are still icons so they shouldn’t be too hard to dispose of.