Wakefield South Australian and Clare Valley Shiraz and Chardonnay Wines
South Australian family-owned winemaker Taylor exports its wines to the United States under
the Wakefield label, a step designed to avoid confusion with the port-making Taylors of
Portugal. Taylor's American offerings do not represent its entire Australian line, but instead
cull several well-chosen categories. In addition to the $50
St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon
and the $30
Jaraman Riesling, previously reviewed on these pages, Taylor offers us the Estate
line at $17 and the Promised Land line at $13.
Since 2004, Taylor has been bottling all its wines using screw cap closures. I met Master of Wine Neil Hadley, Taylor's Export Manager, at an event in Boston. Though understandably enthusiastic about his company's wines, Hadley expressed a crusading zeal on the subject of screw caps. I had been aware, of course, that corks are associated with so-called “cork taint” but I never even imagined that healthy corks could impart oaky, mushroom, and leather flavors to wines, as Hadley was quick to point out. Hadley also cited tests that have already subjected age-worthy wines to ten years under screw cap, with no adverse results. Time, and market trends, will tell of course. Taylor, in the meantime, is hoping the corkscrew becomes antique.
The 2004 Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz Cabernet brings real value to the table in a delicious, plumy blend (two-thirds Shiraz, the rest Cabernet Sauvignon). These grapes were sourced from a variety of South Australian regions, including Wakefield's home area of Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway and the tongue-twisting Wrattonbully. A medium ruby in color, the wine hits the nose with luscious dark berry jam, licorice, cocoa, smoky dried herb and vanilla. Decidedly dry on the palate, the blend reveals a bright, focused strain of acidity. The wine has good fruit extraction with a nice twist; just as you absorb that characteristic Shiraz punch, the distinctive Cabernet-ness in the wine commands your attention. Cassis, vanilla and baking spice lead the flavor notes, with dried black fruit, dried herb, a little toasted tobacco, coffee and cocoa. The finish has some good drying tannins and a pleasant minty Cabernet edge.
Wakefield's 2005 Estate Shiraz is 100% Shiraz, sourced entirely from the Taylor family estate in Clare Valley. The wine is matured a year in a mixture of new and used American oak. The wine is nearly opaque, a dense ruby with some purple glimmers at the edges. Black cherry and licorice, as if combined in a confection, lead the nose, with violet, cocoa and vanilla adding to the treat. The wine is mainstream dry on the palate, spicy, with a smoky tobacco barn element from the oak, plum and red cherry, and structured tannins. The finish brings a note of bittersweet chocolate. This is full-bodied wine with a successful mix of elements. It drinks well now; though it could age I would be watchful that the wine doesn't lose too much fruit in the cellar, as the levels seem perfect in the here and now. Stylistically this wine is mainstream and an excellent value for its price range, with several notes—the violet on the nose and the chocolate at the finish—a definite cut above.
The Wakefield 2004 Estate Chardonnay carries the Clare Valley appellation and is 100% Chardonnay. This is a well-crafted wine with some fairly specific style commitments (malolactic fermentation is avoided, for example, the wine is barrel fermented, and it is matured in French oak for six months). You get a nutty yeastiness on both the nose and the palate which I find appealing even though I am also a fan of the more steely style of Chardonnay. Pear and melon lead the fruit, which gives further tropical notes, and the nuttiness is a toasted cashew. Though the wine is lush and mouth-filling, the finish is fairly dry, with citrus overtones.
The 2006 Wakefield Promised Land Unwooded Chardonnay, under the South Australian appellation, adds 3% Crouchen, 2% Riesling, 2% Gewurztraminer and a pinch of Semillon to the main grape. The blend is intelligent. For all its fine virtues, Chardonnay is not particularly aromatic, the reason it so often takes to oaking, lees stirring, barrel fermentation and the like. A pure, unoaked Chardonnay can be boringly deficient in fruit, as we have been seeing with some recent New World efforts. Not so with this accessible wine, which brings fruit in abundance. A fresh honeydew melon is the most striking note, with a rich lime and a bit of mango tang at the back. Some of the wine is yeast stirred for a month, a touch which adds the obvious bready notes and some well-balanced complexity. What I like about the style of this wine is that it brings out the essential “feel” of the Chardonnay grape, the way it fills the palate like a cloud. The finish is clean, with good fruit and at least the suggestion of minerality.
Some readers may be stumped at the mention of the Crouchen grape in the Wakefield
Promised Land Chardonnay blend. Better known in Australia and South Africa than in its
homeland in the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, Crouchen was once called Clare
Riesling in Australia (and is still called Cape Riesling in South Africa), though it has nothing
to do with the Riesling grape. Taylors actually produces a Crouchen Riesling for the
Australian market, but they have wisely decided not to try to sell us a grape we have never
Verdict: A focused product line
Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, its vintages are actually an average of six months earlier than the vintages we are accustomed to.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Taylor's Winery in Australia's Clare Valley