It is never safe to make assumptions about Australian place names. There is often quite a story. The Barossa Valley gives a good example. Colonel William Light, the first Surveyor General of South Australia, gave the valley its name in 1837. Ironically, although the first settlers were primarily German, the valley itself takes its name from Barossa, outside Cadiz in southern Spain. Here, in 1811, British forces stung the army of Napoleon and called the engagement a victory. Colonel Light evidently agreed. (He could have chosen Brooklyn, where the Brits really whooped us in 1776, but Barossa has more of a ring, don’t you think?)
Barossa is one of Australia’s oldest wine producing appellations, but for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was associated with extremely ripe Shiraz destined for fortified wines and inexpensive blends. Since the 1980s, however, quality old-vine Shiraz has become the norm, leading to Barossa’s place today as one of Australia’s best-known Shiraz appellations. Australia produces a wide variety of wines, of course, but in terms of international reputation Shiraz leads the pack.
Peter Lehmann was born in the Barossa. He has been producing wines there for longer than I have been around. The winery recently sent me two Barossa wines, one a full-varietal Shiraz, the other a Shiraz-led blend, each with a suggested retail of $17. Good values, I have to say straight off. I consider $17 something of a threshold, above which a wine ceases to be a beverage and leads, potentially, to a declaration of love (at least to the wine, if not to another human being). I realize not everyone is as romantic as I am, but I have chosen my metaphor, and to it, I shall remain loyal. (Of course, we speak here of Shiraz/Syrah, always a good start for me.)
The Peter Lehmann 2009 Portrait Barossa Shiraz sports a silhouette of Peter Lehmann on the label, hence the title. The back label squeezes in a considerable story regarding Peter Lehmann’s honesty and sense of standards. I have been called upon from time to time to draft rear label text, about as exacting a task as composing a sonnet, and I know the discipline, but get out your magnifying glass, as this is worth reading. You will not need a magnifying device for the wine, however, because you get the full flavor of Barossa grape, and the genius of well-employed oak. Dark fruit, plum, blackberry, with firm tannins and spirited acidity. This wine has structure, grip, directness, exactly what I hope for when I cross the threshold of $17. If you cannot give it three to five years of bottle aging, at least aerate it for a few hours before you let it optimize your hearty dinner. Save a bit to enjoy on its own to savor the long, balanced finish.
The Peter Lehmann 2009 Clancy’s Red is a blend of 39% Shiraz, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot, individually vinified and then aged in a variety of oak for twelve months. The actual Clancy was the likeable hero of the poem Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Paterson, Australia’s famous bush poet. The wine is similarly good-natured. On the nose and on the palate it is berry-rich, somewhat brambly. Decidedly dry, Clancy’s gave me some lively acidity, plenty of succulent fruit, restrained tannins, with some chocolate in the background. This is an excellent wine (and superb value) but the same wine with just a year or two of bottle age would be even more amiable, if you can wait for it.
I have counseled bottle-aging both these wines. Yes, shelf-space has a certain cost, but, really, we are starting from a base of $17. What is that times twelve?
Captures the Place