Torbreck RunRig is one of the champions of Australian Shiraz, made from grand old vines in Barossa Valley in a modern style. It also incorporates a dollop of Viognier, an idea cadged from Côte-Rôtie, where co-fermenting with the white grape is common. It contributes to the wine's distinctive character.
To differentiate from his other wines that are 100 percent Shiraz, owner Dave Powell has always taken care to mention Viognier on his label.
A new regulation requires that a wine contain a minimum of 5 percent of a variety before it can be named at all on the label. RunRig typically uses 3 percent Viognier. Any mention on the back label is also forbidden unless the wine meets the 5 percent rule.
On a visit with Powell here in the Barossa, he expressed frustration. "The Australian Wine and Brandy Commission is a bunch of bozos," he fumed. "If I don't mention Viognier on the label, people who know the wine will wonder if I stopped using it. And if I actually use 5 percent Viognier, the wine would be out of balance. So I have to lie."
Torbreck makes a number of wines from Shiraz, including the low-end Woodcutters bottling, the single-vineyard Descendant, the Eden Valley Struie and the Barossa all-Shiraz Factor. A new single-vineyard wine joins the family with the 2007 vintage. It will be called The Laird, and there is a story behind it.
Barossa Valley has pockets of old plantings, some dating back more than a century. They survived the vine-pull scheme of the 1970s, when it looked like no one wanted red wines any more and the Australian government actually paid growers to pull out their vines. Technically, they didn't have to actually pull the vines. They could just leave them untended and unharvested for a few years. That's why many of these vineyards still exist.
Powell is known in Barossa for paying good money for grapes from such old vines. One day last year an old Barossa grower called him and asked if he were interested in the grapes from his "garden."
"I knew he was an old-time grower because the old Barossa Germans called their vineyards 'gardens,'" Powell said. He asked where the vineyard was. When the grower told him, he was ready to hang up. "I knew that site," he said. "It was all young vines." But the grower pointed out that the old vines were in the middle of the vineyard. They can't be seen from the road.
That intrigued Powell. So he asked about yields, hoping for something less than a ton and a half per acre. "About 10 tons," said the grower. Again, Powell was ready to hang up, and then the grower added, "It's about nine and a half acres." Powell realized that the 10 tons was for all nine acres, or just over a ton per acre, extremely low yields.
"I dropped the phone and raced out the door," he said. "I think I got there before he realized I wasn't on the line any more."
Powell gave me a taste of the Laird, and it's a doozy, oozing with black cherry and spice flavors, supple and heady and seductive. Get ready to say, "Yum," if you get a chance to taste it when it hits the market late this year.
Brian — costa mesa, ca — May 16, 2008 3:52am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 16, 2008 4:42am ET
Brian — costa mesa, ca — May 16, 2008 6:52am ET
Alvaro Esquivel — Miami, Fla — May 16, 2008 2:05pm ET
Paul Root — Healdsburg, California — May 16, 2008 3:07pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions