Michael Twelftree had an agenda. The owner of Two Hands Wines, which in only a decade has established itself as one of Australia's most compelling wineries, dug into his cellar in Barossa Valley to present a formidable tasting dinner in Los Angeles. The evening included a full nine-year vertical of Ares, Two Hands' tête de cuvée Shiraz, which Twelftree admitted he had never done before, not even at home.
"I tried some of these vintages to see how they're going, but never the whole lineup," he said before the event. "I have no idea what we're going to find."
Well, he can relax. The wines showed great, even the 2003, a Barossa vintage roundly booed as the worst vintage of the decade. The winner for me was the 2005, closely followed by 2002. The message was clear. Although in most years the grapes ripen enough to make the wines appealing to drink early on, vintage matters in Australia if you want to age the wines. The differences show clearly after a few years in the bottle.
Twelftree also hauled out three older bottles from Two Hands' garden series, which consists of regional blends of Shiraz from specific appellations. He wanted to demonstrate that terroir does indeed exist in Australia, and you can taste the distinctions. A comparison of three varietal bottlings not involving Shiraz was designed to show that Australia was not a one-trick pony.
Organized by Wally's, one of L.A.'s leading wine shops, the tasting and dinner drew a crowd of 66 to Westwood Tavern, which complemented the rich, flavorful red wines with dishes such as braised veal with Parmesan polenta and black pepper New York strip steak with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Many had already become fans of Two Hands, and they seemed to have no trouble finding the nuances Twelftree was aiming for.
The first round lined up three wines from 2002, the first acclaimed vintage after Two Hands launched with the 2000s. "I wanted to show three wines from three completely different regions, but all from the same vintage so the field was level," Twelftree explained. Samantha's Garden 2002, made from Clare Valley grapes, was pointed and focused, with dark flavors and fine tannins, the chewy texture and licorice overtones lingering well. Non-blind (as were all the wines), 92 points. Lily's Garden 2002, from McLaren Vale, was much riper. I would call it Port-y, with dark cherry and pepper and spice. It finished a bit hot, but had some richness, still worth 90 points, non-blind. The class act was Bella's Garden 2002, the Barossa blend (which was the first of several vintages of Bella's to appear in Wine Spectator's annual Top 100). It showed the best balance and most refinement, lovely blueberry, plum and spice flavors, focused and long (95 points, non-blind).
The next flight compared the winery's high-end non-Shiraz varieties, all from Barossa. My preference was for the Aphrodite 2004 (a Cabernet Sauvignon), firm in texture with focused, peppery, spicy flavors, a mint edge to the blackberry and black fruit, rich and long (94 points, non-blind). I liked Aerope 2007 (the Grenache) for its smoothness, peppery accents, and the guava and dark plum flavors, long and vivid (92 points, non-blind). I was less enamored of the Anteros 2008 (Mataro). It was rich with plum and sweet spice flavors, finishing sweet and silky. But there was a funkiness to it that robbed it of some of its charm. (88 points, non-blind)
That brought up the Ares, a lineup of barrel selections, each consisting of around eight barrels from that represent what Twelftree and winemaker Matt Wenk consider to be the most ideal for the vintage. Usually, it's 100 percent Barossa but not every year. The current bottling (2008) sells for $150.
Twelftree said he and Wenk look for a balance of intensity, depth of flavor, ripe tannins and enough acidity to keep it refreshing. "The acid is the train tracks, the tannin is the brakes of the train, and the fruit is the engine coming into the station," is how he described it. "The idea is that the train stops perfectly in the station when you get all those components perfectly in line."
With that, here is how the Ares lineup shaped up:
Ares 2001: A good vintage, overshadowed by the 2002 that followed. Mature, velvety, supple, a bit shy, with a pruny edge to the soft fruit (91 points, non-blind).
Ares 2002: The coolest vintage in South Australia's modern history produced a sweet and mature nose, focused, powerful, generous flavors, spicy and peppery around a spherical core of black fruit and plum (96 points, non-blind).
Ares 2003: This year was as hot as '02 was cool. Earthy flavors were prominent, velvety and supple, with dark flavors, a bit sharp with alcohol but generous and long (91 points, non-blind).
Ares 2004: Warm but not overly hot, this vintage came out spicy—an aromatic style that's complex, supple and balanced with a tang of acidity. Very long and spectacular (97 points, non-blind).
Ares 2005: Similar to '04, this one is rich, ripe, supple, powerful and complete; it has density with clarity. Flavors of cherry spice, pepper and green peppercorn mingle effortlessly. Long and sensual (98 points, non-blind).
Ares 2006: The first of a series of hot vintages. Dense, rich, firm in tannins, with power but not quite as much finesse as the '04 and '05. Still, the balance is impeccable. (This one has some McLaren Vale fruit.) (95 points, non-blind).
Ares 2007: Rich, dense and powerful, hot and intense, with lots of rich blueberry and toast flavors, long and supple (94 points, non-blind).
Ares 2008: Soft, ripe, focused, nice cherry and savory spice flavors, red pepper on the finish, toasty. This one draws from several regions (95 points, non-blind).
Ares 2009 (tank sample, not yet bottled): Ripe, Port-y, with a sweet finish. Very ripe (91–94 points, non-blind).
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