Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Winter Red Wine Benchmark Tasting

Patio Overlooking the Vineyards
Sunday was a cool, cloudy day in the Swan Valley.  A lovely day to stroll through the vineyards, but an even better day to enjoy an epic Shiraz tasting.

Faber Vineyard hold an annual event called the Winter Red Wine Benchmark Tasting, one of their most highly anticipated events of the year.  For those sixty of us lucky enough to attend, this year's event was an opportunity to try Shiraz from the 2011 Vintage, which is known to have been a superb in both the Hunter Valley and Western Australia.

Laid Out for Lunch
I had never attended an event at Faber Vineyard before, but had heard that John Griffiths was an excellent host, and his wife Jane an equally good cook. After everyone had congregated on the back porch with a sparkling wine (Faber have both a white and red option) and a few caramelised onion pinwheels, John and Janet welcomed us all to the event and gave us a run-down of the format for the day.

There were twelve wines up for blind tasting, which had been divided into three brackets of four wines.  The Faber barrel shed had been set up as the tasting venue, whilst the cellar door was beautifully set out for the three courses that would break up the three tasting rounds.

First things first, we headed to the tasting room, where we were introduced to the panel of wine personalities:
Everyone was provided with a tasting sheet, with room to record tasting notes, personal rankings and overall votes.  After each bracket, members of the audience were chosen at random to provide comment on the wines and each panel member also put forward some thoughts and analysis.  Finally, everyone had the opportunity to vote for one of the four wines in the bracket. 

The Tasting Room
After the first round of tasting and commentary, everyone headed back to the cellar door for some homemade Capsicum and Tomato soup, matched with Faber's 2012 Dwellingup Mourvedre.  The herbaceous sweetness in both the capsicum and wine were very complementary.

By the end of the second tasting bracket, I had definitely worked up a hefty appetite from all that sniffing, swirling and sipping. I could smell wafts of Osso Bucco wafting from the kitchen as we walked back to the dining room, and was not disappointed.  The rustic meat was literally falling off the bone and the warming 2012 Riche Shiraz was a lovely accompaniment.

First Tasting Bracket
After the third and final bracket was completed, John Griffiths revealed the identity of each wine.  The top four (based solely upon votes for each bracket) were as follows:
  1. Upper Reach Shiraz
  2. Paul Conti Shiraz
  3. Faber Reserve Shiraz
  4. Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz
So there you have it, the two Swan Valley wines trumped the tasting, with the most renowned Hunter version scraping in to the top four.  I do have to comment that the format of voting for one in each bracket may have biased these results, not to mention the fact that all top four wines were very bold and striking compared to some of the more elegantly reserved wines.  Such styles can sometimes seem slightly washed out in such a comparison.  Still, congratulations to Western Australia for coming out on top!

From my own perspective, I was genuinely impressed with the quality of wine tasted.  Although my voting preferences tended to be for the more 'Australian Style' shiraz, with opulence, oak and black pepper, some of the 'Syrah' style versions displayed simply delightful aromas.  It has been a few years since I last enjoyed some Hunter Valley Shiraz, so it was also good to remind myself of the quality that comes from this region. 

Here is a summary of my tasting notes (as usual, I have tried to minimise the detail to avoid boring/overwhelming):

We left with a few bottles of Faber Shiraz... and some very satisfied bellies!

Special thanks to John and Jane from Faber Vineyard for a wonderful event.