Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Fine Wine Event of the Year - Langton's Classification of Australian Wine VI‏

Oftentimes, I have purchased a ticket to an event months in advance, forgotten about it and then been shocked back into a state of excitement a few weeks before the event when I realise it is getting close.

Not so with the Perth leg of Langton's Classification of Australian Wine VI.  I had been counting down the weeks, then days to this event. It is the best opportunity I have had thus far to expose myself to a large number of high quality Australian wines all in one place at one time.  With my current mission to taste as much wine as possible to improve my sensory analysis, it was a no brainer to attend.

Please note that the following information was sourced and summarised from information provided by Langton's in material from the event and on their website:  Langton's.

Langton's started life as a fine wine auction house in 1988 and has now expanded to include an online wine business and private wine broking operation. Their classification system was born in 1991 and has now become a trusted point of reference for the upper echelon of quality wines in Australia.

To be selected for classification, a wine must have been made for at least 10 vintages. Above that, eligibility is based upon reputation and track record at auction (volume demand and realised price).

For the uninitiated, there are three classification levels used by Langton's:
1. Exceptional 
(currently 21 wines)
"The most hightly sought-after and prized 'first-growth Australian wines."
2. Outstanding 
(currently 53 wines)
" 'Super-Second' Australian wines of outstanding quality and provenance."
3. Excellent 
(currently 65 wines)
" Classic Australian wines of consistent excellence"

The Event
There were two ticket levels for the event.  For $250 you could have access to all wines in all three categories (139 total).  For a less extravagant option, you could pay $85 to try the Outsanding and Excellent Wines (118). I opted for the latter ticket for two reasons:
1. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to try all 139 wines in 3 hours
2. I had heard of all the Exceptional category wines (and had tried almost half of them within the past year) and there were many wines in the Outstanding and Excellent categories that I had not heard of before (greater learning opportunity).

It was not until I arrived at the event that the reality of the task at hand really hit me.  Could I try all 118 wines in the three hours available to me?  Not a mean feat, but I decided I would do my best to try as many as physically possible (obviously using a spittoon throughout).

The epic task would have been significantly simplified if the organisers had actually listed the wines in some form of alphabetical order.  At least I was not the only one struggling to find the wines I was tasting so I could make some quick notes - even the stall reps were experiencing this difficulty.

It was also frustrating that the event sheet did not provide any room to make decent notes on any of the wines tasted, resulting in my sheet turning into a big mess of scrawl, arrows, circles, stars and ticks!  Difficult for summarising later (and part of the reason for the delay in writing this post!).

On a more positive note, it was very exciting to be surrounded by a 350-strong contingent of wine enthusiast, peppered with winemakers, distributors, sommeliers, wine writers and the like. I had many an interesting conversation with the more dedicated stalls who had either sent their winemaker or other prominent staff member all the way to Perth.

The Wines
Rather than provide a blow-by-blow account of everything I tasted and everyone I met and learnt from, I have provided what I hope is a useful summary for anyone interested in exploring some of these fine Australian wines.


I will start with white wine, as this was by far the significant minority on the night. My highlight of the evening was tasting the Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon. Tyrrell's were generously providing a sample of both the 2008 release and the 1998.  There are a few semillons in my wine fridge starting to tick over the years, but I had never tasted such an aged example.  Just let me say I am very glad to be ageing some of this variety and I can only hope that they hold up as amazingly as the 1998 has - still packed with acid and green fruits, but rounding out in the mouth with luxuriously golden buttered toast.

Although I adore Grosset riesling, I must say I was taken by the Leo Buring 'Leonay' Riesling, with its beautiful lime curd characters. And on the Chardonnay front, it was Savaterre that stole my heart with its elegantly oaked version, a tribute to the Beechworth wine region.

There were simply that many excellent red wines on show that I cannot honestly do any or all of them justice. However, from my perspective, the excitement lay in my discovery of some cult wineries and comparing experimental and traditional winemaking techniques.

Pinot Noir was thin on the ground in comparison to Cabernet and Shiraz. My standout Pinot was the By Farr 'Sangreal' Pinot Noir.  I am all about body when it comes to reds, so the sweet, juicy berries, and thick spices were a joy to swirl and mull over in my mouth.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine of many guises and this showed through due to the variety of climates represented. Noon Winery blew me away with their viscous style - my tasting note:  black fruit, fruit and more fruit! (mind you, they also did a rich, mouthcoating and opulent Shiraz). Of the Margaret River offerings, it was the Vasse Felix 'Heytsbury' blend that spoke to me with chewy mocha tannins (although perhaps I was swayed by the 10-15% Malbec addition). Finally, I could not go past the Petaluma Coonawarra Cabernet, all luscious berries and cedary oak.

Wolf Blass' iconic Cabernet-Shiraz blend really displayed all that has made Australia renowned for pioneering and championing this blend. But by far the most intriguing wine for me was the Primo Estate 'Joseph Moda' Cabernet Merlot, which is produced in an Amarone style (where the grapes are partially dried to concentrate the flavours).  The result was a big and bold wine, but with concentrated fruits and Christmas cake spices to match.

Onto Shiraz, a wine close to my heart, being the first red wine I distinguished as a favourite variety.  My legs were shaking a little as I was poured a tasting glass of Yalumba's 2006 Octavius Old Vine Shiraz.  For me, the Barossa stalwarts of Charles Melton (Nine Popes Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre), Turkey Flat and John Duval brought a warmth to my heart and reminded me just how much I adore visiting this region.

A region that has soared in popularity in recent years with a move to cool climate Shiraz, the Grampians shone through via the Seppelt St Peters Great Western Vineyards Shiraz.  It had dark fruit and thick earthy characters, perhaps due to the extremely old vines used.

Clearly, I could go on and on about the wines, but I think the results speak for themselves:  a truly priceless opportunity and one that really brought home how proud we can all be about the quality of Australia's fine wines.