Grapevine Archive for Wirra Wirra

Tue 07 Feb 2012

South Australia Series, Part One: Wirra Wirra

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Whilst many of you were enjoying a cold Christmas and sipping warm, rich reds ? pinot noir, cabernet, shiraz ? I was enjoying crisp, refreshing whites ? sauvignon blancs, rieslings and viogniers ? in the Land Down Under for a delightfully warm festive season.

Having recently returned from a month long visit to my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, I look back and cheer that I took the opportunity to mix business with pleasure and visit some amazing wineries. Fortunately, as a Wine Society employee, I was privileged to have representatives from six well-known producers throughout McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley, meet with me for an experience not to be forgotten. Unfortunately, I feel I may have developed cenosilicaphobia ? fear of an empty glass (thank you d?Arenberg for teaching me this!)?

Approaching the cellar door at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, there was no mistaking we were in the right place as an oversized monument of the famed Church Block, clad in hundreds of bottle corks, greeted us at the entrance. An overcast, windy Wednesday morning was perhaps not the best welcome to the McLaren Vale ? a stunning blanket of vines, patchworked across the land ? but our host Julian Forwood ensured a great start to the day.

Wirra Wirra, meaning ?amongst the gum trees? in the local native language, was pioneered by Robert Strangways Wigley in 1894, a ?black sheep? in his family who moved away and turned his hand to wine production. Sadly the winery went to ruin, but was saved by Greg Trott in the 1960?s and rebuilt as the beautiful stone building that appears today. Although Greg has now passed away, his presence in the winery is still very much apparent, from the trebuchet in the grounds which was built because he wanted one of his own, to the stories behind some of the labels which represent Greg?s character ? The Lost Watch (a birthday present he lost after one day), The Twelfth Man (his love of cricket) and Hiding Champion (Trott?s nickname).

After harvest ? happening in about a month?s time ? each variety, vineyard and section is fermented separately in stainless steel or oak (mostly French) and remain separate until they are ready to be blended, allowing the true character of each wine to shine through. Interestingly, the final three blends leading up to each end product are tasted with food and, with regular features on restaurant wine lists (and currently on Qantas flights), this is surely producing better wines for us to enjoy in a social capacity.

We were treated to a tasting of thirteen wines; four whites, a rosé, seven reds and a sweet sparkling ? yes, our overcast Wednesday did improve! Many a Society member will know Wirra Wirra Church Block (£12.50), which is the number one selling wine in Oz in its category and has a strong consumer following. The ruby red Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot blend at 14.5% is abundant with blackcurrant, red fruit and sweet spice on both the nose and the palate. Shiraz is the performer in the 2009 vintage, but I am told cabernet will shine in the 2010. Grapes are estate grown with a blend of hand and machine picking and 100% barrel fermented with a third to a half in new oak. 1972 was the first vintage of Church Block and I can safely vouch that it is still going strong!

For perhaps a more special occasion (or an amazing steak) try Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz (£35) ? generously juicy, fruity, and a little bit spicy ? or Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer (also £35) ? a McLaren Vale Cabernet with grippy tannins, red fruit, aromas of tobacco and a hint of mint. Branded as The Angelus in Australia, it goes by the name Dead Ringer in the UK after a polite (?!) letter ? in French ? from Château Angelus in St Emilion advising that it would not be an appropriate name. Dead Ringer: an exact duplicate ? I think not in this case, but by far Wirra Wirra gets my vote for taking it so lightheartedly!

Jo Mansell
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Categories : Australia
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