We arrived in Nagambie Lakes last night and went to the historic Tahbilk winery for a sunset wetlands cruise. Drinking Tahbilk’s refreshing riesling, taking in the scenery whilst on the lookout for kangaroos, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening! Back at the winery this morning Alistair Purbrick took us round the winery before we adjourned to do some serious tasting.
Tahbilk as a winery dates back to 1860, prior to that it was apart of a sheep station. The estate today looks pretty much the same as it did back in the early days – including the notable tower, the origins of which are unclear, but perhaps is due to Chinese influence during the Victorian goldrush. In what is described as a working museum, we saw the large 150 year old oak vats that red wines are still fermented in today. One of these vats had a large wooden stave in it, I foolishly presumed this was to help in the wine making process somehow, perhaps to stir the fermenting must to aid extraction. Silly me, in reality, the stave was there so that should a possum fall into the vat, it could climb out instead of drowning in the wine!
The underground cellars we then proceeded to walk through are at a cool constant temperature housing huge old oak barrels. Whilst this may not be an unusual sight in the old world, certainly in Australia it must be considered a rarity. When Alistair’s grandfather was creating the winery, his aim was to create the pre-eminent winery in the area, to be the best of the best. At that time, winemaking in this area was considered more of a cottage industry, so seeing the efforts, and indeed the money that must have been invested at that time is quite unbelievable. Simply walking round the Tahbilk estate you get a real sense of the history that is behind the name, and that was before we had started the tasting.
Whichever way you look at it, Tahbilk is synonymous with Marsanne, it is one of the company’s significant points of difference. It would be difficult to find another company that ‘owns’ a category of wine in the same way. Original cuttings were taken from ‘white hermitage’ in the Yarra Valley in the 1860s. Whilst none of these original vines survive today, Marsanne is made from vines that date back to 1927. As we started the tasting, in the first flight of wines, the stand out winner for me was the 1999 Tahbilk Marsanne. Gold in colour, on the nose were intense honeyed aromas leading through to orange rind, marmalade and spicy notes on the palate. The viognier that we tasted was beautiful – the nose that you would expect – peach, apricot, intensely perfumed with honeysuckle and white blossom matched with racy acidity on the palate.
As we moved onto the reds, we knew this was going to be a tasting to remember. Tasting horizontally across the styles, as well as vertically across vintages, it really was a unique experience. We had samples from three decades of the elegant “1860 Vines” Shiraz. The important point was made by Tim of the difference between concentration and intensity. These superb wines were most definitely intense, powerful yet elegant, they impress the senses and have multiple layers of detail. The next flight was the ESP Shiraz. The 1971, at nearly 40 years old was still evolving, still had a firmness of structure that would allow it to develop further. The final flight we had was the ESP Cabernet – a sample from 5 decades: 1968, 1979, 1986, 1996 and 2005. The sweet fruit, acidity, tannin, balance and structure that was still present in wines of this age was incredible. I’ll be honest, I’m beginning to run out of suitable terms with which to describe this tasting – unbelievable, phenomenal, amazing – all these words have been used by us today. It is difficult to convey how impressed the group as a whole was. Also we were completely in awe of the generosity that was shown to us. As is sometimes the case, we came across a couple of bottles that had cork taint. We were unable to open a different bottle of the same vintage, simply because there were none. To be given wines to taste of back vintages, where there are literally only one or two bottles remaining is an incredible privilege.
So overall a superb time was had by all at Tahbilk. Seeing first hand one of the oldest dynasties of the Australian wine industry and then being able to sample a vast array of historic wines was stunning.