Kangarilla Road is hands-down one of our favourite producers in Australia’s McLaren Vale, so we were absolutely thrilled when Kevin O’Brien, the winemaker and founder of the family-owned vineyard, offered his time to our staff for a tasting held in London last night. Kevin had just flown in from Vancouver, so his stay in London was pit-stop on his way back home. For a man whose internal clock was telling him it was 5am the next day, he was on fantastic form.
Kevin already had 20 years of experience as a winemaker when he founded Kangarilla Road in 1997 with his wife Helen, who came from the fashion industry – he brought the skill, and she brought the style! The McLaren Vale is in South Australia, about an hour outside Adelaide, and is renowned as one of Australia’s top quality wine regions producing some of the best wines to come out of the Southern Hemisphere. Geography is a huge factor, as is the geological composition of the soil on which the vines are planted. As Kevin explained, you’re never far from the sea in McLaren, so it’s a massive factor influencing the climate. It’s Mediterranean with warm summers and mild winters, but with massive diurnal range meaning that during summer the temperatures can soar to 35+ centigrade during the day and drop to 10 centigrade overnight. The reason for this is its exposure to the South-Westerly coming from Antarctica, its path broken by Kangaroo Island off the coast and cliffs along the beautiful sandy beaches on the mainland.
One of the most exciting – and educational – elements of the tasting was his introduction of the Scarce Earth Project, an incredible research effort into creating terroir wines in an effort to better map and understand the unique terroir of McLaren Vale. He believes that they have actually identified soil components that add specific textural and structural elements into a wine. Flavour and style may vary from wine to wine, but three winemakers have found – independently of one another – wines grown on certain limestone soils all share similar chalky tannins. The next stage will be to perform chemical analysis of the soil and the wines from that soil to examine how much uptake of mineral elements can be found in the grapes pre-and-post vinification.
We tasted through the range carried by Majestic along with a few museum releases to show how the wines develop. Kevin explained that in his mind whether or not a wine is intended to age isn’t really important, but if after ten years it still tastes good, it’s a sign that all the components were there for it to be a great wine in the first place. In other words, he makes wine that can be enjoyed on release, but by making sure that the wine is made well from good grapes and handled well from the outset, you get a wine that tastes good at all stages of its life. We tried a 2005 Cabernet along side the current 2011, and a 2004 Shiraz alongside the 2011 release, and they were drinking wonderfully. We could sense the connection in the wines, but we also enjoyed the differences.
The tasting finished with the 2011 Scarce Earth Project Shiraz – a wine which had to pass an independent panel review to be considered part of the project. It was expressive, rich and silky with powerful fruit and delicate lifted aromatics – balanced, fine and with deliciously chalky tannins. Definitely McLaren Vale, and very much an elegant expression of Shiraz but with power throbbing beneath the surface.
We’re immensely grateful to Kevin for sharing his expertise (and the wines) with us, and incredibly excited to add the Scarce Earth Project Shiraz to our range. It’s a very special wine and represents something very exciting.
You can browse the Kangarilla Road wines online here. The Scarce Earth Project Shiraz is passing through customs at time of writing, so we hope to see it in store soon!