Iconic…..its a word that gets bandied about a heck of a lot, often it’s used simply because someone wants to say something nice about a block of flats or an ageing building, and calls them “iconic”.
But it’s a word that probably sits quite well when you throw out names like “Wirra Wirra” or “Greg Trott”, the man responsible for resurrecting Wirra Wirra from being a lost and abandoned winery to the, dare I say it, iconic institution it is today.
Wirra Wirra Vineyards was originally established in 1894 by Robert Wigley, and prospered in its early days, until Wigley’s death in 1925. The winery ran into disrepair and was eventually abandoned; enter Greg Trott, who turned the vineyards into one of Australia’s most recognisable and leading wineries. Trott and his cousin Roger rebuilt the winery in 1969 from the remnants of two walls and some slate fermenting tanks. James Halliday has described Wirra Wirra as being “Recognised for having a long track record of excellence — truly the best of the best.”
The first wine that Trott ever produced under the Wirra Wirra label was the Church Block, the name coming from the fact that the vineyard was near a small church. The wine has gone on to have a huge following in Australia, and a huge part of the wines’ success over the last 40 odd years is its sheer drinkability and quality. Here’s a wine that shows its McLaren Vale personality, is complex enough to satisfy your cork-dork mates at a degustation dinner event, but is still so easy drinking that it works as a quaffer with the Friday night pizza and footy.
It’s a great wine with certain vintages being exceptional, delivering flavour and intensity by the barrow load, without needing to have barrow loads of cash. If you need to tip the scales just a little bit further in the wine’s favour, it will also hold cellar age.
But the blend that creates the Church Block we see today is not what it originally was. When Trott produced the original Church Block it was a blend of Grenache and Shiraz, because at the time that’s what McLaren Vale was doing best, and there is an argument that it’s still what the Vale does best now too.
But taking the advice of mentors and friends, Trott evolved the Church Block label over the years to become its current blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. As the years went on, more and more people would mention how they enjoyed the original blend, Wirra Wirra took that feedback on-board and at various times over the years, when Mother Nature has smiled down, and the harvest has been excellent, the winery has had enough fruit to be able to re-create the Original Blend.
I can honestly say that there’s a lot to like about the Original Blend, from its original 70’s quite simple blue label, that would be classed as quite dull these days, to the sheer enjoyable drinkability of the blend. On release the Original Blend is more of a Sunday arvo with mates wine, than a serious conversation wine, but it gains depth with a few years of bottle age.
I was lucky enough to see nearly the entire Wirra Wirra range at a recent tasting, noting that they have quite a remarkable range, especially in their reds, from entry level $11 red blends right through to their $70 flagship wines, the RSW Shiraz, The Absconder Grenache and The Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon or their super limited $130 Patritti Shiraz, but it’s the Church Block and the Original Blend that I come back to time and again.
Wirra Wirra Church Block 2015 – the ’15 isn’t too far from hitting the shelves at your local and it’s a cracker of a release. Dusty and dry in the mouth, blackberry and boysenberry, whispers of dark chocolate and mocha notes, this vintage will easily see ten years in the bottle. At less than $20 it’s one of those “back the truck up” bargains.
Wirra Wirra Original Blend 2016 – geez I love this gluggable style. Raspberries and woody spice on the tongue, plump rich red fruits on the finish with the savoury tannins balancing it out well. Great drinking now, but will gain some extra complexity with some time in the bottle, holding well for the next decade or so.
Wirra Wirra Patritti Scarce Earth Shiraz 2013 – ok, at $130 bottle, and only available direct from the winery, it’s probably not a wine that you will see a lot of floating around. However if you have a special event that you wanted to put a bottle away to celebrate with in 20 or so years, then this is right up your alley. It’s big and intense, with dark plums, liquorice and the faintest trace of gun smoke, it will live in the bottle for a very long time.
Wirra Wirra Catapult Shiraz 2015 – they’ve managed to knock a pretty serious wine out with this 2015 vintage, and at a crazy $25 price point. Red currants, blueberries, raspberries and woody spice all wound around a backbone of bright acid and silky smooth tannins, it’s juicy and chewy without being overwhelming. This will see 20 years in the bottle easily. Fill the other half of the truck with this while you’ve got it backed up.