Session 4: Historical perspective
An incredible tasting that formed the centrepoint of the inaugural Landmark Australia Tutorial 

‘It has taken nine months to put this session together,’ announced Andrew Caillard as he introduced the most eagerly awaited tasting of the Landmark Tutorial. ‘Finding some of these wines has been really difficult.’

Appropriately, Andrew was joined on the podium (actually, it was just a table at the front of the room) by James Halliday, someone with an incredible perspective on this topic.

In front of each of us were 20 glasses of wine that, together, constituted one of the most remarkable tasting I have ever experienced. So exciting was the line-up that as we sat down to taste, the atmosphere in the room was electrifying. The anticipation in the air was almost tangible - it was like the buzz you get at a great sporting occasion just before commencement of play.

Caillard emphasized that this was an unrepeatable tasting, with wines that we will never see again. He then went to list some of the most famous bottles of Australian wine history, which sadly, are pretty much unavailable now. Caillard had tried to get some old Maurice O’Shea wines to put in the line-up, but these are now almost impossible to source. O’Shea is perhaps the greatest name in Australian wine history, and his 1937 Mount Pleasant Martinent one of the best ever Aussie wines. Other names mentioned included Jack Mann’s 1937 Houghton White Burgundy, Chateau Reynella Burgundy 1938, Hardy’s VP 1945, Lindemans Bin 4080 Hunter River Burgundy 1945 and Penfolds Kalimna Cabernet 1948.

So we began.

1954 Seppelt Great Western Hermitage K72 Shiraz, Great Western, Grampians
This was made by Colin Preece, who studied at Roseworthy and started making wine at Seppeltsfield. He moved to Great Western and started making remarkable table wines and sparklers. ‘Colin Preece was an unusual winemaker,’ says James Halliday. ‘He used to back blend almost all his show wines with two or three older vintages on hand, so this 1954 will have even older wine in it.’ Preece would seldom pick before the grapes were 14-15 Baume and then he watered the juice back to get the alcohol right. In comparison, Maurice O’Shea used blocks of ice to cool the ferments down, to the same effect. Most of these wines were made in limited quantities of 500 cases or fewer. They weren’t terribly expensive so when they were released they tended to get drunk.

The wine is a brown colour, with a sweet aromatic nose of fudge, toffee and subtle raisiny qualities. There’s some lifted acidity. The palate is earthy and herby with good acidity. No fruit remains, and it tastes a bit like an oloroso sherry, with some citrusy notes on the finish. Hard to rate, because there is not much wine character left. What is left is nicely balanced.

1955 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Multi-region South Australia
An unsung hero in the Grange story is Ray Beckwith, the Penfolds chemist who was much involved in Grange and realized the relationship between pH and wine stability. ‘His contribution is quite profound,’ says Caillard. Ray Beckwith won the Maurice O’Shea award in 2008 at the age of 96. The idea of a multi vineyard wine such as Grange was perfectly natural because of the fortified wine heritage. The main feature of the house style was barrel fermentation, where wine of 1–2 Baume goes to complete its fermentation in oak. It is pure coincidence that this practice was adopted by Max Schubert. On his travels in Bordeaux he had seen it done, but this was because in the financially strapped circumstances just after the war, the winemakers needed the vats to be clear and so went to barrel earlier than they’d have wanted to. 1951 was the first vintage of Grange; an experiment. 1952 was the first commercial release. In 1956 Schubert was told to stop making it, but after a few years he entered the 1955 in national shows and it swept the floor. The wines had been totally misunderstood by the Penfolds hierarchy.

Deep brown in colour. Warm, intense and spicy on the nose with some citrus fruit, tar, raisin and cask notes. Very firm and intense. The palate is warm, rich, intense and spicy with dense, structured, earthy fruit. There’s not much fruit left, but the wine is still really alive and intense. Long finish with tar, spice, prunes and raisins. This bottle had been recorked by one of the Penfolds clinics. 95/100

1955 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Michael Shiraz, Coonawarra
The Coonawarra story is more modern one. Bill Redman was one of the first here, and his 1955 Michael was a freak wine. At this stage there was no electric power in the region. The wine was made at Chateau Comaum by Norman Walker, and it was matured in second-hand spirit casks. They were never able to reproduce this 1955.

Deep brown colour, with some red hints. Lovely fresh, earthy, spicy nose with some warm red fruit notes. The palate has some earthy notes under the fruit. It’s drying and earthy with some nice complexity. Firm, earthy and intense with good structure. The fruit has faded: this is old, but it’s really interesting. Lively finish with some citrus notes and a long finish. 94/100

1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Coonawarra /(Kalimna) Barossa Valley
This is probably one of Australia’s most celebrated wines. On the show circuit, it won 19 trophies and numerous gold medals. A classic blend of Shiraz and Cabernet, with the former coming from the Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley, and the latter from Coonawarra. This was a region Max Schubert wasn’t really interested in as he was developing Grange, but he visited and as a result Penfolds purchased some blocks here. ‘We are now in the realm of bottle variation,’ says James Halliday. ’10 years ago this wine was bulletproof.’ He adds: ‘at its peak, this was the all-time single great Australian wine.’ The feeling is that Bin60A is now beginning to enter its slow decline phase. ‘It’s starting to become a beautiful grandmother.’ Andrew Caillard says that this historic wine is now getting very rare. The auction price is around A$3500, although one sale netted a record price of $5500.

It is a red/brown colour with a browning rim. The nose is fresh, earthy, green and a bit herby with wonderful purity of fruit. It’s really elegant with some fruit still. The palate shows wonderfully fresh, pure red fruits. Really focused and elegant with vibrant, juicy freshness and hints of meat. Spicy, elegant and concentrated with hints of mint. Still some structure, but the tannins are soft. Now fully mature with some fine spice notes. A really beautiful wine. 97/100

A video of Andrew and James talking about this famous wine:

1971 Penfolds Grange Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Multi-region South Australia
‘If you had to pick a wine which fulfilled the ambition of Grange it would have to be the 1971,’ said Max Schubert in 1993. This, a blend of 87% Shiraz and 13% Cabernet from Barossa, Clare, Magill Estate (Adelaide) and Coonawarra, has an unusually low alcohol level of 11.5% alcohol.

Fresh, lifted nose with lovely pure, rich dark fruits together with more evolved earth and spice notes. Fresh still. The palate is warm, spicy, tannic and earthy with good spicy structure. It’s complex, powerful, spicy and tannic with notes of earth and tar. A really firm wine with lots of interest. A lovely Grange with an amazing finish. 96/100

1982 Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra
‘A hugely famous wine that spawned a new direction in fine wine making,’ says Caillard. It was made by John Wade, and is a selection of the very best fruit aged for 24–48 months in oak. Lovely gravelly, earthy edge to the slightly sappy, elegant blackcurrant and red berry fruit. Subtle and sophisticated. The palate is beautifully elegant with wonderfully expressive red fruits and beautiful balance, with the oak fitting in really well. Super-sophisticated and drinking perfectly now. 95/100

1985 Wendouree Shiraz, Clare Valley
Roly Birks did 60 vintages here. In 1974 Wendouree was bought by Tony and Lita Brady, and Stephen George has been co-winemaker since 1981. The wine comes from 1890 plantings, producing small berries with thick skins. Distinctive iodine nose is really refined, savoury and fresh. Remarkably taut. The palate has some meaty, stewed plum notes. Warm with earth and iodine character as well as fresh, savoury red fruits, firm tannins and a fresh, savoury edge. An unusual, striking wine which has some difficult edges but is compelling. 93/100

1986 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley
Australia’s most famous single-vineyard wine. Deep red colour with a brown rim. Smooth, pure and quite dense with soft tannins under the sweet dark fruits. There’s some nice earthy complexity with a long, smooth, savoury finish. A broad, harmonious wine showing some evolution. Mellow stuff, in a soft, smooth style. 92/100

1986 Brokenwood Hermitage Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, Hunter
A truly great wine. Fresh nose with lovely focus and intense red/black fruits. Very focused with lovely fruit quality. Complex. The palate is fresh with spicy, earthy red fruits and amazing acidity and structure. Superbly elegant and fresh with beautiful intensity and concentration. The freshness here is amazing with beautiful acidity and complexity. 97/100

1990 Mount Mary Vineyard Lilydale Cabernets Quintet, Yarra Valley
Wonderfully focused sweet, pure, sophisticated nose with pure berry fruits and lovely precision and purity. Ripe but well defined. The palate is pure with amazing focus and clarity to the berry fruits with some richness, but also some great acidity and freshness. A stunning wine with concentration, focus and elegance. 96/100

1995 Cullen Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Margaret River
Since 2001 this wine has been renamed the Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot. Lovely pure blackcurrant fruit nose with a refined, mineralic, gravelly edge. The palate has sweet, expressive blackcurrant fruit with some earthy, gravelly notes providing a savoury counter. This is focused and precise with lovely fruit. Deliciously intense: big but elegant, and still quite primary. 94/100

1996 Clarendon Hills Astralis Vineyard Shiraz (Syrah), McLaren Vale
‘Roman Bratasiuk completely broke the mould during the 1990s,’ says Caillard. ‘The Australian wine show system, through its awarding of trophies and gold medals, was championing a narrow style range. The release of the 1996 Astralis provoked a political schism among Australian wine show judges and commentators.  An intensely concentrated single-vineyard wine from 35- to 75-yearold vines, its exotic, funky edge challenged the established status quo. Robert Parker, the American wine critic, lionized the wine, resulting in a Shiraz celebrated overseas but not truly recognized at home.’ Caillard says that Autsralia simply didn’t see cult wines like this coming. They sparked controversy in Australia as interest from the US focused not on the established classics, but the newcomers like this, Torbreck’s Run Rig and Chris Ringland’s Three Rivers. This is sweet, lush, pure nose with some spicy meaty notes, and an iodine-like edge. Sweet palate is dense, rich and meaty with bold, spicy fruit. A rich, complex, meaty wine with real interest. It’s not just about sweet fruit, but has some complexing Brettanomyces character which works rather well in the context of the sweet fruit. Unusual and delicious. 94/100

1996 Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
This vineyard block, planted in 1888, represents the oldest Cabernet plantings in the world. But this wine has only been made in eight vintages: 48, 52, 53, 61, 63, 64, 96 and 2004. Deliciously savoury and spicy red berry and blackcurrant nose. The palate is fresh and firm with lovely dense forward fruit, with lively acidity. A concentrated, firm, dense wine with lovely structure and a long future ahead of it. Great intensity and freshness. 93/100

1996 Best’s Wines Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz, Great Western, Grampians
Minty, meaty dark fruits nose. The palate has an unusual liqueur-like sweet cherry and plum character with a slightly herby, rubbery edge. There’s an elegance here, but also some unusual leathery, herby notes. Sweet and a bit stewed. 91/100

1998 Petaluma Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Fresh, pure and minty with subtly gravelly notes to the nose, which shows attractive blackcurrant fruit. The palate is fresh and pure, showing some elegance, with blackcurrant fruit supported by good acidity and subtly gravelly notes. Pure and focused, this is an open, expressive wine. 94/100

1999 Torbreck Run Rig Shiraz Viognier, Barossa Valley
Intensely fruity, smooth, sweet dark fruits nose is chocolately, sweet and spicy. The palate is fresh, smooth and intense with lush dark fruits as well as lively spiciness. This is a striking, powerful, sweetly fruited wine with striking aromatics. 93/100

2001 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland
Beautifully aromatic nose is sweet, intense, herby and slightly meaty, with dark cherry and plum fruit. Complex and beguiling. The palate shows a bit of evolution, with some sweet and sour character, and sweet earthy, herby, undergrowth notes alongside the dark cherry and plum fruit. Strange but lovely; odd but brilliant. 95/100

2001 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District
Amazingly sweet, open aromatic on the nose showing an apricotty twist to the beautifully pure, subtly meaty dark fruits. Amazing sweet fruit aromatics. The palate is super-elegant and expressive with finesse and elegance to the sweet, bright red and black fruits. A remarkable wine. 95/100

2002 Seppelt St Peters Great Western Shiraz, Great Western, Grampians
A dark wine. Amazingly intense sweet dark fruits nose. The palate is spicy, rich and oaky with lovely density. A rich, bold, spicy style with some chocolatey richness. A massive wine with lots of oak, this may age nicely. 92/100

2004 Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon
Wonderfully intense blackberry and blackcurrant nose with a dark gravelly depth to it. Quite rich with some oak. The palate has nice freshness and rich blackcurrant fruit. Great depth with nice focus and the potential for further development. 94/100  

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09 
Find these wines with

Back to top