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The New Barossa
Part 9: Spinifex

We’ve met Pete Schell before in this series: he’s the winemaker at Turkey Flat. Pete’s own project is called Spinifex, and under this label he’s making stunning wines that are among the best I tried on my visit.

When I met up with Pete it would be fair to say I wasn’t in the best of shape. Now I don’t have the stamina of a Barossa winemaker, and so I should have shown more caution on Friday night when I was invited to a magnum dinner at Vintners in Angaston. Many of the young-ish Barossa crowd were gathered, and each of them had brought at least a magnum. My notes trailed off about two-thirds away through the proceedings, and then I went back with a few others to Travis O’Callaghan’s place where he began mixing cocktails that, if I remember correctly, consisted of Rockford Rosé and Gin.

So, when Pete swings by to pick me up at 9 am on Saturday morning, I haven’t yet made it back. He’s got a fresh-out baby at home, so he sensibly didn’t come out to dinner on Friday. But graciously he agrees to keep the appointment when I finally get through to him, and we get stuck into some serious barrel tasting.

Even in my fragile state, I was thrilled by the wines we tasted. Pete is quite a pragmatic winemaker: while he makes wines in a restrained, almost European mould (although you’d probably still pick them as new world), he’s not afraid of using technology where it can assist him in his goal. These are wines destined to be new Australian classics.

But while my mind is willing, my physiology is weak. By the end of the sampling, I’m feeling very green indeed. I vow never to drink again, ever. Well, at least to mid-afternoon, when it’s time for the first round of Cooper’s Pale.

Here’s some notes from my barrel tasting.

Spinifex 2003 Grenache, dry grown 50 year old vineyard at Greenock (North west of the Barossa). Lovely bright nose of sweet fruit with a spicy edge. Lovely purity of fruit on the palate with some spiciness and a chalky minerally edge. A blending component.

Spinifex 2003 Shiraz. Very deep coloured with lots of fruit sweetness on the nose. Intense, dark aromatic fruit. Structured palate with great intensity of dark fruits and spice. Serious.

Spinifex 2003 Shiraz, from 50 year old vineyards on limestone, macerated for 2.5 weeks. Slightly shy nose. Dark black fruit character. Hugely structured spicy palate. Taut and tannic with a savoury, dry finish.

Spinifex 2003 Shiraz from 120 year old vineyard, southern end of the valley. Dark, almost black. Sensational nose of aromatic dark fruits and complex spices. Palate shows some sweet spice character. It’s massively complex and full with lots of spice and dark fruits. Remarkable.

Spinifex 2003 Shiraz, same wine as above but in new oak. Dark, sweet, intense nose. Lots of power on the palate with tannins and oak influence.

Spinifex 2003 Shiraz Grenache. Quite open nose with lovely sweet fruit and a spicy edge. Great structure on the palate. Expressive.

Spinifex 2003 Mourvèdre from north end of the valley, sand over clay. Really interesting nose is spicy with a distinctive herby character. Savoury, spicy, structured palate. Fascinating stuff.

Spinifex 2003 Mourvèdre. Very low yields of half a ton an acre. Smooth, sweet dark fruits and spice on nose. The palate is concentrated and intense with amazing spicy, savoury texture. Great blending component.

Spinifex 2004 Grenache Mourvèdre. Very sweet, almost jammy ripe nose with raspberry jam notes. Very ripe and pretty on the palate.

Spinifex 2004 100-year-old Pedro Ximenez vines grafted to Shiraz. Some spicy reduction character on the nose, which shows intense dark fruits. The palate has lovely intensity and structure.

Spinifex 2004 Shiraz, 50-year-old vines with Viognier in a natural ferment. Dark and intense. Very sweet rich fruit with spicy complexity and great concentration.

The same vineyard picked at the same time fermented separately: structured, spicy nose is quite intense and rich with lovely pure fruit on the palate and some spicy oak notes (seeing as this is 10 year old oak, it’s likely the spice has come from the grapes).

Spinifex 2004 Shiraz/Viognier, Eden Valley. Amazingly aromatic and rich with liqueur-like fruit. Very spicy palate with lots of fruit: quite full. Harvested at 16.5 Baume, pH 4.2, now it’s pH 3.5.

Spinifex 2004 Mourvèdre, 40 year old. Very vivid and spicy with great concentration. Quite serious but with forward fruit, too.

Spinifex 2004 Kalimna Mourvèdre, 80 year old dry grown vineyard. Amazing sweet, intense nose. Very expressive. Cherries, raspberries, some minerals. Lovely structure and acidity on the palate.

Spinifex 2004 Mourvèdre, 100 year old vines. Spicy, almost gingery nose. Very rich and ripe on palate but with lots of structure. Originally over 16% alcohol, but about 20% went through reverse osmosis and now it’s about 14.2% alcohol.

After tasting, it was back to Pete's to meet the family and eat some sausage and livers, where I began to feel vaguely human again. Jason Schwarz joined us; he was my next appointment.

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