This is the 50th year of Wolf Blass as a wine company, and it’s also the 40th vintage of the Wolf Blass Black Label. So winemaker Chris Hatcher was in town to present a vertical of this wine back to 1974.
Wolf made his first wine in 1967, when he produced his Grey Label Cabernet Shiraz from the Langhorne Creek. He later purchased wine to release the 1966 Yellow Label, but the 1967 was the first wine he made. The Black Label saw its debut in 1973. There are only two bottles of this left, so we started our vertical with the 1974. 1973, 1974 and 1975 all won the celebrated Jimmy Watson tropy, the only time this hattrick has been achieved.
‘If you go back through the show records,’ says Hatcher, ‘you’ll say it’s the most awarded red wine in Australia. The 1994 is the only vintage not to win a gold medal, and it averages 7 gold medals a vintage.
This is a blended wine. It’s based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with a bit of Malbec, these days (since 2002). The proportion varies each year. Volumes also vary. ‘We can blend for consistency of style,’ says Hatcher. ‘There’s no recipe here. The terroirs make the wine. Each of the terroirs brings the quality to the components in the blend.’
The Wolf Blass house style is for a plush mid palate with soft tannins: the feeling is that a wine should be read to drink when it is sold. The wines today have more fruit character and less oak. ‘Back in the early 1970s Wolf used a lot of new American oak to get sweetness on the palate,’ explained Hatcher. ‘Today we get it from the fruit. There’s also a much higher use of French oak.’
Hatcher says that the big change through the years is in the shift in emphasis from the winery to the vineyard. ‘I came into the industry in 1974, and we didn’t know anything about viticulture. The biggest change in the industry is now we have professional viticulturists. We used to think we could fix everything in the vineyard.’
One other change was the shift from cork to screwcap. Wolf Blass used screwcap for the first time in 2001 for the Platinum Label. In 2002 they bottled half the Black Label with screwcap and half with cork, and the screwcap wine sold out fastest. Since 2003 it’s all been screwcap, with the exception of some cork used for the Chinese market, which isn’t ready for screwcaps on top red wines.
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1974 South Australia
There were two bottles of this opened. My note is from the fresher of the two. Some sweet cherries and plums on the nose. Quite rich with some cedar spiciness. Has a mellow maturity but still plenty of fruit. There’s a slight trace of mint with lovely soft tannins. Mellow and elegant. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1979 South Australia
Ripe, rich and broad. Mellow with sweet cherry and plum fruit. Really expressive and harmonious. Restrained and quite pure with hints of cedar and earth, and sleek ripe fruit. Elegant and mature but still has life to it. 94/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1982 South Australia
Ripe, malty and quite porty with lush sweet tarry black fruits. Some fudge and toffee notes under the fruit. Mint and cedar, too. It’s slightly disjointed and fully mature and perhaps a bit tired. 88/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 1984 South Australia
Aromatic black fruits nose with herbs, earth and mint. Ripe, sweet palate still has plenty of stuffing, and there’s a rich, tarry, cedary core. Spicy and lively with a minty freshness. Developed and fully mature so drink now. 91/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1992 South Australia
Sweet, ripe and a bit earthy with nice depth and richness. Soft, earthy, tarry herby notes under the fruit. A bit spicy and drying on the finish. Herbs, earth, spice and tar here. Grippy. 90/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 South Australia
89% Cabernet this vintage, the most ever. Pure, enticing, vivid blackcurrant and cedar nose. Very appealing. Dense and ripe. Structured and cedary on the palate with some tarry, gravelly notes. Has richness and lushness to the fruit. A big wine with real impact that has developed nicely. 93/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2002 South Australia
The first vintage in screwcap. Minty blackcurrant fruit nose. Firm, grippy structure on the palate, under the sleek, sweet blackcurrant fruit. Quite firm and unyielding with a youthful personality and a bit of alcoholic heat. Finish is a touch bitter. Will this ever develop? 91/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2004 South Australia
Pure, intense, lush black fruit here. Very youthful with some spiciness and good structure. Ripe but has freshness and a juicy edge to the slightly salty black fruits. Still very primary. Well made. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 South Australia
Pure, sweet floral blackcurrant and black cherry aromatics. Dense, sweet, supple palate is very ripe and polished, with a salty edge to the sweet primary black fruits. Pure with no rough edges. Satisfying stuff in a ripe, friendly style. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2012 South Australia
Aromatic, floral, pure blackcurrant and blackberry fruit nose. Ripe, sweet, lush black fruits to the fore with a hint of spiciness. Lush, pure and easy with nice density. This is a real crowd pleaser. Still very primary. 91/100
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