When I picture an Australian wine-maker, Dave Powell of Torbreck Vintners is pretty much what comes to mind. A big man, the first time I met him he’d just arrived from Scandinavia, where a late night session with some chefs had ended with him branding a restaurant’s name onto his behind. I would imagine that his wines will remain on the list at that restaurant forever, but for all the bluff exterior, he’s a wine-maker with a surprising delicacy of touch.
It’s not difficult to get a great deal of concentration when you’re growing grapes in Australia, as there’s plenty of sun and the grapes get ripen easily. (This is a pretty broad generalisation as there are a number of cooler climate regions.) Torbreck is based in the Barossa Valley and these wines are powerful. So with ripeness not being the problem, the clever part is to get wines that are balanced and harmonious even when they are strong and dense.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a winery that focuses on the Rhône Valley varieties that have made Australia, and the Barossa, famous – predominantly Shiraz (known as Syrah in France and responsible for such famous names as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage). There’s a big range, from the relatively affordable Woodcutter’s Shiraz (an entry level of exceptional quality) up to what is currently, upon release, Australia’s most expensive wine, the Laird (there’s a Scottish theme running through the naming, reflecting Dave’s time working as a lumberjack in Scotland; even the name Torbreck comes from a Scottish forest).
It’s an impressive portfolio but, for my taste, the sweet spot is halfway up the ladder with the Descendant. This is a Shiraz-Viognier blend, an increasingly popular combination in Australia derived from traditional practice in the Northern Rhône valley where a small amount of the white grape Viognier is co-fermented (as it sounds, fermented together with) the Syrah to soften it. Where Barossa Shiraz is often just about big black fruit and chocolate, this has floral, spicy, herbaceous and smoky elements. It’s an exceptionally complex and powerful wine but an endless delight to drink, never tiring, and opens up to reveal hidden depths, much like the man himself.
Torbreck is imported by Fells.
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