A review of recent releases from the Clarendon Hills Winery.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers February 16, 2005
Like Curt Schilling in the World Series, winemaker Roman Bratasiuk is at the top of his game. The owner of the Australian winery Clarendon Hills is a Ukrainian émigré and former biochemist.
The winery, located in the McLaren Vale region, was started in 1989. Bratasiuk bases his wines on old — some as old as 75 years — low-yielding vines and even older winemaking techniques. The grapes are grown close to the winery, and the yeasts are indigenous as well. He does not filter or use other techniques to refine the wine, depending instead upon new oak barrels and long maceration times to allow the wines to develop their characteristic flavors. The results are flavorful, complex wines that have subtleties often associated with the finest French wines — which is exactly what Bratasiuk is trying to achieve.
Clarendon Hills produces 16 single-vineyard wines, including the Astralis, a syrah that is one of the most desirable (and thereby one of the most expensive) wines made in Australia. None of the wines are blended, and each reflects the surprisingly different soils or “terroir” of the individual vineyards. The winemaker’s goal is to express the “purity of the varietal and the purity of the location.”
Clarendon Hills’ Grenache offerings tend to be softer than its other varietals and can be enjoyed without much aging. The Old Vines Clarendon Vineyard Grenache 2003 is made from grapes grown on vines planted in 1920. It has full bodied, rich cherry fruit flavors with a touch of licorice and basil. The Old Vines Kangarilla Grenache 2003 has an exotic chocolate aroma with rich, balanced raspberry and black cherry flavors and a nice finish, while the Old Vines Blewitt Springs Grenache 2003 has red cherry, licorice and mild pepper notes. A lighter styled wine is the mid-bodied Old Vines Hickinbotham Grenache 2003, with bright strawberry and raspberry flavors and a soft finish.
The Clarendon Hills Cabernets provide an interesting contrast in styles. The Brookman Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is made from 60-year-old vines and has spicy dark fruit flavors with a touch of tobacco and vanilla. The mild tannins make this a wine that can be enjoyed in just a few years. The Sandown Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 has a Bordeaux-like structure with firmer tannins, mandating a longer time in the cellar. It is made from 75-year-old vines and has black plum, cherry and vanilla flavors.
Excellent Syrah offerings include the Liandra Vineyard Syrah 2003, a full-bodied, well-balanced, lush wine with beautiful aromas and spicy floral and cherry flavors. The Moritz Vineyard Syrah 2003 is reminiscent of a fine Rhone and is so good it should be enjoyed now — although it has the structure to last for many years.
With flavors of plums, berries, coffee and cocoa, it has a long elegant finish. A similarly structured wine is the Hickinbotham Syrah 2003 that has notes of cassis, licorice and a slight smokiness. Another wine that can be consumed early is the very good Bakers Gully Syrah 2003 made from 10-year-old vines. It has a gorgeous aroma with licorice, black cherry and mild pepper flavors and a long smooth finish. Equally enjoyable is the Brookman Syrah 2003 with earthy blackberry and blueberry flavors and a mild spiciness.
If your budget will permit, be sure to try the Astralis 2003, which is simply spectacular with deep coffee, chocolate and black cherry aromas and concentrated flavors of cassis, blackberries, vanilla and spice. It should be cellared for at least five years to allow the tannins to mellow, but will undoubtedly last much longer.