Peter Ranscombe rediscovers ‘the Great Australian Red’ – and suggests some affordable stepping stones along the way.
THE world of wine is full of odd phrases: multiple glasses are served in “wine flights”, a liquid that hangs to the side of the glass is said to have “long legs”, and smells can sometimes – kindly or unkindly – be described as “farmyard”.
One of my favourite wine phrases is “a vertical tasting”.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve trying to sniff and swirl while ascending in a lift.
Instead, it’s an event at which different years – or “vintages” – of the same wine are tasted together.
It’s a great why of highlighting how a particular year’s weather can affect the finished wine.
Today’s online “vertical” featured four years’ worth of Australian winery Yalumba’s flagship red blend.
“The Caley” – pronounced “ceilidh” as in the party, rather than “Caley” as in the football team or the posh hotel – is named after Fred Caley Smith, Yalumba’s very own Indiana Jones.
Back in 1893, Fred left the family home at Angaston – a town of just 200 people – and sailed to San Francisco.
He returned the following year, having visited 42 cities spread across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Aside from his adventures in opium dens in San Francisco and at the World’s Fair in Chicago, Fred’s horticulture training kicked in, and he brought back ideas that infused a sense of excitement into the family business.
Robert Hill-Smith, Yalumba’s current chief executive and Fred’s great-nephew, wanted to inject some of that excitement into his range when he and his winemakers created “The Caley”.
Up until its release in 2017, Robert felt his family’s wines were recognised on the international stage as competent, but perhaps lacking an element of excitement at the fringes.
He also wanted to pay tribute to some of the great Australian wines of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which blended cabernet sauvignon and shiraz.
Once labelled as “Claret”, the term disappeared as part of Australia’s deal back in 1994 with the-then European Community to stop using terms like “Port”, “Burgundy” and “Claret”, replacing them instead with names of the grape varieties.
Although you still won’t – and can’t if it’s going to be sold in the European Union – see the word “Claret” on the bottle, The Caley is nicknamed as a “Super Claret” as a wee nod towards the “Super Tuscans” of North-West Italy.
While the term “Claret” may have disappeared, the blend of cabernet and shiraz is still seen as the “Great Australian Red” and Yalumba set out to create the best of the best by bringing together cabernet from the Coonawarra region and shiraz from its home patch in the Barossa Valley.
While it’s a blend that’s most readily associated with Australia today, before France imposed such strict rules on its wine industry, it was common for wine makers in Bordeaux to add some syrah from the Rhone Valley in the South of France to bring warmth and life to their blends in wetter years.
The 2012 vintage became The Caley’s maiden release in 2017, with the 2015 incarnation going on sale this year.
These are wines that are designed to age for decades – if you can stop yourself from opening them now to enjoy the bright and ripe fruit flavours.
2012 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz (£224.95, Slurp)
Such a juicy and complex wine. The acidity is still mouth-watering, even eight years later, and is balanced by fine-grained and well-integrated tannins and incredibly concentrated fruit from what Robert described as one of South Australia’s best vintages. Blackberry, blackcurrant, milk chocolate and light wood smoke on the nose give way to redder raspberry and redcurrant on the palate, with some mushroom and cedar notes starting to develop too.
2013 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz (£277, Hedonism Wines)
A warmer summer in 2013 produced smaller grapes, with more concentrated flavours. For me, there was a lot more mint on the nose alongside the blackcurrant and light wood smoke. The acidity was sharper and felt like it perhaps still needed further time to integrate and, at the moment, is leading a very different style of wine, highlighting its savoury notes and crunch redcurrant flavours. The fruit is still juicy and rich, plus there’s a more apparent warm spice on the finish.
2014 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz (£273.14, Love Wine)
The 2014 was my favourite from the quartet, with more perfumed cassis and blackcurrant aromas, plus mint and cedar. There are richer blackcurrant jam and milk chocolate flavours on the palate, balanced by fine tannins and more of that fresh acidity. The ratio of cabernet to shiraz changes each year, with the 2014 tipping the scales at a record 82% cabernet.
2015 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz (Equivalent to £193.48, Nickolls & Perks)
The newbie dials back the cabernet to 74% and brings a warm nose full of milk chocolate, wood smoke, mint, and black fruits to the party. It feels mean to judge it against its elder peers because it’s still a baby, but this is a powerful wine, with noticeably warm alcohol and more assertive tannins. It needs time for this power to integrate with the fresh fruit flavours – but would delight fans of young, powerful cabernets from Napa Valley or other parts of California in its present state.
2015 Yalumba ‘The Signature’ Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (£33.99, Majestic Wine)
While the strength of The Caley lies in its blend of fruit from the best sites, it’s worth exploring some of the more-affordable cabernet-shiraz blends from Yalumba’s range. The 2015 Signature hails solely from Barossa and has redder fruit on the nose, with redcurrant and raspberry in amongst the roast meat, blackcurrant and wood smoke notes. The fresh acidity is still there and the black fruit flavours are just as juicy, if a little less concentrated than in The Caley, while the tannins are slightly grainier and more apparent. Easily tackled by serving it with a roast or a steak.
2017 Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (£15.95, York Wine)
Again created in Barossa, the cabernet-shiraz blend under Yalumba’s familiar white label feels a little wishy washy on the nose in comparison to its big sisters and brothers, but it comes to life on the palate, with fuller and richer blackberry and blackcurrant flavours. There’s less structure – as you’d expect from a wine at a different price point – but that same great fruit concentration is there.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.