Australian winemaker Dave Powell has teamed up with his eldest son, Callum, to create wines from Australia’s Barossa and Eden valleys with freshness and fruit purity, writes Peter Ranscombe.
THE phrase “colourful character” could have been coined to describe Dave Powell, the tall Australian winemaker with his grey beard and ponytail holding court in Le Roi Fou, a Swiss restaurant on Edinburgh’s Forth Street.
Importer and retailer Raeburn Fine Wines is launching his wines in the UK and Dave is busy regaling guests with stories from his 30-odd years of winemaking adventures around the world.
Dave is best known for founding Torbreck, a winery in Australia’s Barossa Valley named after a forest south of Inverness where he once worked as a lumberjack; it was during this time in Scotland that Dave met Callum’s mum, who was originally from Edinburgh.
Twenty years after opening Torbreck, Dave launched Powell & Son in 2014, leasing vineyards where he and Callum can manage everything from pruning through to picking, and then renting a winery that gives them enough space to treat each parcel of grapes individually, capturing a sense of place in the resulting wines.
Callum was clearly destined to enter the wine trade – there’s an adorable photo on the company’s website of three-year-old Callum following his dad around with a wheelbarrow.
Yet the younger Powell has had to earn his spurs, studying winemaking at university in Adelaide before working with Jean-Louis Chave at Hermitage in the Northern Rhone.
Shining a light on the whites
While there’s no doubt that Powell is a fantastic salesman, it’s his wines that really did the talking over lunch.
A 2016 Eden Valley Riesling (£22.99, Raeburn Fine Wines) hit all the right notes as an aperitif, with its high acidity balanced by intense lemon and lime fruit flavours – along with a twist of apricot – and a waxy mouthfeel.
The grapes come from a two-hectare parcel of 90-year-old vines in Flaxman’s Valley, at a cooler 460 metres above sea level.
I’m a huge fan of rieslings from the Eden Valley but it was the 2016 Roussanne Marsanne Blend (£36) that blew me away with its flavours of cider apples and ripe peaches, plus its well-integrated acidity and rounded mouthfeel, which Dave noted many drinkers describe as “honeyed” despite the wine being dry.
When paired with a starter of lobster chowder, celeriac and buttermilk the wine really came to life, showing off its fresher green apple notes.
The art of the blend
Moving onto the reds and two interesting blends accompanied a first starter of rustic terrine “de campagne” with grouse.
The 2015 Riverside Grenache Mataro Shiraz Blend (£16.99) – formed in equal parts from the three grape varieties – had a deliciously-soft mouthfeel, coating the palate with blueberries, blackberries and sharper blackcurrants, with enough well-integrated tannin to work well with the game.
Stepping up a gear, the 2015 Grenache Shiraz Mataro Blend (£36) had aromas of smoke and damp earth joining the blackcurrants on the nose, leading through to a much fruiter palate featuring more of the blueberry and blackberry fruits, plus a healthy dose of sweet vanilla and a twist of black pepper on the finish.
Composed of 70% grenache, 20% shiraz and 10% mataro or mourvèdre, Dave explained that this is his favourite wine from his range – and the one he drinks while cooking.
The mouthfeel in the second wine was even more luscious, with the fruit coming from 90-year-old vines, compared to the relatively-young 20- to 30-year-old vines used for the Riverside blend.
A second starter of ravioli with braised oxtail and pumpkin marked the point at which the headline acts started to emerge.
Mention the name “Barossa” and most wine fans will immediately think of shiraz, the black grape known as syrah in its spiritual home in the Rhone Valley in France.
Callum and Dave aim to produce a “regional” series of wines that will find homes on restaurant wine lists and the shelves of independent wine merchants.
Their 2015 Barossa Valley Shiraz (£23.99) showed complex flavours of blackcurrant and blackberry being joined by notes of smoke, vanilla and chocolate, creating a lusher and riper wine, with plenty of heat from its 15% alcohol.
Its companion, the 2015 Barossa & Eden Valleys Shiraz (£36), had the volume turned up, with blackcurrants and violets on the nose, darker chocolatey notes and a delicious savoury element to it, with flavours of redcurrants and spices.
Single vineyard shiraz
The father and son team also want to capture the personalities of individual sites through their single vineyard series of wines, each named after the people who planted the vines.
Sweet vanilla and luscious black cherry and blackberry flavours were the signatures for me from the 2015 Loechel Shiraz (£62), which would have been an impressive wine on its own but perhaps suffered slightly by being shown next to its companions, which moved the meal onto a whole different level.
The 2015 Steinert Flaxman’s Shiraz (£409) for me was brighter and fresher, with complex and concentrated flavours of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black cherry, milk chocolate, vanilla and a crack of black pepper, while the 2015 Kraehe Maranga Shiraz (£416) was richer and riper, with bramble and dark chocolate on the nose giving way to sweeter milk chocolate and black cherry on the palate.
These are serious wines – with serious price tags to match – and they clearly encapsulate locations that are close to Dave and Callum’s winemaking hearts.
And each of them worked extremely well with chef Jerome Henry’s saddle of venison, simply seared and served with garden vegetables.
Cheese on toast
No matter how impressive the single vineyard shirazs, it was a 2015 Brennecker Seppeltsfield Grenache (£175) that stole the show for me.
After a raspberry sorbet to cleanse the palate – a good move after so much shiraz and delicious deer – a Welsh rarebit made an appearance as an unusual dessert.
Yet the savoury pudding was the perfect vehicle to show-off the grenache at its best, with aromas of coffee, smoke and even rose, fresh acidity, a bit of grip to the tannins, and flavours of redcurrant and red cherry with well-integrated vanilla and sweet cinnamon spice and a touch of white pepper heat on the finish.
I love it when winemakers treat grenache like pinot noir and go easy on it, showing what an under-rated variety can do in the right hands.
Combining Dave’s experience with Callum’s fresh ideas – including using Eden Valley fruit as well as Barossa fruit – makes these two a very interesting pairing. It’ll be fascinating to see how these wines age.