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edited by Sue Courtney

A Chip off the St Hallet Old Block
© Sue Courtney
tasted on July 8 2002

St Hallett is one of my most memorable Australian wine companies. There is the wine itself - the St Hallett Old Block Shiraz in particular - and there is the name, St Hallett. He is not a traditional saint as far as I can establish but this 'saint' did provide the theme for one of our wine option costume triumphs. That was 1994 and our team name was St Hallett and the Wirra Wirra Angels, the second part of the name spirited from Wirra Wirra's great wine, the Angelus.

St Hallett made its debut into New Zealand in the early 1990's with 100% Barossa Shiraz as its focus. I rated the Old Block as one of the top four Aussie Shiraz at that time, along with Grange, Armagh and Hill of Grace. I had not tasted many of the mid-nineties vintages however, so the invitation to a vertical of the St Hallett Old Block was a tasting not to be missed.

Stuart Blackwell, the company's winery manager, hosted the tasting. In fact he has produced a chip off the Old Block, the wine being the St Hallet Blackwell Shiraz. It is true recognition for this passionate winemaker who has crafted on of Australia's top reds since 1984.

The tasting was also an opportunity to taste the current releases on the New Zealand market. I was impressed with several of the wines, which at their prices are excellent examples of the product.

St Hallett Poachers Chardonnay
Melon aromas with a warm toasty influence however this is not from oak as there is no wood in this wine. "The phenolics come from stem contact and lees stirring", explained Blackwell as someone else questions the character. (Phew, I am glad that I wasn't the only one who thought there was a smidgen of oak influence). He explains the technique of holding the juice of the newly pressed grapes in contact with the skins for a short time before draining encourages richer flavours in an unoaked wine. It's a medium to full-bodied chardonnay with ripe citrus fruit flavours and stone fruit and melon lingering on the finish. RRP NZ$17.
The grapes for this wine were grown in various sites around South Australia. Try it with smoked salmon served on a cracker with mango marscapone.

St Hallett Gamekeepers Reserve 2000
A blend of 55% grenache with the support of shiraz, mourvedre, touriga, merlot and cabernet franc, this is an attractive and well-coloured wine with light ruby hues. Lots of ripe berry and slightly smoky aromas with a hint of tobacco but where does it come from as again this wine has seen no oak? This is a lovely juicy wine, warm and softly textured with layers of flavours from the multi-blend of grapes. There is cherry chocolate, spice and rose petals and the smokiness of sun-warmed ripe wild blackberries. This wine is drinking very well now and will continue to develop complexities. Try it with greasy foods, pizza or pasta with olives, or wild rice mushroom risotto. RRP NZ$20.

St Hallett Faith Shiraz 2000
Deep red/black with ruby rims. Cedary nose with leather and a hint of mint but tending on the green side a tad. Quite spicy plum-like fruit and leathery tannins but this sample doesn't have the juiciness I associate with Barossa shiraz. There's sweet lifted lolly-like raspberry fruit flavours that emerge and linger on the finish. NZ$27.

St Hallett Blackwell Shiraz 1998
A rich red black colour, as one would expect from a Barossa shiraz from the great vintage. Smoke, tobacco and 'old' spices join rich chocolate and mocha cake aromas on cedary oak. Powdery tannins when the wine first enters the mouth. Lots of mint, spice and savoury notes with leather and tar. The chocolate flavour really comes through and then licorice emerges on the finish. A dense and concentrated berry fruit flavour with the lift of citrus emerging as the up front mint flavours dissipate. A very good wine. RRP NZ$34.95

St Hallett Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Deep red black with the intense color of Barossa cabernet. A sweetly scented wine with cedar, vanilla, cassis and leather aromas. Very full-bodied rich and spicy with lifted acidity, hints of mint and lots of peppery spice. This is a delicious wine that is not overpowered by oak but shows lovely varietal cabernet sauvignon characters with dark, leathery blackcurrant fruit and powdery tannins over the sweet ripe fruit. The flavours linger extremely well. This is a top-notch wine and totally drinkable - every time I taste the Aussie reds from 1999 they just seem to be getting better and better. This wine will age well. Excellent value at RRP NZ$27.
Try this cabernet with a duck liver pate served on a savoury shortbread and topped with a thin slice of wine-poached pear. This food combo really sweetens the wine and cuts through the tannins.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz - a vertical
What a thrill to have seven glasses in front of you of one of the wines that introduced you to great Australian shiraz at an affordable price. And with the current release selling at RRP NZ$60, this wine is still relatively affordable in the tiers of top echelon Australian shiraz, as others have escalated to five times this price and more.

The vintages on tasting were 1991 through to 1996 and 1998. The 1997 was meant to be there but was missing due to an administrative mix-up.

It was interesting to compare the progression in colour. The 1991 to 1993 were showing developed colour with brick hues, the 1994 had a rich intensity of colour and the 1995 was very youthful in appearance with pink ruby hues. The wines had been opened about four hours before the tasting and double decanted. These are my notes.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1991
Well coloured, tending to brick on the rims but still with a brilliant radiance. A lovely full rich wine with spice and mocha aromas, developed fruit, savoury and wonderfully spicy shiraz flavours. Silky and seamless, this wine is drinking beautifully.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1992
This is a great colour too with slightly pinker brick on the rims. Dusty cherry-like aromas and going quite 'Bordeaux-like' in its developed flavour. Still very big tannins and a full rich spicy flavour than goes on and on. Some pleasing licorice complexities emerge as well. A vintage that was underrated on release but like other 1992's I have tasted recently, a vintage that is now showing its true excellence.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1993
A similar colour to the 1991, showing more brick than the 1992. Dull on the nose and tastes 'old'. A well developed wine with a hint of a musty character - I wouldn't consider it a TCA mustiness though. The most disappointing in the line-up.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1994
A well coloured wine with complex cedar, spice, pepper, smoke and berry aromas. Seems higher in acid than the older wines and is seemingly lighter too as the wine is so integrated and smooth it just floats across the palate. Still very youthful showing some primary fruit character then licorice, spice and tar with hints of mint, eucalypt and mocha too. The fruit is very ripe. Drinking well now but will hold for quite a while to come. I rated this as excellent.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1995
With its red/black colour and pink ruby rims this is very youthful in appearance, more like the 1998 than the 1994. The fragrance is quite opulent with creamy oak and berry aromas at first then later showing a developed cedary note on the nose. Intensely youthful and flavoursome wine with creamy smooth tannins and a delicious spice character. There's a touch of citrus on the finish that lifts the wine. I think this has years ahead of it.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1996
Red black colour. Biscuity nose with cedary oak. A more vinous, licorice character to this wine than in those previously tasted. Still plenty of concentrated berry fruit with spice, mocha, tar and even some chocolate. Firmly structured tannins and a lovely vinous silky texture. There's good balanced acidity in the wine and chocolate, liquorice and spice flavours linger with gusto. A great wine with years of life ahead of it.

St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1998
Deeply coloured red black with pink/purple hues. A biscuit-like nose again then violets, red fruit, vanilla and cedar. This fragrance is so opulent I just want to keep breathing it in. There is a lovely, concentrated, berry and mocha character with grainy, 'ground coffee' tannins. Full on and very powerful, it is so concentrated in its layers of flavours. In some respects is still a little 'apart' when compared the glorious '95 and '96. Give this time to mature in the bottle. It has all the hallmarks of one of the greats. I love the pepper spice, the licorice, the mint, the mocha and the sweet fruit that emerges to linger on the fragrantly floral finish. RRP NZ$60.

© Sue Courtney. July 2002

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