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edited by Sue Courtney

A Tatachilla Masterclass
with winemaker Justin McNamee
in Auckland on 11th September 2002

© Sue Courtney
23 October 2002

Justin McNamee introduces himself. He is a well-travelled young winemaker with vintages in the Medoc, the Napa Valley and the Yarra as well as the McLaren Vale, behind him.

Tatachilla is in the McLaren Vale, about 45 minutes south of Adelaide. The Tatachilla winery has a history that dates back to the 1901 with the major part of the winery being built in the 20's and 30's. But Tatachilla basically re-invented itself in its present form in 1995. Hence Justin, who has just completed his 7th vintage with Tatachilla, and his fellow winemaker, Michael Fragos, are able to incorporate traditional winemaking techniques and equipment with twenty-first century technology.

McLaren Vale is a very warm region with a coastal influence, a massive extreme of soil types and variations in altitude from the low hills that encompass the Vale. Alluvial sands up to 12 metres deep are free draining and the sand reflects a fair bit of light, which ripens the fruit quite differently to the grapes grown on other soils in the Vale. These include grey clay-based (crappy) soils that hold on to water and make the vines struggle to survive, the typical clay loams over calcareous soils and limestone derived soils. With the variations in altitude, the variations in exposure to the coastal winds, the different soils that affect the vigour of the vines and the mix of old and new wine making techniques, the resulting wines have a depth of layering and interest.

Justin also adds that the yeast they inoculate the ferments with in the old concrete fermenters is not necessarily the yeast that completes the fermentation, due to natural yeasts in the winery. This, he says, contributes another dimension.

High alcohol is unavoidable as in the warm climate of the McLaren Vale it is easy to obtain the sugar levels and ripe fruit tannins that result in generous wines.

And on to the tasting. The wines were tasted in pairs. All wines were of considerable depth of colour, with the 2000 showing youthful bright hues.

Flight 1
Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 2000

2000 was cool vintage for the McLaren Vale, even cooler the 1999, but still produced wine of excellent colour, depth and weight.
I found cherry, chocolate and creamy oak aromas. It tastes ripe and spicy with chocolatey fruit and a funky character (a hint of Brett perhaps). It is an interesting spicy, creamy, low acid fruity wine with plenty of red fruits. Seems a little leaner than the generous 99 tasted alongside. Eucalypt minty characters emerge. Although perhaps a little simple in structure it is without doubt most immensely drinkable.

Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 1999
Also a cool vintage although hotter than 2000 turned out to be.
Strong plum and spice aromas. Much more concentration and complexity in the flavours than the 2000 wine tasted alongside it. There's a good spice profile with licorice and pepper that really wakes up the palate and good acidity that is in balance to the creamy oak. This is a powerful rich and flavoursome wine with firm leathery tannins and a good long finish. It is such a contrast to the easy 2000.

Flight 2
Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 1998

1998 was an incredible vintage for concentration and power however Justin said he would have preferred a more gradual progression of ripening. The result, however, is fruit driven, soft and powerfully concentrated wine.
I found this wine to have quite an amazing nose, I could smell it for ages. It's a funky wine with leather, red pepper spice, licorice, biscuits, cream, chocolate, lots of ripe red fruits and firm rich powerful tannins. Ripe as anything. It's a lively wine that finishes with concentrated ripe blackcurrant and blackberry with the lift of cherry. Very good indeed. (It was one of my favourites of the vintage when released). Although Tatachilla have been cutting back on their use of American oak favouring French and using a proportion of older barrels, more than usual American oak was used in this wine to balance the sweetness of the fruit.

Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 1997
A season that lies somewhere between 1998 and 1996. Justin likes the depth and length that has come from the longer ripening season.
This is a drier wine with lots of savoury herbal characters together with creamy chocolate. In fact I am reminded of cameo creams, which are a type of chocolate biscuit (2 biscuits held together by some creamy stuff). Fruit is starting to be lost to the developing mature wine characters of leather, mocha and spice. Although the tannins are a little chunky, it is quite approachable in the tannin department. The finish is bright and lively. This was the winemaker's favourite.

I found the 1997 far more savoury than the super ripe 1998 but for drinkability I would rather drink the 1997 now as I feel the 1998 will be better in the long term.

Flight 3
Tatachilla McLaren Vale Shiraz 1996

A 'moderate season', says Justin.
This is quite developed and vinous on the nose, with hints of pepper spice. I like the way it is developing in flavour. The tannins are becoming nicely integrated and there is still some terrific concentrated fruit in there as well, some poached plum and a fruit cake character as well. But the developed characters are what I like - that licorice complexity, the sweet leather, the musky spice and the floral nuances - reminding me of rose hips - that emerge on the lifted fragrant finish. The tannins are creamy and a hint of eucalypt that loiters. An absolutely terrific wine.

Comment on the wines. I found all the above wines to have a subtle hint of a Bretty, funky character. However all the wines show amazing consistency in quality and all the wines offer something different.

Finally, a wine to finish this review - not tasted in the Masterclass but well worth mentioning

Tatachilla Foundation McLaren Vale Shiraz 1999
This is an intensely deep red to red/black colour. On the nose are amazingly intense lifted blackberry aromas with cigar, eucalyptus, cinnamon and a hint of creamy coconut. It's rich and creamy in the mouth with the smoky cigar-like like oak quite dominant at first. This gives way to a milk chocolate flavour and texture with ripe cherries and blackberries fruit and vanillin oak, then spice emerges and lingers on the smoky meaty cedary finish. There's a hint of coconut and a hint of lavender too as the flavour stays in the mouth for ages. A powerful wine with firm ripe tannins, built to last. I reckon this offers excellent value at around NZ$50 a bottle.

© Sue Courtney. 23 October 2002

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