We have been at the Aussie game for nearly three decades now, and can honesty say that we were involved in the earliest days of the boutique influx. We were among the very first customers for groundbreaking importers like the late John Larchet (Australian Premium Wine Collection) and Dan Philips (Grateful Palate). We can still recall looking at a status report from an early shipment from Grateful Palate where a wine that we had never heard of called Torbreck RunRig (1994 vintage if memory serves) was on our manifest. We asked Dan about it and he simply said, “you want it.”
Turned out it was sensational and the first step in a long and successful run for the Torbreck label. The mind behind it was one Dave Powell, clearly a man of enormous winemaking talents and great ambition. Over the years he continued to amaze with one distinctive, deliciously well-conceived bottling after another. His winemaking associate at the time was Dan Standish, who has spun off to create a sensational label of his own.
Torbreck is now in the capable hands of former Peter Lehmann winemaker Ian Hongell. What happened to Dave? Well the story of his personal life would probably make a pretty good cable series on one of the edgier channels. But the key elements were that Dave got into a situation where he needed a serious infusion of capital to keep the label afloat and subsequently made his investment arm so distraught with some of his antics that he was essentially kicked out of the company he founded.
People have said all kinds of salty things about Powell. But no one, even his detractors, could honestly say that he wasn’t a brilliant winemaker. Well after the Torbreck debacle, the supremely confident Powell kind of disappeared from view. Apparently he spent some time teaching his son, Callum, the ropes and, clearly, the guy hasn’t lost a step. Whether or not this new duo will be able to equal the pinnacle of success that Torbreck enjoyed remains to be seen. But if you are looking for great purity of fruit, expressive personality, and unique profiles, why not go with one of the best winemakers in all of Australia.
Dave believes most of the work happens in the vineyard and this is where Dave and Callum spend most of their time. The resulting wines have the same kind of flair that those early Torbreck wines showed. The short story is that Dave is back, and doing what he does best in creating distinctive, hand-made wines. It doesn’t hurt that these debut wines are from 2016 which was an exceptional vintage Down Under.
Powell and Son Riverside Grenache Mataro Shiraz Barossa Valley 2016–It starts here with The Powells’ entry-level red, the 2016 Riverside Grenache Mataro Shiraz, a 70% Grenache, 20% Mataro and 10% Shiraz blend that spent 15 months in large foudres and concrete prior to bottling. A Wine Advocate 91, the comments are, “It’s full-bodied but floral and fine, with a silky texture, cherry fruit and a bit of earthy depth. It should drink well for 3-4 years, possibly more.” It’s like the old Torbreck Woodcutters value bottling only more engaging and packed with fruit. It’s kind of ‘old World’, as is Dave’s bent, but there’s an appealing lift and new World freshness. At $17.98 it’s a buy.
Powell and Son Shiraz Barossa and Eden Valleys 2016– The Barossa & Eden Valleys Shiraz “epitomises the philosophy of Powell & Son to marry the greatness of the Barossa and Eden Valleys”. Barossa supplies the rich middle with the higher elevation, cooler Eden Valley giving the wine a lift and freshness that people don’t typically think is a part of Australian reds. A 50/50 blend of Eden Valley Shiraz from 40+ year-old vines and Barossa Valley Shiraz from 60+ year-old vines, the fruit is fermented separately in concrete vats before spending 15 months in 4,500 liter French oak foudres.
The aroma of this wine shows kirsch, lavender, sage and charred meats. It has a dark, brooding character to add further complexity. The palate is dense and deep with ripe black fruits: plum, blackberry compote as well as a cured meats and black olive.
Wine Advocate was quite supportive with a 94 point score and notes, “Taking price into account, the GMS and this wine, the 2016 Barossa & Eden Valleys Shiraz, are my favorites in the Powells’ lineup. The blend is 50-50, as there was a single foudre from each region used in the blend. The nose is more floral and garrigue-like than the straight Barossa Shiraz, with mulberry and blueberry fruit mingling easily on the palate. It’s full-bodied, creamy-textured and rich, with a concentrated, velvety finish that’s a clear step up from the entry-level wines.”
Wine Spectator was equally enthusiastic with a 93 point score and comments, “Whiffs of eucalyptus and white pepper announce the massive, dense and concentrated blueberry and blackberry flavors, with Earl Grey tea— and clove-scented notes on the finish. There’s no denying the power here. A good candidate to evolve with mid-term cellaring.” The $44.98 price is serious, but so is the wine.
Powell and Son Grenache Shiraz Mataro Barossa Valley 2016– The Barossa Valley GSM takes the various ‘parts’ and hones it into a complete new world Chateauneuf type wine. The blend is about 2/3 Grenache from mature Barossa Valley Grenache bush vines, with Shiraz and Mataro making up the balance. Again the maturing in big foudres harmonizes everything while not allowing the wood to get in the way of the fruit. Engaging, expressive, and intense, yet never overblown.
Again impressive words from Wine Advocate, “…One of the best values and flat-out sexiest wines in the lineup is the 2016 Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro. Driven by the 1901-planted Grenache from Seppeltsfield that makes up 60% of the blend, it’s richer, darker and deeper than the Riverside bottling. Sage and licorice notes add nuance to the black cherries on the nose and palate of this full-bodied, richly concentrated and layered offering. 94 Points!”
Dave is back and this line with his son is an important new (old?) face on the Aussie scene.