Huon Hooke: Chateau Tanunda Waves the Big Red Flag

Friday, 3 November 2017

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 Chateau Tanunda waves the ‘Big Red’ flag


It’s strange, but I sense that there’s almost a campaign being waged against ‘Big Reds’ these days. Not so much a war as subtle disapproval.

Medium-bodied is the buzz, pinot noir is riding high, gamay and Beaujolais are fashionable, and in the wine shows the soft, medium-bodied, low-tannin reds are increasingly winning major gongs.

Don’t know about you, but I still love the occasional ‘Big Red’ – although I sometimes feel that indulging in a whopper South Australian shiraz is unacceptable in public. It’s something done between consenting adults in private.

Sales of ‘Big Reds’ don’t seem to be suffering, though. Someone apart from me is obviously still drinking them.

Chateau Tanunda’s winemaker Neville Rowe was in Sydney recently showing off the lovely Barossa ‘Big Reds’ that this company does so well.

Owner John Geber’s strategy is apparent: Wolfie Blass gave us colour-coded labels; Geber gives us vine age.

Geber, who bought the 1890 winery 19 years ago and revived it, either bought or contracted a lot of seriously old vineyards for his high-level wines, the flag-wavers that win trophies all over the world and attract adoring attention to the brand. The halo effect means his cheaper wines can bask in the reflected glow of the top wines.

Geber makes the hierarchy easy to understand: at the top is the extremely rare Everest selection; below that is the 150 Year Old Vines Field Blend (an AUD $400 grenache, malbec, shiraz blend from an inter-planted Springton vineyard planted by the Hamilton family in 1858). Below that is the 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz and 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre at AUD $150. (There’s also a 100 Year Old Vines Semillon, as a little light relief from the Big Reds.) Below them is the 50 Year Old Vines range, a shiraz and a cabernet sauvignon at AUD $75.

They all punch well in their category, but there are plenty of less-expensive wines for everyday drinking. The Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa range is just AUD $25, a young (2016 vintage) shirazand cabernet sauvignon which are very tasty good-value reds that can be enjoyed now and will age gracefully for several years.

Chateau Tanunda owns a very substantial 100 hectares of vines in the Barossa and Eden Valleys. This holding plus 30-odd growers enables it to field a wide array of wines, including subregion-specific reds under the Terroirs Of The Barossa label.

Of the selection I tasted with Neville Rowe, my favourite was, without doubt, the 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz 2015, a gloriously hedonistic, sumptuous wine loaded with dark chocolate, blackberry, smoky fruitcake aromas with a texture like silk. Yes, AUD $150 is quite a lot of money, but these days, it’s not expensive. This style of decadent, voluptuous red wine is something that is simply not found elsewhere. A great wine for a special occasion.