Torbreck. A great place to visit; but stay on the paths!
Blessed by a Mediterranean style climate and some of the oldest root-stock in the world, the Barossa Valley is undeniably a world leader when it comes to shiraz production, but there’s a sting in the tail of that enviable reputation. Such is the power of the “Barossa Shiraz” brand that uninformed consumers often miss out on sampling the other mighty varietals of the region simply because of the seemingly magnetic forces that draw us towards the region’s shiraz whenever a red wine is the order of the day.
It was during a recent visit to Torbreck that I was reminded how well the region does the other great reds of the (French) Rhone region, mourvèdre and grenache. These “little” brothers have had to live in the shadow of their syrah sibling since the region was first planted in the 1800s; though they’ve perhaps enjoyed a moment or two in the sun when called upon to join together as the famous “holy trinity” in a GSM (grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre) blend. As single varietals, neither grenache nor mourvèdre have been on the radar of local tourists or Australian consumers, yet if you ask me, the styles should be deified by Barossarian winemakers and at very least, showcased to the same level as their all-conquering shiraz.
At Torbreck, their stated quest is to become one of the world’s great wine marques. And it’s difficult not to admire their resolve to avoid getting caught up in trends and fashions. They claim that “there is a European sense of tradition here that means vines planted in the 1840s – many of them Rhone varieties such as shiraz, grenache mourvèdre – still thrive and bear fruit of unique concentration and flavour. Torbreck pays tribute to these vineyards with minimal intervention, creating wines of richness, structure and length that age gracefully”. Having sampled my way through the extensive list available at their cellar door a couple of weeks ago, I’d have to agree that the attributes of their reds match the descriptors used in the corporate marketing collateral!
While there were any number of highlights during our recent visit, of the top two, one involved an encounter with a slithering serpent and the other, a mouth-watering mataro. Having tasted our way through the wine list, our Torbreck host, Jett, offered to take us on a shortcut across the olive tree grove in order to meet the winemaker, Scott McDonald, at the winery to do some barrel tasting. You’d have expected any resident reptiles to have heard our well lubricated and jovial bunch of blokes approaching, but only a few steps in to the minimally maintained vineyard, our observant mate Pokie Martens yelled (in his broadest of South African accents), “Jett, you’ve just stood on a bloody brown snake”. I’ve not seen seven middle aged men move so quickly as my “brave” mates and I risked hamstring and calf injury as we sprinted for the sanctuary of the nearby road – only to look back and see Jett rolling up his jeans to check whether the part of the snake he felt on the back of his leg was the sharp end, or not!
Snake encounters aside, for me, the pinnacle of the Torbreck experience wasn’t their famed Runrig Shiraz (which deserves the plaudits it receives), but rather the lesser known Torbreck Pict Mataro 2017. It’s a wine that has its genesis in a vineyard in the northern Greenock sub-region that was once an old quarry. As you’d expect of a mataro (which is just another name for what the French call mourvèdre), swirl the Pict around in the glass and there are hints of leaf, bark and an understated earthiness on the nose. Take a sip and the layers of brooding dark fruits emerge alongside notes of all-spice, liquorice, tar and even a hint of beef jerkey! But the art in the winemaker’s craft lies in the delicate equilibrium of tannin and acid that enable a fresh yet balanced conclusion to impress even in its youth; though hint at the luxury that awaits those who are prepared to be patient and allow it to rest in a cellar for a decade or more.
The Torbreck Pict isn’t cheap at $75 a bottle, but quality comes at a price! If you’re tempted to take advantage of the loosening of border restrictions, a trip to the Barossa is ideal at this time of year; and you’ll find the folks at Torbreck ready and waiting to welcome you, but heed their advice to stay on the paths!