20 Year retrospective Tasting

Below are the notes taken by good friend Fredrick Lorentzson at my 20 retrospective tasting held in New York, held over two days. 24th and 25th of October, 2015.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2008

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? For we have seen Chris´s 2008 and tis truly unwavering in its fighting stance. Then I tell ye, let but time consume its fat and honey and it shall stand tall in its glory! Lest it be misunderstood – or even ridiculed – by ignorants, it shall remain beyond the reach of man for now.

A more profane way of putting it would be that this wine is so rich, thick and unctuous, so sweet and primary, that the decision not yet to release it, seems the right one. One could imagine that this was how the 1947 Pomerols tasted when they were babies, or – for that matter – the same year´s Cheval Blanc. I never had the opportunity to taste the 1993 three rivers at the same stage of its life, but I do not doubt that this wine will be as appreciated

when it fully matures as that living legend, the palate and aftertaste are simply amazing. Buried under all the treacle and vintage port-ish attributes (think young Fonseca 1994) there are iodine notes of and old school Dunn Howell Mountain and eucalyptus from Heitz Martha´s Vineyard; this wine will be a masterpiece.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2007

The newest release is a typical full throttle Chris Ringland Shiraz which I am quite certain, already at this stage, will be considered the wine of the vintage in all of Australia. (That is after all what Chris Ringland achieves two times out of three nowadays.) The colour is the usual deep purple with hints of grenadine, the aromas – there is no bouquet yet, of course – the standard ones of aniseed, espresso, liquorice and dark berries. On the palate it is very primary and extremely promising. A shiny black panther that will grow more and more fearsome and cuddly at the same time. You still notice marzipan tinges from the beautiful oak but they will soon disappear, only to return in the wine´s autumnal phase as we see in some earlier three rivers. The fourth close-to-perfect wine this century.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2006

A typical 2006 but still with oh so much potential. Colour lighter than usual with tannin/acid structure reminding one of the bigger Grand Cru Burgundies. The berries are not the standard dark ones, rather cherries destined for cooking and not eating. If you breathe deeply you get leather and liquorice, tones that will in all likelihood continue to grow and deepen, but this will always need adequate food and never be a vino da meditazione. On the palate there are notes you seldom find in this wine: juniper, elderberry and Cumberland sauce. Enjoy this soon – perhaps from Nebbiolo stemware – or beware: this might close down heavier than many other vintages due to the relatively lesser stuffing; perhaps it will evolve as the 2000, which by the way drinks beautifully today at the age of fifteen.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2005

Together with the 1995 the most consistent of all vintages. To this day every bottle has been easily recognisable and – for a young Shiraz – perfect beyond belief. Silky, glossy purple, with all the espresso and paneforte you have come to expect from the Stone Chimney Creek vineyard. To drink the wine is intense but not huge, perfectly assimilated and harmonious. All you have to do is wait; this wine has always been and will always be a monumental effort. I am quite certain that in thirty years many other Ringland bottles will be different and perhaps even more interesting than this, but not better, never better.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2004

The last in the trio of wines (01, 02 and 04) awarded 100 points by the Wine Advocate. For periods in its life, I have questioned that score, but this bottle makes you understand the reviewers’ awe. Beautiful, young purple with grenadine rim. Black – but not the blackest – fruits simmering in Martel cognac with the typical para nut. The weight of a big Cabernet but the mid palate presence of a Shiraz, luckily. The acidity is more prominent than in the 2005, a fact that will make it easier to combine with food than its younger sibling. In short an almost perfect wine that only suffers from the fact that there are vintages that are even better.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2003

Still not the most successful vintage although it has evolved quite positively. The colour is not that saturated and the black fruits have to compete with sour cherries and Maraschino liqueur. A brilliant wine in its own right, but it won´t survive any of its siblings. You always recognise a ”lesser” Ringland on its red currant notes and a rather satisfying acidity. Serve this with suitable food and nobody will miss the extra power of the grander years. Drink your last bottle of this before opening any of the 01, 02 and 05s. Save your Riedel Australian Shiraz glass for the latter, too. This enjoys more moderate portions of air. I will follow my remaining bottles of this wine with quite a keen eye though; it might surprise you and even me!

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2002

Oh Lord, this is still a stunner. Colourwise it has not budged much and the aromas are still very primary. It is dense and heavy – but by no means too heavy – and the nuts and the dried fruits are truly invigorating. The bilberry yoghurt is of course there as are the roasted coffee (Kona?) notes. This might be on the verge of closing down, only time will tell naturally, but even then this will be possible to enjoy thanks to the abundance of good stuff buried in it. Drink very soon or forget it at least five years! And, if patience is a virtue of yours, you may double that and be justly rewarded. This is and will remain an awesome wine, in the true sense of the word.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2001

Bordeaux has had its share of successful consecutive vintages, and this might be Barossa’s best example. Just like its one year old younger sibling, the wine is primary in its appearance, aromas on the nose and on the palate. It is still more a fruit basket than a wine and its generosity is as impressive as it gets, only patience and a corkscrew needed, really. Which wine of the 01 and 02 that will do best in, say, 2030, is hard to tell, but my money is on the 01 at the moment. There is and old-viney core in this that is so exquisite and a femininity reminding one of a heavenly Chateau Lafleur that the 02 lacks. I suppose you could say that the 01 is Ingrid Bergman and 02 Lauren Bacall.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 2000

In a tough vintage – no Hill of Grace was produced for example – this is head and shoulders above the rest. Instead of the standard power we meet grace and subtlety, the terroir in its pure form, more reminiscent of a Volnay from a top notch producer (d´Angerville?) than a big Barossa baby, this is oh so enjoyable in its own right. It is all about harmony and balance, its acidity really singing and combining very well with food, indeed. There is no reason to procrastinate, this wine is fully mature. Is this the way the more powerful vintages will go when their autumn approaches? Let us hope so! (Although most reading this won´t be here to control it!)

Chris Ringland Shiraz 1999

Yet another wine of the vintage, this time from the somewhat underrated 1999 after the 1998 hype. It is still a wine of considerable power and the aromas you expect – lavender, espresso, chocolate – are there but not in the abundance you find in a grander vintage. The tannins are sweet and the mouthfeel silky but it has the more prominent acidity you would have to wait years for in richer years. The wine is singing and there is no reason not to start drinking these. Beautiful with food, of course. The 99/00 pair is probably Ringland´s ”weakest” ever, something which really says it all about the quality of the winemaking. Simply incredible.

Chris Ringland Shiraz 1998

There is one major caveat here: the bottle variation is very large and very disturbing; you encounter TCA infected ones and other´s whose corks have not done their job adequately. However, if you find a pristine bottle, it will be well-nigh perfect. Rich, unctuous, focused and in total harmony. The aromas are ones of crème de cassis, black olives and liquorice, and the palate sports the same array. It is in fact so rich that it would have been over the top down in Barossa Valley and is saved by its elevated Eden Valley location. This way you get the best of two worlds. That it is the wine of the vintage goes without saying. It might even be one of Chris´s best efforts ever, which really is saying something. Bravo!

Three rivers 1996

The first vintage ever awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, a rating that still seems spot on. (It is, however, debatable, if it is the wine of the vintage or not. Greenock Creek – where Chris was consulting at the time, surprise! – made a Roennfeldt Road Shiraz and Rolf Binder made The Malcolm, both wines serious competition.) You know the story by now: it is rich, unctuous and still elegant. The nose has aromas of espresso, lavender and bilberry yoghurt and on the palate you find aniseed, espresso and liquorice. The wine has an impressive attack, a beautiful mid-palate and a phenomenal aftertaste. But: you do notice the artificial acidity and that might start sticking out if you cellar one of these for a long time.

Three rivers 1995

My personal favourite for different reasons: it is the first vintage from the awesome Stone Chimney Creek vineyard, it is a perfect example of the typical rendition and the bottles are remarkably uniform. This is where to put you money if you want to have the best odds finding a great bottle of Chris Ringland approaching maturity! Aromas and palate impressions risk sounding like a broken vinyl record: blueberry, aniseed, charcoal, liquorice and lavender. Attack, mid-palate and aftertaste all awesome, for lack of a better word. To produce this as a first effort from a vineyard you have just bought and carefully started to put into the shape wanted, is a master achievement. And imagine that the grapes from this beautiful terroir pre 1995 used to be sold off to be blended! Wine drinkers are truly lucky that not all of these non irrigated somewhat neglected Shiraz vineyards were completely forsaken in the eighties and nineties!

Three rivers 1994

This is a wine whose future route I am not sure about: it is the second vintage that stems 100% from a vineyard up in Angaston Hills and it was harvested a bit earlier than ideal for practical reasons. At the moment – and that is the way it has been for quite some time – we have a wine that is in-between the power of years such as 95, 96 and 98 and the subtler elegance of 99 and 00. Either it will continue to deepen and close the gap to the former or reach a plateau like the latter. You find blueberries on the nose, but also red currants, there is liquorice on the palate, but also juniper. It is a beautiful bottle of wine in the safely great category but exactly how good it is remain to be seen. This is a wine where I suspect that less than pristine storage might ruin it totally; watch out!

Three rivers 1993

I refuse to blunt my enthusiasm: this is the best wine ever produced in Australia and in all likelihood on of the best wines ever produced, period. Robert Parker´s quote that this tastes like a pristine example of a 1947 Cheval-Blanc is not far off. They do share some similarities: very ripe grapes and a touch of VA. No matter how I try words fail me, perhaps words are not sufficient to do this juice justice! It is even richer and more unctuous than most vintages – think dry vintage port – and the aromas are even more complex. It is like a typical Chris Ringland Shiraz on steroids: more bacon fat, more crude oil, more blueberries, but still the same focus and harmony. How on earth can this wine be so massive and so elegant at the same time? It is a living legend.

Three rivers 1992

This wine stems from the Goldspinks´ vineyard in Angaston Hills and the majestic Gnadenfrei owned until just recently by Malcolm Seppelt. Although the terroir in the 91 and 92 vintages are not as easily recognisable – thanks to the fact that they are blends – as the other years, they are still remarkable achievements. The colour is Bordeaux-like and the aromas also share some traits with claret: strawberry, suede shoes and even some cedar. You get power from one vineyard and the aromatic lift of the other, craftsmanship on high level. Both the blend vintages are fully mature and ready to enjoy; anything that would accompany a nice Bordeaux will be a perfect companion on the dinner table!

Three rivers 1991

The 91 is the same blend as the 92 but this is better! More substantial, more flesh and longer aftertaste. A bouquet of minerals, cassis and attractive ripeness. In the mouth still big and lush and ready to enjoy but I would not be afraid of cellaring it for some time either. Watch out for faulty bottles, though, I have had more than one.

Three rivers 1990

Grapes 100% from Seppelt´s Gnadenfrei. More Bordeaux-ish rim, still very deep in the middle. Shiraz/Grenache nose, leather seats in a Mercedes freshly worked on with beeswax, raspberry licorice and creamy bilberry yoghurt. Quintarelli on the palate, a dry version of Alzero (Cabernet Franc)? Not so intense anymore, more silky and even sweet. A unique and very satisfying wine.

Three rivers 1989

This also stems totally from Malcolm Seppelt´s Gnadenfrei. Beautiful mahogany, Nebbiolo colour. No typical Shiraz on the nose, rather Pinot Noir and again Neb. Sous-bois, manure, raspberry licorice and newly bought suede shoes. Palate fully mature – of the ”time to drink up” type – with a bit volatility. Again reminiscent of a Quintarelli (the 83 Amarone, perhaps?), or an old-fashioned St Emilion. Very well balanced and in complete harmony. Fantastic wine that really shows the inherent capacity of the Barossa´s perhaps most beautiful vineyard.