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03.06.2005

2002 Torbreck "Runrig" Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia

Occasionally you come across great wines that clearly show the potential of a region, of a grape, or more likely, the combination of the two. Any number of the wines produced by Torbreck owner and winemaker David Powell could easily set the bar for what Australian Shiraz can do.

Powell, originally trained as an accountant, started Torbreck in 1994 after more than 20 years of working in the Australian wine industry. Inspired by his success at nursing ancient Shiraz vines back to life, and convinced of the potential of the Barossa region based on his work in Australia and other major wine regions around the world he decided to purchase some old vine grapes on contract from a neighboring parcel and in 1995 produced a wine in an old shed on his property. He christened it Torbreck, after a forest in Scotland where Powell had worked as a lumberjack much earlier in his life.

Success came quickly and powerfully to Powell, who soon found himself producing some of Australia's highest rated and most sought after wines. This success has allowed him to actually purchase some of the vineyards he worked through contract, and to create a relatively modern winery and small tasting room for visitors.

Despite this success, Torbreck wines are still made in extremely small quantities, with an intense focus on quality.

The Runrig, which takes its name from a system of land distribution employed by ancient Scotsmen, is Powell's "flagship" wine, and like its namesake, contains fruit from several dry farmed Shiraz vineyards around the Barossa valley (from the Marananga, Koonunga Hill, Moppa, and Greenock regions, specifically). With a typical vine age between 80 and 140 years old, this wine utilizes some of the most select fruit in all of Australia. The Runrig spends 30 months in French Oak (60% new) and just before bottling roughly 3% of estate grown Viognier (which is itself aged for 6 months in barrels) is blended in to make the final wine. In all, roughly around 1500 cases are produced each year.

This is a very expensive wine, so much so that some may simply dismiss it. Most people, myself included, don't regularly drink wine this expensive. There are clearly some wines whose price tags on release ($700, $1300) are clearly inflated beyond any real sense of value (e.g. they are not 10 or 20 times better than a $70 bottle). I must say, however, that while this wine is expensive, it is not overvalued. It is truly impressive, and, the few times I have had it, has never failed to amaze me. As a matter of comparison, I do, however, think the 2001 was a slightly better wine.

Tasting Notes:
A dark inky purple in the glass, this wine has a brooding, sultry nose of dark berries, mint, mocha, and steel, and just the barest hint of violets. In the mouth it is incredibly layered, with a vibrant mouthfeel that delivers flavors in waves: first blackberry preserves, then chocolate, then blueberries, then a deep resonant minerality that makes you think you might be tasting a core sample of ancient Australian stone. Despite the youth of this wine (which will certainly age for over a decade) the tannins are incredibly smooth and well integrated, and they support a finish that lasts for literally minutes.

Food Pairing:
This is a wine that should be drunk either by itself, or with some very simple savory and salty meats, like this pan seared venison with rosemary and dried cherries.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

How Much?: $190

Despite the relatively small quantities of this wine, it is readily available online.

Comments (4)

Cam Wheeler wrote:
03.07.05 at 8:21 AM

RunRig is probably the only Aussie wine that I'd consider buying at this price point at the moment. Too often at this price the wine doesn't deliver enough of a unique experience that can't be found in wines that are half the price. The RunRig though is all class and something special (although agreed that the '01 is the better drop).

I found it interesting, that of the 25 odd wineries in the Barossa that I visited last year, Torbreck were the only ones to charge a tasting fee. However, once you've paid your $5, you got to taste their entire lineup right upto and including the RunRig.

How prevelant is this practice in the USA?

Alder wrote:
03.07.05 at 8:29 AM

Cam,

Unfortunately, paying for tasting is practically institutionalized in Napa, and is becoming more common in Sonoma (though most places don't charge there yet). Places like Paso Robles, Monterey, and Santa Barbara are a mixed bag, with some wineries charging and others not. Most in those areas do not charge.

It's so nice to find someone surprised at this -- reminds me how jaded we can get around here.

Noah wrote:
03.07.05 at 10:00 AM

Haven't tasted the run rig but have enjoyed "the factor" twice. For $100 I think it is apporpriately priced too. So much there int he glass yet so incredibly balanced. Dare I even say elegant in its own way?

Why do you think that despite very limited availability these wines are so easily located? Maybe the market for high end aussie wines just isn't as frantic as cult california cabs?

Alder wrote:
03.07.05 at 10:24 AM

Noah, that's an excellent question. One that didn't even occur to me, but bears thinking about. I'm not sure of the answer. To determine whether it is the case or not, one would have to find a recently released California Cab that Parker rated at 98 or 99 points and was available in similar quantities, and then see how easily it could be found.

One thing that occurs to me is that when a Parker score is so high, the wine becomes a traded commodity and many people who have it are selling it. This would lead me to believe that California wines rated at 99 with similar production levels would be as easy to find as the Runrig.

I do however, suspect that California Cabs ARE in higher demand than the high end Australian wines.

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