I'm not convinced entirely that Australia is a great place for Cabernet. I've had some pretty solid Cabernet/Shiraz blends from Down Under, but it is rare that I find a pure Cabernet wine that I think stands on its own. Much of the time they have a green, vegetal characteristic and very bitter tannins which, though they might mellow with ten years in the cellar, make them downright unpleasant to drink on release. How surprised I was, then, to come across this little gem of a wine, which was not only decent, but also a steal.
Jim Barry is something of a legendary figure in the Australian wine industry, and certainly a name that everyone knows in the Clare Valley, where he spent the entirety of his 57 year winemaking career. Barry graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College, Australia, in 1947 and became the first certified winemaker in Clare Valley when he took a position as winemaker at the Clarevale Cooperative winery, which was the major winemaking operation in the region at the time (wine has been made in the Clare Valley since 1851).
After 12 years of making wine for the Cooperative, Barry and his wife started to purchase property in the valley here and there, whenever the opportunity arose and the means were available. In 1964 they bought the 70 acre plot which would become the famous Armagh vineyard, and in 1974 the family produced its first wines.
Jim Barry wines, as the winery came to be known, is one of the most famous wineries in the Clare Valley, a cool upland region that sits about 35 miles north of the city of Adelaide. Perhaps best known for its Riesling, which Jim Barry claimed to drink every day, the winery is also famous for The Armagh Shiraz, which is often rated as one of the top wines in Australia, and commands high prices at release and at auction. The winery prides itself on making 100% estate grown wines, and the fact that it is family owned and run. Sadly, Jim passed away in October of 2004 at the age of 79, and the business is now run by his children.
With an annual production of around 80,000 cases of wine, there's plenty for Jim's large family to do. Despite being an entry-level or value wine, the winery puts a great deal of care into the wine, starting with the harvesting of the grapes, which continues to be done by hand and in several selective passes, sometimes over several weeks, ensuring that only fruit of optimum ripeness are picked. Made from 100% estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon from Clare Valley and some property that the Barrys own in Coonawarra, the wine undergoes a cold-soak for 24 hours before fermentation begins in traditional open-top tanks. The wine is then barrel aged in a combination of French and American oak for 11 months, where it undergoes a secondary (Malolactic) fermentation. It is fined with egg whites before bottling.
Dark garnet in color this wine has a pleasant nose of cherry, plum, and light mint aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and well balanced with primary flavors of cherry and tobacco. The tannins are light and well integrated and they support a surprisingly long finish with notes of mint creeping back in at the end. Perhaps a touch too much oak, I think, but overall a very well made wine.
The nice mint characteristic of this wine would make it a nice pairing for a dish that had a slight sweetness to it, like these lamb, sweet potato, and scallion kebabs.
Overall Score: 9
How Much?: $15
This wine is available for purchase online.
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