“High alcohol, high tannins. Big colour, big flavours. A wine to offend everyone”. David Anderson summing up his wines at a recent tasting of Wild Duck Creek Estate. I don’t think I have ever met the proprietor of an estate who was so much fun, brimming with joy and under no illusions. David’s personality is a direct line to the wines he produces. They are huge, there’s no escaping their pitch. Black as ink, sumptuous aromatics, gigantic fruit, the roundest body and a primal force and energy that would be appreciated by anyone who uses power tools to make a living. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are quite simply, the greatest full bodied expression of Australian Shiraz, outside of South Australia.
How it came to pass
My sister in law, Kate, who lives in Melbourne with her partner Sarah, had one of those DINKS (double income no kids) weekends away that we can only dream of. You know, the short flight to Tasmania, a luxury hotel, fine food and in this case, the wine a bushranger drinks. It was after one of those dinners that she suggested we stock the wines of Wild Duck Creek Estate. To quote from the text she sent me “I’ve had another one of their wines at The Press Club previously. Delicious, very full on. Last night had it with 90 degree poached beef fillet, parsnip puree, buttered mushrooms and ponzu dressing”. Are you reading this? The Real Housewives of East St Kilda have just added two new cast members.
But in all seriousness I loved the effrontery of ordering the best biggest wine in Australia, in a state that makes the trendiest wines, of how shall I put it, smaller dimensions? One of the beauties of these wines, is that you can drink them with your Hollywood food, or you can serve them at a BBQ. With your grubby children running around, tomato sauce caked faces, yelling and screaming, wives kindly reminding you what you did to the steak last time. And the wines of Wild Duck Creek Estate can still slam the door shut on all that and prevail upon your senses.
Big, bold Australia of old
It’s all well and good to say that you love cool climate Syrah and Yarra Valley Pinot, but take them from the practised food of chefs and off the white tablecloth… I felt proud at this tasting, stumbling out of one of Australia’s oldest pubs, the Lord Nelson, in the Rocks. The day was perfect and all I could think was that this is where it all began, the beginnings of Australia. And these wines and their makers are the perfect expression of country and culture. As perfect as the Harbour Bridge and the delightful Georgian dwellings whispering their English roots.
Leaving the Hotel I cross Argyle Street and cut diagonally towards a beautifully modest 1960’s modernist building and the public dunnies on Watson Road that the cabbies use. Walking up Watson Road, where on Anzac Day 2001 I asked my now wife Louise out for a date. This is also near a disused tram tunnel where I was a member of a pistol shooting club as a boy. Through the walkway by the Bridge Stairs to Cumberland Street, where I shoot a glance towards a group of terraces on Gloucester Street. I can remember drinking at the Australian (Heritage) Hotel, on the Gloucester Street side, and seeing an old soldier friend watering geraniums in a terrace opposite. He was a good looking, strong man, and here he was, my friend, seeing to his flowers in an apron. I walk on, and suddenly I am embraced by the city and as swiftly removed by bus back home, to the Northern Beaches.
The indulgence of me telling you all this is to emphasise that I do not believe wine can be enjoyed in isolation. The wine tasting didn’t bring about an epiphany, or a life changing moment. But it summoned up the loveliest of remembrances past, that could not have happened if I had thrown back a Claret or a Burgundy. The best of Australia; I had tasted and it was wonderful to face the buildings and stones of Empire and acknowledge to their builders the bounty of their boldness and daring. The pleasure of the glass was married to the joy of my memory, and my heart swelled with the warmth of my home.
Bazooka Wine Style
The red wines are massive. There is no escaping the huge proportions of fruit, acid and tannin. Indeed, the very first note I made was ‘big, black and beautiful’, which I had remarked of the 2016 Yellow Hammer Hill 2016 Shiraz Malbec. Tasting the wines, levitating towards the Duck Muck, I found flavours of blue black and red fruits (blackberry, mulberry, blackcurrant, cassis, plum), violets, bitumen, charcoal, iodine and chocolate. Some of the older wines developed some gorgeous secondary notes of dried flowers, marzipan, earth, menthol and pencil shavings.
If great wine is an expression of place and culture, then Wild Duck Creek Estate is an incomparable expression of Australian wine. With barely a glance to Europe there is a brutal immediacy of their impact upon the senses. Their achievement is to shrug off excessive refinement and embrace the place from whence they came. Arresting the size, flavour and sheer presence that wafts from the glass and grabs you with a “pair of arms and bunch of fives on the end of them” is pointless. Every sip and swallow thunders the iron grip of summer, the parched red dirt, a brash confidence of a new people and the toughness of its makers.
In the winemaker’s words
David was asked about the Cambrian soils of Heathcote and the influence they had on his wines. Here as in all his answers he was forthright. And it was with his reply that I knew that we were tasting something special and something Australian. “Soil’s a vehicle. Now the soils in our vineyards drain well and go all the way to the roots. But it’s influence in flavour is overrated. Aspect is much more important”. Can you imagine someone from Burgundy saying this? And what aspect? “Facing east, facing the morning sun. The vineyards facing west get the belting afternoon sun. But Heathcote’s a funny place. Go 6km south and you can’t get to 13%. Go 6km’s north and the material’s course and without acid”.
The vineyard is quite old by Heathcote standards, the first vines planted in 1974. But David is unconvinced that vine age matters here; “With a well managed Shiraz vineyard, you can get good fruit after 3 years I reckon”. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, is there a particular spot that those vines enjoy? “This is Heathcote, and not some nasty little area with an appellation attached to them. No, Cabernet is like a grubby little boy, it doesn’t care. You can grow it anywhere. It’ll make a good wine no matter what the hell”.
When should we drink the wines? “I drink the Shiraz at about 6 to 10 years of age. I like a bit of primary fruit. You see, its like watching an 80 year old at the Olympics. Why would you do it? I’d rather see a 20 year old, or possibly a 40 year old having a crack makes a good show”. And the Cabernet? “We sell museum releases at the cellar door. Alan’s Cab needs 6 to 10 years. But it’s hard to convince people to buy the older wines. The young yuppie drinkers just don’t get it”.
Have you ever made a bad wine? “Sure. I was about to pour it down the sink when my mother tried it. She loved it! What a girl. It took 20 years to get through 200 litres of the worst wine I ever made”.
Big, black and beautiful. Purple, very purple! Bolder and fuller than the 2015, and giving plush primary red and black fruits. Blackcurrant, raspberries, blackberries and red apple. The palate is silky and supple with a delicious berry and redskin flavour, rolling into chewy tannins,coal smoke and milk chocolate hints with a long palate coating finish. An absolute cracker! Cellar up to 10 years. 14.8% Alc.
Dark crimson and fragrant from the outset. The blue and black fruits shine with hints of mocha. This release just oozes class with a combination of 40% new French and American oak maturation for 22 months. The nose shows masses of blackberries, anise and fresh cut flowers. The palate is flavour packed with cherry cola, mulberries, coffee and liquorice. The natural acids are defining, and the mouth feel is palate-coating yet smooth. You’re engaged from the first moment this wine enters your mouth. It has an extremely long finish, and as such it will stand up in your cellar for many years.
Impenetrable colour. Gorgeous nose of blackcurrant, kitsch, lavender and a touch of mint. Full bodied, like a Brett Whiteley nude, with glossy blue and black fruits, cigar box, coal dust, chocolate and cherries. Firm, gripping tannins tussle with the fruit, but the volume of fruit is colossal. Unbelievable power.
Really interesting and the most distinctly different wine in the lineup. It’s not just the bubbles. The grapes are picked a couple of weeks earlier, otherwise the second ferment couldn’t take place due to the high alcohol. Really fresh palate of cherry, cranberry, raspberry and a fair lick of marzipan. Dry and savoury, this is a fabulous wine that demands food.
Almost black with a dark purple hue, yet the wine is bright, rich and seductive. 5% whole bunch here, adding a vibrant lift from the glass. The nose is all black pastel, charcoal, spice and red fruit compote. The palate has a wonderful electricity about it, with beautiful acids and a smooth finish. It’s full of violets, blue and black fruits, all alongside concentrated plum and chocolate. The mouth feel has real grip here, and is unlike any other wine in the line-up. The finish is long and framed by abundant tannins.
Is this the darkest Shiraz wine in the world? Supremely complex nose of blue, black and red fruits, dried flowers, chocolate, tar and cinnamon. Rich and full bodied, this is amazing. Perfectly ripe, but no sense of porty or jammy fruit. Takes hold of you, insistent, like a hug from beautiful, voluptuous woman. I certainly didn’t want the hug to end. The fine perfectly integrated tannins are present from the moment the wine grabs you through to the monumental finish. The greatest plus size wine I have ever tasted.
*All prices quoted are in any 6.