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    World Class Wines from Hickinbotham in McLaren Vale, South Australia

    CaptureBefore we get to some truly amazing wines, let’s put how we’ll describe them in some context.? The more we taste wines from all around the world, in all different styles and at all different price points, the more wine tends to group itself into distinct ranges.? While there are the ubiquitous number ratings, which deftly, somehow, differentiate between a 92 and a 93 point wine, we don’t rate wine that way.? It just doesn’t work for us.? To us, wine seems more correctly grouped into layers of quality. ? There are poor wines (thankfully less of those as the years go by), drinkable wines, very good wines, excellent wines and world class wines.? Above world class we assume there is another category, which justifies the price tags wines like Chateau Petr?s, Domaine Romanée-Conti or the Bordeaux First Growths command.? We say we only assume because we haven’t had enough experience with those, and in fact none with most of them, to make a personal determination.? So we can only guess and infer from the opinions of others.

    All of this is merely a lead in to the wines we review in this article, from Hickinbotham Wines, and specifically the wines made fromIMG_1615 the Clarendon Vineyard, located in the McLaren Vale of South Australia.? The vineyards around Clarendon Village have a long history, and the current Clarendon Vineyard was established in 1971, by Alan Hickinbotham, on a steep slope on one side of the Onkaparinga Gorge.? The vineyards have flourished in recent years with some improvements in farming, as well as additional irrigation.? Grapes from this vineyard have, in past years, found their way into Penfold’s iconic Grange, as well as the Eileen Hardy Chardonnay from Hardy’s.? It was in 2012 that the vineyards were purchased by the Jackson Family, and that signaled the addition of winemaker Chris Carpenter to the enterprise.

    We have reviewed several wines made by Chris over the past few years, from the La Jota and Mt. Brave wineries in Napa.? Chris also makes wine at Cardinale and Lokoya, two ultra-premium California Cabernet labels.? His mastery of mountain vineyards is pretty well established. We generally taste one of his wines and that immediate flag goes up – this is world class.? We’re not sure if it is 93 or 94, maybe even 96?? It is simply world class.

    At Hickinbotham, Chris is working with Charlie Seppelt, who hails from a family with deep roots in the Australian wine industry.? Charlie has worked around Australia, New Zealand, France and Napa, including a stint as winemaker at Hardy’s.? There he gained experience working with fruit from the Clarendon Vineyard.

    Vineyard 1

    Chris oversees the Bordeaux varietals.? Charlie has responsibility for the Rhone varietals and the day to day cellar operations.? On their flagship wine, The Peake, they collaborate in the blending.? Both members of this winemaking duo appear to believe that the vineyard, and the immediate area, offer something unique and special.? They both work to capture that essence and maintain it.

    Not that the vineyards in Clarendon don’t present their own set of problems.? Chris mentioned several pests they typically don’t see in Napa, including an apparently voracious, shoot eating kangaroo, which they would, absolutely, never see in Napa.? The land here also presents its own set of goodness as well, including a distinctly different soil type, vines living on their own root stock (as opposed to the grafted vines in California) and the presence of eucalyptus surrounding the vineyard.? All of these add to the unique expression of terroir Chris and Charlie protect in the wines.

    So you can imagine that we were delighted when we had a chance to review four wines from Charlie Seppelt and Chris Carpenter’s 2015 vintage at Clarendon.? This was a chance to see what was special about the Clarendon hills, and how they have interpreted it.? Let’s look at the wines:

    All the wines are from the 2015 vintage.? They include a Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and the flagship wine, a Cabernet-Shiraz Blend labeled ‘The Peake’.? More on why that name was chosen later on.? All of the wines see French oak, in various percentages of new versus older wood.

    2015 Hickinbotham ‘The Revivalist’ Merlot – A dark purple red, the wine has a nose of dark fruit , with black plum, savory IMG_1620notes and herbs.? There was a tiny touch of menthol, and the eucalyptus may be making its presence felt.? It has a rich entry to the palate, and is full bodied.? The tannins are more medium, and there is a good balance to the wine.? The fruit is very persistent through the finish, which is very long.? Excellent wine here.? Aged for 15 months in Bordeaux barrels, 100% Merlot, 13.5% alcohol and a SRP of $75.

    2015 Hickinbotham ‘Brooks Road’ Shiraz –?Another dark, reddish purple wine, but here the dark fruit is more blackberry.? There are herbs and a touch of anise, along with hints of violets.? On the palate there are firm tannins, bright acid and great balance.? Just full bodied, this is a fruit driven wine that brings intensity without being huge or IMG_1618opulent.? It is rich and focused.? In that respect, it is classically one of Chris’ wines, just translated to the terroir of Clarendon and the characteristics of Shiraz.? This is really good.? Aged for 15 months in Burgundy barrels, 100% Shiraz, 14% alcohol and an SRP of $75.

    2015 Hickinbotham ‘Trueman’ Cabernet Sauvignon –?This is a deep, dark purple red.? It presents a rich nose of berries, herbs, a touch of menthol and tobacco.? On the palate it is rich and lush, with great depth and beautiful balance.? The berry fruit is front and center, along with some cherry, as well as herbal notes.? This is complex, full bodied yet fresh in the mouth.? The fruit holds beautifully throughout the tasting experience, and it lasts a very long IMG_1622time.? This is outstanding.? Aged for 15 months in Bordeaux coopered barrels, 14% alcohol and also an SRP of $75.

    2015 Hickinbotham ‘The Peake’ Cabernet-Shiraz –?The flagship wine from the Clarendon vineyards, this is named after Sir Edward John Peake, who founded Clarendon and the original vineyards back in the mid-IMG_16161800s.? This is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon and 44% Shiraz.? Each batch is handled separately and then blended prior to bottling.? The wine is very dark, with a nose of dark fruits.? Blackberry, black cherry, black plum, savory notes and a touch of oak are all in play.? It is rich and full bodied on the palate, and stays that way throughout.? This is really, really long, as the fruit lingers.? Tannins are well integrated, and the wine has great balance.? This is truly world class, and maybe one of those wines that takes it up even another notch.? The Peake uses the highest amount of new oak of any of the wines, at about 90%.? It has 14% alcohol and a SRP of $150.? They only made 370 cases of this, which is a shame.

    Wow, these were some seriously great wines.? The Cabernet and the Shiraz were a bit above the Merlot, at least based on our palates and preferences.? The Peake is in another class entirely.? When a wine gets to be that good, it’s really about your personal preferences and what characteristics you like.? Varying degrees of great are hard to describe.? Let’s put the Merlot in the upper end of the Excellent category, the Cabernet and Shiraz in the World Class category, and The Peake in some transcendant group even higher on the ranking list.? I can’t tell you if they’re 93 or 94 or 99 points, you can be the judge of that.

    We’ll add some to our Value List.? Since we only go up to $80 we can’t add The Peake, but it is truly spectacular.? If you have the budget, it’s worth a splurge.? They are doing great things at Hickinbotham.? You can read more about them on their website at?http://www.hickinbothamwines.com/.

    Another set of wines from Chris Carpenter, another set of wines we love. ? Seems like a trend to us.

    A votre santé!

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