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Tasting history

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I’ve been writing up a blog post about my trip to Vancouver last week for lunch with Peter and Margaret Lehmann, and to taste through what was billed as "Seven Decades of Winemaking". Quite frankly, I’ve never had so little trouble spouting off so much copy about wine, so I’ve decided to break my thoughts up into a couple of pieces.

Upon entry, the second floor of the restaurant showcased a series of artwork commissioned by the Lehmanns for a selection of their labels. Most depicted the Queen of Clubs, an icon long associated with the Lehmann brand and what Peter considers his lucky card.

The tasting and luncheon (at Earls in Yaletown) didn’t disappoint in any capacity, and every detail was given careful attention, including Lehmann-branded iPads set up around the room featuring tasting notes and technical information about the wines we tasted with lunch (more on those later).

Inside the private room, a long table had been set for what look to be about 40 places. Facing the lengthy table was a series of smaller tables, each featuring two of the library collection of wines Peter and Margaret Lehmann have sent over from their cellar in Australia. The first hour saw guests meander down the row of tasting tables, tasting the rare reds (and one dessert wine) that span six decades.

My tasting notes, in the order in which I tasted the wines:

 

1958 Saltram Bin 20 Claret

Grapes: 85% Shiraz, 10% Dolcetto, 5% Muscadelle

Tasting note: Root beer in colour, this 50+ year-old wine was showing its age; the nose showed aromas of toffee, caramel, dried cherries, black licorice, and a port-like hint of caramel. It was medium-bodied on the palate, and the dried cherry, licorice and caramel notes were joined by flavours of cola and earth. This wine wasn’t totally gone (over the hill), but its oxidative qualities suggested its lifespan was quite short once the bottle was opened.

Etc.: Peter worked for Saltram when he started in the wine business – he actually joined the company in 1959 after working for Yalumba. 1,600 dozen bottles produced.

 

1963 Saltram Mamre Brook

Grapes: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Shiraz

Tasting note: Earth, caramel, barnyard, bell pepper, white pepper and a hint of vanilla bean all came through on the nose. Age has made this wine lighter on the palate, and light acidity provided a bit more life than the ’58. Dried cherry and blueberry, anise, toffee, caramel, and meaty flavours came through on the palate; there was still a touch of tannin to this wine, albeit very light and soft.

Etc.: This wine spent three years in large oak casks, then was cellared for two years in the bottle. 750 dozen bottles produced.

 

1973 Saltram HP Basket Press Shiraz

Grape: 100% Shiraz

Tasting note: This red had a much wilder nose than the previous two, with earth, smoke, barnyard, dried cherry and sweet raspberry aromas coming through. The HP also had a touch more body (due to its relative youth and higher alcohol content – 14 per cent) and nice concentration of red berry notes as well as vanilla bean and white pepper. There was a touch of heat on the finish from the higher alcohol content that I thought would have dissipated after so many years.

Etc.: HP stands for ‘hydraulic pressing’; this wine spent two and a half years in "large old oak". 250 dozen bottles produced.

 

1989 Peter Lehmann Wines Cellar Collection Cabernet Malbec Merlot Shiraz

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz (percentages unknown, but listed from most to least)

Tasting note: The oak was still very much alive in this red (it was also more liberally oaked than the previous three), with vanilla, anise, blueberry, raisin and milk chocolate notes on the nose. It weighed in slightly heavier than the HP, with big dried fruit flavours – raisin, dried blueberry – on the palate as well as vanilla and sweet cherry notes. Light tannin and acidity gave this wine some length – it was still very well put together, but probably wouldn’t get any better with more aging.

Etc.: This wine has become the Mentor wine in the Peter Lehmann lineup. Winner of the Stodart Trophy at the Brisbane Wine Show in 1990. 1,500 dozen bottles produced.

 

1996 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz

Grape: 100% Shiraz

Tasting note: An interesting green/vegetal note on the nose of this red didn’t take away from the deep cherry, dark chocolate, white pepper, vanilla, cedar and spice notes on the nose – in fact, it added to the complexity. It was still quite full-bodied, with mint and anise coupled with black cherry, bell pepper, dark chocolate, liqueur, clove and black pepper notes – a touch Cabernet-like.

Etc.: Andrew Wigan had taken over as Chief Winemaker by this time, with Peter overseeing production. For the first time, French oak was introduced – just ten per cent of the wine was aged in it, while the rest was in American oak. 2,000 dozen bottles produced.

 

2008 Peter Lehmann Art Series Shiraz

Grape: 100% Shiraz

Tasting note: Deep cassis, black cherry, black pepper, vanilla and ripe cherry (almost jam-like) are all so expressive on the nose. It’s a full-bodied red with slightly tart but concentrated cherry notes, as well as milk chocolate, cola, vanilla bean and black pepper. It’s an incredibly silky, almost-creamy red – perhaps moreso given its newness relative to the older wines. Regardless, it’s a ridiculously subtle, well-balanced Shiraz for the price.

Etc.: Available in Manitoba - $20.99, although at this moment I’m not sure of the vintage on the shelf. A mass-produced wine – 165,000 dozen cases produced. Since it’s actually available currently, I’ll score this wine – 91/100.

 

Saltram Show Sweet White (bottled 1973)

Grapes: 55% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 15% Verdelho

Tasting note: Iced tea in colour, this Sauternes-style dessert wine had a knockout nose of caramel, light herbs, lemon and peppermint candies, toasted nuts, vanilla and a light saltiness almost reminiscent of a sherry. It absolutely exploded on the palate, with candied nut, honey, lemon candy, bruised peach and light herbal notes on the palate. The texture of this wine was a thing of beauty – it was silky, viscous and had a seemingly endless finish. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was easily one of the five best wines I’ve had in my life.

Etc.: The average age of the juice used in the 1973 bottling was already 33 years old, with some juice going back to the 1920s.

 

This, of course, was all before the family-style lunch had begun, and there were four wines we tasted with the lunch. But this piece is already at 1100+ words, so my thoughts on those wines will have to wait for another entry – Part 2 coming later this week.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @thegrapenut

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About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.

The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).

Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.

In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.

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