Swinney’s Farvie Launch – my tasting notes for the event on the 9th September 2020

Swinney’s UK Farvie Launch & Portfolio Notes

at Bingham Riverhouse, Richmond

9th September 2020


I have known one of the two protagonists in this story for a very long time – even though Rob Mann still looks like he is in his twenties!  The other chap is a relatively new acquaintance, but time skips along and so it was around a decade ago that I first came across Matt Swinney.

You are likely to have tasted Rob’s wines whether you know it or not given that he has worked all over the world and been responsible for hero brands like Cape Mentelle (for ten years), Hardy’s Tintara Winery in McLaren Vale and LVMH’s Newton in California.  Matt Swinney has his own wine brand but is perhaps better known as an elite Western Australian grape-grower, fourth-generation no less, based in Frankland River.

When Rob and his wife Gen moved back to WA, from California, to build their own brand Corymbia (these wines, as an aside, are spectacular) it was Matt who offered Rob a position he couldn’t refuse.

It doesn’t happen very often in the wine world, but when a collaboration ignites between two uniquely skilled parties, there is always one of two outcomes.  It is either a car crash of fierce egos and opposing philosophies, which results in the inevitable break-up or it is a synergistic relationship which spawns otherworldly wines, the likes of which have never experienced before.

I wouldn’t be putting pen to paper if it were the former!

I met up with these two fellows in London, in September 2019, for an extraordinary tasting of their inaugural release of the Farvie wines.  It is not often that you feel that you have tasted a truly unique set of flavours, but this was my impression and this is also why I agreed to help Matt and Rob present these wines at their London launch (in their physical absence, but they will be Zooming in).   The launch was originally planned for early 2020 but, of course, Covid put paid to that plan.  So we now find ourselves in September, a year on from my first taste, and I cannot be more excited about revisiting these wines with a group of experienced tasters and 12 months more bottle age under their belts.

Matt’s catchphrase is, ‘it’s all about the vineyard’ and Rob prefers not to give too much away, not least because his winemaking is about as hands-off as its gets, and so there are no tricks up his sleeve, just incredible experience, finely-honed intuition and great taste.  It is the way in which these two gentlemen have worked in concert which is extraordinary.  There must be many analogies out there in the big, wide world, but the image which springs to my mind was rather unlikely, but it works for me.

I have a rather comedic tennis scenario floating around in my head, in which Rob and Matt are invited to a summer garden party where everyone is paired off to form doubles teams for a tennis tournament.  Rob and Matt don’t even have their kit with them and are rather reluctant to join in given the buffet lunch and accompanying wines looks so enticing.  But, and you have guessed it, their partnership is sensational, moving gracefully around the court, never tripping or bumping into each other and taking every game and set to love.

I have no idea if either gentleman is a dab hand with a racquet, but this is how smooth and harmonious these wines taste.  There are no hesitations, no ragged edges, no cul-de-sacs of flavour and no excessive moments in any direction.  Instead, these wines are all complete, complementary, exquisitely balanced and ultra-fine.  It is worth mentioning that I have tasted the Swinney ‘estate’ wines many times before and when a company introduces new, icon-level releases out of the blue, you had better hope that the rest of the portfolio is not left behind.  I find it fascinating that Rob’s input, across the board, has lifted the entire portfolio of estate wines immeasurably, too, such that while the Farvie wines are indeed one of the most successful debut launches I can remember, it is vital to impress on everyone who comes across this article that the estate wines are utterly thrilling, too.  Given the value for money of the aforementioned estate wines, they should find themselves on every decent wine list and on every informed dining table in the land.

It is clear to me that Matt and Rob have catapulted this brand to the very highest echelons of WA winemaking in one fell swoop.

My notes, scores /20 and drinking windows

Here are my instant reaction notes to the wines from September 2019 – forgive their incomplete sentences as they were bashed into my iPad at speed.  Wine trade enquiries should be directed to Ants Rixon Swinney’s UK agent Entoria&Coe.

2019 Swinney, Riesling Frankland River, WA (£18.00, www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk, www.greatwine.co.uk, www.greatwinesdirect.co.uk, www.simplywinesdirect.uk, www.ozwines.co.uk).

Lime pith, talcy and with a rather nice powderpuff feel, this is a bright, taut and direct wine which takes no prisoners on the palate. The finish is super-dry and energetic, making it one of the most impressive Frankland releases of the year. 18.5/20 (drink now – 2024)

2018 Swinney, Grenache, Frankland River, WA (£24.00, www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk, www.greatwine.co.uk, www.greatwinesdirect.co.uk, www.simplywinesdirect.uk, www.ozwines.co.uk).

Taken from dry grown, 20-year-old bush vines.  Dry, slender and rather pointy on the finish, this is a red-fruited, precise, sour-amaro-style temptress with a white-knuckle finish which keeps on going. Mouth-watering and only 13% alc., there is a dribble of Mourvèdre in here which adds imperceptibly to the tone and lifts the palate right in the centre. Clean and upright, the addition of 20% whole bunch makes this a super-fresh experience. 18.5/20 (drink now – 2025)

2018 Swinney, Syrah / Mourvèdre / Grenache, Frankland River, WA (£24.00, www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk, www.greatwine.co.uk, www.greatwinesdirect.co.uk, www.simplywinesdirect.uk, www.ozwines.co.uk).

With 25% whole bunch, co-fermented, this is a darker and more indulgent wine and it has an iron-rich core which hints at more than a little malevolence.  Weighing in at 14% alc. the Mourvèdre, again, ties the exuberance down bringing depth and also tartness on the finish.  The trademark bitterness is, once again, here and I love it and while it has more density and richness than the Grenache it is similarly vital and expressive. 18/20 (drink now – 2028)

2018 Swinney, Syrah, Frankland River, WA (£24.00, www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk, www.greatwine.co.uk, www.greatwinesdirect.co.uk, www.simplywinesdirect.uk, www.ozwines.co.uk).

4% Mourvèdre is deployed, again, here with as much precision and accuracy as it has been in the other two reds.  This time there is more succulence and more fruit sweetness and this is cut with meaty notes and cracked pepper tones.  This is the most closed of the red trio, as it should be, and yet it still has that lip-smacking, tongue-scouring bitterness which I adore in these wines.  While it sees three more months in oak than the other two, this only serves to soften the scratchy tannins and there is so much energy and brightness in this violet-tinged wine it defies belief.  18.5+/20 (drink 2022 – 2030)

2018 Swinney, Farvie Frankland River Grenache, WA (£89.00, www.greatwine.co.uk).

Only those bunches which are perfectly situated on the bush vines are used for the Farvie wines and that means those grapes which are not overly exposed to the sun’s rays.  Once again, there is some whole bunch / whole berry fermentation in oak used here and there is also the magical ingredient of an eyedropper of Mourvèdre.   This is a very serious wine indeed and it gives me more pleasure than almost anything I can think of this year.  To be released in March 2020 (this date was subsequently put back six months thanks to Covid rudely interrupting everyone’s plans). The only other winemaking note is that there is a mighty 8% new oak used here!  From this moment onwards this wine is all about the fruit and I have tasted nothing like it, at least made from Grenache.  The mineral-soaked palate reminds me of elite Nebbiolo, visceral, elemental Pinot Noir, majestic Baga and other red grapes which celebrate extreme bitterness!  Insane vibrations emanate from the soil here which make this fruit so damn toned.  The flavour silhouette is slender, athletic and immensely powerful and yet the flavour is gentle, caressing, magical and life-fulfilling.  It is a near-perfect wine. 19.5/20 (drink 2022 – 2032)

2018 Swinney, Farvie Frankland River Syrah, WA  (£89.00, www.greatwine.co.uk).

Made from the old Houghton clone, all I could think of here was Thierry Allemande’s Cornas when I brought this wine to my lips.  Rob uses 65% whole bunch and 600-litre barrels, 25% of which are new. So, you could say he throws the kitchen sink at this, but from anyone else’s winemaking point of view, this ‘recipe’ could seem pretty tame.  The reason for him stepping back is that this fruit is simply terrific.  It is a direct reflection of the most rigorous vineyard selection. Matt targets the finest fruit in his ‘morning side’ picks. These grapes are tighter, firmer and cooler and this is the theme for this extraordinary wine.  The pepper and game notes are very much under control here and it is the fruit this is so piercingly clean and refreshing.  This is a worthy sibling to the sensational Grenache.  19+/20 (drink 2024 – 2034)