A ground-breaking tasting – A preview of the new releases from Torbreck, Barossa Valley, South Australia

A tasting with Ian Hongell and Andrew Tierney in Adelaide, South Australia

Part 2 of 2

In late February, I was fortunate to be among the first people in the world to taste the new vintage releases from Escarpment, one of New Zealand’s most famous Pinot Noir specialists, and Torbreck, the legendary Barossa Valley titan. Over the course of a couple of hours, my palate was taken on a journey that was entirely new for me, and it ended at a destination that I had never encountered before. This tasting resulted in the only time in my life when I found three wines that I felt could not be improved – i.e. three perfect 20/20s from one portfolio.

Part 2 – Torbreck, Barossa Valley, South Australia

It has been nearly a decade since winemaker Ian Hongell crossed the Seppeltsfield Road from the Peter Lehmann Winery to Torbreck.  A sleeping giant that had suffered from lack of direction, the moment he arrived, it felt that this once-famous brand, with its glittering array of ostentatious 100-point scores, might stand a chance of registering interest again from collectors and critics alike.  He started in the vineyards – precious plots of extraordinary dirt scattered around the Valleys.  As the years passed, a newfound viticultural precision coupled with artisanal wine-shaping dynamism infiltrated the core of every wine in the collection.  Torbreck is my 100 Best Australian Wines Winery of the Year 2022/23, and I made this declaration four months before I tasted the following portfolio of imminent releases.  These are wines that fans of any and every wine style on earth must taste.  If you are an existing Torbreck acolyte, you will be amazed at this continuing legend, refining and re-inventing its ever-changing story.  If you think that Barossa whites and reds might not be your sort of ‘thing’, think again.  There are flavour and texture triggers found in these wines that are deeply embedded in the greatest Rhônes, Burgundies, Bordeaux, and Piemonte creations, and yet these wines have definition and precision that make them irresistibly compelling and genuinely unique.

2022 Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles Blanc

Roussanne-dominant, with Clairette, Grenache Blanc and splashes of Marsanne and Viognier, this is a triumphant white wine that puts legions of CdR whites to shame.  Its inspiration comes directly from elite Parisian brasserie white wines, but I have never tasted anything close to this in my 38-year Parisian brasserie experience. Bright, energetic, cunningly complex and invigoratingly refreshing, this is a lesson in embracing the positive traits of all these fascinating white grapes while leaving behind the ubiquitous awkwardness and listlessness that others cannot seemingly avoid.  18/20 (Drink now – 2025)

2022 Torbreck The Steading Blanc

If Juveniles Blanc is a young ‘Luke’, this wine is a ‘Jedi Master’.  Focussing on Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, this is a spellbinding white wine and the finest white to date from this winery.  With incredible poise and a downright sexy deportment, The Steading Blanc shows mind-blowing refinement and definition.   At a seventh of the price of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Beaucastel Blanc and a full 1% lower in alcohol, this wine redefines what is possible from the timeless RMV blend.  Yet, with remorseless climate creep impacting the Rhône more than anywhere I can think of, The Steading Blanc reminds me of great Southern Rhône whites from a bygone era but with more flair, professionalism, fruit clarity and drinkability.  18.5/20 (Drink now – 2030)

2021 Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles

Many years ago, this wine started its life as a tribute to my favourite wine/bar restaurant in Paris, but today it is a world-class leader in Grenache/Mataro (Mourvèdre) circles.  This is because it is one of the crunchiest and most lifted of this band of gastro-brigands, and yet it manages to pack a memorable punch without any residual oak, tannin or alcohol spoiling the view.  Carignan and Counoise play a vital part here, and the Shiraz component has been whittled down to a mere 2% in the mix, signalling a complete departure from a clumsier GSM model.  Spicy, cool, moreish and pricked with tasty herb and spice details, this is a winning Juveniles.  18/20 (Drink now – 2028)

2022 Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles

The 2022 vintage has yet to hit the market, but it holds hands with its delicious 2021 predecessor while further emphasising the Counoise and Carignan in its recipe.  With increased perfume, finer detail, decreased ripeness, and more bounce, this is as ‘smashable’ as baby-fine-wine gets and marks 2022 as the definitive, modern Juves for cool, modern palates.  18/20 (Drink 2023 – 2028)

2021 Torbreck Hillside Vineyard Grenache

I have followed this cuvée closely since it burst into 100 Best Australian Wines with the 2017 vintage – a cool, calm and supremely well-balanced wine.  A far cry from the sweatier, head-banging Grenache styles that crowd the market, this vineyard seems to embody sensuality and fragrance without being simply a wine of ephemeral appeal.  A Turkish Delight scent leads the way with a medium-weight palate, polished to perfection, with the rosewater and mulberry theme running the length of the palate marked by mouth-watering acidity.  It is hard to wipe the smile off one’s face while tasting this melodic and generous wine.  18.5/20 (Drink 2024 – 2030) 

2021 Torbreck The Steading

The Steading (Rouge) is the ravishing Blanc’s perfectly balanced, mirror-image relation.  2021 is most definitely a sleeper vintage for this imperious and staggeringly good-value GSM hero.  With this possesses a more chiselled figure than the deliciously forward 2020 vintage (which is currently enjoying rave reviews on my 100 Best UK Roadshow), this is two shades darker, more luxurious, centred and calm, and it reeks of couture treatment from its tip to its toe. Beautiful.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2030)

2020 Torbreck Les Amis

This is a wine that I often find too intense, extreme and concentrated, and in 2020 it has some of these traits, but it also shows uncommon control and reserve.  There is still the trademark, glossy, almost ice-creamy texture in common with the muscular grunt that Les Amis has in spades.  Still, exotic, kirsch-like qualities here make this a more challenging and intricately assembled wine than I have ever seen under this label.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2032)

2021 Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz

Goodness me, this is an awesome wine. I noted in my 100 Best Australian Wines 2022/23 Report that 2020 Woodcutter’s Shiraz was a gamechanger for Torbreck, and for a £25 wine, it is hard to think of another red wine made from this statesmanlike grape that comes close, but I am humbled by the sensational layering and presence of this extraordinary 2021 vintage.  Much of the power and complexity sits right at the back of the experience, leaving a grand finish that reminds me of only a handful of epic St Joseph.  Woodcutter’s is a fresh and long wine that gathers more structure and grip without ever including overt tannin or astringency.  This is a standout Shiraz, not least if you desire a Torbreck experience with a budget price point.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2030)

2021 Torbreck The Struie

My mind went into orbit when I tasted this wine. Tasting like a magical concoction of 4-parts Serralunga d’Alba and 1-part Bonnes-Mares (Morey-side), this wine’s 43% Eden Valley Shiraz component makes it the most energetic, challenging, and utterly mesmerising vintage I can remember.  I have always been a Struie fan, but it often sits down in the pack alongside some of the more powerful Shirazes, so one has to look deep into the portfolio to truly appreciate its charms.  In 2021, while it is not a bigger wine, it is undoubtedly more intense and aeons longer on the finish, so I can see it standing shoulder to shoulder with its more fêted siblings for years to come.  19+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2035)

2020 Torbreck The Descendant

Gobsmacking. I have long adored this wine and have often sung its praises from the rooftops.  However, I never thought it could capture my senses in the way it does in 2020.  A raptor on nose and palate, locking on without a moment’s hesitation, there is an insane iodine and black fruit perfume here that conjures up images of the most dementedly talented parfumier going to work with the rarest musks and scents imaginable.  The sense of heady Balkan tobacco alone is hypnotic. I have waited a long time for this wine to move from ‘high-gold’ level to perfection and this graduation happened in one fell swoop in 2020.  So few Syrahs/Shirazes on the planet can do what this wine does, both from an aromatic standpoint and from a sheer hedonistic and seductive stance.  This is an incredible creation and I am thrilled to inform you that it can be approached and enjoyed next year such is the aromatic bliss and ambassadorial fruit welcome that 2020 The Descendant offers the drinker.  20/20 (2024 – 2035)

2020 Torbreck The Factor

2020 The Factor is the fashion world’s equivalent of a midnight black ballgown, brimming with CGI detail.  This is Australia’s Hermitage but blacker, more mineral-drenched, more focussed and, believe it or not, less seemingly tannic and terrifying.  The Factor is all about the most luxurious textures and the most incredible control.  It is a rich and layered wine, but it shows no trace of excess or ebullience.  It is the epitome of measured fruit, lock-step organisation and thrilling symmetry.  In the Factor, Runrig, Laird triumvirate, this is the most approachable and kindly of the three wines, but it is also a mighty creation with Mensa-like detail and mind-bending length.  19.5+/20 (Drink 2026 – 2040)

2020 Torbreck Runrig

I have tasted (and bought) this wine back to the 1996 vintage, so I am familiar with its mood swings and changeable temperament.  In 2020 Runrig is an MMA thoroughbred with an awe-inspiring power-to-weight ratio and a brooding, ever-so-slightly scary degree of intensity balanced by cathedral-like calm.  This is the finest ever young Runrig I have tasted, and if you fancy another tenuous mental image, then this is the darkest of night skies with no moon in evidence at all.  You cannot even see your hand in front of your face, and when you taste this wine, it seems like it is the only wine in the world.  Unlike The Factor, it is closed, commanding, immovable and all-encompassing, but there are the very first hints of pliability and tenderness appearing along its flanks.   When this wine starts to unwind, it will undoubtedly reveal more chapters of fruit than any Runrig before it and I imagine it will run for decades such is its pedigree.  If any wine in this line-up left me breathless, it is 2020 Runrig.  20+/20 (2029 – 2045)

2018 Torbreck The Laird

It is funny how truly great wines make me think of another other than wine.  When I first inhaled the scent of 2018 The Laird, I heard music, which was somewhat unnerving.  The phenomenal perfume here conjured up Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave – a distant musical memory from my youth.  I have never seen this famous sea cave firsthand, so I searched for it on my phone while diving into this glass.  If this wine looks like any marine geological formation, it must be this incredible cavern on the uninhabited island of Staffa.  It is fantastic to think that Mendelssohn sat in a boat, off Staffa, in 1829 and penned a couple of bars of music inspired by this cave.  Some 15 years later, the first vines were planted in Barossa.  I suppose it is somewhat of a tradition for me not to bang on about fruit, flowers, herbs and spices when writing about tremendously moving wines preferring to take my readers to a more emotional place in the hope that they are moved enough to seek out the subject of my musings.  In this instance, I cannot get over my Fingal’s Cave spark, and I think it sums up the absurdly deep and never-ending joy that this sublime wine imbues in its taster.  20++/20 (Drink 2030 – 2050)