Wednesday Wines – Episode 166 – Three Musketeers from Yalumba


Yalumba Chief Red Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury (KG) was in London a couple of weeks ago doing the rounds with the new 2018 vintage of Yalumba’s flagship wine, The Caley.  I have numerous experiences travelling the world with a jam-packed schedule, tasting wine from dawn to dusk and beyond, and entertaining the troops.  Sometimes you feel like a hamster on a wheel, belting along at light speed but seemingly going nowhere.  On other occasions, it is pure joy, and one realises how fortunate it is to be in the most incredible drinks trade on earth.

Judging by KG’s face on the times I saw him on this tour, he loved every minute of it, and why wouldn’t he?  Because everywhere he went, he opened a perfect vertical of The Caley, from its inaugural 2012 vintage to the focus of this year’s efforts, the 2018.

Bursting with pride and savouring every sip with everyone lucky enough to join him for a glass and a chinwag, this must be the tour of a lifetime, not least because the wines are so damned good.

I have tasted 2018 The Caley on a number of occasions. Last August, in the 2022 The Great Australian Red competition held in London, 2018 Yalumba The Caley Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz won the Trophy for best Cabernet-dominant blend, while the 2016 vintage of The Caley picked up the ultimate accolade, The Great Australian Red 2022.  Of course, The Caley is no stranger to picking up Trophies – the 2012 vintage won TGAR twice, in 2014 and 2015.  And earlier this year in Adelaide, the 2018 again won the Trophy for best Cabernet-dominant blend, and it picked up the gong for The Great Australian Red 2023, too.  One fact is abundantly clear – this is one of the rarest, most delicious, accurate, rewarding and coveted red wines in the world.

In addition to the launch of 2018 The Caley, KG also brought along a couple of other new releases in his kitbag.  2018 Yalumba The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz has found its way onto La Place de Bordeaux – the elite marketplace for select global wines of the highest standard and it was a privilege to taste this amazing wine.  I was also given a sneak preview of 2019 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, the 49th vintage of this wine that has long championed the magical TGAR blend that, to my mind, defines Australia.  It was with particular pride that KG opened this wine because he is a signatory, along with Chief Viticulturalist Rob Nettelbeck (zoom in to the image, and you will see his gloriously truncated signature)!  Since 1962, The Signature has won 25 Trophies, 158 Gold Medals, 271 Silver and 423 Bronze Medals at Australian Wine Shows, making it the country’s most adored Cab/Shiraz creation.

KG joined me for a relaxed lunch where we worked through these ‘three musketeer’ wines at a much slower and more deliberate pace than I had done during the formal presentation earlier in the week.  He kindly brought a 1940 Barossa Riesling (still fresh, varietal and multi-layered) to taste to set the scene and a tiny bottle of 1885 Para Liqueur (like nothing I have ever tasted before) to finish off with, as well as a 1990 Yalumba The Reserve, another wine made from the mercurial blend of Cabernet and Shiraz, that showed in no uncertain terms just how long-lived and magnificent this style of wine can be when one rewards it with the finest fruit imaginable.

2018 Yalumba, The Caley Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon & Barossa Shiraz, South Australia

80% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Ming D Block in the Yalumba Coonawarra Vineyard and 20% Shiraz from the Horseshoe Block, Eden Valley planted in 1971 and the Burgemeister Linke block planted at Light Pass in the Barossa Valley in 1901. 

It is 14% alcohol, and it spends 20 months in 38% new French barriques with the balance in 1-year and older French barriques.

There is no doubt that there was a lot of pressure on the release of this wine mid-way through 2023.  But having registered its quality by winning the best Cabernet-dominant Trophy at TGAR in London in August 2022, Yalumba must have been quietly confident that it would be received well.  Then having won the overall TGAR 2023 moniker in Adelaide in February this year, surely it was all plain sailing!  The six judges on my TGAR panel scored this wine – 18.5, 18.5. 18.5, 18.5, 18.5, 19 – a clean sweep of golds, and this moved it onto the Trophy judging part of the competition.  It is rare for such agreement, especially given the wide range of taste one assembles as part of a truly experienced judging panel.   But as is always the case, quality always shines through.  For my part, and in the hushed surroundings of a vertical tasting of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 The Caley, each wine has its own distinct character, and yet they are all linked, and all show a progression of style that comes to its culmination in this newly released vintage. 2018 The Caley shows a sensitive finessing of this legendary style of red wine as well as underlining the succulence and velvety nature of the very best wines from the 2018 vintage.  There is a polish, a silkiness that seems particularly heightened in this wine, making it immediately attractive to novices and experts alike.  This is a powerful, deep-set red, but it presents a kindly, welcoming air, a gentle giant, if you will.  There is no mistaking the musculature at the centre of this wine, which will allow it to evolve over the long term, and yet there is not an ounce too much excess in any department with oak, tannin, fruit and alcohol crafted so carefully and deliberately that it all locks together and then moves with seamless grace in the glass.  2018 is yet another stunning chapter in the ever-evolving story of The Caley, and I am sure that this vintage will act as the perfect, quietly spoken, yet imposing ambassador recruiting even more curious palates to The Caley fold.  19.5/20 (Drink now – 2050)

For more information on The Caley, here is an article I posted two years ago with my notes on the 2012 – 2016 vintages 

2018 Yalumba, The Octavius, Old Vine Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia

In the past, I have sometimes felt that The Octavius is perhaps a bridge too far for my palate.  I say this with the utmost honesty and also because Yalumba’s Cabernet / Shiraz blends have always been the wines that I have felt offered the pinnacle red wine experience for me at this esteemed estate.  This makes Yalumba somewhat unusual in Barossa.  Almost all famous estates in this world-famous wine region have a Shiraz, and in some cases, multiple Shirazes, sitting atop their portfolio of wines.  So, when I looked back at my previous notes on this wine, it was interesting to see when and where it popped up.

The 2001 vintage made the grade for my 100 Best Australian Wines Report in 2005, and the 2002 followed the following year, with a side note declaring that I felt it was an even more impressive wine.  My notes back then were mere one-liners, but I mused that the cooler 2002 vintage had given rise to an altogether more sophisticated creation.

I then waited six vintages (and nine years) for the 2008 to gain a mention in the 2014 Report.  Again, I referred ‘coolness’ as being responsible for this wine’s success.  This time, it was not the vintage that was particularly cool, but the use of 41% Eden Valley fruit in the blend that brought more control and dynamism to the whole.

The 2009 vintage earned a spot in my 2015 Report with an accompanying comment, ‘a ravishing beauty as opposed to a muscular Titan…more Scarlett than Rhett.’  The 2012 vintage (another cooler vintage) made the 2017 Report with the notes, ‘a balanced, long and distinguished wine…the most complete Octavius to date…with a very impressive, calm and controlled finish.’

Over the previous 17 vintages, the emerging theme is that I have only really raved about this wine when it is more subtle, controlled, layered and balanced, and this is definitely the mantra for future of The Octavius.  You will not have to wait for a ‘cooler’ vintage to experience the full panoply of fruit notes coupled with the required control and harmony that one craves in seriously complex Shiraz wines.  So it is with great joy that I can reveal that 2018 The Octavius is a stellar wine, worthy of its name, nodding to the past but striding with the utmost confidence into the future.  It is heroic but not showy, dramatic but not theatrical and profound but not introverted.  The fruit is tempered, and the carpentry, from whence it derives its unusual name, is entirely harmonious serving to heighten the kaleidoscope of flavours instead of straight-jacketing them.  2018 is a triumphant vintage of The Octavius, and it seems fitting that this wine announces Yalumba’s arrival on the world stage.  I do not doubt that this wine will receive a standing ovation when a worldwide audience has the chance to taste it.  19+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2019 Yalumba, The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia

I could not be more of a fan of ‘The Sig’ if I tried.  I have gone on record saying that this is the finest value example of elite TGAR craft in the world, and if you use the search facility on my website, you will find countless mentions of previous vintages of this wine.  As I have noted above, KG was invited to be one of the signatories on this 2019 label at a celebration last Christmas.  When he told me the story of how and when it happened, he perfectly conveyed the shock and surprise, coupled with his emotions and pride of being asked to add his name to this great vintage.  I remember noting that Louisa Rose, Yalumba’s Chief Winemaker, took a long time for her name to appear on a Sig label, only to pop up on the stellar 2016 release.  It is only fitting that KG’s name appears on an equally stunning vintage. And what a wine. With a longer, narrower, more focused flavour than the plush 2018, this elegant, compact Cabernet Shiraz rolls on and on for minutes.  All of the energies and complexities have been captured, and instead of being released in a firework explosion of flavour, they rumble like distant thunder, building and growing on the palate, teasing and attenuating the flavour seemingly without end.  I always encourage my readers to load up on The Sig because I know it drinks well from day one and then ages like a dream.  A example of this was the 1997, which a great friend opened at a recent dinner party.  Not a famous vintage, nor a high-scorer, but at 26 years old, an astonishingly delicious and complete wine. Remember that 2019 is a stunning vintage and you will see that I have awarded it a hefty score, and then imagine how much fun you can have over the next three decades with this wine.  The mind boggles!  19/20 (Drink now – 2040)