A toast to ‘The Caley’

Here we all are, locked down, isolated and in a completely unfamiliar world. The only thing about that which might be familiar to Fred Caley Smith is the unfamiliar world. 

Fred was an adventurer. First, though, he was the grandson of Samuel Smith, the founder of Australia’s oldest family wine company, Yalumba, back in 1849. He was also the great uncle of current scion of the company, Robert Hill-Smith. Robert, working with winemaker Kevin Glastonbury, have named their flagship wine, ‘The Caley’, in honour of Fred. The third release is the Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2014 ($365). 

Fred ventured forth from his position with Yalumba, that of horticulturist, in 1983, still in his twenties, to travel the world, visiting agents and customers, on a two-year journey. He sent back an inordinate amount of fascinating correspondence, as well as reporting for various newspapers and working for the South Australian State government of the day as an ‘Honorary Horticultural Commissioner’. He provided an amazing quantity of useful information. 

The Caley

His journey took him to San Francisco, Chicago, Quebec, New York, London, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the Middle East, Ceylon (as it was then), India and home, bringing with him all manner of botanical treasures (biosecurity would have collapsed if anyone did this today). He also spent time at the 1893 Chicago World Fair. 

The Caley’ is the quintessential Aussie wine – a Cabernet Shiraz blend, drawing fruit from both Coonawarra and the Barossa. Despite Yalumba’s suggestion that the wine reveals its terroir, I can’t see how anyone can claim a wine exhibits terroir when it is made from vineyards 400 kilometres apart, but leave that aside. And the wines are more than good enough to stand as what they are, without worrying about that. 

The first ‘The Caley’ released was the 2012, with around 500 cases produced (and a small number of larger format bottles).

Yalumba have now released the third ‘The Caley’, the 2014. The Cabernet component hails from the Ming D Block from the Menzies Estate in Coonawarra, which has provided 82 per cent of the wine. This is a 2.7 hectare block, planted in 1992. It has a higher clay content than the rest of the Estate. The harvest was at a time more familiar to the old-timers, following a decade of early vintages. A wet winter, with a dry and warm summer, ensured excellent conditions. 

The Shiraz, the remaining 18 per cent, came from two blocks in the Barossa. 15per cent from the Crown Village Old Shiraz vineyard, planted in 1974, with the remainder from the Horseshoe Block located in Eden Valley. It was planted in 1971. The 2014 harvest in the Barossa provided moderate crops of excellent quality. 

The parcels were fermented separately, in open fermenters with indigenous yeasts, followed by the addition of some cultured yeasts. The resulting wine spent 20 months in French barriques – 40 per cent new and the rest one year and older. The wine was bottled on 16th January, 2016. 

It is under a wax-covered cork, a surprise as Yalumba were pioneers in the move to screwcaps, so such a backward step is curious, but presumably to satisfy offshore demands. Be nice to see future vintages move to screwcap. 

This is definitely a wine which will give so much more if given a lengthy spell in the cellar. Opening with black olive notes and cloves, it is powerful but balanced, concentrated but refined. Underlying acidity gives a youthful sappiness. It has great length and it maintains intensity throughout that length. This is black fruits, full of black cherries and cassis notes with some chocolate on the finish. Plenty of grip, very fine tannins. A hint of austerity. Certainly some oak, but well integrated. For me, on first tasting, this was a comfortable 95 with great potential. 24 hours later, the wine had lost that austerity and blossomed gloriously. Florals and those black cherries dominated. 97. And still room to improve. 

There are worse ways to suffer one’s isolation. And one can toast one of our pioneer adventurers, Fred Caley Smith.

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