The slightly-more-advanced-in-age among us will recall the days when it seemed every restaurant table in the country had a bottle of Taylor’s Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon on it. It was incredibly popular.
This was the time when Cabernet was King of table wines and Shiraz a mere workhorse making everything from fortifieds to muffins, along with a few rather decent wines like Grange and Hill of Grace. Coonawarra ruled unchallenged as the best region in the country for Cabernet (Margaret River was a blip on the radar of a few obsessive winophiles and a lot more surfing buffs), but this Clare Valley winery didn’t seem to care. People loved it.
It came about as the various Bill Taylors (Bill may not have been their exact name but they were both called that – they were the grandfather and father of the current caretaker of the Estate, Mitchell) made the decision, back in the sixties, to move on from their pub empire in Sydney and set up a vineyard in the far-distant Clare Valley in South Australia. A brave move, in those days. The locals considered it not so much as brave but foolhardy, when they heard that the 440-acre dairy farm the Taylors purchased was to be planted with 320 acres of Cabernet and another 80 of Shiraz. Remember that in those days, Australians drank more fortified wine than they did table wine. Who’s laughing now? Their first general manager was a famous name in the Australian wine industry, Jim Barry. Jim Barry Wines is now another leading estate in the region.
The two Bills were both pioneers and visionaries. And they have been honoured as such with the Taylor’s top reds, the Visionary Cabernet and the Pioneer Shiraz.
Before we get to them, however, I simply refuse to talk about the Clare Valley without mentioning Riesling, surely the great grape of the region, even if it never seems to get the traction it deserves. I would pontificate on at length about the absurdity of people buying/drinking truckloads of sauv blanc when for similar money, you can get a far more interesting, more complex wine, one which can age for a decade or more, but no one has ever listened before so we’ll save it for another time.
Taylor’s top Riesling is their St Andrew’s, from the eponymous vineyard. Current vintage 2018 ($40). Good Clare Riesling is simply one of the greatest wine bargains on the planet. This one is youthful and intense, notes of citrus, especially lemons and orange rind. Spices. The flavours move to a crystalline lemon. Bath salts. Fragrant and finely balanced. Bright, clean acidity, this is a refreshing style. What could possibly be better with a plate of oysters or King George Whiting. Has complexity and length. This wine will age well, and improve, for twenty years. 96.
We are, however, here to look at the reds. These top two reds both come in at $200. Worth it? Well, I think the Cabernet more than justifies its price. There is perhaps more competition for the Shiraz, but that does not mean it is not an excellent wine.
The Cabernet has achieved international fame, becoming the third Aussie Cab in a five year period to win the prestigious title of ‘World’s Best Cabernet Sauvignon’ at the International Competition of Cabernets, held in France. The judging panel is made up of top French somms, so they can hardly complain. Fermoy won in 2015, Penny’s Hill in 2016 and now Taylor’s ‘The Visionary’ Clare Valley Cabernet 2014 took the gong in 2018.
Mitchell was, of course, delighted. “It’s an incredible honour for my family and our winemaking team to receive this massive title.”
This is the fifth release. While it normally comes from the same patches of old vines, this is not set in stone and has varied, if younger vines step up. The wine sees 30 to 40% of new oak. A superb Cabernet, still very youthful. Cedary, blackfruits, chocolate, tobacco leaf. It does have a hint of the herbal but it is nicely balanced. Silky tannins. There is real power and concentration here and great length. The wine maintains its intensity throughout the length and it is this impressive structure which gives it, its edge. A wine with a good 10 to 15 years ahead. 96.
‘The Pioneer’ Shiraz 2014 is the third release of their elite Shiraz, treated in much the same way as the Cabernet although the oak is American, not French. Production is also usually around the 250 case mark. Cloves, spices. Dry herbs, old leather. It has a lovely maturity but comes alive on the palate. Fine tannins. Some smoked meat notes come in towards the finish. Good length with a slow fade. For me, 94.