At the pinnacle of the Australian Shiraz market exist two dominant names – Henschke and Penfolds. There are, of course, many names worthy of consideration when discussing Australia’s best Shiraz, but what sets the aforementioned apart from the rest is price. Be it a positioning play, assessment of quality, or just because they’ve built the brands to justify it, both Henschke’s Hill Of Grace and Penfold’s Grange (as well as releases like Bin 802 and g4 which blends Grange) have consistently asked for prices far and above the rest – until now.
Founded in 1891, Rutherglen’s Mount Ophir Estate was once the largest wine production facility in the Southern Hemisphere. The property was owned by the Burgoyne family, prominent London wine merchants capitalising on Britain’s thirst for Australian wine. As desire for fortified wines floundered, the winery shut in 1955, leaving the charming estate and Rutherglen’s historical significance to rest. Fortunately, the estate was acquired in 2016 by Angela, Eliza, and Nick Brown – of the Brown Brothers dynasty – who have been busy restoring the buildings, and wine-making reputation, to its former glory.
With Nick at the production helm, the trio has launched their first release; the 2019 Mount Ophir Estate Shiraz. The wine is made from a single 0.5-hectare block (dating back to 1995, planted by then-owner Ruth Hennessy) producing a tiny quantity of grapes which are then meticulously handpicked and hand-pressed before being transferred to French oak barrels for 19 months maturation prior to being bottled.
On top of an insanely low yield, of which only the best grapes are selected, an unusually long 12-day fermentation period preserves the delicate aromatics and fruit flavours as the juice transforms.
“The fermentation period allows the big, astringent tannins derived from the skins and seeds of the grapes to break down into finer, more gentle tannins, providing a silky and more elegant mouthfeel,” says Brown.
Low yields and traditional production techniques alone can justify a pretty penny but when you include the fact that Mount Ophir Estate Shiraz – like vintage Champagne – will only be made from the best years, so as to not compromise the quality, you can begin to see how the Brown’s arrived at the price.
This brings me to my Penfold’s comparison. The Grange chain is unbroken – the wine has been produced every year since 1951, regardless of the conditions, and 5,000-7,000 bottles are produced each year with an RRP of $950. With just 700 bottles of 2019 Mount Ophir Estate Shiraz produced, and no confirmation of when the next vintage will be produced, the $500 price tag is ambitious but believable. Furthermore, the scarcity presents a solid investment opportunity.
While the Browns’ didn’t deny nor confirm their Shiraz was a positioning play, I do wonder if they have a hope it will contend with the biggest names in the country in the next give or 10 years. Is it twice as good drinking as Best’s Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz at $230? I doubt many will be cracking it in the next 10 years to find out.
Comparison and speculation aside, reviving such a significant name, and supporting the Browns’ continued investment in the Rutherglen region, maybe reason itself for Australian wine lovers to cellar a bottle of 2019 Mount Ophir Estate Shiraz.