I had an early Xmas present when I was invited to join Roger Pike of Marius Wines, and Mark and Anna Day of Koltz Wines, to taste the fermented fruits of the last 10 years of their labours. Of course I said yes, and before I could worry that somehow my 'expert' opinion would be needed, I was informed that the Drinkster, Philip White, would also be joining us.
It seems Roger and Mark had been talking, and probably drinking, and had this wild and crazy idea to compare their wines for the last 10 years. When I say compare, I mean the vintages of their own wines, since we are talking about two quite different styles of Shiraz. Both of them are flagship wines with many years of accolades, but just as a refresher...
Mark and Anna make the Koltz Pagan, a wine based on the Italian amarone style. I won't go into that too much here, or this will end up as a book. Basically the grapes are harvested slightly earlier than most Shiraz in the Vale to preserve a bit more acid, which is needed because then they are dried for a number of weeks, then crushed and fermented. This results in wines that are extremely powerful in fruit flavours but also with great balance and complexity. The kind of complexity that late picked fruit bombs can never come close to.
Roger makes the Marius Symphony, a straight Shiraz. I used to write reviews on it, you can search back if you're interested, but I'm not reviewing it anymore cos too many of you buggers bought it, and now I have to fight for an allocation. Full bodied and savoury, it is quite different to the Pagan in style.
To make it clear what we are talking about, here's some pictures, which would be worth considerably more than 1000 words. Please click for larger versions.
There was no 2006 Symphony, so the 2006 Symposium subbed in, and the Marius vineyard threw a wobbly in 2009 so no wines were released. The 2013 is not released and had only been in bottle a coupla weeks.
Pagan started in 2003 and the 2012 is the last that has been bottled at this time.
I did take notes, and I was driving, so they are possibly good notes. However, I had this clever idea, rather than trying to read my hand writing, I could ask the winemakers what their thoughts were. So I posed a few questions, and Mark and Roger were kind enough to answer. I caught Mark with laryngitis and luckily it inspired verbosity. My questions/comments are in italics;
You've obviously tasted all your wines many times before, was there anything you thought was new in the nature of the individual wines when tasting the wine with such a large vertical? -
this could be new aromas/flavours, or progression of secondary characters, or structure that wasn't obvious without the comparison
Roger: Not really. The only real surprise was the freshness and vibrancy of the 2007, which was a difficult drought vintage.
Mark: Interesting point re secondary characters and evolution. I think what I found quite interesting is that even the older wines are really only just starting to show mature characters. It always surprises me how well and slowly they age. The 2003 was a real experiment and probably a little too out there, but from the 2004 I think the similarities within the differences is very reassuring. The technique seems to provide some consistency regardless of vintage and even variety.
Ten years ago, when you made that first wine in this series, did you have an expectation of that wine at 10 years old? And if you did - clearly you'd be happy how it turned out - but is the wine as you expected?
Roger: I didn't have enough to go on to have an expectation, but I probably hoped that it would turn out like it has. (Note, the first Marius Shiraz was 2000, but the first Symphony was 2004)
Mark: Expectations were not really considered when we did the first wine in 2003. I had worked 5 vintages in Valpolicella and had loved the amarone wines, and we thought to try and produce something similar with Shiraz here in Australia. I knew that amarone aged well when well made, but to be honest had not thought that far. I am happy with the way the style has evolved because I think the wines have some amarone character, despite the varietal and regional differences.
In my opinion, the 2007 and 2011 wines, in particular, shared a lot in common between the two wineries, despite the very different styles, vineyards and wine-making techniques. Nobody is going to taste a Symphony and mistake it for a Pagan, but what is your feelings comparing between the two wineries in those vintages?
Roger: Yes, that was surprising, almost a revelation. The similarity of the character of the wines was most evident from those two difficult and most extreme vintages. What really surprised me was the similarities between the wines from all the vintages. Despite different wine styles, different vineyards and even different sub regions the vintage shone through.
Mark: It was amazing how the vintages characteristics with some vintages were consistent across two different vineyards, style and makers. We often think that the drying process removes a lot of the vintage variability but clearly it does not do so absolutely, and this is probably a good answer to your previous question re things that surprised me. Vintage variability is somewhat maintained in the drying process. Another reason for this I think is that they are both single vineyard and both Roger and I are fairly non interventionist in our winemaking style ( drying process aside ).
... and also on the "difficult" vintages in direct comparison of 10 years of your own wines?
Roger: That's a difficult question. I think that the 2007 and 2011 look a little different from the other wines, but not in a negative sense, just simply a little different.
Mark: Again there is some reflection of the difficult vintages. 2005 was a massive vintage as is the 2005 Pagan and 2011 is a little restrained, probably because we had to shorten drying time.
My view is whilst your wines are very consistent in quality, they are surprisingly individual in character. If you agree, is that something you try to achieve, or is it rolling with what the vineyard gives you?
Roger: It is what the vineyard gives me, every year is different.
Mark: We do try and get consistency and a overall style which reflects the Pagan. Within the differences I think the aroma/nose always shows some consistency and suggestion of the amarone style. As with any single vineyard wine I think it is important to be true to the 3 factors - vintage, vineyard and style. This tends to maintain similarities from year to year but hopefully allows the scope to reflect vintage. I think that showed with both Symphony and Pagan. I thought Rogers wines showed great stylistic consistency but also vintage variation.
I have my own personal favourites, apart from 2012 which clearly is a vintage that will appeal to the broadest palate range, but is there another stand out you wish you could have kept/made more of?
Roger: Another difficult question. Making more is a fantasy (Symphony is a single vineyard wine), but I wish I had kept a dozen or two more of all of them.
Mark: Consistent favourite for me is the 2006 but I also like the 2007 and 2012. The 2003 will always be a sentimental favourite as it was the first and the funkiest.
Is there anything you learned from this that will affect how you make your wine over the next 10 years?
Roger: No. I just hope that I can make these wines for another ten years.
Mark: I am always thinking about tweaking the style and continue to drink good amarone at any chance I get, and to look at the evolution of the style and the different styles made by different producers and vineyards. You have to be careful though, that you don’t take away what it is that people like about your wine. Probably safer to create a new wine. I would like to look at a more reserved elegant style with lower alcohol and RS if I did do a new wine. In a sense this is what we do with Wizard.
Mark: It is interesting making this style in the present market space as there has been a push to lower alcohols and more subtle wines. I also love savoury, subtle wines relying less on primary fruit and more on balance and structure. The Pagan however is based on a style of wine that traditionally has high alcohol but I believe it has its place and with good winemaking it is balanced and avoids being ‘hot’. I suppose I learnt again that I love this style, it has its place and I will continue to make it.
I hope to post my notes at some point, but this article is already fairly long. However, let me give you the tip that the 2012 Pagan is simply sensational, and probably my favourite Pagan...or was it the 06? Possibly the 09 or 11...
I had better also mention something about the 2013 Symphony, so here's my notes:
Very young (bottled 5 weeks), but showing great balance at this time. Very full bodied and has a richness and power unlike the other Symphonys, possibly because of it's youth. Superb length. Will not be seriously ready to drink for a very long time, but that would not stop me from trying in a year or so.