On a small block within the mammoth operation that is Tahbilk winery, there are some Shiraz vines that were planted in 1860 and are still producing fruit to this day. Finding a bottle of this wine is relatively easy, deciding whether or not to buy a bottle is a much more difficult decision. It is not the most expensive wine made in Australia, but it is also a long way from being the cheapest.
A member of the crew, as we later discovered, found a 1998 vintage bottle at auction and since they were the only bidder, managed to obtain the example pictured above well below retail price (and significantly below the price expected given its age) and then brought it along to one of our blind tastings.
Tahbilk themselves list the typical auction price for a 1998 bottle at around $515 AUD and, in the opinion of their own vignerons, the drinking window for peak quality is now until 2027, and should still be improving (but is definitely not classified as “young”).
Upon pouring, the first thing to note is the colour. It is light but still full of red-pink and orange with only a tinge of browning, so the winemaker’s theory that this wine is nearing its prime seems justified (21 years old for a Shiraz is quite an impressive feat…) The nose is a curious thing. In our blind tasting, it was often mistaken for an aged Cabernet Sauvignon on smell and some tasters said outright that they didn’t like the bouquet.
To taste this wine is another experience altogether. Keeping in mind this was a blind tasting, more than half the tasters were unimpressed at first but were won over by the finish, such was the complexity and length of the palate. This is not a wine for amateurs; if you don’t like old wine, you are wasting both your time and money here, but if you are prepared to taste, wait, taste, wait and taste again, there comes a time after about 20 minutes when the “old” floral notes subside and the wine becomes something of a surreal experience.
Our verdict: This is not a wine for drinking everyday (if the price didn’t make that obvious, we will state it clearly and firmly – to enjoy this wine you need patience, time and a clear head) but is a wine that very clearly stamps its authority in Australian wine history.