Wolf Blass marked my first $100 wine experience
I didn’t start drinking alcohol until I was 30. It wasn’t anything moral; it was simply a matter of taste. And then two pretty young ladies in sales came along one day and took me out to lunch to a lovely Italian restaurant in Toronto. A couple glasses of Ripasso later, I was no longer a virgin (with respect to wine, that is.)
However, when I first became a fan of fermented grape juice, like many, I couldn’t imagine what the difference could possibly be between a $15 bottle and a $30 bottle of wine. Then, as tastes refined, it became, “How much of a difference could there possibly be between a $30 bottle and a $100 bottle?”
And then one day I tasted that wondrous Wolf Blass’ Black Label red blend and Platinum Label Shiraz, and recall blurting out, “Oh my God!” The flavours, the structure, the lingering finishes—they blew me away.
Distributed in Canada by Treasury Wine Estates, the Black Label is the most important wine in the sprawling Wolf Blass stable. It is not about individual terroir or varietals, but rather the winemaker’s ability to blend the finest red grapes available from the winery’s South Australian vineyards every year.
The Black Label is what put the place—and its patriarch—on the map. Although Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass founded his self-named winery in 1966, five years after emigrating from Germany to Australia’s Barossa Valley, it wasn’t until 1973 that the rest of the winemaking world turned its collective eye on the young upstart. Following harvest that year, Blass and gifted winemaker John Glaetzer blended the best of their Grey Label barrels and entered the Melbourne Wine Show, claiming the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy, Australia’s most covetted wine award, handed out annually to the best one- or two-year red in the country. It marked the first of three straight Jimmy Walker trophies for Wolf Blass Black Label—a feat not accomplished before or since.
Following in the footsteps of Blass, a.k.a the Master Blender, is Chris Hatcher, Chief Winemaker at Wolf Blass since 1996. Like Blass, Hatcher is proud of the approachable, affordable staples of the winery: the Red and Yellow Labels. In fact, the humble 2014 Yellow Label Cabernet—all $16.95 of it—claimed a double gold medal award at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition!
The company’s premium wines have also racked up their fair share of accolades, including Best Single Vineyard Red for Blass’ 2006 Platinum Shiraz at the prestigious 2013 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London, England.
The depth of its high-quality portfolio helped Wolf Blass secure honours as Red Winemaker of the Year at this year’s IWSC extravaganza—the third time the humble, silver-haired Hatcher has accepted the award on the winery’s behalf. It was similarly praised at the Ontario-based InterVin International Wine Awards last month, where it was named Winery of the Year for the second time in four years.
Below, we take a look at four celebrated creations from Wolf Blass—including my first time revisiting the Black Label since 2013—before turning our focus to Ontario, with Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Peller Estates and Etobicoke’s increasingly popular Black Oak Brewing Company.
| Wolf Blass Black Label, 2012 ($99.95 – through Treasury Wine Estates’ consignment program)
Wolf Blass Chief Winemaker Chris Hatcher has observed, “The sum of all parts should still be a better result than the quality of each individual part, otherwise why blend at all?” Well, the 54% Cabernet Sauvignon / 41% Shiraz / 5% Malbec blend of the 2012 edition of Black Label wins that pursuit, and then rounds the track another time for good measure. It takes full advantage of the sensational 2012 vintage in South Australia, with Hatcher and his team piecing together their exceptional stock as though they were breeding the genes of American Pharoah, Seabiscuit and Secretariat to develop a super horse. While it pours a deep purple, there’s a lot of black in Black Label: black pepper, black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry—with an earthy nose that suggests cigar box, coffee and a hint of eucalyptus. Multilayered on the palate with a lengthy finish, the structure and tannin balance are exceptional. And while it earns straight A’s right out of the bottle, true to form with great Black Label vintages, this one will continue to evolve for more than a decade in the cellar. 95
| Wolf Blass Grey Label McLaren Vale Shiraz, 2012 ($34.95)
A dense dark crimson in the glass, there’s an explosive nose layered with pepper, spice, blueberries, blackberries, pomegranate, plum, licorice and dark chocolate. Those rich aromas envelope you once again as you dive into the glass for a taste, where robust, dark fruits lie buried beneath this full-bodied creation. Velvety tannins and another long finish. 92
|Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, 2014 ($25.15)
While the nose initially hints of traditional Chardonnay with a subtle buttery oak, it’s the wet stone, orange peel, grapefruit and Granny Smith apple notes that soon follow that suggest this wine’s cooler high-altitude climate. It’s an imaginative creation of invigorating acidity and complex tastes with a creamy yet mineral finish. Something worth exploring. 90
| Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Syrah, 2013 ($25.20)
Full-bodied and aromatic, with juicy blackberry, blueberry, nutmeg and chocolate notes and a plumy, spicy, dark berry, well-oaked palate, there’s a little French-style Syrah in there for sure, but with more viscosity and a silkier finish. I’d love to lay this one down and revisit it in a few years…too late, it’s gone! 91
| Peller Estates Private Reserve Muscat, 2015 ($16.75)
While Muscat is one of the oldest grapes in the world, it traditionally prefers warmer growing climates that you’ll see in Ontario. Consequently, there are only a handful of wineries working with it in the province, but Peller does it particularly well. This pale, light-bodied white boasts a great floral bouquet of lilacs and honeysuckle with plenty of apple peel. Off-dry, it has a velvety, smooth and creamy texture with subtle apple, pear and peach. Really grows on you, and very flexible with food pairings. 90
| Peller Estates Private Reserve Pinot Noir, 2014 ($24.80)
Blended from five different barrel lots from two vineyards to add complexity, there’s a beautiful nose of cranberry sauce, dark cherry and leathery earthiness, with more cranberry and red currant on the tastebuds, ending with a very dry finish. 88
| Peller Estates Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 ($47)
Aesthetically, this might be the most beautiful bottle design I’ve seen, with its thin gold band on black glass, white Peller signature up the side and the clean red wax seal atop the cork. It pours a rich crimson purple and that hot, dry 2012 growing season seems evident in a wonderfully rich, earthy bouquet of tobacco, dark tart cherry and spice. Gripping tannins lead to a very dry finish. Some more cellar time—something the structure will allow—might allow this cab to better unfurl its secrets. 88
| Black Oak Brewing Co. Nutcracker Porter ($8.95 for a 650 ml bottle)
As far as colour and texture is concerned, it pours like a glass of slightly carbonated used motor oil. But don’t let that fool you. On the nose and tongue it’s as rich as a Saudi prince, with notes of baking chocolate and roasted coffee beans, finishing with a spicy warmth courtesy of the cinnamon sticks melted into the batch during brewing. If your car runs off the road this winter, one of these should keep you warm until help arrives. Available at the LCBO
| Black Oak Brewing Co. 10 Bitter Years ($6.95 for a 650 ml bottle)
Commemorating a decade of survival in the craft brewing industry, Black Oak’s 10 Bitter Years Imperial IPA—launched in 2009—packs a bit of a wallop at 8% alcohol, and is not lacking for flavour, thanks to being double dry-hopped using three different varieties of North American hops and a lively carbonated palate of bitter pine and orange skin. But there wasn’t the overpowering hoppy bite I expected, nor did I get the elevated alcohol, which speaks to the balance—if not the danger—of this coppery-amber brew. But there’s no denying it’s deserving of its “Bitter” label. Available at the LCBO