“The Public Gets What The Public Wants…”
Going Underground, The Jam

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Supply and demand. It is not a new idea, but it is one that the wine world still struggles with.

Until the recent past, distribution would drive demand better than most influences, taking ‘brands’ to ever more far-flung markets, and in so doing, building a wider and ever-more expectant audience. The benefit of this expansion of brand footprint was the owners’ greater willingness to invest in yet greater distribution, and so the equation would become a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘growing availability’ building ‘growing performance’.

But when it comes to ‘luxury’ – or perhaps just highly discretionary purchases – almost the inverse is now true. The ubiquity of global brand availability has now ushered in a new perspective for estate owners – demand through lack of supply, rather than because of it.

This has most recently been evident in the fine wine market, where prices for the most sought-after estates have been rising exponentially as the audience realizes that not only are great estate vintages a finite supply item, but if only available in small quantities in the first place, they are also all the more ‘collectable’. In this case, ‘collectable’ would have to be read as ‘likely-to-yield-a-significant-return-on-investment-at-resale’, as well as to reward handsomely on drinking.

The point of today’s tasting is not really to debate the ‘truth’ or otherwise of the Langton’s classification, but rather to demonstrate that it exists; that it is a pretty accurate take on the leading Barossa estates; and that it provides not just a critical view, but also a market view. All of the estates featured, from Barossa and beyond, have had to demonstrate a minimum of a decade of excellent vintages, and are accordingly ranked dependent on how the secondary market (auction houses) views them in terms of the ultimate index of demand: price.

It reads most convincingly as a comparative exercise, rather than a competitive one, and the point is not to be too gladiatorial in perspective – not, this is a more ‘expensive’ wine, therefore it must be a ‘better’ wine – but to see it as a narrative that reveals when, why and how these selected estates have come to prominence.

Obviously, the idea of an Australian fine wine narrative should not be owned by Langtons alone – or indeed by any business or critic – but rather it should belong to the wine community itself. It needs to rise above personal preferences and allegiances and recognize all bodies of work that convincingly demonstrate the following attributes: blind faith in a commitment to excellence; the courage to fail; a passionate belief in regional and site expression; and a frank acknowledgement that true greatness comes only through time and patient endeavour, not through points and sudden acclaim.

For this purpose, it may be useful to consider Australia’s development over the last five decades:

  1. 1970s: the emergence of the great pioneering families and the establishment of some enduring regional benchmarks – Lehmanns in the Barossa; Cullens in Margaret River; the Doctors Middleton and Carrodus in the Yarra; Tyrrells in the Hunter
  2. 1980s: a growing sense of self-belief and an emerging desire to export, as well as a vanguard of winemakers prepared to travel the world to tell their stories: Melton; Duval; Powell
  3. 1990s: expansion and ambition beyond imagination by the corporates, as well as an Icarus-like dalliance with critical acclaim and points. It was both the best of times, and, in hindsight, the worst of times…
  4. 2000: the corrective measures of drought, category fatigue and over-supply. A fall from grace mercifully balanced by the arrival of some genuinely exciting new blood: Spinifex; Standish; Teusner
  5. 2010: renewed faith in a sense of place, and the recognition that culture – not structure or scale – should determine ambition. Australia – and perhaps the world – begins to believe again in the real truth of its story: the possibility to strive for greatness.

However, it would be unwise not to recognise the importance of the preceding two decades of development, where enormous strides were made in understanding the natural chemistry that lay behind the anatomy of great winemaking. Whereas perhaps Europe enjoyed a confident and historical faith in inherited practice, Australia had a precocious curiosity to ‘understand’ rather than just ‘believe’.

In this respect, one company alone, Penfolds, encouraged a sense of enquiry among its winemakers that left a legacy of ‘understanding’ for the rest of the world. It would be fair to say that their work around pH and wine stability has informed all of our understanding as to structure and what makes a ‘good’ wine potentially ‘great’…

And so back to the exercise at hand, and to the wines on tasting today.

All have an individuality that speaks of both place and winemaking practice. Fruit definition, weight, varietal character and some natural structural properties are hopefully all site derived – and therefore to some extent, unique to the Barossa – whereas oak, method, construction and maturation are artifact and therefore replicable.

Perhaps, what we should look for is that confluence of ‘what’ and ‘how’ a wine is made that ultimately defines ‘why’ a wine is made… In a sense, to ask the simplest of questions: ‘Could that wine be bettered by making it anywhere else and by someone else?’

What Langtons is telling us is where the pulse of the market is calibrated at any one time, but we should be careful how we interpret this. It is as much a read of brand recognition and renown as it is of pure wine style and quality, and it is as much fuelled by speculators and investors as it is by genuine wine amateurs or professionals. What should be beyond question however is that the wines listed have earned their place – by whatever mechanics – among the best expressions of Australia’s regional and fine wine story. The have all endured beyond any one critic’s preferences, and any market’s passing fashion connected to variety, style or country.

They are Australian Landmarks.

Paul Henry


The Barossa Rare & Distinguished Wine Dinner

The Barossa Grape & Wine Association presented The Barossa Rare & Distinguished Wine Dinner at Prowein Dusseldorf on March 24 2013. 24 Barossa wines from the Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V were presented.

2006 Pewsey Vale, The Contours Riesling Museum Release, Eden Valley
2006 Charles Melton, Nine Popes Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, Barossa Valley
2006 Yalumba, The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Barossa
2004 Wolf Blass, Platinum Label Shiraz, Barossa
2006 Turkey Flat, Turkey Flat Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2009 Rolf Binder, Hanisch Shiraz, Barossa Valley

2005 Henschke, Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, Eden Valley
2005 Elderton, Command Single Vineyard Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2006 St Hallett, Old Block Shiraz, Barossa
2006 Peter Lehmann, Stonewell Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2009 Penfolds, RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2004 Torbreck, The Descendant, Barossa Valley

2006 Henschke, Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley
2006 Barossa Valley Estate, E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2006 Greenock Creek, Roennfeldt Road Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley
2006 Greenock Creek, Roennfeldt Road Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2006 Yalumba, The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz, Barossa
2007 Penfolds, St Henri Shiraz, South Australia
2009 Kaesler, Old Bastard Shiraz, Barossa Valley

2006 Henschke, Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley
2002 Rockford, Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley
2004 Torbreck, RunRig, Barossa Valley
2005 Chris Ringland, Barossa Ranges Shiraz, Barossa
2005 Penfolds, Grange Shiraz, South Australia

Download  The Barossa Rare & Distinguished Wine Dinner booklet pdf