Black Blood 2014: Terroir is alive and well.

Hugh Hamilton's Black Blood wines prove the power of terroir

Article published by THE AUSTRALIAN, MARCH 5, 2016 12:00AM | Author: JAMES HALLIDAY

The vignerons of McLaren Vale have gone further and spent more money than those from any other Australian region in mapping their soils and parent rocks, and seeking to establish the link between each soil type and the character of the wine it produces. It has been a formidable exercise because of the extreme complexity of their geology and soil.

At the inception of their Scarce Earth program it was realised that winemaking practices could distort or confuse the outcome, so what to do? It placed the organisers between a rock and hard soil: they could not prescribe a textbook of winery practices for all to follow.

So the first generation of Scarce Earth wines were made, and it was obvious that the choice and use of oak caused insuperable problems. An edict went out directing winemakers to minimise the use of new or near-new oak, but there it stopped. The reason was economic: the wines had to be made in the usual style of each winery. So far as I was concerned, it was an unconvincing project at best.

Hugh Hamilton (of the eponymous McLaren Vale winery) and daughter Mary, who is CEO, continue to be involved in the Scarce Earth project, but have taken the idea in-house and circumvented all the winemaking variables in spectacular fashion. They made three shirazs in 2014 labelled Black Blood I, Black Blood II and Black Blood III. The three vineyards were planted in 1996; the grapes were picked by the same state-of-the-art harvester within five days of each other; they were all destemmed for whole berry, open fermentation with the same cultured yeast; they were pressed within three days of each other; they spent 18 months in used French oak barrels; they were all bottled on the same day; and all have the same alcohol and price.

Peas in a pod? No, they could barely be more different. Terroir is alive and well.

2014 Hugh Hamilton Black Blood I

Black Blood I is planted on black cracking clay, forcing the roots to deal with the fissures that can be a metre deep in summer droughts. Seemingly the most oaky and extractive of the Black Blood trio, yet the first picked (March 8). The colour, too, is deeper. Tannins join in the fray to a more obvious degree. Distinctive, but not best of the three wines. 14.6% alc; screwcap. 93 points; drink to 2034; $79

2014 Hugh Hamilton Black Blood II

Black Blood II has loose dark alluvial soils (from an old river) with ironstone fragments over deep clay. Very good texture and structure, generous without going over the top; shares the blackberry flavours more or less common to all three wines. A lift to the back palate provides light and shade in the texture, the juicy finish long and compelling. 14.6% alc; screwcap. 95 points; drink to 2034; $79

2014 Hugh Hamilton Black Blood III

From the light, sandy soils of the Blewitt Springs district. The finest and purest of the trio, with some red fruit notes among the black; more spicy and fragrant, and a long, lively finish and aftertaste; the tannins are particularly fine. 14.6% alc; screwcap. 96 points; drink to 2034; $79