Nearing the end of spring, I had the pleasure to meet with Neil McGuigan and David Lunn (Export Sales Manager) for a private, wine tasting and luncheon at CIBO Wine Bar, an event organized by Charton Hobbs wine & spirit agency.
Going back, the McGuigan family’s rich wine making tradition begins in the 1880’s, when Owen McGuigan (grandfather to Neil) settles in Hunter Valley and gets a job tending to a vineyard. His son Perc also worked the vineyard of a major winery, but climbed his way up to managing it – skills that he transferred to his sons Brian and Neil. In the 1970’s, Neil together with is brother Brian and his wife Fay started-up their wine business that in the years of 1992-99 transitioned into the McGuigan Wines, as are known today. Though Neil has been a winemaker for most of his life, having earned his MBA at UBC has in 2002 lead him, Bryan and Fay to establish McGuigan Simeon Wines (now Australian Vintage) by joining with Simeon Wines to form the 4th largest Australian wine producer. Australian Vintage, of which Neil is the acting CEO and the head winemaker, now controls 7 brands – with the original McGuigan winery residing in Hunter Valley of New South Whales, yet the rest of vineyards situated in southern parts of Australia, namely the well-known Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McClaren Vale + others. The family is credited with greatly impacting the Australian wine-scape – from advances in winemaking aided by state of the art equipment but driven by ‘wild’ ideas, to exposing Australian wines to the international market – accomplishments for which Perc and Bryan were named ‘a Hunter Valley Living Legend’.
Neil McGuigan projecting his assertive personality.
For the two-or-so hour adventure, we found ourselves inside CIBO’s cellar room designed to appear partially rustic – from the brick walls and hardwood floors to the heavy, iron cast studded wooden doors; as well as modern – decorated with stylish chairs and lighting; hefty, lacquered wooden table, and contemporary audio/video presentation system. Nor rustic nor modern, just functional, are the wine shelves (the cellar) that span each of the two side walls – the gem of the room.
Though room big enough to fit ten, three of us invitees joined the four organizers and engaged in a reception that was equally as fun as it was scholarly (synonymous for me). Direct, personable Neil first introduced David and himself, and shortly summarized McGuigan and Australian Vintage histories and the roles they played, for he was more eager to move from the past onto the present and to discuss the to-be-tasted wines and the direction in which their winemaking is heading. Having 30 years of winemaking experience and capital to equip his state-of-the-art wineries, Neil expects nothing but the utter-most commitment from his team to ensure the production of top quality wines. The tone of what we were about to taste (nothing, but well made wines even in the lowest category) was set with him saying: “if the grapes are at 25 brix in the morning and 25.5 early afternoon, we harvest that afternoon/evening and all night if necessary. There is no such thing as 9-5 in this business”.
The 2012 McGuigan Semillon Blanc has pleasing aromas of lemon, lime, yellow apple and subtle cantaloupe on the nose and melon, green and yellow apple, citrus and touch of cantaloupe on the palate. It is a medium bodied, dry, fruity wine; with good acidity and a medium finish. This is food friendly wine – ‘Semillon with a twist’, drink in the short-term now-2016 (screw cap enclosure). My impression: NICE, 88 pts – recommended for its quality and value if under $15.
RECOMMENDED Score 88 pts. Private order approx $16
The 2006 McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon, sourced from Hunter Valley vineyards and aged in stainless steel tanks, has seductive aromas of creamy coffee bean, toast, lees, zest and light vanilla on the nose and lemon and yellow apple on the palate. It is a light bodied, extra-dry, integrated wine; with crisp acidity and a long finish. This is a sipping wine; drink now and for the next 5 years (screw cap enclosure). My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 91-92 pts – recommended for its quality.
RECOMMENDED Score 91-92 pts. Private order approx $50
The 2013 McGuigan Black Label Pinot Grigio has subtle aromas of apple, lemon, together with subtle grapefruit and pineapple on the nose and stems and yellow apple on the palate. It is a medium bodied, dry, fruity wine; with refreshing acidity and a medium, lightly oily finish. This is food friendly wine, drink for the next couple of years while it is still fresh (screw cap enclosure). My impression: NICE, 87 pts.
The 2012 McGuigan Black Label Shiraz is made with fuit sourced from vineyards in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and is a wine designed to be a transition from whites to reds. It has attractive aromas of blackberry, plum, toast, oak and clove on the nose and plum and sweet vanillin on the palate. It is a medium bodied, dry/off-dry, fruity wine; with quite refreshing acidity, soft tannins and a medium, clean finish. This is food friendly wine, drink now – 2018 (screw cap enclosure). My impression: NOTHING SPECIAL, 87 pts – re-tasted privately.
The 2012 McGuigan Expressions Shiraz, with fruit sourced from Langhorne Creek that underwent malo-lactic fermentation prior to 12 months aging in French and American Oak barrels; has fullish aromas of black currant, plum and subtle vanilla on both, the nose and palate. It is a full bodied, extra-dry, fruity wine; with forward acidity, refined tannins and long finish. This is a sipping wine that is still food friendly, drink now – 2020 (screw cap enclosure). My impression: quite NICE, 89 pts – recommended for its quality.
RECOMMENDED Score 89 pts. Private order approx $18
The 2013 McGuigan Shortlist Montepulciano, made entirely from the Montepulciano variety sourced from the Barossa Valley and aged in French Oak for 8 months, has seductive aromas of blackberry, black cherry and light vanilla on the nose and dates, black cherry, blackberry and vanilla on the palate. It is a medium bodied, extra-dry, fruity to integrated wine; BALANCED with crisp/forward acidity, refined tannins and a medium to long and silky finish. Enjoy this wine on-its-own – drink now to 2025+ (screw cap enclosure). My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 91 pts – recommended for its quality.
RECOMMENDED Score 91 pts. Private order approx $30
The 2010 McGuigan Hand Made Shiraz, sourced from low yielding vineyards outside Langhorne Creek and aged in oak for 18 months; has succulent aromas of toast, smoke, oak and blackberry on the nose and blackberry, black cherry, toast, oak, and vanilla on the palate. It is a medium to full bodied, extra-dry, integrated wine; with forward acidity, refined tannins and a long finish. Though food friendly, enjoy this wine on-its-own – drink now to 2020++ (cork enclosure). My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 91-92 pts – recommended for its quality.
RECOMMENDED Score 91-92 pts. Private order approx $45
The 2009 McGuigan The Philosophy Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, aged in French and American oaks for two years; has elegant aromas of washed pebbles, violets and wood on the nose and pomegranate, red currant, blackcurrant and dates on the palate. It is a medium bodied, extra-dry, integrated wine; with refreshing acidity, grippy tannins and a long to extra-long, smooth and silky finish. This is a sipper! – drink now to 2025+ (cork enclosure). My impression: BEAUTIFUL to DIVINE, 93-94 pts – recommended for its quality.
RECOMMENDED Score 93-94 pts. Private order approx $150
It is surprising that being the 4th largest Australian wine producer, wines represented by Australian Vintage, namely McGuigan wines, are not available on the Canadian market – with McGuigan Black Label Shiraz being the only one sold here in Ontario. Therefore, no wonder that most people are unfamiliar with them, yet unlike other Australian reds (especially the lower end ones) that are known to be full bodied (if not jammy) and generally lacking acidity; it is not the case here, as all of the McGuigan wines tasted that day had fresh acidity that nicely complimented the fruit. It is then a shame that we don’t have access to these higher quality, well priced wines – perhaps through consignment or private order.
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Special Thanks to
Howard Kaman of Charton Hobbs
for the invitation and both
Neil McGuigan and David Lunn of Australian Vintage for taking their time to introduce us to their world of wine.
as well as the staff at CIBO Wine Bar for the great setting and food.