Featured Wine: Torbreck Juveniles
TORBRECK JUVENILES, BAROSSA VALLEY, AUSTRALIA, 2002
Torbreck is a premium Australian winery from the Barossa Valley dedicated to Rhône varietals, with most of its signature labels – The Bothie, Runrig, Struie and The Steading – named for Aussie-born proprietor David Powell’s fond memories of working as a lumberjack in Scotland. Juveniles, meanwhile, is a wine bar in Paris run by Scottish expat Tim Johnston, who is also a Rhône fanatic, though obviously not a puritan; after befriending Powell on his visits to Australia, he requested that Torbreck fashion a “Rhone” wine exclusively for his bar.
Powell went one better, naming the wine for Johnston’s outlet. The first vintage of Torbreck Juveniles was produced in 1999, and it was obviously a hit, as the wine is now readily available around the world. A regular recipient of glowing reviews from elitists and populists alike, Juveniles is the only one of Torbreck’s dozen Rhône-style wines to focus on the classic blend of the region’s primary grapes: Grenache (60%) Shiraz (20%) and what most of the world knows as Mourvèdre but Aussies call Mataro (20%). The average age of the vines is an impressive 80 years or so, but as befits its youthful name, Juveniles is aged in stainless steel, not oak, and usually sees release during the year of its vintage. (Australian harvests, don’t forget, take place during the northern hemisphere’s winter – around February or March.) This allows the concentrated fruit from such old vines to shine through above all else, as when I tasted the ’04 in early ’06 at an industry tasting and immediately noted that it was “more fruity than a Rhône.”
But that’s not to say that Juveniles can’t mature. Come Christmas 06 and with a discount voucher earned at a local road race, I treated myself to Torbreck’s Juveniles 2002 at The Wine Steward in Shokan. With a few years bottle age on it, this Juveniles had transformed itself into a remarkable approximation of a true southern Rhône blend. On opening night, it offered up that lovely milky smoothness one gets with a nicely aged Châteauneuf du Pape, though there was plenty other activity going on, too: an aroma of cloves and cinnamon, a little blackberry fruit, considerable earthiness on the palate complemented by marked minerality, and a sharp tangy finish. It didn’t go too well with either the chocolate or the cheese we had on hand, but tasted solo, it pronounced itself a serious wine worthy of slow sipping.
The following night, Juveniles had jumped Rhône appellations: now it had the leathery gingerbread notes and the mineral fire of Chateauneuf’s neighbor Gigondas. The color remained dark as night, and the finish was still just a little sharp, but the 14.5% alcohol was carried with relative grace, and I was amazed to find a Rhône-style wine from Australia tasting more like its inspiration than its actual source.
The Wine Steward in Shokan still has stock of Juveniles ’02, which comes, like a Gigondas or Châteauneuf du Pape, in an embossed bottle; the same store also has the ’03, with which Torbreck introduced a new label and a screw-cap, as if deliberately shifting the wine downmarket. Prices on the older vintages are around $25-30. Meantime, the ’04 and ’05 are showing up online at a far more approachable $15-$20. Given its ancient vines, its youthful vigor, its ability to age gracefully within just a few years – oh, and allowing that Torbreck’s Runrig and Les Amis cuvees each retail for over $200 – let’s call that a bargain. And raise a glass to the Scottish-Australian axis of Rhône Rangers while we’re at it.
MUSIC? It’s too easy. Australians Youth Group just released their superb second album Casino Twilight Dogs, which doesn’t just imitate Northern Hemisphere grandeur, but properly replicates it while adding their own sense of majesty and enthusiasm. This group of overachieving juveniles deserve a wine of similar name, fame and acclaim.
(Note: For a “true” Scottish Shiraz, try the Bremerton Selkirk from Langhorne Creek, reviewed here. And in case you’re wondering about further musical connections, the Runrig is indeed named for the group, whom Powell saw play in a pub while working on Struie.)