Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, McLaren Vale (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Trueman” 2012 (Majestic Imports, $75): With an upcoming visit to Australia on my mind, I have been paying special attention to all news about Australian wines and to every Australian wine that I encounter. I’m heartened to see the increased attention that Australia’s finer wines are receiving, and the growing recognition that the country has so much more to offer than the inexpensive, mass-market brands that initially brought international recognition to Australian wines.
The wine brand, Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard embodies not only the tradition of prestige wine in Australia but also the new confidence in the market for fine Australian wine on the part of international players.
The prestige springs from the vineyard’s history. Alan Hickinbotham Jr. -- son of the founder of the renowned wine science department at the Roseworthy Agricultural College (now part of the University of Adelaide) -- established the family vineyard in 1971. The area was already famous since the mid-19th century for its vineyards, but Hickinbotham took the initiative to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz on his original 70-acre parcel, on dry-farmed terraced blocks. The quality of his fruit was such that his grapes became part of iconic wines produced by the likes of Penfolds, Hardy’s and Clarendon Hills. Alan’s son, David, was involved in the vineyard since its early days. In 2000 he launched his own wine brand, but without any fruit from the Hickinbotham vineyard.
Alan Hickinbotham passed away in 2010, and in 2012, Jackson Family Vineyards became the property’s owner. That’s where the international vote-of-confidence for elite Australian wine comes in. Jackson Family purchased the 445-acre McLaren Vale property and created the label, Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard as homage to the founding family and their respected site.
Jackson Family has entrusted wine production at Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard to two winemakers, one Australian and one American. Charlie Seppelt is a fifth-generation Australian winemaker whose family founded the historic Seppetsfield Winery and who has worked at several Australian properties; most recently he made wine at Hardy’s, which sourced grapes from Hickinbotham. Chris Carpenter is winemaker for several Napa Valley wineries under Jackson Family ownership, such as Lokoya, Cardinale and La Jota, and is a specialist in wines from classic Bordeaux grape varieties. For the inaugural vintage in 2012, Chris became involved prior to the harvesting of the fruit, while Charlie joined soon after the harvest.
Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard has released both a Shiraz and a Cabernet in the 2012 vintage, each produced from parcels planted in 1971; it also is producing a limited-production Merlot and a Cabernet Shiraz blend. The 2012 “Brooks Road” Shiraz ($75) is amazingly rich with ripe, dark fruit and black pepper accents, with a firm, tannic structure that keeps the richness under control without diminishing its expressiveness.
For my taste, however, the “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon is the star. (Both wines are named for roads on the property that are close to the Syrah or Cabernet parcels, respectively.)
I want to say that the Cabernet is simply packed with fruit, but that phrase could be interpreted as code for “explosive,” and would give the wrong impression. The wine’s fruit is ripe and rich but rather compact, a well-knit fabric of flavor that could come only from truly superior grapes. The wine is full-bodied but not huge. Its firm tannins frame the wine perfectly and its fresh flavors of dark-berry, cassis and ink-like minerality are pure and focused. Somehow, the wine expresses itself with understatement, which seems paradoxical for a ripe beauty of an Australian red -- but appropriate for a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Refinement, then, and a bit of mystery. You can certainly enjoy it now, but it also seems to have many years of development ahead.
Consider that 2012 is the inaugural vintage for Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard under its new ownership and new winemakers, and the future looks stellar for this heritage property.