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Merlot and More from an Exciting McLaren Vale Estate
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 20, 2018
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Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard, McLaren Vale (Australia) Merlot, “The Revivalist” 2015 (Majestic Imports, $75):  Three years ago, when the wines from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard first became available in the U.S., I wrote about the Cabernet Sauvignon called Trueman and the Shiraz called Brooks Road, both of which impressed me very much.  Now, with the 2015 vintage, two additional wines from Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard are available here, a Merlot and a Cabernet Shiraz.  I continue to be impressed.

Clarendon is part of South Australia’s McLaren Vale GI but it is a distinct subregion situated in the very north and interior part of the GI, close to the Adelaide Foothills.  Compared to most of McLaren Vale, the elevation is higher, up to 820 feet above sea level, resulting in cooler temperatures as well as significant day-night temperature shifts.

To recap the background of this estate, the vineyard was established in 1971 by Alan Hickinbotham Jr. -- son of the founder of the renowned wine science department at Roseworthy Agricultural College (now part of the University of Adelaide) -- and its grapes became part of many iconic South Australia wines.  In 2012, Jackson Family Vineyards purchased the 445-acre property and created the label Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard in its founder’s honor.  The wines are made by highly-regarded winemakers Chris Carpenter from California and Charlie Seppelt from Australia.

In tasting through all four of the 2015 wines, I could find several stylistic similarities, reflecting both the early-ripening 2015 harvest and the vineyard’s signature.  Each of the wines shows true varietal character, for example, as well as freshness of fruit and the impressive concentration of the vintage.  Despite the clear aroma/flavor profiles of their varieties, all four wines have strong structure to balance their aromatics.  The wines are deep and firm as much as they are rich.  Heightened acidity tends to be the rule; this characteristic can cause the wines to taste too young in a clinical evaluation, but with food, it enables the wines to sing.

Of the four 2015 Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard wines, “The Revivalist” Merlot intrigued me the most.  It is the lightest of the four, the most approachable now, and the most nuanced, at least now.  Its aroma suggests dark plum, tea, cedar and accents of dried herbs, with a tobacco note developing over time -- classic Merlot.  Its flavors include red plum along with the tea and herbs evident on the nose.  The wine is dry and nearly full-bodied, with a moderate amount of ripe tannin as well as high acidity that enlivens the wine and brings a juicy note to the fruit.  It is a soft wine, but thanks to its acidity this wine is lively within its softness.

This wine is entirely Merlot, from vines planted in 1989 and 1979; the Shiraz and Cabernet are also entirely from their named grapes, both of them including grapes from vines that were planted in 1971, along with the fruit of some younger vines.

The 2015 “Trueman” Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) shows admirable freshness of fruit and more weight than the Merlot.  It is an excellent expression of Australian Cabernet.  Although three years ago, I rated the 2012 Cabernet higher than the 2012 Shiraz, I would flip those rankings for the 2015’s. 

The “Brooks Road” Shiraz ($75) is the richest of the four 2015’s.  Its aroma suggests dark fruit, tar, leather and earth, and in your mouth is big and broad with soft flesh and substantial ripe tannins to match its substantial ripe fruit.  But it is dry, and its fruit is fresh rather than baked.  Its acidity gives definition to the wine, despite the wine’s weight.

The wine called “The Peake” is a blend of 56 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 44 percent Shiraz, sourced from vines planted in 1971, and at $150 it occupies a higher tier of production than the other three wines.  The more time that elapsed in my evaluation of these four wines, the higher my opinion of this particular wine rose.  It is a sleek, complex, complete wine that carries a dual varietal voice of red fruits and dark fruits, juiciness and earth.  Given enough time, it could easily be the featured wine of this column.  But right now, it is less dramatic than the Shiraz, and less charming than the Merlot.

Bottom line: Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard is an important Australian producer and its wines continue to impress me.

“The Revivalist” Merlot, 92 Points