Love that is not loved back, pardons the loving.
Once a lovesick friend wrote me this on a napkin in a café, a quote from Dante’s second circle of hell (“Amor cha nullo amato amar perdona”).
To be honest, it’s the only thing I can quote from Dante’s Inferno, the text studied by winemaker Dan Buckle for his thesis, long before he became the new winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran.
What I do know about Dante’s Inferno is that it is about poetic justice, and there is certainly something poetic about a winemaker who has studied the descent into the flames of hell to be now working in the Grampians in Alpine Victoria, an area almost routinely devastated by bushfire and drought.
Whether there is justice is another matter – as Dan said at a vertical tasting of his wines from 2004 to 2009, what he has learned during these hard years: “it’s one thing to stress a vine, it’s another to kill it.”
The back story to these wines are extreme heat waves and drought. Yet every vintage since he started in 2004 has been another step in quality (and also into new depths).
This, despite the owner, Doug Rathbone, insisting when he started: “Don’t change the style!”
When confronted with such a brief for an iconic wine, there are two options: either agree or respond with an intelligent answer. Dan Buckle has opted for the latter. His experience in Burgundy and at Yering Station is apparent in the changes from vintage to vintage.
The circles begin in 2004 where, he may have stopped using the American oak (a heavy, spicy flavour in itself), but has not yet started his experiments with whole-bunch fermenting (a gentle way to extract flavour from the grapes practised in Beaujolais). He also instigates hand picking, but in my mind the oak is still dominant in this vintage.
The 2005 Mount Langi abandons power and weight; this is an elegant wine from a cooler vintage. The floral and spice with signature blueberry character shine through, but in the meantime, the dams are getting emptier and emptier; the drought deepens. In the vertical tasting, this tastes like a transition in Dan Buckle’s style.
The 2006 vintage is a very deep drought year and the wine is harder, drier, spicier. You can feel the stress in the land; the wines are not tampered with so you can taste it. Not unpleasant but the balance is focused like a tightrope walk.
In 2007 the first heatwaves hit, with 40 degrees temperature and red apocalyptic sunsets. There is more iron in the style, drier and denser with boysenberry and blackberry notes. 40% of the harvest is whole bunch fermented. This is a powerful, style – as if the last song of the vine.
The 2008 Mount Langi Ghiran ‘Langi Shiraz’ leans heavily on the keyboard of flavours from Northern Rhone Syrah and Australian Shiraz. There is the savoury, almost saline character, with sweet fruit and dry crispness of bark on the forest floor (in an Australian sense, like the smell of sandalwood – thanks to Max Allen for clarification of this during tasting), the rasping ginger and the unwashed smell of jasmine. Excellent
When the drought breaks in 2009, the fruit begins to sing sweetly again. Like the relief of hot bitumen under the scorching sun, the rain brings a haze of perfume in the wine and joyous berries.
Even though I prefer the depth of the 2008, the 2009 vintage is a mature example of what Dan had been trying to achieve since working at Mount Langi Ghiran: expressive fruit through whole bunch fermentation with only a sheen of oak.
Perhaps the greatest poetic justice of it all: this is a wine that not only survived difficult environmental conditions but has also thrived under a new winemaker with a minimalist philosophy to winemaking; the love is loved back and without apology this is one of Australia’s classic, cool-climate wines.
Thanks to Enotria for hosting this tasting. Image: Dali, Divine Comedy – Inferno.