Wish Magazine Article - By Angus Hughson

Fashion is never far away from the world of wine and spirits. Although grapes, wine regions, cocktails and tipples go out of style much less quickly than the latest frock, there are still plenty of winners and losers – styles that attract the limelight while others sit in the shadows. Right now, bistro reds and Aperol Spritz are in favour, although some old favourites such as prosecco and Margaret River chardonnay never seem to lose their shine – they are most certainly the little black vinous dress.

The Clare Valley is one of those places with wines that sometimes fail to receive the recognition they deserve, particularly its red varieties. Just an hour further north of Adelaide than its more famous competition, the region does not have the bucolic appeal of McLaren Vale’s sandy beaches and Mediterranean climate, nor Barossan star power. However, the additional distance from the ocean sees an advantageous change in weather conditions, bringing warmer summer highs as well as much cooler nights, sometimes seeing temperatures fluctuate between 1C and 40C in a single day.

The Clare Valley is in some ways off the beaten track, but that also explains much of its appeal. There is an old-school charm to the region, brought about in part by impressive historic buildings hewn from local stone, but also wines that are honest, soulful styles. You won’t often find flashy fruit bombs in the Clare – almost the opposite, wines that are generous, down to earth and deliver without being forced.

Clare is also dominated by family-owned ventures. The larger companies still have their foot in the region but not as much as in the past, as its savoury regional red wine style has become less fashionable, drowned out by bolder wines from elsewhere. It’s actually a godsend for vignerons, leaving vineyards and wineries to be owned and operated by locals.

One of the primary beneficiaries of the changes in Clare Valley’s fortunes and Australian wine tastes is the Barry family, although it has taken some time to see the full benefit. In the mid-’80s, the cigarette company Philip Morris found itself the owner of the country’s most famous Australian premium riesling brand and an iconic Clare Valley vineyard just as the chardonnay boom was kicking into gear. With six years of stock in the cellars without a home and the writing on the wall, the Florita Vineyard, a local jewel that has produced many historic wines, was put up for sale. It was snapped up by the Barrys and their resulting Florita Riesling has become a regional leader. A recent tasting of every vintage showed that in great years this is a wine that can sing for 20 years – the 2005 vintage is still at its peak, where it will remain for some time to come.

The Clare Valley is a fantastic region for Riesling, but its real talent lies without doubt among its age-worthy red wines, made from a surprisingly large number of grape varieties. In our warmer regions, shiraz is often the star but the Clare is a chameleon, with the quality of the local terroir seen in shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, Malbec and occasionally Grenache. The common theme is a deeply brooding savoury heart; exceptional power and concentration, with an almost old-world edge. They are wines that sometimes can take hours to show themselves, but when they do they deliver on every level and are some of the most profound from anywhere in the country.

One of the Clare’s high points is Jim Barry’s The Armagh Shiraz, which reaches for the stars. Made from a single shiraz block, planted by Peter Barry in 1968 on some of the oldest soils in the region, it is a wine that has grown in stature and evolved in style since its first vintage in 1985.

Aspirations were always high for The Armagh and its initial price of $40, which put it in the league of legendary wines such as Henschke’s Hill of Grace at the time, no doubt would have ruffled plenty of feathers. For those early vintages, the cart was leading the horse, the wine not quite living up to those lofty aspirations. But in the years since, the true Armagh, unencumbered by heavy fruit ripeness and decadent oak, has emerged, particularly as third-generation winemaker Tom Barry has taken the reins. The 2018 vintage is stunning, a shining beacon for what can be achieved in Clare with a singular vision, and well and truly places The Armagh among the nation’s best.

Jim Barry The Florita Riesling 2022

Exquisite yet reserved aromas of bath salts, river pebbles, citrus flowers and lime pith provide the perfect start followed by a tightly wound palate thanks to a streak of bright acidity before a long and powerful finish.

LoosenBarry Wolta Wolta Riesling 2020

This unique collaboration between Ernie Loosen from Germany’s Mosel Valley with Tom Barry brings Germanic winemaking to Clare Valley fruit. Precise, pure and deliciously delicate, it offers up aromas of pear and blossom lifted by touches of earth and spice. A beautifully composed and balanced, textural palate is underscored by chalky acidity through to a long, fine finish

Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2018

Ripe, brooding and dense aromas of fruit pastilles, cassis, cloves and violets with a granitic edge are supported by toasty oak. Deeply set dark berry flavours are then beautifully supported by waves of perfectly ripened tannins through to a savoury finish of extraordinary length. A wine for the ages.