These old vine Barossa wines are not big on production but speak eloquently of the famous region.
There are few wine regions in the world with such a rich history and resource of old vines as South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
A few date back to the first half of the 19th century, making them some of the oldest examples on the planet.
In fact, in some cases, they are. The reason was that in the 19th century the phylloxera (tiny yellow louse) wiped out most of the vineyards of France.
So, now the Barossa lays claim to the oldest examples of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre.
It means the winemakers have an incredible base for their wines, although it has only been in the past few decades they realised using the term ‘old vine’ on their label gave them a marketing advantage as well as the ability to make exceptional wines.
Elderton is one producer to take advantage of the old vines they have inherited, with the annual release of three wines from their home vineyard and another, which was acquired more recently.
Command shiraz, Ashmead cabernet and Helbig shiraz capture so much of what the Barossa is all about.
These are super concentrated and powerful wines offering an intensity of flavour you don’t find in too many other places.
But over the years they have continued to be refined, with subtle tweaks that don’t compromise the essential integrity of what the Barossais but make them more refined and aligned to modern drinking.
Elderton was established in the late 1890s by German settlers but acquired by Neal and Lorraine Ashmead in 1980.
The place had become derelict and, when offered to the Ashmeads on the basis of ‘buy the house and I’ll give you the vineyard’, the Ashmeads effectively paid nothing for one of the most prized vineyards in the Barossa.
It is now run by co-managing directors Allister and Cameron Ashmead.
The Command shiraz was the first wine to put Elderton on the map by winning the 1993 Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy, which launched the name into the public eye.
The wine, which is made from vines planted in 1894, was first produced in 1984, and continues to be recognised globally as a distinctive and classic example of what the Barossa does best.
The Ashmead cabernet sauvignon is based on vines planted in the 1940s and shows that cabernet has a place in a region best known for its shiraz and grenache-based wines.
In a good season, cabernet can be outstanding.
This 2021 vintage was one of those seasons.
The Helbig 2021 is sourced from a vineyard planted by the Helbig family in 1915 on the western ridge of the Barossa Valley and acquired by the Ashmeads in 2010.
In the main, these are not big production wines but for a pure expression of old vine Barossa wines, there are few which speak so eloquently of this famous region.
Elderton Command Shiraz 2020 ($140)
The style is immediately Barossa and immediately Elderton. It is bold with the structure to support the power and intensity of the fruit. The classic combination of dark plum and clove with a decent hut of roasted coffee beans emerge instantly. The tannins are firm but finely placed contributing to a wine of elegance and balance. The wine gets 24 months in a mix of new French and American oak, yet such is their balance it does not show as excessively oaky. Super wine for the cellar.
Cellar: 20 years
Elderton Ashmead Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 ($120)
The season has allowed the wine to express and capture the true varietal characters of cabernet, with a dominant blackcurrant and blackberry essence. Dig deeper and then you get a richer dark chocolate with that subtle sagebrush touch, which you often see in this region. Doesn’t get the oak of the Command, with a mix of new and seasoned French oak only for 18 months. It’s one of the best yet under this label.
Cellar: 18 years
Elderton Helbig 1915 2021 ($400)
This is a more recent addition to the Elderton stable. It captures the power and opulence of the Greenock vineyard. This is power plus with the deep black plummy fruit laced with a fine minerality and chalkiness that balances it. There’s a trace of liquorice and clove that adds further complexity to a massively intense palate. It’s a very small production wine but worth the hunt to find it.
Cellar: 20 years
- Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines over more than 40 years. In 2017 he co-authored The Way it Was: The History of the early years of the Margaret River Wine Region