Best Of The Best 2006: Kaesler 2003 Shiraz Old Bastard, Barossa Valley
In 1893, members of the Kaesler family, who had immigrated to Australia from Silesia in the 1840s, cleared the tangled scrub from a 96-acre plot in the Barossa Valley and planted the entire property with Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvèdre), and what was then called White Hermitage and is now believed to have been Sémillon. Some of the gnarled, unirrigated Shiraz continues to grow in the sandy loam, and it, along with Shiraz planted in the 1960s and ’70s, forms the backbone of many of today’s Kaesler wines.
The Kaesler family and later owners of these vineyards never made their own wines. Instead, they sold their fruit to the winemaker Seppelts, which used much of it to produce the fortified reds so popular in Australia in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the owners resisted the vine-pull scheme of the 1980s, when the government paid wine growers in the Barossa Valley to uproot their Shiraz vines, the wine from which was not selling well, and replace them with white varieties.
In 1997 oenologist Reid Bosward, who was making wines nearby at Cellarmaster, learned of the fruit from the Kaesler property and was so impressed that he made a special batch from it called Old Bastard. At the time, Bosward and his financial partners were seeking a property with world-class potential and had visited vineyards in Napa, Marlborough, and the south of France. But the Old Bastard convinced Bosward that the Kaesler vineyard was the place, and it just happened to be for sale. After acquiring the property in 1999, Bosward intensified the already excellent fruit through careful pruning and by controlling the irrigation. Today, Old Bastard, the flagship Kaesler wine, is one of Australia’s greatest reds.
An unusually large amount of rain fell on the vineyard before the 2003 harvest, producing significant berry loss (around 30 percent) and requiring selective and expensive hand-harvesting to obtain undamaged fruit. Production declined by about 35 percent in this difficult year, but the wine’s quality remained up to snuff, making this one, as Bosward says, a “solid bastard on the palate.”
The must was fermented in stainless steel tanks, with two daily pump-overs, before being pressed and transferred to 90 percent oak barrels, in which malolactic fermentation was completed. After a post-malo racking, the wine was returned to the barrels for 15 months of aging, then bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Dark, dense, and lush, the 2003 Old Bastard exhibits pure and nearly perfect blackberry fruit, lovely acid balance, and gorgeous depth. The wine is complex and huge in the best Australian sense, but, unlike some of its massive Aussie rivals, it always maintains thrilling balance and exquisite flavors.