TN: Escarpments 'n' Torbrecks

An acquaintance of mine imports wines from Australia (and from a handful of other countries as well). These are my TNs from a small tasting he arranged in last March.

I don’t know if there are any people here who don’t know Torbreck, but this 28 years old winery is considered to be one of the prime Barossa estates, known for their premium red wines, especially The RunRig Shiraz (which we unfortunately didn’t taste). Almost all the wines Torbreck produces are made from the Rhône varieties.

At some point the Torbreck owners started to think they should also be producing Burgundian varieties - meaning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, they understood that Barossa wasn’t really prime land for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, so they started to look for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-producing wineries they could buy. After having looked all over the world, they finally went with Escarpment, a Martinborough winery founded in 1999, which Torbreck acquired in 2019. Escarpment’s founder Larry McKenna has remained as a winemaker, so while the ownership has changed, nothing else has. We didn’t get to taste any post-purchase Escarpment wines, but we were ensured that the wines have stayed exactly the same.

I also brought a bottle of naturalist Rhône Syrah with me as a sort of joke, just to make people taste it blind after some very big and ripe Barossa Shirazes.

  • 2019 Escarpment Chardonnay - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa, Martinborough (26.3.2022)
    100% Chardonnay grown in Wairarapa, mainly in Martinborough. Fermented spontaneously in oak, aged for 11 months in oak barrels (20% new). 13% alcohol, 1,4 g/l residual sugar, 5,6 g/l acidity and pH 3,32.

    Youthful, luminous yellow-green color. Ripe and juicy nose with aromas of golden apples and Asian pear, some toasty notes of oak spice, a little bit of creamy oak, light sweet notes of pineapple and white peach, a hint of savory wood and a touch of smoke. The wine feels ripe and somewhat concentrated yet wonderfully firm on the palate with juicy flavors of white peach, chalky minerality, some toasty notes of oak spice, a little bit of creamy richness, light exotic notes of pineapple, a hint of sweet baking spices and a touch of apple peel bitterness. The rather high acidity keeps the wine in balance and lends nice sense of structure to the concentrated, slightly viscous mouthfeel. The finish is long, bright and quite acid-driven with ripe yet dry flavors of spicy red apple, some smoky notes of toasty oak, a little bit of pineapple, light sweet notes of ripe white peach, a hint of stony minerality and a touch of tangy salinity.

    A very harmonious, sophisticated and tasty Chardonnay deftly crafted in a quite Burgundian fashion. There's some sense of ripeness typical of new world Chardonnays, but the overall style is still quite low-key - despite the ripeness of the fruit this is more about nuances and layers than in-your-face fruit and even though it is obvious the wine has seen some oak, the oak influence is quite modest, lending just a good, toasty backdrop to the fruity and mineral notes. Drinking very well now, but most likely this wine will not only keep, but improve for a good number of years more. Priced more or less according to its quality at approx. 35€.
    (91 points)

  • 2018 Escarpment Pinot Noir Kiwa - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa, Martinborough (26.3.2022)
    A single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Cleland Vineyard in Martinborough, planted in 1989 to clones 828, UC Davis 5 and 6. Fermented spontaneously in open-top oak fermentors, macerated with the skins for three weeks, aged for 18 months in oak barriques (40% new). Bottled fined, but unfiltered. 13,1% alcohol, 4,8 g/l acidity and pH 3,66.

    Luminous, translucent blood-red color with a subtly evolved rusty hue. The nose feels youthful but savory and earthy rather than sweetly-fruited with red-toned aromas of strawberries, some red cherries, a little bit of savory wood spice, light meaty tones, a hint of crunchy cranberry and a fragrant touch of dried violets. The wine is ripe, juicy and quite concentrated on the palate with a rather full body and savory flavors of black cherries, some old wood spice, a little bit of gravelly minerality, light meaty notes of umami, a sweeter hint of toasty oak spice and a touch of fresh cranberry. The overall feel is firm, thanks to the moderately high acidity and gently grippy medium tannins, yet silky in texture. The finish is dry and savory with some tannic grip and lengthy flavors of fresh black cherries, some meaty notes of umami, a little bit of savory wood spice, light gravelly mineral tones, a hint of ripe redcurrant and a touch of tart red berries.

    A savory, serious and very harmonious NZPN. Stylistically a bit more earthy and red-toned in nature compared to the slightly sweeter-toned and fruitier 2019 Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir that was tasted alongside. Even though the wine looks like a quite modern new world Pinot Noir from a technical perspective (somewhat modest acidity and the wine sees quite a bit of new oak), the wine feels wonderfully savory and surprisingly fresh on the palate and the emphasis is on the red-toned fruit notes and non-fruit flavors, not on oak aromatics. Even though the wine looked a bit evolved in the glass, on the palate it was anything but. It is drinking really well right now, but I can see the wine improving for many years more. Very promising stuff.
    (91 points)

  • 2019 Escarpment Pinot Noir Te Rehua - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa, Martinborough (26.3.2022)
    A single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Barton Vineyard in Martinborough, planted in 1992 to as many different Pinot clones Geoff Bunny could find and planted at random. Fermented spontaneously in open-top oak fermentors, macerated with the skins for 22 days and aged for 18 months in oak barriques (40% new). Bottled fined, but unfiltered. 13,5% alcohol, 5,3 g/l acidity and pH 3,6.

    Luminous, quite translucent black ruby color. Fragrant, dark-toned and somewhat sweetly-fruited nose with attractive aromas of black cherries, some strawberries, light perfumed notes of violets, a little bit of cedary new oak and a hint of stony minerality. The wine is rich, quite concentrated and savory on the palate with intense, dry flavors of crunchy cranberries and tart lingonberries, some fresh red plums, a little bit of savory wood spice, light gravelly mineral tones, a hint of rhubarb and a sweeter, cedary touch of new oak. Good, high acidity and quite gentle, textural tannins. The finish is savory, subtly grippy and quite persistent with long, dry flavors of dark forest fruits and fresh black cherries, some tart notes of cranberries, a little bit of meaty umami, light savory notes of woody oak spice, a hint of ripe red plum and a touch of gravelly minerality.

    Although this wine seemed slightly more oaky and fruitier compared to the 2018 Kiwa Pinot Noir - especially in the nose - it turned out to pack a bit more freshness, precision and intensity on the palate. Although they feel quite similarly ripe and concentrated, this Te Rehua seemed to be a bit lighter on its feet, thanks to the bright, balanced acidity. At the moment this feels more approachable and enjoyable of these two wines, but even though this wine seems to hold much promise regarding its aging potential, I wouldn't be surprised if 2018 Kiwa would turn to be the better wine in the longer run. However, for the shorter term, this is a pretty smashing NZ PN. Recommended.
    (92 points)

  • 2021 Torbreck Woodcutter's Semillon - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    100% Sémillon - more specifically, pink Sémillon known as "Madeira clone" (which sounds rather weird, since there is very little Sémillon grown in Portugal and none in Madeira) from Rowland Flat in Ebenezer, Barossa Valley. After the fermentation, the lots made with grapes from very old, centenarian vineyards are aged in old, neutral oak barriques (40%), while the lots made with fruit from younger vines are aged in stainless steel. 13% alcohol, 6,22 g/l acidity and pH 3,19.

    Very pale, almost completely colorless whitish-yellow color. Very fragrant, sweet and noticeably primary nose with candied aromas of pear drops, some cantaloupe, light leesy notes of creaminess, a little bit of apple yogurt and a hint of fruit jellies. The wine is ripe, juicy and very primary on the palate with a medium-to-moderately full body and youthful flavors of pear drops, some apple yogurt, a little bit of fruit jelly, light notes of cantaloupe, a hint of leesy creaminess and a touch of tangy salinity. The quite high acidity lends good sense of freshness to the wine and keeps it quite balanced. The finish is ripe, juicy and quite lengthy with primary flavors of ripe pear, some sour apple candy tones, a little bit of leesy creaminess, light mineral notes of tangy salinity, a hint of cantaloupe and a touch of zesty citrus fruits.

    A balanced and accessible Sémillon that shows good sense of freshness, but unfortunately comes across as all too youthful and primary at the moment. The wine is all about those sweet, candied fermentation esters that lend the wine a heady aroma of pear drops and fruit yogurt, rendering it quite similar to any cheap, entry-level market white. There's definitely some substance and sense of concentration here and the overall feel is balanced, but aromatically this wine is a major disappointment. My score reflects how the wine drinks at the moment, but I have no doubts it will drop its candied primary aromatics with age, so if you want to really get something out of this wine, you really need to let it age some more - probably something like another 5-10 years. At the moment I wouldn't say the wine is worth the tariff at 24,98€.
    (84 points)

  • 2020 Torbreck The Steading Blanc - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    A blend of Marsanne (69%), Roussanne (21%) and Viognier (10%) from the Descendant vineyard, planted in 1994 in Marananga, Barossa. Fermented spontaneously, aged for 8 months in 2-3 yo oak barrels (Marsanne), stainless steel tanks (Roussanne) and new French oak barriques (Viognier). 13,5% alcohol, 6,08 g/l acidity and pH 3,34.

    Quite pale, youthful whitish-green color. Youthful, dry and somewhat woolly nose with aromas of white flowers, some primary notes of sour apple candies, a little bit of sawdusty old wood, light leesy notes and a hint of hay. The wine is ripe, youthful and quite round on the palate with a moderately full body and dry flavors of white peach and fresh red apple, some woolly lanolin, a little bit of woody sawdust, light notes of hay, a floral hint of chamomile and a touch of chalk dust. The moderately high acidity keeps the wine in balance despite the slight fatness and round overall body. The finish is dry, fresh and balanced with medium-long flavors of woolly lanolin, some hay, a little bit of chalky minerality, light and very classic Marsanne/Roussanne notes of chamomile and lager-like herbal notes of noble hops, a hint of fresh red apple and a touch of ripe white peach.

    A round yet balanced white that feels somewhat woolly and sawdusty with surprisingly little in the way of fruit. The overall feel is a bit dull and although I'm not a big proponent of very fruity wines, this particular wine could've used a bit more fruit as the fruit department came across as quite understated and there was very little of interest beyond that. It's hard to say whether this was caught at a sub-optimal time and the wine could open up nicely with some bottle age, or if this is just a not-particularly-interesting white. The producer says the wine should be drank upon release or within 3 years from the vintage, so I'm not holding my breath in regard to the aging potential of this wine. Feels very overpriced for the quality at 38,02€.
    (86 points)

  • 2015 Torbreck The Steading - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    A blend of both purchased and estate-owned Grenache (76%) from 100-yo vineyards, Mourvèdre (12%) from 90-yo vineyards and Shiraz (12%) from multiple vineyards ranging from 40 to 150 years in age. All varieties and plots are vinified separately and blended only prior to bottling. Aged for 20 months on the lees in old 4500-liter foudres. 15% alcohol, 5,92 g/l acidity at pH 3,42.

    Somewhat evolved and quite opaque blackish-red color with a slightly figgy hue. The nose feels very ripe, dark-toned and somewhat sweetly-fruited with slightly evolved aromas of wizened dark plums, juicy black cherries, some lifted minty notes, a little bit of balsamic VA, light blackberry marmalade tones, a hint of salty liquorice and a touch of old leather. The licorice notes take on more prominence as the wine opens up in the glass. The wine is ripe, juicy and sweet-toned with a full body and quite vibrant flavors of ripe blackberries, licorice, some pruney tones, a little bit of minty greenness, light raisiny tones, a hint of peppery spice and a touch of soft strawberry. The overall feels quite round and even a bit fat, but the wine still retains good sense of balance, thanks to its rather high acidity and textural medium tannins that slowly pile up on the gums. The finish is ripe, juicy and somewhat grippy with quite sweet-toned flavors of black cherries and wizened figs, some pruney tones, a little bit of minty green character, light meaty notes of umami, a hint of peppery spice and a touch of balsamic VA. The high alcohol remains surprisingly well hidden.

    A quite noticeably ripe and even somewhat substantial GSM that manages to retain good sense of balance and harmony despite its big, round body, high alcohol and sweetish fruit. Quite Châteauneuf-du-Pape in character, although the somewhat atypical minty green note is something I wouldn't expect to see in CdP (or in any GSM for that matter). All in all, a well-made and surprisingly enjoyable wine for one in a style I normally don't enjoy. Although the wine will keep, if not evolve, for years more - probably easily at least for another decade - I suspect (based on my limited experience with older vintages of The Steading) that the wine isn't going to get that much better or more interesting from here. I'd say this is best drunk now or within 10 years from its vintage. A bit pricey for the quality at 43,90€, but not forbiddingly so.
    (91 points)

  • 2001 Torbreck Juveniles - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    An unoaked GSM blend from old-vine (40-150 yo) fruit. Aged in stainless steel lot by lot, bottled unfined and unfiltered. Named after a wine bar in Paris. Lots of very fine, silty sediment; I heartily recommend to set the wine up for a day or two and decant it carefully so it doesn't appear hazy. 14,5% alcohol.

    As this wine wasn't carefully decanted prior to the tasting, the appearance is quite hazy and rather evolved figgy-red color with an evolved maroon hue and quite a bit of silty deposit in the glass. The seductive nose feels evolved, fragrant and quite sweet-toned with developed yet not old or too tertiary aromas of pipe tobacco, some evolved meaty tones, a little bit of sweet pruney fruit, light minty green notes, a hint of tea tree and a touch of wild strawberry. The wine is evolved, savory and velvety on the palate with a medium body and mature flavors of peppery spice, gamey meat and barbecue, some ferrous notes of blood, a little bit of sweet pruney and raisiny fruit, light fragrant notes of eucalyptus, rustic hints of old leather and pipe tobacco and an oxidative touch of beef jerky. Bright, high acidity with gentle yet firm tannins that slowly pile up on the gums. The finish is long and savory with layered flavors of meaty umami and game, some dried-fruit notes of wizened blackberries and raisins, a little bit of ferrous blood, light green nuances of eucalyptus, a hint of saddle leather and a touch of balsamic VA.

    A beautiful, harmonious and wonderfully savory GSM with great sense of freshness and brightness, all thanks to the high acidity that lends great intensity and sense of focus to the wine. There's a bit of funk and rusticity lingering underneath, but the overall emphasis is obviously on the bright, evolved fruit flavors. The wine has been sitting firmly on its plateau of maturity for a while now, but most likely it will stay there for a handful of years more, so even if the wine is not going to evolve any further from here, there's no pressing hurry with it. Drink or keep for a little while longer. A steal at 18€.
    (93 points)

  • 2017 Torbreck Grenache Les Amis - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    This wine, named after a restaurant in Singapore, is a 100% Grenache from a vineyard planted in the 1870's in Greenock, Barossa. Aged for 24 months in French oak barriques (50% new). 15% alcohol, 5,69 g/l acidity and pH 3,35.

    Very deep, dark and almost completely opaque black cherry color. The nose feels fragrant and quite dark-toned with bold aromas of ripe black cherries, some sweet notes of toasty new oak, a little bit of ripe blackberry, light lifted green notes of eucalyptus or spearmint, a hint of juicy strawberry and a touch of licorice root along with a boozy whiff of alcohol. The wine feels concentrated, extracted and chewy on the palate with a full body and bold flavors of ripe black cherries and juicy black raspberries, some plummy tones, a little bit of sweet, toasty oak spice, light jammy notes of strawberry marmalade, a savory hint of woody character and a cooling touch of eucalyptus. The wine is round and silky but also quite firm and muscular as well, thanks to the moderately high acidity and ripe medium tannins. The high alcohol lends some warmth to the palate. The finish is ripe, juicy and somewhat warm with lengthy flavors of dark forest fruits, some cooling notes of eucalyptus and minty greenness, a little bit of ripe red plums, light meaty notes of umami, a hint of savory wood spice and a touch of toasty mocha oak.

    A big, ripe and concentrated powerhouse of a wine that is quite substantial by all accounts, but manages to still come across as pretty balanced and harmonious at the same time - well, if it weren't for the high alcohol, which feels a bit pronounced for most of the time. The overall feel is quite similar to a warm-vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but even if the wine is made entirely of Grenache, it feels a bit more savory and complex than most of the GSM-based CdPs. Although the wine is quite accessible already now, I expect it to evolve and improve for a good handful of years more. Drink now or within the next 10-15 years. Despite its overall high quality, I must say I really don't understand the pricing here and at 140,21€, this wine feels very overpriced for the quality.
    (92 points)

  • 2017 Torbreck The Factor - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley (26.3.2022)
    100% Shiraz from multiple sites in Barossa Valley, many planted in the late 1800's. Aged for 24 months in a combination of new (40%) and 2 years old / once used (60%) oak barrels. 15% alcohol, 5,98 g/l acidity and pH 3,57.

    Very dense, concentrated and fully opaque blackish-red color with faint purplish highlights. The nose feels youthful, powerful and quite fruit-forward with bold aromas of ripe blackberries and cherry marmalade, some brambly notes of black raspberries, a little bit of sweet, toasty oak spice and mint chocolate, light gamey tones, a woody hint of sawdust and savory oak spice and a candied touch of primary red fruit. The wine feels dense, ripe and juicy on the palate with a concentrated, full body and quite youthful flavors of wizened black cherries and savory meaty notes, some jammy dark berries, a little bit of marmaladey primary fruit, light spicy notes of black pepper and earthy spices that slowly grow in intensity and a hint of mint chocolate. The overall feel is dense, but also quite round and a bit on the soft side, thanks to the medium acidity and ripe, quite mellow tannins that contribute rather little to the structure. The lengthy finish is rich, dense and quite warm with a gentle tannic tug on the gums and rather powerful flavors of jammy dark berries and primary fruit notes of blackberry jellies, some savory notes of gamey meat, a little bit of mint chocolate, light cocoa notes of toasty oak, a hint of overripe black cherry and a touch of jammy dark berries.

    This is definitely a hulking powerhouse of a Shiraz brimming with old-vine concentration, lush fruit and quite pronounced toasty oak. However, that really doesn't translate that well to finesse or balance. This is just a huge, super-ripe wine with tons and tons of fruit, quite a bit of oak and a tad too much alcohol, but very little in the way of freshness or structure, which makes the wine feel quite soft, ponderous and even a bit blowzy. Seeing how remarkably youthful and at times even primary this wine is at 5 years of age, I have no doubts it will continue to evolve and improve with age, but seeing how clumsy and monolithic it feels at the moment, I honestly doubt this will become anything truly profound no matter how long it is aged. At the price of 99,98€, this is priced at the super-premium category, but tasting the wine before knowing its price, I failed to recognize anything "super-premium" in the wine and was pretty flabbergasted at the retail price. This is a good wine, but nothing near what you'd expect to get at one hundred euros.
    (88 points)

  • 2019 François Dumas La Syrah - France, Vin de France (26.3.2022)
    A naturalist Syrah from Northern Rhône, yet labeled as Vin de France. Vinified mostly in whole bunches and in a very minimum-interventionist fashion. Spontaneous fermentation, aging in old oak casks. Bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulfites. 13,5% alcohol.

    Youthful, almost fully opaque black cherry color. Very wild and lifted nose with quite sauvage aromas of bretty funk, some brambly notes of blackberries, light inky tones, a little bit of ripe black raspberry and an acetic hint of VA. The wine is ripe and dense yet very fresh and crunchy on the palate with a medium body and eminently youthful flavors of brambly blackberries and black raspberries, some funky notes of brett like stable floor and Band-Aid, a little bit of acetic VA, light crunchy notes of fresh apples, a hint of tart red berries and a touch of blueberry. The overall feel is quite structured with the moderately high acidity and somewhat grippy medium tannins that slowly pile up on the gums. The medium-long finish is dry, wild and slightly acetic with youthful flavors of tart red berries, some blackberry tones, a little bit of brambly raspberry, light bretty notes of Band-Aid, a hint of leathery funk and a touch of acetic VA.

    With its acetic and bretty qualities, the wine feels like its aftertaste could turn mousy with some air, but miraculously the wine was still "clean" (well, definitely funky) the next day. So even though it is quite a natty effort, it is still clean and well enough made so that it doesn't turn badly mousy if not consumed within 20 minutes, which is always nice. Nevertheless, I wished the wine would've been "cleaner" and less natty, seeing how wonderfully pure and vibrant wines Dumas can make at his best. This was good, but nothing thrilling - just another natty VdF Syrah. Priced somewhat according to its quality at 16€.
    (86 points)

Posted from CellarTracker


Great notes as always Otto.
I like Dumas La Syrah, but mostly agree with you on it. It is a rather natty expression of Syrah and it lacks a little depth. Dumas Saint-Joseph is in a completely different league and the wine i focus on.

Only had one Torbreck in my life. A 2003 The Struie back in dec 2020. A little big for what i normally drink, but well balanced and i enjoyed it with food. Was fun to taste.

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100% on you with this one. Had one bottle of 2016 in my Syrah blind tasting some years back - from my POV it came in second, right after Gonon 2015. Two truly exceptional wines.