Lee Flourentzou remembers clearly the first two cases of wine he bought more than 20 years ago, and the impact they had on him.
Those wines were 1991 Penfolds Bin 389 and Bin 407, and they totally seduced him. By the end of that decade he had bought a vineyard in the south-western corner of the McLaren Vale region, two kilometres from the Gulf St Vincent, where afternoon sea breezes combine with evening gully winds from the Adelaide Hills range.
It was here his dream to make wines of the same power and presence began, from Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon vines already planted in 1997, followed by further consecutive year plantings in the year he took on the property in 1998 and again in 1999. The first wine made from the Aramis Vineyard was from the revered 2002 vintage, The Governor Shiraz, which found its way to the finals judging in the Jimmy Watson Trophy.
Lee recalls his father saying then: “I think we have got something here!”
And clearly, they did.
After continual improvements in the vineyard, including organic practices, and bringing into the winemaking a luminary list of winemakers including Scott Rawlinson, Kym Milne, Michael Fragos and currently Renae Hirsch, a mighty collection of The Governors grew, strategically released in small quantities and highly rated whenever they appeared.
Now, in a 20-year celebration of that first Aramis Governor Shiraz appearing, Lee has picked out the stars of the collection to make a historic statement about the vineyard and the high-end pedigree of wine it delivers. The current release will be the 2016 vintage back to 2012s, with smaller amounts of earlier vintages available going all the way back to the heroic original. (The more recent 2019s and 2020s are biding their time in bottle before a best release date is determined.)
The wines all have a close connection to each other, both in their top block of the vineyard selection and their approach to a classic, high-powered Shiraz style that has been a benchmark in the ongoing story of fine Australian wine.
Subtle tweaks in Renae Hirsch’s winemaking has seen the more recent wines evolve with more finesse and elegance, though traditional small batch ferments in open top vessels and up to 24 months maturation in fine French, with a tiny percentage of American oak to ensure a definite provenance.
To be able to connect a wide range of vintages from such a vineyard is a rare opportunity that Lee has dreamed of for years, he reveals.
“Outside of the love of wine, and the love of the vineyard, and the whole romance for wine that I have generally, I’ve always held The Governor very close to my heart,” Lee says.
“It was always a plan of mine to have those wines in the cellar over several vintages, and that they could take their place in the top echelon of Australian Shiraz.
“Now I’m confident that we are there.”
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2020
McLaren Vale 14.6% $240 (release 2023)
From Aramis vigneron Lee Flourentzou’s south-facing vineyard in the south-west sector of McLaren Vale, this latest release Shiraz has a lot of resting ahead of it before it will emulate the supreme luxury and opulence of earlier vintages from the same blocks. Tasting evidence suggests these wines come of age at between five to 12 years, or if desired at the table tonight start the slow breathing early in the day. It’s a big fella, vinous volatiles rising unashamedly to begin, its immediate richness almost overpowering, French oak filling in the background. Masses of fruit – dark plum concentrate, almost prune-like add to the voluminous expression, underpinned by mid to prominent, light-bitter tannins. Oak driven with significant length, hang on to your hats! 92/100 (with upticks over 5-10 years)
Aramis The Governor 2019 Shiraz
McLaren Vale 14.8% $240
The 2019 vintage has delivered a supremely confident iteration of what these blocks can achieve. Superbly integrated already, fruit and French oak combining for a distinctive aromatic expression. The palate shows dark plum, berry and choc-mint notes, baked savoury elements as well, with well-balanced acidity and decisive tannins building power in the framework while oak layers marry supportively in respect to the high tide of fruit. All the elements connect evenly and integrate for a long, long finish. A complete wine. 95/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2016
McLaren Vale 14.6% $255
The provenance of this wine is well established when you put it in context with earlier and following vintages. The nose here has a familial set of fruit/oak characters, though the latter element is perhaps more demonstrative than its siblings. This vintage brings a more individual personality however to the palate: salted licorice, savoury, almost ferrous, yet the rich, dark plum flavours have a touch of more adult sour pastille to them and take a little time to integrate with the mouth-coating tannins that eventually shape and hold the wine together for what seems like eons of tasting pleasure. 94/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2015
McLaren Vale 14.5% $255
It’s taken seven years for the 2015 vintage to even begin to show the first real signs of development, adding yet another element of antique complexity to its well-founded aromatic beauty. Breathe it all in deeply – it’s seductive, reminiscent of old Chesterfield suites. Sink into it, but you’ll be surprised by the palate which appears more youthful than the nose, energetic and alive with trademark plum and sweet, dark licorice, before subtle gastronomic bitter notes trade with sticky, moreish tannins. A wine with fascinating conundrums, intriguing and intellectually stimulating. 95/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2013
McLaren Vale 14% $255
The imprint of site and style fits very closely to its immediate past and following vintages in 2013, evidence of true provenance. Rich and opulent to begin: fresh pipe tobacco, classic Chesterfield leather lounge and dark toffee notes pre-empt intense dark plum compote-like Shiraz fruit, vibrant with retained acidity, the palate lively rather than weighed down by all that is going on. Barely fading with its years, even the cedar notes are fresh-shaved, while the final palate and finish are rounded and deftly captured by delicately sticky tannins. A revelation that, even with the depth of such aromatic palate concentration, this wine can remain so agile and energised. 94/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2012
McLaren Vale 14.5% $270
2012 shows a degree of restrained elegance where other iterations are markedly more demonstrative and overtly extravagant. It’s as if the vinous elements have all been compacted, the weave of fruit, oak, acidity and tannin virtually integrated to the point of invisibility. Add some black pepper aromatic/flavour in there for a burst of seasoning, with a subtle savoury bitter feel to the extra-long finish, this wine feels like a totally engaged, individual expression that has a long and fascinating future ahead. 96/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2008
McLaren Vale 14.5% $285
From Aramis vigneron Lee Flourentzou’s south-facing vineyard in the south-west sector of McLaren Vale, close your eyes and you’d swear you’re engaged here with some of the finest and most famous of all Australian shiraz. Age is simply not an issue with a wine of such magnitude: rich, dark shiraz fruit with cedary oak support, dark toffee-like aromas in the background. Yet, to drink it’s not as heavy as expected, surprisingly settling back towards a medium-full palate weight, the fruit joyous and energetic while the foundations and structure remain supportive without being overly solid. A well disciplined, mature and very attractive proposition. 96/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2006
McLaren Vale 14.5% $310
We can see here familiar ageing and developmental lines in the 2006 vintage to other vintages from the same stable, particularly the 2013 and 2015. It’s dark, brooding, dense and concentrated, yet not at all heavy, which seems like some kind of magic trick in the way this fruit and its oak, home for up to 24 months, perform together. Trademark Vales dark chocolate notes, with faint mint phrasings, are present here, but lusciously sweet, dark, blackberry flavours rule the roost, lingering, classy and confident in a serious style. A wine with delicious harmony. 96/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2005
McLaren Vale 15% $310
We begin to see the older creature comforts of mature shiraz in all their majesty – and why not celebrate its sunset years. Like its more youthful sibling vintages, familiar Vales blackberry and dark chocolate notes remain, even a little minty side-hustle, the fruit still showing its core ripeness while counterpointed by older, savoury, earthy elements. Quieter, not overly obvious, yet still complex and compelling. 95/100
Aramis The Governor Shiraz 2002
McLaren Vale 14% $325
From Aramis vigneron Lee Flourentzou’s south-facing vineyard in the south-west sector of McLaren Vale, we see at two decades the effects of those years kicking in, the wine browning and fading. While its fruit vibrancy is declining, not unexpected in such a mature wine, remnants of its acidity remain, perhaps an indication of a cooler 2002 ripening season. Still, there is much to behold here for anyone tuned into the intrigues of aged wines. 92/100