It’s quite understandable that Alex Head became somewhat obsessed with the Shiraz-based wines of the Northern Rhône. With a background in biochemistry and then working in wine retail, it was only a short step towards gaining work at producers such as Tyrrell’s, Torbreck and Cirillo Estate. In 2006 Alex began his own label, and the resulting wines have seen him gain much acclaim. Given that this is the Barossa, there’s a big focus on Shiraz, yet Alex also has a deep love for Grenache and Cabernet, and he’s not afraid to try some of the “new kids on the block”, such as Montepulciano, Carignan and Nero d’Avola. As you’ll see from the scores and notes below, I liked these wines a lot, and I think they all offer tremendous value.
2021 Head Barossa ‘Red’ Grenache
$28 – 91 points
‘Sourced from two very special Grenache vineyards grown and picked specifically for bottling as a straight Grenache (not a GSM). The 2021 vintage was mild in every manner, mainly due to La Nina. Grenache did not achieve high sugars like the previous three vintages and this has given us the opportunity to make a straight varietal HEAD RED Grenache (well almost). The first vineyard was planted in 1970 on the Biscay soils of Bethany. It is spur-pruned, shoot-thinned and bunch-thinned for quality. The second vineyard is 1968 planted bush-vines from Nuriootpa on red-clay over sand. Both are hand-picked and we ferment with about 10% whole bunches. 9 months in French hogsheads and a splash of 1968 planted Mataro make this wine utterly delicious and ready for immediate consumption.’
Grenache is a variety that lends itself well to a wide range of styles, and here it’s all about lightness of touch and drinkability. After a bit of air, it exhibits pretty aromas of raspberry, red cherry, blackberry, violet and a touch of pepper. Silkiness and brightness frame the palate, and I actually found it to be nicer with food than by itself, where the fruitiness is highlighted.
2021 Head Barossa ‘Heart & Home’ Shiraz Cabernet
$25 – 91 points
‘This very traditional Australian ‘Dry Red’ style has been part of my heart for many years and literally reminds me of home when I get it in the glass. Bizarrely, it was a chance conversation about Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon with Phil Lehmann which led me down a path of blending enlightenment. How do we make wine quality even better through the art of blending the two ‘hero’ varieties of the Barossa? Well, believe it or not there is a trick and roughly you need to find the point at which they don’t fight each other! Lots of fine tuning involved.’
At only $25, this Shiraz Cabernet blend offers tremendous value. It has an intense nose of blackcurrant, raspberry, mulberry, liquorice and tomato leaf, and tertiary characters of clove, earthiness and chocolate. There’s a lot of energy on the palate, with juicy fruit flavours that are enhanced by food such as pasta.
2022 Head Barossa/Eden Valley Riesling
$28 – 92 points
‘The 2022 Rieslings from Eden Valley are highlighted by their unusually high acidity. The cause was, of course, a growing season that lived in the eye of Australia’s ‘La Nina’. Yields were average due to healthy rains during winter and spring. During the 2020 vintage, I decided to take a completely different approach to winemaking with Riesling. Long, cool and mild growing conditions have allowed the wine a long, slow but full malo-lactic fermentation on lees in oak with no need for sulphur until bottling. This is not a traditional, delicate style of Eden Valley Riesling but instead a naturally rich and powerful expression of its unique site in Flaxman Valley.’
This was a very enjoyable Riesling, right from the first breeze of peach floating from the bottle. With a full mouthfeel and teeth-tingling minerality, it’s nervy and silky, showing the aforementioned peach, as well as lemon, lime, wax, pineapple and blossom. It’s probably no surprise that it goes well with food, particularly something salty, oily or spicy.
2021 Head Barossa ‘Rossa’
$28 – 92 points
‘I started working with Montepulciano in 2013 and quickly discovered the variety seemed to suit not only the Barossa but the style of wine I like to produce and drink with our cuisine. In the vineyard, it required less inputs than other traditional varieties and even in the winery, it effortlessly achieved balance and deliciousness. As the climate continues to change for the Barossa, it seemed obvious that we needed to work on producing Mediterranean style blends as part of the Head Wines offering. This new wine is called ‘HEAD ROSSA’ and combines classical Italian varieties. As well as being utterly delicious, it is an important look at what the future of sustainable wine and growing in the Barossa might look like.’
A blend of Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola and Grenache, the Rossa announces itself with ripe and jubey notes of strawberry and raspberry, soon unveiling red cherry, violets and some savoury graphite and tomato leaf. Like the Viognier and Roja, this isn’t a wine to rush into, but to savour over an evening, allowing it time to rest in the glass, after which it becomes fruitier, more approachable, and definitely more enjoyable.
2022 Head Barossa/Eden Valley Viognier
$28 – 93 points
‘The 2022 Viognier from Eden Valley is highlighted by unusually high acidity. The cause was, of course, a cool growing season that lived in the eye of Australia’s ‘La Nina’. Yields were average due to healthy rains during winter and spring. During the 2020 vintage, I decided to take a completely different approach to winemaking with Viognier. We whole-bunch press straight to large format oak with wild fermentation, full malo-lactic fermentation and no need for sulphur until bottling. This is a naturally rich and powerful expression of its unique site in Flaxman Valley at 480m altitude.’
There was so much to like in this Viognier, though it took a bit of time to reveal its best features. From the outset, it displayed enticing notes of apricot, lemon, orange blossom and a spicy, tropical fruit character. It’s oily and bright on the palate, hiding the alcohol well, and as it breathes, any jagged edges dissipate and it becomes more integrated, pulling you in slowly rather than knocking you over immediately. Have some patience and you shall be duly rewarded.
2021 Head Barossa ‘Roja’
$28 – 93 points
‘I started working with Tempranillo in 2013 and quickly discovered the variety seemed to suit not only the Barossa but the style of wine I like to produce and drink with our cuisine. It did in fact take me 10 years to release a Tempranillo under the Head Wines label but during this time of enlightenment I was surrounding myself with as many Mediterranean varieties as possible: Nero d’Avola, Carignan, Montepulciano and, of course, my favourite — Grenache! As the climate continues to change for the Barossa, it seemed obvious that we needed to work on producing Mediterranean style blends as part of the Head Wines offering. This new wine is called ‘HEAD ROJA’ and combines classical Spanish varieties. As well as being utterly delicious, it is an important look at what the future of sustainable wine and growing in the Barossa might look like.’
Alex likes to make wines that pair well with food (an especially Mediterranean ideal), so using Tempranillo, Carignan and Grenache is a great way to achieve it while tipping the hat to Spain. The fruit is quite dark and deep, presenting blackberry, mulberry and black cherry, with a little tang of boysenberry and some spicy cinnamon and vanilla. It’s juicy, bright, full flavoured and complements a meal muy bien.
2022 Head Barossa Grenache Rosé
$28 – 94 points
‘From Grenache vineyards grown & picked specifically for Rose? production. We press immediately and use white wine-making techniques (Vin-Gris style). Approximately 8% barrel fermented Viognier & a splash of Riesling from Eden Valley adds a creamy texture, apricot aroma and perceived sweetness. This is a delicate looking Rose? with real power and presence. Perfect with or without food/clothes.’
I continue to be blown away by the quality of Rosé in this country. While the Head Rosé is light on colour, it’s heavy on flavour. The nose and palate are all about the fruity and the floral: strawberry, cherry, raspberry, apricot, musk, rose. The palate is alive with mineral zing and acid zip, the bright tones of fruit making it great with food or even just for sipping or guzzling. But be careful, as the contents of the bottle might disappear quickly.
2021 Head Barossa ‘Red’ Cabernet Sauvignon
$28 – 94 points
‘I’ve been banging away at Cabernet for a good 10 years now and never felt the desire to bottle one. It can be a wonderful blending tool in the Barossa. As time passes and my ‘Vineyard Monopoly’ game gets better I had to hand in my opus. Of course if you know me you’ll know there would be an old world twist to my wine and well, here you have a great blend of the best of the richness of Barossa Cab and Bordeaux’s arrogance & class.’
Cabernet often takes a back seat to Shiraz where the Barossa is concerned, but I’ve had many examples which are just as enjoyable – and this is certainly one of them. There’s a heady mix of primary, secondary and tertiary characters on display here: blackcurrant, mulberry, raspberry, tomato leaf, green pepper, vanilla, shoe polish, cigar box. It’s juicy on the palate, with sinewy, chewy tannins and a chalky mouthfeel, and it’s incredibly enjoyable with or without food.
2021 Head Barossa ‘The Contrarian’ Shiraz
$40 – 94 points
‘Each vintage I like to express the Barossa in a contrary manner. ‘The Contrarian’ is my indulgent, creative winemaking outlet and challenges traditional concepts around Barossan Shiraz. We source Shiraz from vineyards in the Eden Valley which develop flavour at lower than usual alcohols and show ripeness in their stems too. We use cement as a fermentation vessel; which holds the acidity and tannins in a fresher light. We mature (instead of age) the wine in larger more neutral oak so the fruit & stem tannin can give the wine a different experience with protein dishes.’
I liked the Contrarian immediately from the very first sniff, with its dark, brooding and multi-layered nose of exquisite aromas: cassis, violets, wild strawberry, blueberry, cinnamon, mulberry, stewed fruits, shoe polish. The mouthfeel is full and the length is long, the flavours occupying every corner of the mouth and coating it in silky, vivid fruit. I enjoyed it with vegetarian pasta sauce but it would no doubt pair well with a wide range of foods.
2022 Head Barossa ‘Old Vine’ Grenache
$40 – 95 points
‘I am privileged to work with small parcels of fruit from old, dry- grown, hand-pruned and picked vineyards across the Barossa. In 2009 I decided to make Grenache the way Barossan families made table wines many generations ago, to honor the years of back-breaking work required for keeping the bush-vine vineyards feasible and sustainable. Partial whole-bunch ferment, no crushing or temperature control, natural yeasts, hand plunged and foot trodden. Racked once during elevage of 12 months in larger barrels and a small addition of old vine mataro for structure, spice, age-ability and balance.’
The differences between the ‘Red’ and ‘Old Vine’ Grenache are immediately clear: while the former is light, fruity and fun, the latter is richer, darker and more contemplative. Don’t get me wrong, there’s loads of fruit here – raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, red cherry – but with an added depth that makes it linger on the palate and permeate the mouth with flavour, like the difference between a bowl of fresh fruit and a fruit compote. I enjoyed it immensely by itself but it came alive when paired with tacos, becoming even more vivid and bright than before. A thoroughly enjoyable wine and a fitting testament to Alex’s love for Grenache.