Some years ago, in a time when I couldn’t even pronounce the word ‘sommelier’, I trained as a high school history teacher. The vinous tendrils of the wine world eventually ensnared me but I look back on my time grading imaginary journals from the First Fleet and re-enacting the Eureka Stockade with my Year 9 class fondly.
My passion for things that happened yonks ago hasn’t faded. Historic Australian wineries? Sign me up for a semester.
That brings us to Tahbilk. Established in 1860 (class clown: ‘Wasn’t that the year you were born, sir?’), in Victoria’s Nagambie Lakes, the estate boasts some seriously ancient Rhone varietal vines as well as one of the largest holdings of marsanne anywhere in the world.
The winery also has the pretty neat distinction of being owned and operated by the same family since the mid 1920’s. Reginald Purbrick (a wonderfully Dickensian name) bought the site in 1925. Today it’s his great-grandson Alister Purbrick and daughter Hayley who run the show.
There’s plenty to discover in the range but for many wine lovers, it’s all about the marsanne. Forget about it as a blend, at Tahbilk they do it straight. It’s floral and tropical in its youth, then nutty and oily and oh-so-delicious with some age. Rarely do you see an Aussie winery so firmly linked with a grape variety, and one outside the mainstream at that. Tahbilk’s oldest marsanne vines were planted in 1927.
I’ve still got so much to learn (and to taste) but maybe one day, when wine education is on the curriculum for high school, I’ll return to teaching. I think I’ll be ready for it. But I still can’t pronounce ‘sommelier’.
Tahbilk Marsanne 2020
On first opening there are mellow, mealy notes of apricot and cashew, alongside some yellow fruit, papaya perhaps, and guava. A squeeze of lime and banana skin are also apparent. Textures are lively, with spring acidity that leaves you hanging for a second sip. Great concentration of tropical fruit with a fresh finish reminiscent of palate-cleansing pineapple sorbet. Deliciously slurp-able now but will age gracefully.
Tahbilk Marsanne Museum Release 2014
Crunchy multigrain toast, lemon butter, summer flowers and mustard fruits on the nose with a tinge of that petroleum character found in aged riesling. Palate shows more orchard fruits – sliced and baked peach and pear on flaky pasty with a soft oiliness that coats the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Still, there’s some fleshier, juicer fruit there too, giving the wine a bountiful vitality. Persistent length too – those last nutty nuances of the wine are in no rush to leave.
Tahbilk Roussane Marsanne Viognier 2018
Lifted and fresh with aromas of river stone, white rose, orange blossom, plum flesh and citrus. I was expecting interesting textures here – I certainly found them. Drier and chalkier at the front on the tongue, juicy with quartz-like minerality at the sides of the cheeks, it gets up into your gums and gives them a little pull, a little coaxing as if to say, ‘Hey, come out and play!’ A well-woven, complex wine that sits solidly in the mouth.
Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne 2014
That nuttiness is there again, it’s the first thing I notice but now it’s more layered, multiform. Toasted walnut, almond skin, crumbled macadamia. Rich lemon oil, glace ginger, and crystallized orchard and tropical fruits appear through the patchwork of nuts. Pleasantly and prickly spiced on the palate with a soft, steady flow of texture and acid. The wine carries a minerality that seems to solidify in your mouth after the fruit has dissipated, leaving your palate feeling like a cave full of sparkling crystals.
Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz 2015
Take a big sniff. There’s cracked pepper, beef sausage cooked over fire, dried herbs and ripe plum and black cherry. Now take a big sip. There’s a firm wall of concentrated fruit at the front of the palate that breaks down into a good backbone of tannin that draws regimental lines down the tongue. Textured and deep, this is a wine that is proud and plentiful.
Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2018
Pressed sage and dried rosemary lead the herbal charge on the nose with rich raspberry, cherry compote and a mix of dark and brown chocolate sauntering just below the surface. Talk about concentration – wow, this wine could be sitting its final WSET exam. It’s gorgeously ripe and powerful and the tannins are bold but with a splash of juicy acid that keeps it on its toes.
All the wines in the Tahbilk range can be purchased here.