Grosset’s Gaia defies global warming

THINK Jeffrey Grosset, think riesling. His Polish Hill and Watervale-sourced wines are generally regarded as Australia’s best, year in, year out. His Adelaide Hills pinot noir and chardonnay probably come next, semillon sauvignon blanc a worthy companion.

The one wine not to receive its due is his Gaia, a cabernet sauvignon-dominant wine, with 10% to 25% cabernet franc, and (historically) up to 10% merlot, the last no longer part of the blend. Like all the Grosset wines, it is fastidiously estate-grown, planted between ’86 and ’88 at an altitude of 510m on Mount Horrocks, the highest vineyard in the Clare Valley. It is open to the wind, regardless of direction, and the soils are lean and rocky, so much so that every post in the vineyard required drilling.

All up, it was – and is – a recipe for an elegant medium-bodied style, rather than the fuller-bodied norm of the Clare Valley. The average temperature is more than 1C cooler than the valley floor. Dr Richard Smart, one of the early global warming prophets, looked at the site before it was planted and observed, “This will probably give you 20 years’ leeway.” Well, Jeffrey Grosset is still counting, with no sign of Armageddon so far.

Apart from scrupulous care and attention to detail, there is nothing unusual in the winemaking. Without carrying a banner, the aim is to interfere as little as possible in the process. The average production of 700 dozen sells out every year, so Grosset is not the least concerned about its lower profile.

When he conceived the idea of staging a vertical tasting of every wine made and bottled since the first vintage in ’90, he limited the invitees to two: Andrew Caillard and myself.

It will be a first and last such tasting, for it was the last bottle of ’92, and one of three or four bottles with the other early vintages. Full notes of every wine are on Here I focus on the current vintage, ’09, and the two highlights of the tasting of thoroughbred wines of the highest class.

2009 Grosset Gaia
A 75/25% blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, the colour bright crimson-purple, the aromas and flavours circling around cassis. In one sense it is impossibly young, in another juicy and seductive, the dichotomy due to the tannins that will see it through a quarter of a century (and very likely more). The balance, texture and depth of the wine are excellent. It is a wine that Jeffrey Grosset particularly likes. 13.5% alc; screwcap
96 points; drink to 2034; $62

2006 Grosset Gaia
The strong, deep purple hue introduces an outstanding young wine, driven by layers of red and blackcurrant fruit, backed by fine but persistent tannins, quality French oak and a hint of black olive. It has evolved well over the past two years, but is still medium- to full-bodied, and will slim down to medium-bodied in the decades to come. 14% alc; screwcap
96 points; drink to 2031; $60

1996 Grosset Gaia
This is such a glorious wine, it was only after some hesitation that a second bottle was opened, conclusively demonstrating that the first was slightly oxidised. The colour is still brimming with youth, the fragrant bouquet opening with red berries, then blackcurrant and cedar unfolding. The palate has great drive, length and line, providing a reprise of the bouquet, adding finely honed tannins. A profound and compelling wine. 13.5% alc; cork
96 points; drink to 2012; $60