In retrospect there was no need for me to have been shocked. It all made perfect sense. If anyone was going to do it, these were the guys. But my world still changed.
The guys in question were the Swinney family, long-time graziers and grape growers in remote Frankland River, WA, plus Rob Mann, one of the finest winemakers this country has produced. And what have they done to change my world? Together they have just made the most southern Rhône-inspired grenache this country has ever seen, plus some shiraz that is more Hermitage than Grange or any other Australian shiraz might ever have been.
Matt Swinney said to me the other day that he actually got criticised by one person for releasing his two premier wines, the Swinney Farvie Shiraz and Swinney Farvie Grenache (both 2018 vintage) for $150 per bottle. On what basis could he charge that amount for the first release of an entirely unknown wine? Aside from the facts that these are amongst the most game-changing wines created in this country for 25 years and they’re limited to a mere 150 dozen of each, they stack up pretty evenly against French benchmarks costing between 2-8 times that amount.
Both deliver opulent layers of complex perfume, a remarkable core of luxuriant fruit and a structure of tightly integrated firm and drying tannins that deliver structure rarely seen in wines from this country. They are fullish to medium in weight and reveal the kind of smoky, savoury and mineral qualities sought after in the best from the Rhône Valley. Yet they are Australian wines, and proudly so, not French.
Importantly, these wines were made by Rob Mann – the reason being that with such outstanding fruit they needed a winemaker of the highest level who could also park his or her own ego to the side. The thing about Mann’s wines is that they’re superbly balanced, structured and expressive – there is no winemaking ego that needs to be fed with an individual stamp or style. Many Australian winemakers would do better if they heeded this lesson.
Now for the really good news. For those of us to whom $150 represents just too steep a challenge for daily consumption, the second collection of Swinney red wines from 2018, which comprise a Shiraz, a Grenache and a Shiraz Mourvèdre Grenache, each deliver what I rate as gold medal quality (not something I ever dish out for the fun of it) for $42 per bottle. These are deeply scented, powerful and ethereal wines of finesse and style. They’re spicy and perfumed, with wonderful gravelly textures and savoury aspects. Each offers extraordinary value.
Every now and again it’s my luck to experience one of those moments that makes Australian wine a better thing. This release definitely rates amongst them. Do yourself a favour and find out why.