This was a tasting session organised by Sommeliers Australia and Imbibo Wines in June 2012 at Pei Modern in Melbourne. I have had previous encounters with Luke Lambert at tastings of his wines but none when he could open up about his approach and philosophy to winemaking. That made for a very insightful event and I must admit that I have become more appreciative of his wines after this.
All along, I have had the notion that the biggest hurdle to Luke’s wines is that they demand that you spend a significant amount time with them getting to know them more intimately as time goes by. These wines aren’t to be whipped out over casual group dinners. Do so at risk of being completely underwhelmed by them. Instead, the rewards go to the patient few who plonk themselves into the sofa on a lazy weekend and start swirling the juice in their glass. As a consumer, Luke really beats himself up too much for not attaining perfection in each and every single one of his wines. I mean the feeling I got was that the poor guy just feels awful for selling a wine that he has the notion of ‘well, I really should’ve done that back then’. But as a person who enjoys showcasing wines to others and who loves hearing the stories behind the wines, this winery is without a doubt right up there with the best of them.
The focus of the day’s tasting was Luke’s range of syrah. These find their origins in a single vineyard located in a hidden-away pocket of the Yarra Valley. The Syrah and Reserve Syrah are essentially from the same vineyard. The only difference being that fruit for the Reserve come from the higher elevated and wind exposed top crops of the North-West facing hill. The soil there is of poor fertility and is composed of rock and clay – ingredients for good shiraz. The two parcels are separated by 70m only, but as the following notes indicate this leads to amazing distinct wines of unique characteristics.
The winemaking approach is minimalistic – although that doesn’t mean do absolutely nothing! Typically, there is a fair portion of whole bunch use, no acidification, minimal use of sulphur for preservation, and fermentation occurs in old oak barrels (circa 1984) which are not shaven down. As one can guess, any slight alterations could therefore dramatically impact on the final wines. Such is the lesson of tough love really.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2007
The 2007 vintage was a very hot season so hang time was short. There was 30-50% whole bunch use, which was a smart move as this reduced the tannin load to acceptable levels. Medium+ ruby colour, this is a somewhat meaty wine with notes of dark berry, savory cherry and a fade of tomato leaf. Medium-bodied, there is medium acidity with fine grained tannins. Nice sour cherry and deep currant flavours, 12.6% alc. As Luke describes it: the fruit is low, but the finish is long lasting. Drink now – 2017. 88/100.
Luke Lambert Reserve Syrah 2007
Slightly different from the Syrah in its inclusion of 100% whole bunch, this med+ ruby coloured wine has a more restrained nose with savory pepperberries and small dark berries. Moderately toned structure wise, the acidity is balanced by equivalent medium tannin load. 12.5% alc. Earthy blackberry fruit on the palate fade in to an easy finish, but this wine is calling out for fresher acidity. The tough vintage conditions make an already difficult crop even more challenging. Suggested food pairing – veal and rabbit. Preservative-free. Drink now – 2017. 88-89/100.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2008
Intense dark ruby colour with broad youthful perfume of berry fruit, touch of black pepper flint and a hint of brett. Medium+ bodied, more appealing than the 2007s, there is medium+ acidity and tannins. Concentrated flavours of dark berry fruit and red currants on the finish. 13% alc. Drink now – 2019+. 90-91/100.
Luke Lambert Reserve Syrah 2008
More intensely colour is the 08 Reserve which is more robust in its aromatics and would match nicely with cured meats. Lovely youthful notes of squished dark berry clusters with a touch of cherry pith. Medium+ bodied, there is fleshy acidity but medium tannin load. 12.5% alc. Broad spectrum on the palate, fleshy berries, black cherry flavours. Drink 2015 – 2020. 92/100.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2010
The 2010 vintage is widely regarded as excellent given the drought and fires of previous seasons. However, the 2010 Syrah was slightly acidified because of the later harvest. Dark ruby colour, this had a lovely bouquet of blackberries, red currants and pepperish florals. Med+ bodied wine, blackcurrant fruit with red cherry and slightly stalky. Med+ level of youthful tannins, the acidity appears somewhat riper than the 07s and 08s. Lovely layered finish. Drink now – 2020. 93+/100.
Luke Lambert Reserve Syrah 2010
You can immediately spy the distinct difference between the 2010 Reserve Syrah and the ‘Estate’ label. Dark ruby coloured, this is more brooding with a deeper core of dark berry perfume, raw mocha and hot flinty minerality. This has me thinking of pork stew with rosemary and lavender. Med+ – full-bodied, there is fleshy acidity with moderate tannins. More serious flavours which make you pause and think, compared to the Syrah which I’d be happy to drink with a mere single thought. Great intensity of flavours, long finish and this should age well. Drink now – 2025. 94/100.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2006 (in magnum)
30% whole bunch in this sulphite free wine in a year where there was no Reserve, so fruit from the entire block went into this one Syrah offering. Dark ruby colour, youthful purple fruit, perfumed and smoky with a hint of green olive. A fleshy wine, med-bodied, med+ acidity, medium fine, velvety tannins. A rounded palate profile, great with antipesto. Drink now – 2017. 90-91/100.
Luke Lambert Syrah 2004 (first wine made – not released)
We were fortunate to be treated to Luke’s first attempt at syrah from this plot of land which he had held back because of uncertainties over the acceptance of this style of wine. 11.8% alc. Dark ruby colour, restrained nose with flashes of savory sausage meat, sourdough, olive, all riding atop a layer of dark berry fruit. A lovely textured wine, the med+ fine tannins balance the fleshy acidity very well. Almost Italian-like in manner Peppery fennel on the finish. Drink now – 2015. 92/100. Luke reckons this one is on the way down, and might have benefited from 0.5% more alcohol right from the beginning.
The retail price for the Syrah is AUD$38 and the Reserve is AUD$65. Luke also works with Nebbiolo from the Heathcote region which I also highly recommend.