Roger Jones: Is Yalumba’s The Caley 2015 Australia’s greatest Claret?

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The Caley 2015 is only the fourth vintage of Yalumba’s super premium blended red, but already it is turning heads and getting wine buyers reaching for their allocations. One such buyer, Roger Jones, tasted the wine in the virtual company of Yalumba chief Robert Hill-Smith and compares it against the three other vintages. Not only is it a fitting tribute to Hill-Smith’s ancestor Fred Caley Smith but it could just yet be Australia’s greatest Claret.

Robert Hill-Smith at the launch of the first vintage of The Caley

“What an absolutely brilliant wine showcasing how well a multi-regional, multi-grape blend can work,” writes Jones about The Caley 2015.

Last week Yalumba released The Caley 2015, the fourth vintage of The Caley that is made in honour of Fred Caley Smith (1864-1913) the Crocodile Dundee of his time.

In 1893 Fred departed the little village of Angaston, on the Eastern side of the Barossa Valley, to trek across the globe, visiting the USA, Europe, the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka. His thirst for knowledge of both science and horticulture would be reported back to his father in hundreds of beautifully written, detailed letters.

As an honoury Horticultural Commissioner for the South Australian government and a correspondent for the nation’s leading newspapers, Fred had letters of introduction that opened doors and started conversations, although I am not sure which one he used to get into the opium dens of San Francisco .

Although Yalumba has had an amazing journey with its wines, notably with The Signature and The Octavius, Robert Hill-Smith wanted to join the elite ‘Club’, to make a world class wine that would turn heads, especially in Bordeaux, and with The Caley under the stewardship of head winemaker Kevin Glastonbury he surely has put Yalumba into the elite with this flagship wine.

The Caley is based on the classic Aussie Claret a multi-regional blend of Cabernet (Coonawarra) and Shiraz (Barossa). “Claret?!” I hear you shout… well if it’s good enough for the French to add Shiraz to Bordeaux it must be fine for the guys Down Under.

Here I should clarify that the Bordelaise used to blend Syrah from the Rhône into their wines for the English market, it is also rumoured that those rail tracks built from numerous Rioja Bodegas direct to Bordeaux sometimes carried wine! To this day Château Palmer still makes a blend with Syrah, named; Historical XIX Century, it has no vintage printed on the bottle, has to say ‘Vin de Table’, does not have the Château logo or Palmer and is pretty impossible to get hold of, with a release price above £300 a bottle, and released spontaneously.

Fred Caley Smith – the legacy that lives on

Fred Caley Smith flexed his muscles in all sorts of ways, from the opium dens of San Francisco, to sourcing vines, to finding the best olives in South Africa for pressing oil – he lived a most extraordinary life. Here is a short extract from one of Fred’s letters, where he was travelling with Perus Johannes Cillie, the Horticultural Commissioner from South Africa.

“I sampled Mr J.L Howlands’ Pendulina and Mission Oil. The former was by far the best olive I have had. We must see if we can get this olive for oil making and the ‘Redding Picholine’ (Olive Tree) for picking in our orchard. I also learned his method for raising his olives from cuttings.” (Fred Caley Smith, Pomona 1893).

Anyway, as we return to modern times and the ‘Robert Redford of Yalumba’ – Robert Hill-Smith – (5th generation) and his daughter Jess (6th generation) presented a mini-vertical of all four The Caley vintages on a Zoom call to the UK last week, this was a double whammy for me as it gave me a chance to try these wines, that I have been collecting, without touching my own stash and, of course, to try the new vintage The Caley 2015.

In previous releases Hill-Smith has been known to pull out all the stops and showcase majestic wines such as a 1942 or 1944 Maurice O’Shea but alas on Zoom this would have been difficult, however we need not have worried as this was a masterful tasting showcasing the sheer brilliance of this wine and its style.

So how does The Caley 2015 taste alongside the previous three vintages?

Roger Jones, October 2020: about to demonstrate his version of the magic trick Find The Lady/ Caley

The Caley 2012

Both Hill-Smith and I agree that this is currently in a slumber, but allow the wine to evolve in a Caley Riedel glass for a few hours in a cool room and you get the idea; savoury red and blackcurrants, cedar and fresh tobacco, vanilla spice, as it opens there is a precise blackberry purity coming through the savoury leafy wine, this will evolve superbly over the next decade or more.

The Caley 2013

This is quite forward, leading with fruit, some peppermint and spices – there is an immense luxurious texture to the wine; the richness is balanced giving it a delicate fine aftertaste. This will need at least a decade to give it its full glory.

The Caley 2014

This certainly highlights that ‘Claret’ style with the delicate fruit – this vintage has a higher proportion of Cabernet – but this is a wondrous wine that is gently evolving harmoniously, tiny clusters of berries dance on the palate with a mere hint of delicate cedar and worn Chesterfield sofa. 

The Caley 2015

I don’t want to upset myself and say this is the best of the four, or annoy the older siblings in my cellar but it is! What an absolute brilliant wine showcasing how well a multi-regional, multi-grape blend can work.

Hill-Smith said it had the character of all three previous vintages put in one; precision, sophistication, vibrancy, vitality, fresh acidity and that classic iodine sea salt flavour from Coonawarra. This is more Barossa Shiraz-dominated but is restrained and complete. A world class wine – definitely a wine that will turn heads in years to come.

Thank you Robert and Jess for continuing to allow me to enjoy the Yalumba story, and the privilege to be a custodian of a small part of Fred’s legacy in my cellar.

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