John Duval examines grapes at his winery in the Barossa Valley in Australia. (Photo courtesy of John Duval Wines)
You may not know John Duval, but you probably know Grange, one of the most legendary wines in the world.
Made in Australia by Penfolds, Grange is a very expensive, age worthy Shiraz that is never short of accolades by critics and collectors.
Duval was the custodian of Grange for 16 years and served Penfolds for 28 years.
His work earned Grange numerous awards during his tenure and in the process Duval became one of the most respected winemakers in Australia. He left in 2002 to launch his own label, John Duval Wines.
We couldn’t help but wonder whether he would replicate the Grange style when he made his first Shiraz under his own name.
But, when we joined him for lunch, he was quick to dismiss that idea.
“I’m not trying to duplicate what I learned at Penfolds,” Duval said. “I just want to do something for myself and for my family.”
Raised on a South Australian farm with three generations of grape growers preceding him, Duval built a stellar reputation as a craftsman of prestigious wines.
Several of Penfolds’ best wines have his name behind them, even if his name isn’t on them.
“It took me 30 years to get my name on a label,” he quipped.
He did learn from Penfolds that arguably the best Australian wine-growing region in the Barossa Valley.
He has used its diverse soil to create some incredibly intensive wines from old vines owned by growers proud to be associated with him.
From the start, critics scored his wines 90-plus points.
We were thankful to discover that the reds weren’t the hedonistic, high-alcohol fruit bombs that have characterized many top-selling labels in Australia. Duval wines are more refined and elegant, much like the Penfolds style.
Duval focused first on the red grapes – Shiraz, Grenache and mourvedre - but he says he got tired of pouring someone else’s white wine when he did trade tastings.
So, he launched his first white wine, Plexus MRV ($36), in 2010.
A blend of marsanne, rousanne and viognier, Plexus MRV takes advantages of each grape’s characteristics. Nicely integrated, it has a lime and honeysuckle aroma with balanced acidity and generous, stone fruit flavors and a touch of fennel and mineral. The interpretation of Plexus says it all: “a combination of elements into a coherent structure.”
However good the white blend, the reds are Duval’s trademark.
The 2008 John Duval Plexus SGM ($36) is a blend of grenache, grenache and mourvedre. The Shiraz gives the wine good structure. Duval says he is looking for the savory notes and balance in his wines. The SGM shows vibrant dark berry fruit and good tannins.
We liked the 2009 Entity ($36) made entire from Shiraz grapes grown on 100-year-old vines. It is all barrel fermented for 17 months in French oak barrels - 35 percent in new oak. The flavors are classic Barossa Shiraz with black berry and raspberry flavors, balanced acidity and elegance. This wine will age for 10-12 years at least.
The final wine we tasted was the 2008 John Duval Eligo ($100), the winemaker’s most prestigious and costly Shiraz. The name means “to push out” and we suspect that’s what will happen after it ages for a couple of decades. Wow, what power. Very rich texture and complex blackberry and blueberry flavors come from hand-selected grapes.
Maybe the Eligo is not Grange, but it could achieve its reputation very quickly.