By Erin Larkin, The Wine Advocate, July 2022
2017 The Laird
I poured the 2017 The Laird, set it aside and got about doing other jobs for 45 minutes or so, to give it some room to breathe. And it does breathe. It has its own pulse and beat and life, and it flexes and moves in the mouth. This is incredibly enveloping, with aromas reminiscent of campfire coals, charred eucalyptus, lamb fat, roasted beetroot, black tea and a prowling sort of countenance. In the mouth, the wine is bonded and cohesive and seamless, there are no gaps between anything, no space between fruit, oak and tannin; it all comes as one. While this is a singular wine, it is so big and concentrated that it needs no accompaniment other than some fresh air and a good mate. It's denser than osmium and is impenetrable at this stage.
The... how to describe this... it's like a kaleidoscopic vortex of midnight flavor (dark, dense, brooding and spicy), swirling tannins and endlessly plush length. The Viognier in this 2019 RunRig has been absorbed somehow, compressed by the warm, low-yielding vintage that birthed it. It has been pushed down into the reaches of the Shiraz, which is a very good thing, as its propensity for slinky-like bounce and spiral needs some limiting. This is insanely complex yet also balanced. Charry oak frames the wines from all sides, but like the gravity pull on the earth from the sun, the oak is drawn inexorably inward. Pretty impressive, but this wine always is. A beast unto itself, wines like this have few peers.
2019 The Factor
This is quintessential Barossa. The red dirt in the ground rises up in the glass and transports me right back there: middle summer, hot, spicy air blowing across the tops of old vines. It's evocative. This 2019 The Factor is Port-y, concentrated and savory as all hell, with charred barrels, lamb fat, black pepper, salted licorice, pomegranate molasses and aniseed. This is about as big as I can cope with and still enjoy it; it takes density and intensity to a whole new level—no surprise for the vintage, the region and the producer. A perfect storm of thunderous strength. Like staring into the abyss . . . a little bit scary, but transfixing nonetheless.
97+ points2019 followed the warm (but excellent) 2018 in the Barossa, and was marred by low yields and very concentrated fruit. 2020 was another step further down that low-yielding, dry track, completing a trio of concentrated, brooding vintages that are, as the years go by, harder and harder to get ahold of. So, the 2019 Descendant includes Viognier skins in the ferment, usually around 2%, and the fruit is sourced from vines planted from cuttings from the RunRig Vineyard. A baby Runrig, if you will. So, this is silky, slippery, tannic and intense, with layers of vibrant raspberry, jasmine tea, red licorice, jelly snakes and deli meat. As usual for the Torbreck reds, the texture of the wine is velvety, plush, intense and enveloping. This ages very well, we know it does, but if you must drink it early, decant it!
2020 The Struie
If ever there was a high-octane vintage in the Barossa, it would be 2020. Warm and the second in a row of drought conditions, yields were down as much as 70% in some areas. So, to look at this inky black 2020 The Struie in the glass, the year that birthed it makes sense. As ever, a blend of Barossa and Eden, with cigar box, tobacco leaf, blackberries, mulberries, salted licorice and more density of tannin than you can poke a stick at. In the mouth, the texture is velvety and plush; however, the tannins need air to help them release the fruit as we know they will. Decant it or risk missing the best this has to offer. I would say this also: this kind of wine is what made Barossa (and by extension, Australia) famous, and the modern iteration of it here shows the big, muscly style is still valid and exciting, especially when executed with this kind of nuance and detail. Really impressive.
2020 The Gask
Eden Valley. The 2020 The Gask is dense and muscular, with a wall of fruit that rises up in the mouth. It's inky and concentrated, with mulberries, blueberry compote, salted licorice, blood plums and layers of earth, black tea and silty tannins. There's a blackcurrant pastille elegance here that tells us it's Eden down to its blood and bone. Speaking of . . . there's a marrow/charred lamb fat character that edges the fruit. It only serves to make it all the more delicious.
2021 Woodcutter's Shiraz
Ever the reliable wine in the Torbreck lineup (challenged only by the beauty of the Steading, but nevertheless), the Woodcutters has tightened up over time. My first introduction to it almost 10 years ago recalls a plush, full-bodied wine that delivered all the Barossa feels and flavors that one could possibly hope for. These days, and today specifically, the 2021 Woodcutter's Shiraz is tight and tense, with black brooding fruit set to a rigging of firm, savory tannins. The oak is subliminal in this wine, leaving only the tannins to shape the fruit. Really handled well. Impressive.
2021 Hillside Vineyard Shiraz Roussanne
This is interesting—the Roussanne acts somewhat as Viognier does in the blend—it lifts the florals out of the glass and impacts the texture in the mouth. However, where it differs is the impact on the tannins. The Roussanne seems to open up the tannins and loosen the knit, while Viognier can amplify but slick the tannins, tightening everything up, contributing to that visceral feels that they can have. This 2021 Hillside Vineyard Shiraz Roussanne has an abundance of red berries, pineapple, apricot kernel, raspberries and licorice, all framed by subtle oak. Really smart!