Wine Legends 2013
Lindeman’s, Bin 1590 Shiraz 1959 Hunter Valley, Australia
A legend because…
In the 1950s and 1960s, winemakers at Australia’s leading wineries were allowed to try their hand at small lots of outstanding wines, giving those wines ‘bin numbers’ to differentiate them from regular and more commercial bottlings. Many of these wines – white as well as red – were soon recognised as classics, especially the series produced by Lindeman’s, which was a brand devoted to Hunter Valley wines at that time. The red Burgundies were produced mostly from Shiraz.
Hans Mollenhauer, a food technologist from Germany, was the chief winemaker at Lindeman’s Ben Ean winery, and began producing limitedproduction ‘bin’ wines in 1953. He was responsible for the celebrated Bin 1590. Ray Kidd was also involved in producing this wine, as was Karl Stockhausen, who was about to succeed Mollenhauer as Lindeman’s chief winemaker. This was a time when Hunter Valley wines, produced not only by Lindeman’s but by McWilliams, were widely regarded as Australia’s finest.
The 1959 harvest in the Hunter Valley was delayed by outbreaks of rain – not an unusual occurrence in this region. Despite this, the vines, though low-yielding in 1959, produced fully ripe fruit, and Hunter growers celebrated what they considered a perfect vintage. The Lindeman’s team was not slow to recognise the quality of the Shiraz grown in their Ben Ean vineyard, and a new bin wine was born.
The Ben Ean vineyard, like other top sites in the region, is composed of red volcanic soil with clay. It was customary to assess the new wines after vintage, and the best lots were set aside for special treatment, eventually to be released as bin wines. These lots often came from parcels of very old vines – up to 70 years old – that were low-yielding and gave wine of remarkable concentration. In less than outstanding vintages, such as 1955 and 1960, no bin wines were produced.
Bin 1590 was part of the winery’s Hunter River Burgundy Series. In those days Australian wineries often referred to their Shiraz blends as Burgundy. Some of the Lindeman’s Burgundies did contain a minuscule quantity of Pinot Noir, but the 1959 was pure Shiraz. (Curiously, according to Len Evans, the Bin 1590 was initially labeled as Claret, but eventually released as a Burgundy.) The wine was fermented in open concrete vats, with wild yeast, then aged for around 18 months in barriques, mostly Nevers, before being bottled. Bin 1590 was bottled on 21 October 1960, and James Halliday notes that to signal the quality of the wine, the decision was taken to use an imported Bordeaux bottle. Bin wines were generally given long ageing – as long as 17 years for the 1965 – before commercial release, but Bin 1590 was released much more rapidly. It was also entered into Australian wine shows. Bin 1590’s first exposure to the system was in 1963, and it won a number of gold medals over the following decade.
In 1985 James Halliday, in his Australian Wine Compendium, noted the wine’s ‘light to medium garnet-red colour’ and its ‘soft but infinitely complex amalgam of leather, earth and vegetative aromas, yet with the fruit to carry all those things. The palate is a logical extension of the bouquet: the velvety softness gives an allusion of lightness, but the wine has both the alcohol and the structure to go on almost indefinitely.’ When he tasted the wine again later he said: ‘A gloriously fragrant and complex bouquet with a magnificent array of aromas from sweet berry through liquorice to sweet leather.’ Hunter Valley Shiraz, he concluded, does ‘not come any better than this’. The Australian wine writer Ken Gargett recalls Len Evans proclaiming after a wine dinner in around 2006, at which it was served, that Bin 1590 was ‘the greatest Hunter wine of the last 50 years’. Gargett himself found it ‘mature and complex, with notes ranging from animal hide to campfire… richly flavoured, a hint of beefstock. Amazingly elegant. Though obviously mature, a very long, complex wine. Extraordinary.’
Bottles produced 6,000 approx
Composition 100% Shiraz
Release price AUD$26
Price today last sale price (2012) was £1,477