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Wolf Blass Legend: Black Label 40 years on

Wolf Blass chief winemaker Chris Hatcher was recently in town to celebrate 50 years of the brand and also the 40th vintage of Wolf Blass Black Label. Decanter.com went along to meet him.

Chris Hatcher joined Australian wine giant Wolf Blass in 1987 as senior winemaker for white and sparkling wines and made the step up to chief winemaker in 1996.

‘Hatch’ has been responsible for numerous awards for both the Wolf Blass range and achieved many accolades personally.

His insight into the Wolf Blass history, winemaking changes over the decades and Wolf Blass the man himself made Hatcher the perfect host to take us through a vertical of Black Label.

See our favourite Wolf Blass Black Label vintages from this vertical tasting

The beginning

German-born Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass set up his eponymous brand in Australia in 1966.

In 1973, ‘Wolfy’ created the first vintage of Black Label, by cross blending his best barrels of Grey Label to make a new, premium wine.

There was immediate success with the first three vintages; 1973, 1974 and 1975 all winning the celebrated Jimmy Watson Trophy.

This is the only time a wine has achieved a hat trick in the history of the competition.

With only two bottles left of the 1973, we started our tasting with the 1974, of which there a six bottles left in Wolf Blass’ possession.

Chris Hatcher

Wolf Blass Black Label Blend

‘Blends of the Black Label change every year to try and ensure consistency of the style Wolfy originally created,’ Hatcher told us.

‘Soft tannins and a plush mid palate… Wolfy always thought that a wine should be ready to drink when they are sold.’

The 1998 is a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the 2002 is made up of 53% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec.

‘We’ve started adding Malbec into the blend as it really adds something… but it only ripens properly in the best years’ Hatcher told us. Volumes also vary although it is ‘generally around 2,000 cases’.

Other changes in the wine style have seen a move away from American oak which ‘Wolf used to get sweetness on the palate,’ Hatcher told us.

‘Today we get it from the fruit’, with higher use in French oak and second fill barrels. Hatcher put this down to the ‘change in viticulture’ – the quality of grapes are now much higher than in the 70’s due to advances in viticultural practices, illustrated by the move from ‘farmers to viticulturists’.

The 2002 vintage was the first experiment under stelvin; it was bottled half under cork and under screw cap.

Hatcher was a clearly huge fan of screwcap pointing to the bottle variation in the older wines. Two of the 1974 were served as an illustration; in a blind tasting, you would have serious trouble pointing to them as the same wine.

Current vintages can be bought at around £60 per bottle in the UK or $70 in the US, with back vintages coming up at auction for around the same price.

Tasted vintages: 1974, 1979,  1982, 1984, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2010, 2012 40th Vintage

The Decanter interview: Wolf Blass

Through sheer force of character, this German-born winemaker turned a few hogsheads of Australian wine into a multi-million dollar business

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