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An unlikely encounter with an Austrian in Australia – Salomon wines

Decanter content director John Stimpfig catches up with Bertold Salomon at the Australia Day Tasting in London and finds five wines to recommend from this highly regarded Austrian producer now living ‘down under’…

As ever, the annual Australia Day Tasting in London on 26 January was full of surprises. The first was the number of people who showed up, resulting in me and many others having to queue around the block just to get in.

However, the most memorable and pleasant surprise was bumping into the languid and charming Austrian, Bertold Salomon – or Bert as he likes to be called. The last time I’d seen him was in Vienna in the late 90s when he ran the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Salomon, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the film actor Donald Sutherland, was well known to me for making exceptional wines at Salomon Undhof in his homeland. But what I hadn’t realised, until this tasting, was that he has also been doing the very same thing in South Australia since the last millennium.

From Austria to South Australia

In 1995, he and his wife Gertrud bought the 50ha of gentle hillside land in the Finniss River Valley, which is part of the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide. There they planted Syrah/Shiraz, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre to take advantage of the cool climate – the estate is just 10km from the Southern Ocean.

‘The elevation of 120m above sea level and the soil composition in Finniss are our most important viticultural assets,’ Bert told me. According to Salomon, the property’s thin topsoil, a mix of gravel and glacial sand, gives good drainage. At the same time, the calcareous red and orange clay in the subsoil retains the right amount of water.

‘The microclimate is wonderful for ripening the grapes,’ he added. ‘You taste the warmth of the midday in their fruit and the chilled air of the nearby Southern Ocean in their acids.’

For local knowledge and expertise, Salomon has been helped from the outset by his longtime friend Mike Farmilo, who was Penfold’s chief red winemaker until 1997. It has clearly been a winning combination.

Their first vintage was in 1998 and since 2002, Bertold and his family live between Australia and Austria, happily harvesting in both countries. ‘Now, I am proudly part Australian,’ he beamed.

And who can blame I was absolutely enthralled by these beautifully true and crafted wines, which I had never known about, let alone tasted. To me, they define style, purity, authenticity and pleasure in equal measure.

My favourite Salomon Wines from the tasting

Salomon Estate, Fleurieu Peninsula Syrah Viognier 2013

This comes from the property’s ‘Olive Tree’ block and is very much made in a Côte-Rotie style. The blend is 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier resulting in a hauntingly perfumed nose of violets and damsons. There’s more of the same on the palate with floral lift, precision and elegance. The attack is juicy and the tannins are skillfully woven. Utterly balanced and beguiling.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Drink: 2016-2022.

Score: 92+ points

Suggested Stockists: Lea & Sandeman, UK, £19.50 / Wine Exchange, California, $19.98 (2010 vintage)

Salomon Estate, Norwood Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Deep youthful colour and minty black fruit nose. In the mouth this is delightfully delineated with flavours of eucalyptus, cassis, liquorice, cocoa and minerals. Wonderfully framed with judicious oak, fresh acidity and firm tannins, the finish is delicious and compelling. Needs food and time.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Drink: 2018-2027

Score: 92 points

Suggested Stockists: Lea & Sandeman, UK, £13.50  / Sherry-Lehman, New York, $17.86 (January Sale)

Salomon Estate, Aestatis Grenache Syrah Mourvedre 2009

Arguably the best GSM blend I have tasted in the last twelve months. The wine comes predominantly from bush vines most of which are 85 years old. Sweet, lifted intense, vibrant nose with succulent fresh fruit notes of wild strawberries, plums, tea, toffee and spice. Though 14.5% the wine is so vivacious, balanced and alive that the alcohol is barely perceptible. This combines seriousness and sheer hedonistic pleasure. A true terroir wine that is just coming into its own.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Drink: 2016-2020

Score: 94 points

Suggested Stockists: Lea & Sandeman, UK, $34.95

Salomon Estate, Finniss River Shiraz 2012

This wine hails from the Sea Eagle Vineyard and possesses a ripe, dark fruit profile with blackberries and mulberries combined with chocolate, iron, pepper, liquorice and rippling tannins. Great structure, mouthfeel, texture and length.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Drink: 2016-2024

Score: 93 points

Suggested Stockists: Lea & Sandeman, UK / Sherry-Lehmann, New York, $39.95

Salomon Estate, Alttus Shiraz 2010

This is Bertold’s top single vineyard Shiraz which is only wheeled out in the very best years. The style is top-class cool climate shiraz with layers of sweet chocolate, blackcurrant and damson fruit. There’s also hints of woodsmoke, minerals and spice. The fine grained tannins are effortlessly ripe and round while the acidity is clean and balanced. Exquisite oak (small barrels for 18 months, 50% new French oak) handling gives this wine another dimension. Sensationally long and enjoyable. Expensive, but definitely vaut le detour.

Alcohol: 14.5%

Drink: 2016-2030

Score: 95 points

Suggested Stockists: RRP£76.95 Lea & Sandeman. The 2001 vintage is available online, at Lea & Sandeman in the UK for £79.95 and at Sherry-Lehmann, New York, for $99.95

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