Paxton Wines Master Class
Barry Weinman: 24th July 2018
Paxton Wines was established in McLaren Vale in 1979 by David Paxton, and (ironically for the region), focused on growing Chardonnay for a number of years before transitioning its focus to Shiraz.
Looking to improve the health of the vineyards, Paxton started the move to organic and biodynamic viticulture with the 50 acres of Quangdon Vineyard in 2004. Such were the immediate benefits in soil health that in 2005, the winery changed their entire operation of 200 hectares. Official certification was sought and achieved in 2011.
I am a big fan of organics, but on the topic of biodynamics I am less convinced as I do not really understand or indeed believe in a lot of the more spiritual aspects. Where I do get excited about biodynamics is that there is a strong focus on making the vineyards as healthy as possible using minimal interventions.
Paxton take a practical approach to biodynamics, adapting techniques to match the requirements of a modern winery. This is best demonstrated at harvest, where grapes are harvested when they reach optimal ripeness, regardless of whether it is a fruit/flower/root day etc. Making high quality wine is, after all, the primary focus of the winery and, from a logistical perspective, it would be near impossible to pick all the fruit in such compressed timelines.
Paxton now owns 7 vineyards in McLaren Vale, 6 of which focus on Shiraz. The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the Elizabeth Jane vineyard, which was planted in the 1870s, and has undergone extensive rehabilitation in recent years.
Winemaker Richard Freebairn hails from Western Australia and has been in charge of winemaking at Paxton for the last four years.
Overall, the value offered is excellent and, f rom a quality versus value perspective, the Jones Block was the highlight for me!
N.B. All prices are RRP, though there are significant discounts available from the cellar door
Paxton – Guesser – White Blend – 2017 ($18). From a cooler year in McLaren Vale. A field blend of what is growing in the Thomas vineyard, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris: Stone fruit and tropical notes, with nice acid, mouth-feel and good length. A great value everyday drink this spring.
Paxton – Pinot Gris – 2018 ($22). Lemon, lime and floral notes on the nose. The palate is a textural treat, with a supple, creamy mouthfeel and just a touch of residual sugar to add balance. Good length, with fresh acidity to keep the finish fresh. Will be a delight with lemon-infused roast chicken.
Paxton – Chardonnay – Thomas Block – 2016 ($25). Thomas Block is a cooler vineyard that is up to 2 degrees cooler than the rest of the region. 40% of the fruit was pressed to barrel (small proportion new) with wild yeast fermentation. There was no inoculated for malolactic fermentation, but it is welcomed if it occurs spontaneously. The remaining 60% is fermented in tank for freshness, with a small amount of lees stirring to add depth. The wine shows pineapple fruit and bright acidity. Whilst not overly dense, it has decent complexity and length, with hints of cashew nut and creamy lees texture. An approachable Chardonnay that makes for good drinking.
Paxton – Rose – 2017 ($20). A Shiraz/Grenache blend that has a lovely salmon colour. Turkish delight aromatics, gentle red fruits, with just enough acidity to keep the palate fresh. Uncomplicated, easy drinking, with a modest level of residual sugar adding texture/mouth-feel.
Paxton – Guesser – Red – 2016 ($18). A red blend. Juicy, succulent and vibrant, with soft tannins and accessible berry fruit. An easy drinking red that will keep the in-laws happy with a Sunday roast.
Paxton – Graciano – 2017 ($30). In McLaren Vale, Graciano needs a lot of management in the vineyard so as to keep the canopy up to protect the fruit. To manage yields, 50% of the crop is dropped green, to ensure the concentration of the finished wine. It has an unusual nose that is savoury and just a bit funky. The palate is textured and tight, with the fine acidity keeping everything in check. The winemaker suggests that this will age very well in the long term, but my preference would be to enjoy it with a hearty bowl of lamb ragout over the next few years.
Paxton – Shiraz – NOW – 2018 ($25). NOW = Natural Organic Wine. Despite the name natural, it is worth noting that this is clean and very well made. It is preservative-free and bottled early (May) to maintain the fruit. Vibrant, almost candied fruit on the nose leads to a palate that is a little shy to start. There is, however, a core of delicious ripe fruit that runs the length of the palate. Try with a pizza over the next year or two.
Paxton – Shiraz/Grenache – AAA – 2016 ($20). This is delicious. The vibrant Grenache fruit adds instant appeal, whilst the core of Shiraz adds structure. Cherry and plum fruit, with supple spice. Textured and chewy, with fine tannins and acid. Good now with food, but will really hit its straps with another 3-5 years in the bottle. A 65/35 blend that is primarily aged in older oak.
Paxton – Shiraz – MV – 2016 ($20). The MV in the title reflects the fact that this wine is from McLaren Vale, but also that it is multi vineyard. Souring berry fruit is the main focus here. The savoury finish is tight and linear, with good length and chewy, textural components. The oak (10% new) adds texture, but does not cloud the fruit. With air, the fruit opens up and gets quite lively. Excellent value drinking!
Paxton – Shiraz – Quandong Farm – 2015 ($30). Ripe black currant and plum fruit that is quite powerful. Ripe berry fruit the focus of the vibrant palate. Approachable and lovely drinking, with silky tannins. A touch of carbonic maceration adds vibrancy. 10 months in French oak (30% new). Interestingly, the oak has no toasting, as it is used primarily for texture.
Paxton – Shiraz – Jones Block – 2015 ($40). The Jones Block was planted in 1960s, and there is more density to the fruit than any of the previous wines. Powerful and ripe, with more obvious oak and with hints of vanilla and spice. An impressive wine that has some of the chocolate-berry fruit characters that I associate with McLaren Vale Shiraz. Fine tannins and oak add texture and complexity. The fruit is hand-picked, spends 18 months in oak (40% new/60% 2 y/o) which has had medium-toast and includes a small percentage of American oak.
Paxton – Elizabeth Jean – 2015 ($100). The Elizabeth Jean vineyard is part of the Thomas Block, and as befitting the special nature of the vineyard, the fruit is handpicked, hand plunged and pressed to French oak (50% new) to complete fermentation. This wine has a real “wow” factor. The increased concentration here is noticeable. Powerful, dense and intense, yet the finish is neither heavy nor cloying. The tannins are very fine and elegant, adding texture to the close. A superb wine that could be enjoyed anytime over the next 20 years+.