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Head And Shoulders Above The Rest

By Alex Russell on September 4, 2012 in Other

Photo: Michael Legge

A few years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to a guy called Alex Head. He’s a Bondi guy who has sold wine, distributed wine and now he makes it too.

Having made wine with some great wineries (Torbreck, Tyrrell’s, Cirillo), Head set out on his own. He started with Barossa Shiraz, picking two distinct sites: one in the Stonewell sub-region (lighter soils) and one from the Moppa sub-region (darker soils).

Over in the Northern Rhône (the main region for Shiraz in France), in an area called Côte-Rôtie, the growing area is divided into two slopes: the Côte Blonde and the Côte Brune. Legend has it that two daughters (a blonde and a brunette) inherited the slopes, which magically took on the characteristics of the daughters, producing very different styles of wine. As with Stonewell and Moppa, the blonde and the brunette slopes in Côte-Rôtie are all about the soil colour, but it’s a romantic story, isn’t it?

And so, Alex (who had clearly done his homework) named his first wines the Blonde and the Brunette. The Blonde (~$45), which includes a small amount of Viognier, is a lively, vivacious red with a very fruit-forward style, while the Brunette (~$55) is much more elegant, almost sophisticated. Both get rave reviews, usually around 95-97 points, which is absolutely phenomenal. The 2009 Blonde (all gone now) made it into Halliday’s top 100 with 97 points, while the 2010 Blonde scored 96 points.

Then comes the Head Red Shiraz, which is a barrel cull of the Blonde and Brunette, released before the top two come out. It’s around $25 a bottle and is one of the most popular wines I sell. This year, Head also introduced his new Red Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (also $25). Both are fruit-driven numbers that’ll keep anyone happy. If you’re a Barossa Shiraz drinker (or even just a red wine drinker), you must try the reds. Previous vintages of the Head Red Shiraz have scored 94-95 points from Halliday.

Next is a really different style of Shiraz, ‘The Contrarian’ (~$38), from Greenock. When I first tried this wine I didn’t fully understand it, because I had just opened the bottle. I recently tried another bottle and gave it time to open up. Watching the wine’s flavour profile change in the glass in front of me was amazing. It’s made in a very difficult way that is both trying and costly, but the result is well worth it. You’ve just got to be a little patient while you drink it. It’s also picked up 95-96 point reviews.

Head also has access to some very old, interesting Grenache vines. The wine goes into larger, older barrels so that the oak doesn’t have too much of an influence on the wine. Made in a very natural way (no fining, no filtration), the result is the Head Grenache (~$38), which is a serious drop – very different to those jammy, jubey styles you sometimes come across. It’s definitely a food wine – enjoy it with anything Mediterranean.

All of Head’s wines are made in very small quantities and can be difficult to get. Most are released in May, though the Blonde and Brunette come out in September. By the time you read the glowing reviews from wine critics they’re all gone, so get in early. And hey, not everyone is a finalist in the ‘Young Gun of Wine’ award… but Head was in 2011.

There are a few producers doing sub-regional Barossa wines these days, but none more interesting than these. If you’ve ever thought Barossa Shiraz is all the same, you need to try these, especially the Shirazes. For best results, taste them side-by-side.