When Roger and Jill Fraser planted the Murdoch James Estate vineyard in Cambridge Street, Martinborough in 1986, a few eyebrows were raised when they decided to plant syrah as well as the region's favoured pinot noir. But Roger had a good reason for his actions. Quite simply, he liked it.
The tiny vineyard, once a potato patch, was soon joined by the adjacent old town saleyards and more pinot noir and syrah was planted. But shortly after the purchase the Frasers transferred to Melbourne for Roger's work. They lived at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula where they grew organic vegetables and ran Angus cattle for meat.
Jill flew over from Melbourne every couple of weeks and together with her sister, Barbara Taylor, the company's viticulturist and vineyards manager, they developed the block.
The first wines, made by neighbour Clive Paton, were produced in 1993.
Five years later, in 1998, the Fraser's bought the Blue Rock Vineyard and winery, a little to the south of Martinborough township. This added chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon to their portfolio. And not surprisingly, they planted more pinot noir and syrah, and later still some pinot gris. This elevated sloping vineyard has proved to be frost-free, and although in a bad state when purchased, Jill and Barbara's vineyard practices soon got the vineyards under control and with their love of organics, they now operate the vineyard on a bio-sustainable status.
Murdoch James now produces several tiers of Pinot Noir and single vineyard wines are produced from both the original Fraser vineyards on the Martinborough Terraces and from Blue Rock, while a more approachable early drinking style of pinot noir is a blend of grapes from both sites. The first vintages of the Syrah, up to and including the 2000, were labelled 'Shiraz'. The varietal name on the label was changed to Syrah with the release of the 2001 vintage.
In 2006 the wines are made by David Bloomfield and Carl Fraser is the assistant winemaker.
Here's a review of some of the wines tasted at a '20th birthday' tasting.
Murdoch James Martinborough Pinot Noir 1997 (Fraser Vineyard)
Orange tinged deep red, good colour for its age. Quite stinky on the nose with a pooey, truffle aroma of deep undergrowth and humus along with a kind of funky, metallic, canned tomato character. Pretty similar in the palate with grainy tannins, it has lost all its fruit and seems mildly metallic. A second bottle was opened.
While not as stinky on the nose, the funk is still there. There's more cigar box and plummy fruit with silkier tannins, dried spiced orange peel and mulled wine spices lingering on the cedary finish with a touch of tamarillo. Much better all round. 14% alc.
Murdoch James Reserve Pinot Noir 1999 (Blue Rock)
Orange pink, showing a touch of mustiness on the nose, the acid is holding out in the palate but the wine is a little dull with lots of savoury/earthy character and very little fruit. So a second bottle was opened.
This is much better, with bright stewed tamarillo and boysenberry fruit, a savoury earthy undertone, rich grainy tannins and a spicy smoky finish. The well balanced acidity is still bright and holding the wine is a reasonably fresh state for its age. 13.5% alc.
Murdoch James Fraser Pinot Noir 2001
Bright, deep ruby-hued with pinky rims, amazingly youthful in appearance. Itís rich, ripe and velvety with peppery spices, luscious ripe plum and dark cherry fruit, vanillin oak, smooth velvety tannins and a smoky savoury finish. Packed with power and structure and finishing dry, the peppery spices are unusual, but someone said it's like a Cote du Nuit. The aftertaste is soft, mellow, smoky, earthy and just a little funky, and only then does it hint of its five years of age. A wine with pedigree and plenty of life still ahead of it. 14.5% alc.
Murdoch James Blue Rock Pinot Noir 2002
Deep, translucent, pinky red with a youthful brightness. Lush, full, rich ripe fruit with a firm spicy backbone and smooth, integrated velvety tannins, it has the spicy gamey tamarillo fruit of the Abel clone with underlying fruit cake cherry and fresh oak coming through to linger on the smoky savoury finish. With its good acidity it should continue to drink well for some time yet. Very good. 14.6% alc.
Murdoch James Blue Rock Pinot Noir 2004
Young, spicy and vibrant with oak quite dominant at this stage but well-balanced to the funky, red guava-like fruit. Itís savoury and spicy with firm acidity, white mushroom, anise and plums on the fruit-sweet, savoury finish that has very good length. Beautifully complex and full of layers. 13% alc. $54.95
Murdoch James Fraser Pinot Noir 2004
Wow! Similar colour to the 2001 with a deeper red-black core. Rather voluptuous smelling, the cherry and smoky French oak aromas carry through to the palate. A big powerful brute of a wine with spicy oak, cherry and boysenberry fruit, orange-infused spices and big rich ripe tannins. Thereís a touch of chocolate mingling with cigar box on the lingering, full-flavoured finish. Given the provenance of the stunning 2001, this wine deserves to be cellared for at least a couple of years more before even broaching the cork, especially as some of the delicate intrinsic pinot characters are smothered by the oak at this stage. 13.5% alc. $62.95
Murdoch James Martinborough Pinot Noir 2004
A blend of Fraser and Blue Rock fruit, this is a bright, youthful pinky red with ripe, juicy, cherry and spice aromas and lots of cherry fruit in the palate with chocolatey oak, firm 'orange peel' acidity and soft tannins. While it lacks some of the complexity and concentration of the previous single vineyard wines, it's made as a more approachable, 'drink now' style. 13% alc. $26.00. Screwcap.
Murdoch James Fraser Vineyard Shiraz 2000
Tasted from a magnum, this has a smoky, dried pepper aroma with a touch of bottle funk and it's dry in the palate with a touch of leather at first. It needs decanting to let the funk dissipate and lots of swirling and a gorgeous big glass helps me speed this up to let the rich, ripe berry fruit show off. Thereís even a hint of Black Boy peach in there and a touch of rose petal muskiness that adds a lovely floral tone to the fruit-sweet, creamy finish. It's a dry wine with pepper and Asian spices lingering on the beautifully long, drawn out finish where some attractive earthy notes add to its appeal.
Murdoch James Martinborough Syrah 2002
Deep dark crimson red, a touch of mercurachrome on the nose leads into a savoury wine that is typically syrah with sweet oak, blackberry fruit, peppery spices, a touch of liquorice, dry silky tannins and a long finish. A sophisticated wine, a food wine.
Murdoch James Saleyards Syrah 2003
Deep crimson purple-red, deep and inky, this is rich, powerful wine with creamy oak, sweet juicy cherry and blueberry fruit, ripe succulent tannins and a spicy peppery finish infused with coriander and nutmeg. Very powerful but also very approachable and deliciously drinkable. Excellent. 12% alc. $34.95.
Murdoch James Cabernet Franc 2001
I adored this wine last time I was privileged to taste it, giving it 'Wine of the Week' status and I was not disappointed tasting it again almost four years later. Deep in colour, black red with crimson purple rims, it's hard to believe this is six years old as it looks so youthful. The aroma is rich, deep and cedary, the cedary oak carrying through to the palate with a Bordeaux-like cigar box nuance. The hot tar is still there, the tannins are bigger than I remember and the concentrated fruit has mellowed as it has started to integrate into the other components. 13% alc.
Murdoch James Blue Rock Cabernet Franc 2003
Deep, vibrant boysenberry red with purple/violet edged rims and a rich, voluptuous aroma, reminiscent of a South Australian Shiraz with its slight pepperiness, liquorice and vanillin oak, but the flavours steer you in another direction. It's youthful, spicy and tarry with tobacco, leather, nutmeg, cedar, grunty tannins and a Bordeaux-like character to the finish where well-integrated cassis-like fruit is a highlight of the lingering aftertaste. Continuing on the impeccable form that the 2001 vintage set, this wine can only be described as excellent. 13.5% alc. $34.95.
Current vintages are available from the Murdoch James website.
Further reviews of Murdoch James wines can be found on this website at these links -
A Celebration of Taste Martinborough - includes the 1996 to 2000 vintages of Murdoch James Shiraz.
Murdoch James Cabernet Franc 2001 - Wine of the Week review.
Copyright Sue Courtney