Forget Yellowtail. Forget Crocodile Dundee. Forget everything you know about Australia.
Instead, put your mind in Paris. Get off at the Pyramide Metro, not far from the Louvre. Wiggle your way to 47 rue de Richelieu, and then, behold: Juveniles:
Now think of Scotland. Because inside you will find fantastic British farmhouse cheese, charcuterie, and Haggis always on the menu. Tim Johnston, a Scot ex-pat, founded it decades ago.
But now, turn to South East France, because Juveniles is a wine bar, and gained its cult following for pouring the Rhône Valley’s best wines. But then, Tim shocked Paris. He poured Australian Shiraz.
Your head may be spinning, but follow the thread. Australia grows Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and other varietals typical of the Rhône Valley. Many vines predate the French (thanks to dodging phyloxera). And what would pair better with haggis for cult Rhône drinkers than Shiraz.
But then, in walks Dave Powell, an Australian of Scottish heritage. Dave fought Australia’s early 1990’s “Vine Pull” pogrom by partnering to save old-vine growers. He founded Torbreck. A desire to make restrained wines like the Rhône led him to visit France, often. Inevitably, Tim and Dave hit it off.
By 1999, Tim asked Dave to make him a wine. So Dave blended the Rhône’s main players (Grenache 60%, Syrah 20%, Mourvèdre 20%) from 40-150 year old Barossa vines. Each vineyard was fermented separately, then blended, aged in stainless, allowed a natural malo-lactic fermentation, and finally bottled without filtering or fining.
But something was missing.
The walls of Juveniles are colored with paintings by Carolyn, Tim’s daughter. So Dave asked her for a label.
She took Dave’s pale, white labels with trees and created a label worthy of the wine.
Tonight, we crank the screwcap off of 2010’s Cuvée Juveniles.
It looks like beet juice: opaque purple and ruby-rimmed.
It smells quite complex. Fruit dominates, akin to raspberry compote. But that morphs into ripe, sun-warmed leather. Musk is there. Then somewhere, bright eucalyptus and lilac sneek in.
It is dry, with moderate acids. The body is fulsome and meaty. Only at the end do lean but grippy tannins and alcohol (14.7%) beg for a haggis.
It taste firmly of fig newton, cherry, orange peel, and dark black berry, pencil dust, and cigar. I am sure there is oak here, but Mouvèdre’s spice tricked me. It seems all blackness and brooding youth, yet remains snappy. The medium plus length makes for a very good wine (4 of 5). $15-$25.
Nothing could fuse Paris, Barossa , Scotland, the Rhône, and who knows what else into one bottle. Yet Torbreck’s Cuvée Juveniles manages the trick because it tastes so complex yet seamless. New and Old World traditions almost tear it apart. But this is a wine with a foot in both worlds.
Owners booted founder Dave Powell in 2013, although by then he had become a figurehead. Since 2006, Dave had hired Craig Isbel to take over wine-making, so he could promote the brand. Isbel, with 20 years of wine-making, carries the torch of Torbreck, and sticks to the recipe of top fruit, minimal intervention, and perfected blending.
What a commitment to creating a fine product – such respect for Dave.