Fear, Loathing, Dinner & Tasting: 150th Anniversary - Bests Great Western

Justin Thurser, the head wine maker at Best's Great Western is yabbering to me enthusiastically about Ireland. Having lived there with his Irish wife in a previous life, he loves the place. I want him to stop so I can ask him a million questions about his cool climate shiraz and winery - undoubtedly the most tradition steeped winery in Australia. Best’s is one of my favourites ever, and it is great to meet the disarmingly nice wine maker. Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Justin says he sees himself as a custodian of this Australian institution. Mostly Burgundy trained, he is starting to leave his own distinct mark on these wines. 

Great Western is an area in Western Victoria in Australia. There are, for all intents and purposes, no neighbours - Best's are the region. Shiraz is the key variety here, but Best's experiment with several varieties and styles, with Riesling and pinot Meunier especially prominent. What makes Bests so special though is are the cellars that are incredibly intact and date back to 1867. In the nursery block of the vineyard there are vines from the same era. The vines here have repeatedly defied classification and it is said that the grapes here do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Starting with a trio of Rieslings, we are blown away by the 1992 Great western, the 1997 also looks fantastic. Like some humans, Riesling gets more eccentric and wily with age. We try the 'Foudre Ferment' Riesling too. Justin has persuaded Best's to invest in a large Foudre, the barrel of choice in Alsace, the spiritual home of dry Riesling. Leaving most of the oak behind, it had hints of nuts honey and spice - a million miles from the steely new 2015 Riesling release. 

There are 3 Shiraz, Bin 1, Bin O and Thompson Family. The 2014 Bin 1 is the best sub 30 dollar shiraz in the country, particularly tried alongside a 1986, which still looks as fresh as a daisy!! We look at a vertical of 2012,2013 and 2014 Bin O and while it is interesting to observe their evolution, it is still too early to let these out of the box. The Thompson Family Shiraz is only made in the best years and comes of a special block. We try a 1996, which is profound but still has plenty of life ahead of it. Needless to say the current release is something to behold, but FAR too young! (James Halliday would later call this his wine of the year). 

We are treated to some Old Vine Pinot Meunier from the Nursery Block. Meunier is the second red variety used in the production of champagne and you very rarely see varietal examples anywhere these days. The wines are captivating and unique, like nothing I have ever tasted. The 1991 is on the verge of becoming tired, while the 1994 is right in the pocket, and one suspects that the 1999 will be the pick of the bunch in several years.

What a pleasure to taste a part of Australia’s history.