Jacob's Creek springs an upgrade By Campbell Mattinson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cop this. Orlando have been planning to beef up and dine off the raging success of the Jacob's Creek brand for years and in November the first foray finally lands in Britain. A Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz, Reserve Chardonnay and perhaps even a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon will appear (the single varieties already setting it apart from the blends of the standard range). Plus, if you're really lucky (and really on the splurge), there's a Limited Release Shiraz Cabernet that'll be rarer than a Birmingham seabreeze and so distinctly upmarket that it'll outrank Posh Spice in the cosmetic surgery it performs on the brand.
We know that Orlando have been planning this for years because Jacob's Creek reserve wines have been picking up medals and trophies at Aussie wine shows over the past few years but then disappearing prior to retail. When you're dealing with one of the world's biggest selling brands, it pays to be careful, I guess.
Very careful, as it turns out. According to Orlando, the brief was to "over produce" on quality for the new reserve range. In other words, produce a 10 quid wine, then flog it for 7 or 8. "The important link between this new premium range and the core range of Jacob's Creek is style," the Orlando rep I spoke to reckoned. "Obviously there is a leap in quality between the two ranges, however the style of generous up-front fruit flavour with an elegant, clean finish is consistent."
The reserve shiraz and the reserve chardonnay will be the ones you'll see the most of (though we're still only talking in the sub-10,000 case quantity realm, where the standard range imports a whopping two million cases). There'll be virtually none of the reserve cabernet sauvignon imported initially and it's only if you're at the right tasting or the right event or the right restaurant that you'll see the 1996 Limited Release Shiraz Cabernet (which is, it has to be said, a boomer: big black Barossa shiraz blended with wonderfully elegant French-oak matured Coonawarra cabernet: and here, it's a majestic match. The more I tried, the more I liked, though we're talking a 20 quid plus wine here).
Ok, ok. To the ones you'll easily be able to get your hands on. Well, simply, you're in for a major treat with the 1998 Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz or at least, I think you are. It's a stunner one of the best value drink-now wines you will encounter. Serious deep purple colour, packed with spicy shiraz fruit aromas and a big bursting mouthfull of up-front cassis and black pepper and nicely-melded coconut. Typical fruity Aussie ripe shiraz, ready to go and ready to rip. Serious value at the price (around 8 quid). And manages to just outrun the "simple fruity" tag: it has an overall smoky spiciness that saves it. If you like brimming fruit characters in your reds, then you'll love this one. If you prefer a more elegant style, then avoid it.
(My only hesitation is that I opened a second bottle and while it wasn't corked, it didn't seem as brimful of fruit as the first; perhaps a bit of bottle variation here, ironic considering the model of consistency the standard bottling is famed for.)
As for the 1999 Reserve Chardonnay well, perhaps it's not quite as stellar as the shiraz, but it ain't half bad either. Ripe but attractively reserved stone fruit characters, a touch of buttery smoothness and a slightly savoury, slightly elegant finish ok, it's not great, but it's a very nicely made wine and stands up pretty well. Again, classier than you'd expect for the price (around 7 quid). And avoids the flabbiness so common in ripe Aussie chardonnay (will even go a few years, if you really want). Very much recommended.
This whole move by Orlando, it has to be said, comes at a time when there's a significant degree of brand movement and exploitation going on in the Aussie wine trade; brands trying to cash both up and down. The Jacob's Creek range is one of the few with any real integrity; partly because it provides a logical and easy step-up for the consumer. But mostly because the wine itself just happens to be good.
Get into 'em while they're priced to entice, is my advice.