Wed 6 May 2009
The “two hands” of Two Hands, an Australian producer founded in 1999, are Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz. Winemaker is Matthew Wenk. While the winery is in Barossa, Two Hands sources grapes from vineyards all over the continent’s southeastern regions. Two Hands produces four levels of wines, primarily shiraz (syrah) but also cabernet sauvignon and grenache. The three “Flagship” wines are the Ares Shiraz, the Aphrodite Cabernet Sauvignon and the Aerope Grenache. Next is the “Single Vineyard” series, three shiraz and one cabernet sauvignon. The “Garden” series offers six shiraz wines from different locations. Finally, the “Picture” series includes nine wines that expand the varietal base in the direction of riesling, moscato, mataro, semillon and so on.
The wines from Two Hands that I have tried — many of the “Picture” series and the recent releases of the “Garden” series, the actual subject of this post — are distinctive for the careful nature of the winemaking and the attention to detail, and they exude varietal purity and intensity. Now, these are not cheap wines. Prices for the “Flagship” wines are $165-$175; the “Single Vineyard” series runs $100 to $110; the “Garden” series wines cost $65; and the “Picture” wines vary from $20 to $50.
The six shiraz wines in the “Garden” series are huge in structure, dimension and impression, but they are not heavy or obvious or over-oaked; balance and integration of all elements are the goals. While all six reveal with stunning clarity that they are made from the same grape, none is an imitation of any of the others; the wines are true yet individual.
When I mention the alcohol content of the wines in the following reviews, there’s a discrepancy between some of the figures I took from the bottles I sampled and the labels in the illustrations.
Two Hands Sophie’s Garden Shiraz 2006, Padthaway. The first impression is of immensity; my initial notes are “huge huge, deep deep — black black — spicy spicy.” One need not say a whole lot more for those who favor huge, deep, black spicy wines, yet it feels necessary to expound on the subtleties that are available here too. Subtleties? Yes, as paradoxical as it sounds, the size of this wine is composed of an amalgamation of many threads of qualities and nuances. For example, while the influence of oak is felt in the wine’s structure and spicy qualities, the wine aged 16 months in French hogsheads, an imprecise term that refers to large barrels of various sizes; the important point is that small barrels were not involved, so the effect of wood is less. Twenty-three percent of the wine aged in new hogsheads, 20 percent in one-year-old barrels and 57 percent in two- and three-year-old barrels, by which time the interior of the barrel is almost neutral, so the influence is close to subliminal. I won’t dally with so much detail about oak for each of these wines, but I’m impressed with the thoughtful treatment the wines receive.
So, give this bruiser a few minutes in the glass and let it unfurl notes of blackberry and black currant, black pepper and dusty plums, with a high strain of wild berry running through it. Another few minutes bring out the potpourri, the old leather, the bacon fat, while bolstering every element is the dauntless foundation of earthy minerals and polished, grainy tannins. The alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $65.
Two Hands Max’s Garden Shiraz 2006, Heathcote, Victoria. Boy, this is as clean and sleek and polished as shiraz gets. Though as sizable as the other Garden series wines are, Max’s Garden trades muscle and brawn for suppleness and litheness. It’s characterized by touches of smoke and fruit cake, leather, baking spices, violets and lavender, all wrapped in layers of ripe black fruit flavors with hints of mulberry and blueberry and bittersweet chocolate. The wine ages 14 months in new and used French oak hogsheads. The alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Wonderful tone and presence, a vibrant, lively and almost elegant shiraz. Now through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. About $65.
Two Hands Samantha’s Garden Shiraz 2006, Clare Valley. Very high-toned, very ripe, very minerally, and then a steep ascent of oak and tannin, making “Samantha’s,” for whatever reason, the most influenced by wood, the toughest of this present Garden series. It’s also the highest in alcohol, measuring a towering 16.2 percent. All of these elements together make for a heady experience, though the wine maintains control and innate balance and does not get all jammy, the way high-alcohol zinfandels in California often do. Still, I would hold off on this, perhaps until 2011, and give it a chance to become more integrated. Very Good+ (for now). About $65.
Two Hands Harry & Edward’s Garden Shiraz 2006, Langhorne Creek, South Australia. When my initial reaction to a wine is “wonderful balance and integration,” I know that I’m onto something great, though don’t assume that because of those traits Harry & Edward’s Garden 2006 lacks purpose, dimension and detail. This is a shiraz that’s rich in ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; in the framing and foundation qualities of muscular tannins, stalwart oak and scintillating minerals, all jazzed by vibrant acid; in the panorama of nods and hints: dusty potpourri, lavender, black pepper, a touch of sandalwood, a smolder of spiced and roasted fruit flavors that turn fleshy and meaty. Above all, this is a model of power married to poise. The alcohol content is 15.2 percent. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ’17. Exceptional. About $65.
Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2006, Barossa. How can a wine so huge be so unaccountably lovely, living up to its name? For all its 15.6 percent alcohol, for all its breadth and depth, this shiraz is about as winsome and pretty as they come, winsome and pretty, though, without forsaking its roots in robust tannins; burnished oak, from 16 months in barrels, 15 percent new French hogsheads, the rest one to four years old; and forthright minerals that feel dredged from the center of the earth. It’s the details that lend this wine its attractiveness, a whiff of beet-root, a sniff of lavender, a hint of baking spice, a touch of flowering bramble, all of this etched onto ripe blackcurrant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors. Drink now through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $65.
Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2006, McLaren Valen. Even in this fairly distinguished company, Lily’s Garden 2006 stands out. The wine is big, bold and seductive, laden with baking spice, black pepper, ripe (slightly over-ripe) blackberries and blueberries and bitter chocolate, with a final fillip of ancho chili. Enormous reserves of earth and minerals and grainy tannins reign over succulent black fruit flavors and a dense and chewy texture that unfolds robust (but not rustic) aspects of briers and brambles, with a gratifying finish that delivers more spice and an intriguing note of chocolate-covered currants. There’s wonderful equilibrium here between gravity and a wild balletic nature. Curiously, this is the only entry in the Garden series that ages in American oak, in this case 20 percent new hogsheads, the rest one, two and three years old. The alcohol level is 14.8 percent. Now through 2013 to ’16. Excellent. About $65.