In the Wine Atlas of Australia & New Zealand (HarperCollins, 1998), James Halliday refers to Kay Brothers in McLaren Vale as a “traditional winery with a rich history and some priceless old vines.” As far as history is concerned, the winery was established in 1890 by brothers Herbert and Frederick Kay (pictured on many of the labels) and is the oldest estate in McLaren Vale still owned by the founding family. Winemaker now is Herbert’s grandson Colin Kay, who uses traditional methods and in fact employs the winery’s original basket press and open-top fermenters. “Priceless old vines” refers to the estate vineyard’s Block 6, planted in 1892 and still producing shiraz grapes that are bottled separately as the property’s flagship wine. As for me, these are the sorts of wines and the kind of family estate that are a joy to write about, because they embody a heritage and an adherence to old-fashioned methods, and they evince no desire to be all things to all people. These Kay Brothers wines from 2010 were tasted in Chicago on May 15, 2013.

The entry-level wine at this estate is the Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale. The color is very dark ruby, almost black in the center and with an intense violet rim. Despite the portent of that depth of hue, this is not a heavily extracted wine and is impressive for an impeccable sense of balance, especially in the sway dusty tannins against vibrant acidity and a dynamic graphite element. Fruit shines though, with a bright array of ripe and slightly macerated black and red currants, blackberries and blueberries fostered by earthy touches of leather and briers and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender, bitter chocolate and dried thyme, all of these aspects beautifully proportioned and poised. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
Next is the Kay Brothers Basket Pressed Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, a wine derived from the estate’s Amery Vineyard; it
spent 18 months in American, French and Bulgarian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a vivid magenta cast; aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and mulberries are deeply infused with cloves and allspice and some wild spicy and floral note, as well as graphite-tinged touches of briers and brambles, making for a lively and engaging bouquet. On the palate, this wine is pure and intense, downright lovely in its lucid spicy black fruit qualities but also a little chiseled and flinty, more faceted than rounded, so while every element is balanced and harmonious, the emphasis lies in a somewhat sculpted structural character. I don’t mean that this nature is a flaw, in fact far from it; I love the crystalline, scintillating approach that bolsters the wine’s ripe fruit with its slightly Olympian — yet thoroughly drinkable — personality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Third in this trio is the Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale. Of the original 12 acres of Block 6, planted in 1892, only four acres remain. The wine aged 20 months in American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby that sports magnificent depth and clarity, while the complete package is wrapped in the paradoxical yet totally complementary qualities of rigor and allure; my first note: “just beautiful.” While the wine’s sense of dimension — its breadth and depth of tannin and mineral elements. its profound acidity and longevity on the palate — feels immense, it does not diminish the finely-etched details of fruit and flowers and spice that lend the aspect that many great and profound wines often display, a quality of refinement and grace. Here’s a wine that offers a lesson that I mentioned in a previous post this week, that thoughtful winemaking disappears into the wine; there’s no ego here, rather a tribute to a revered pieces of land and the grapes it faithfully produces. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Exceptional. About $66.