“Open a bottle of Stephen Pannell’s wine and you will enjoy it. No, you will probably love it.” So wrote wine writer Ray Jordan earlier this year in selecting a seriously diverse quartet of wines that epitomised Steve’s approach to this whole wine thing. “He combines the best features of the vineyard with sympathetic fruit-enhancing winemaking to produce wines that are suited to the modern style of Australian cuisine,” is how Jordan summarised that approach.
Put like that it sounds pretty simple – but then what’s winegrowing about if not making the most of the specific land where the vines grow, and translating it as best you can as a pleasing drink? That Steve Pannell has at times made it look easy – and taste effortless – may cloud the fact that his is one of the most active, probing minds in wine. He’s the winelover’s winemaker, who celebrates the sheer joy of experiencing great wine. But at the same time you sense that every drop of good juice, each aspect of challenging geography, every moment of hard-fought history, has an urgent relevance to his own quest.
“I don’t think ‘drinkable’ is something we should aspire to,” Steve told us when he came to visit recently. “‘Enjoyable’ is what it’s all about.” Hear, hear. The enjoyment he aims for covers cuisine and lifestyle, for sure – the sense you don’t want for anything when eating well with people you love, and the wine is delicious, refreshing and free-flowing. But it goes far further than evocative scents and moreish flavours. The quest encompasses the ability to enjoy the wine now, or to see it evolve; to love it with the head as much as the heart; and to always look forward to drinking it again.
Complexity and structure are often left behind in the headlong rush for simplistic ‘smashability’. They needn’t be. It’s been a single-minded mission for Steve to marry intensity, complexity, balance and length with immediate and enduring pleasure. At the same time, being true to variety and totally faithful to place are inviolable principles. Faultless viticulture, perfect picking and mindful oak use are all part of the equation, as is an obsession with understanding, harnessing and expressing grape tannins.
These new releases occupy a plane in the S.C. Pannell range where place is put on a pedestal: Piccadilly, Gumeracha and Echunga for the Adelaide Hills wines, and the Vale itself for Steve’s cherished Grenache/Shiraz – this latter showcasing 74-year-old Grenache from the Old McDonald vineyard and Shiraz from Steve’s own beloved Koomilya site. Also from the Vale comes Steve’s first Cabernet Malbec under his own label – a homage, of sorts, to his dear Wendouree. At the top of the tree are two spellbinding single-site Grenache wines, one from Old McDonald in Blewitt Springs and the other from Clarendon’s Smart vineyard.
Stephen Pannell is a master of contemporary Australian wine, but only because he pays utmost respect to the past, attention to the present and heed to the future. And he also pays back the winelover, in spades, with multidimensional drinking pleasure.
2016 was a vintage of two distinct halves. Winter and spring were exceptionally dry and warm, with irrigation beginning earlier than we can recall. To answer concerns, a number of rainstorms quickly changed everything, making 2016 one of the wettest and mildest ripening periods on record. All the red wines from 2016 are tannic and not dissimilar to 1996 and 2006, where the heat toughened up the skins. This should make the wines long lived. – Stephen Pannell
A very cool, mild and stress-free vintage for vines, not winemakers! Good winter and spring rains were followed by a very mild, long summer. The results are wines with ample fruit complexity and great natural acidity. Most important however is the delicious fruit freshness and balance. – Stephen Pannell
2017 S.C. Pannell Piccadilly Chardonnay Adelaide Hills RRP $39
Mendoza clone Chardonnay grapes were handpicked on 3rd and 6th April. Natural fermentation and maturation in a 1000-litre new French oak vat and 500-litre puncheons. No malolactic conversion. Pulled from barrel in late November and sent to a stainless-steel tank for settling on yeast lees for three months before bottling. Alcohol 12.8%; pH 3.2; TA 7.8g/L. – Stephen Pannell
2016 S.C. Pannell Barbera Adelaide Hills RRP $39
Barbera grapes from Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills are hand-harvested, crushed, and traditionally vinified in small open-top fermenters. Left on skins for 11 days before being pressed and sent to French oak puncheons, of which 20% are new. Only 10 months in oak before bottling. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.46; TA 6.10g/L. – Stephen Pannell
2016 S.C. Pannell ‘The Vale’ McLaren Vale RRP $39
This comprises 70% Grenache (74-year-old vines on the Old McDonald site in McLaren Vale) and 30% Shiraz (from our Koomilya site in McLaren Vale). The Grenache spent 13 days on skins while the Shiraz spent 16 days. Blended in February 2017 and bottled on 26th June 2017. The Grenache was aged in a 5000-litre French vat and the Shiraz in 4-year-old+ French puncheons before being blended back to vats and settled for four months before bottling. Alcohol 14.7%; pH 3.48; TA 6g/L. – Stephen Pannell
This is a blend of Shiraz and Grenache from McLaren Vale. It’s smooth and medium-bodied, with Grenache dominant. The lifted perfumes of rose petal and spicy plum are alluring. The palate is seamlessly structured, with smooth tannin integration and subtle oak – the result of the use of a very big 5000L French oak vat. Super stuff. 95 points. Ray Jordan, The West Australian February 2018
2016 S.C. Pannell Syrah Adelaide Hills RRP $39
100% Syrah from Echunga, 410 metres above sea level in the southern Adelaide Hills. The fruit is grown on well-drained, granitic soil, my preference for Syrah. Hand-harvested and vinified in small, open-top fermenters with 30% whole bunches. A total of 17 days on skins before being sent to predominately old, large, French-oak vats for 10 months. Alcohol 14%; pH 3.78; TA 5.74g/L. – Stephen Pannell
2017 S.C. Pannell Old McDonald Grenache Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale RRP $62
100% Grenache from 75-year-old vines from the Old McDonald vineyard in Blewitt Springs. Perfect bunches were hand-harvested on 4th March, early for Grenache. Traditionally vinified in small open-top fermenters with 20% whole bunches. Eleven days on skins before gentle pressing. Transferred to a 4500-litre, eight-year-old French-oak vat for maturation before being bottled without filtration nine months later. Alcohol 14.5%; pH 3.62; TA 5.7g/L. – Stephen Pannell
It’s pretty, kind of rosy in perfume, a little bit juicy, but also dry and beautifully structured. There’s fine insistent tannin giving it shape and texture, almost to Nebbiolo character with its gentle brick dust grip, red fruit and cherry, a layer of spice, new leather and scrub herb, and a long cool, composed finish. Flat out beautiful. Succulence with a serious nature. Bravo. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2018
2017 S.C. Pannell Smart Grenache Clarendon, McLaren Vale RRP $62
100% Grenache from 62-year-old vines on the Smart Vineyard, Clarendon. Hand-harvested on 11th March, traditionally vinified in small, open-top fermenters with no whole bunches. Spent 10 days on skins before gentle pressing and transferred to a 2500-litre, six-year-old French-oak vat and four-year-old French oak puncheons for maturation before being bottled without filtration or fining 11 months later. Alcohol 14.2%; pH 3.39; TA 6.3g/L. – Stephen Pannell
A finer boned, musky and spicy expression of Grenache here. It’s medium bodied, almost strict in structure, with firm dry tannin, pitch-perfect acidity giving energy, fresh raspberry and something like black tea, or that elusive ‘mineral’ thing, a pleasant perfumed herb character as a counterpoint, and a crisp and very long finish, closing with gustatory tannin and subtle bitterness. Wow. 96 points. Gary Walsh, The Wine Front May 2018
2016 S.C. Pannell Cabernet Malbec McLaren Vale RRP $52
75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Malbec sourced from the end of Amery Road in McLaren Vale. The Cabernet vines are more than 70 years old and the Malbec 25 years old. Both varieties were traditionally vinified in small, open-top fermenters, spending 10 days on skins before being sent to puncheons in April. Blended in July 2017 before being sent back to barrel and bottled in February 2018. Alcohol 14.1%; pH 3.62; TA 6.5g/L. – Stephen Pannell