It’s a shining example of a legend not living on former glories, an historic estate looking to the future.
Marli Russell, the project named for Dr John Middleton’s wife, got its first airing last year, with wines from the 2014 and ’15 vintage. The vines were planted in 2008 and ’09 by Dr John’s son David, and the project since nurtured at the deft hand of his children, Sam and Claire. Its genesis was part response to climate change, part a pioneer’s natural desire to push boundaries. The Middletons thus diversified beyond the traditional Burgundy and Bordeaux plantings on which the Yarra’s fame – and indeed Mount Mary’s own formidable reputation – had been built.
And so to the Rhône. The wines are named RP1 and RP2 for white and red respectively, the initials standing for Rhône Project. “I love it,” said Sam Middleton, reflecting on the initiative in the wake of the news that James Halliday had named the estate 2018 Winery of the Year. “It’s thrown up more surprises than I thought it would. With the Grenache in particular we’ve been able to get that riper than I expected, which is good. I think the reds are going to keep improving but I think we’re making some great white Rhône blends from those varieties.”
Those impressions were borne out by those who tasted them. Max Allen found in the ’15 red “a firmness characteristic of red wines from Mount Mary, with slinky black fruit and a perfumed finish”. The Marsanne/Roussanne he found “terrific, too: a white with spicy, floral aromatics and a creamy texture”. Campbell Mattinson saw “richness and restraint combined” in the same wine. “There’s a real sense of power here; it has all the bases covered; the quality is tip top,” he concluded. Back to the red, and James Halliday enjoyed the way it “bursts into song, reflecting the great vintage and the inclusion of the Mourvèdre”. He went on: “The bouquet is fragrant, with red fruits joining the fray, the tannins superfine, the finish long, the aftertaste fresh.”
This new chapter in Mount Mary’s story is an exciting one. At a time when the estate’s traditional quartet of wines show ever greater levels of distinction and harmony, the Middletons’ ongoing consideration of their site sees these Rhône grapes hit a high note in the warm, dry 2016 harvest.
As Halliday says, they burst into song. Isn’t it time you joined the chorus?
2016 Marli Russell RP1 40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 20% Clairette RRP $53
2016 was a rather warm, dry vintage, perfectly suited to the traditional Southern Rhône varieties we have growing here at Mount Mary. We have adopted a similar approach to the way we make our other white wines at Mount Mary. Barrel fermenting, lees stirring and relatively hard pressing give this wine great texture and depth of flavour. We pick these varieties relatively early to avoid excessive viscosity, which can occur when these varieties are grown in warmer climates and picked riper. These varieties were initially intended for blending with the other seven varieties planted; however, we decided they had too much potential as a stand-alone white blend. The Clairette makes its debut in the 2016 RP1. We feel it contributes to an improved, more complex blend. We look forward to the evolution of this wine as our new vineyards develop some age and we continue to learn more about how these varieties grow at Mount Mary.
The 2016 RP1 bursts from the glass with beautiful floral aromas of lychee, white peach, pear and fresh lime. Aromatically, the Roussanne and Clairette play a more dominant role than that of the Marsanne. The Marsanne gives this blend its delicious fresh pear and honeydew sweetness in the mid palate. The Roussanne offers exceptional drive and focus due to its naturally high acid profile and excellent phenolic structure. It’s a wine with great length where the intensity seems to build on the back palate, long after the wine has departed. – Sam Middleton, Mount Mary
2016 Marli Russell RP2 50% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 20% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault RRP $66
Over the first three vintages we’ve adapted this blend to include all four red varieties that we have planted in our vineyard. In 2015 we were able to include the Mourvèdre and we added the Cinsault to the 2016 RP2. It lends an interesting dimension to an improved, more complex blend. Although it’s difficult – and perhaps pointless – to compare this wine to the Quintet or Pinot noir, we’d suggest it to be a slightly more fruit forward, earlier-drinking style. Although this wine is matured in barrel (the Grenache in large-format oak) for 16 months, it has only a very small percentage of new oak. You might say the depth and palate weight of this wine lands somewhere between the Quintet and Pinot Noir.
The 2016 RP2 shows a particularly complex nose of liquored cherries, assorted spices, liquorice and rich berry fruits. With time in the glass, this wine begins to unveil its true potential, becoming more and more expressive. On the palate it is fresh and lively, showing a wide fruit spectrum of both red and dark fruit. It has beautifully balanced, grainy tannins to match the intensity of flavour. The RP2 is of medium body and exhibits excellent length and persistence. Although this wine is ready to go, do expect further improvement in the cellar. – Sam Middleton, Mount Mary