Have you ever had an epiphany? A moment of profound realisation. It hits you in the heart, erases confusion, adding new meaning to something you thought you already understood.
Mine was at the dinner table at the Len Evans Tutorial. In front of me were seven wines – old, mature, beautiful, ethereal, difficult to describe – some of the greatest wines I have ever experienced. And they were not just tasted, they were an experience. As a Tutorial scholar the pressure was on to perform in the wine options exercise of which these wines were a part. However, it almost didn’t matter. These wines were mesmorizing – I only wanted to savour them.
Regardless, the option questions had to be answered with the end game being – what are these wines? There would be a common thread, a link being either region, producer, vintage, variety. The mental detective work began. It was not a line up of Bordeaux, that was the night before, with the vertical of Chateau Leoville Las Cases. Certainly not Italian, they were not Italian. Spanish? No, not the right style. Rhone maybe? Possibly. Burgundy, no, as beautiful as they were, I didn’t think they were Burgundian. I can’t remember my answers. Whatever they were they were well off the mark. Why? Because they were Australian. These profound, beautiful, graceful wines were Australian. I had not considered that. As an Australian winemaker these wines were a revelation. We constantly look to Europe to provide the benchmark wine styles yet there they were - made in our own backyard. These wines provided a sense of pride, justification and purpose. They moved me. It proved that given the talent, the resources and the desire, Australian wines can be the greatest wines in the world – you don’t have to be jealous of the French.
What were the wines? There was the ’54 Orlando Barossa Special Vintage Cabernet, ’59 Penfolds Paracombe Shiraz Claret, ’59 Seppelt Moyston Claret, the lengendary ’62 Penfolds Bin 60A, ’63 Seppelt Great Western T114-115 made by Ian McKenzie who was sitting at the end of the table. How I would love to see one of my wines 45 years down the track looking that good. Then there was the ’65 Yalumba Bin Q 6529 Cabernet Sauvignon, ’65 Hardy’s 458A Burgundy and the magical ’67 Penfolds Bin 7 – undoubtly the greatest wine I have had from my birth year. Bravo - and thank you.
Len Evans may not have been there but his presence was constantly felt. In the dining room of Tower Lodge there was an intense feeling that the man himself was looking down upon us. The long dinner table catered for all twelve scholars, the five tutors and a few invited guests. It groaned under the weight of glassware.
Wine Options, the wine game which Len Evans invented and of which was the absolute master, reigned supreme at the dinner table. At the Tutorial options was a little more complex than your basic wine options and with up to 30 wines served over the course of dinner - it’s a very humbling experience. No, I did not pick the trio of Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee-Saint-Vivant from 1976, 1990 and 1999. Nor the trio of Sainte Croix Rivesaltes from 1909, 1938 and 1948. There were moments of personal triumph. I took a stab at the 1938 Hermitage and got it right, as well as being the only one foolhardy enough to have a punt that the 1929 Aloxe Corton was a village wine. But these moments of glory were rather fleeting. Others did far better than I.
Despite what you might be thinking, the Len Evans Tutorial was not just an indulgent week of wine tasting. It has become one of the most important experiences of my entire wine career. It was intense, educational, challenging, frustrating, and it was a joy. It is not especially fatiguing on the palate but it did my head in. Just when I thought I had it worked out, the tables were turned and I was back to square one. At the end of the week my brain was hurting but there was a deep sense of satisfaction. It represented possibly the only chance that I will have in my lifetime to taste some of the wines due to their rarity and expense. It was a unique opportunity to learn from some of the masters, not only about wine but about myself, the depth of my knowledge, my own potential and how much more there is to learn – like how great Australian wine can be.
Most of all The Len Evans Tutorial is a reflection of the wine industry and one of its greatest attributes – mentorship. Individuals and companies within the wine industry have long made it their mission to nurture the next generation ensuring knowledge and experience is not lost with generational change. Their collective generosity goes to great depths that would rarely, if ever, be rivaled in other industries. It is a credit to the wine industry that the Len Evans Tutorial exists.