I had Toby and Emmanuel Bekkers visit a few weeks ago. I’ve admired this dynamic winemaking couple’s work for a few years now and since offering their wines last year, they continue to be lauded, most notably with a feature article in one of the world’s most acclaimed wine magazines - The World of Fine Wine. You know you’re doing good things when that happens!
Closer to home, the Bekkers McLaren Vale Syrah Grenache 2017 was just included in James Halliday’s Top 100 Wines for 2019, coming in with a whopping 98 points. The wine was also included in Halliday’s 2020 Shiraz and/or Grenache Varietal Winners. And not only that, it was awarded a Special Value Rating to boot!
I tried this wine several months ago and decided to stock up before word got out how good it is. Not only that, I was lucky enough to get a small allocation of the amazing Bekkers McLaren Vale Syrah 2015, another 98 point wine which I offered 18 months ago and which quickly sold out.
Here’s the Bekkers' story again.
Emmanuelle and Toby Bekkers are the perfect wine couple - both highly credentialed and experienced and with extraordinary attention to detail, the wines they are producing are simply outstanding.
“… a new Australian classic in the making.” Max Allen.
“… benchmarks in modern Australian winemaking.” The Australian, Feb 2018, 5 stars, James Halliday.
Emmanuelle was born in beautiful Bandol, in the south of France. She has a degree in biology (biochemistry) from the University of Marseille and a degree in Oenology from the University of Montpellier. She’s worked in several wineries, large and small, in both France (Burgundy, Bordeaux and Languedoc) and Australia (McLaren Vale & Langhorne Creek). Emmanuelle also has her own wine consulting business, Oenologie Requin.
Toby is a gun in the vineyard. He has his own viticultural consulting business, working in both Australia (particularly McLaren Vale) and France. He has an honours degree in Applied Science and Agriculture from the Uni of Adelaide and these days is one of the most sought after consultants, internationally recognised as a “leading exponent of organic and biodynamic viticulture,” James Halliday.
Back in 1995 Emmanuelle came to Australia to work vintage at Tintara with Steve Pannell, where Toby was doing vineyard samplings. She fell in love with McLaren Vale, and Toby. These days the couple still to-and-fro between France, but are settled by the beach at Aldinga in McLaren Vale, with their two children and dog Smudge.
Specialising in Syrah and Grenache, Bekkers’ first vintage was in 2011. They only make 3 wines in Australia; a Grenache, a Syrah and a Syrah Grenache. Emmanuelle also makes a premier cru Chablis in France, but that's for another time.
It’s unusual to find a winery turning out so few wines, but it just shows the intense focus these two have on producing the best. Toby explains: “Nothing we have seen overseas has diminished our conviction that McLaren Vale is capable of producing unique, world-class wines and we aim to be an emblem for the region.” And with the kind of wines they’re producing they’ll surely achieve this.
In a time when more and more fruit is picked by machine, the Bekkers choose to pick by hand. They also manually sort the fruit to get rid of any shrivelled, raisiny grapes. Sorting is something they do a lot of at expensive estates in Bordeaux where Emmanuelle has worked, but it’s not common in Australia, especially in McLaren Vale. Even though it costs more, Emmanuelle told me she likes to sort to avoid unwanted jammy characters in the wine, as well as to allow “the more delicate, fresh fruit and spice flavours to blossom.” Selection is crucial to the process - Emmanuelle maintains “what you leave behind is just as important as what you take.”
Colour, tannins and much of the flavour of red wine comes from the grape skins, so how winemakers deal with them is crucial. I find it’s also the key to texture in red wines. Emmanuelle leaves around 20% of the grapes as whole bunches, the other 80% she destems but does not crush. All the grapes are then cold-soaked, which involves cooling the grapes to around 8 degrees for between 4-8 days, depending on which of the 3 wines it is. The cool temperature ensures no oxidation or fermentation occurs in the meantime and the result is a gentle extraction of tannin and colour, as well brighter colour and more delicate flavours.
The fruit is allowed to warm up, with fermentation occurring spontaneously using the ambient wild/natural yeasts. The fermenting tanks have cooling systems and are tweaked to ensure the ferment never runs over 25 degrees. By comparison, some winemakers run their red ferments as hot as 30-32 degrees which, while it ensures good extraction of colour and flavour, also risks harshness. By contrast, Bekkers ferments are long, cool and gentle. During the ferment the skins floating on top are gently plunged by hand (with the Grenache), or pumped over (with the Syrah), where the juice is pumped from the bottom of the fermenting tank and sprayed over the top of the floating skins. Both techniques ensure gentle extraction of colour and tannin. After ferment, the wines are aged for varying periods in combinations of old and new, large format oak. There is minimal use of sulphur and no filtration. The wines are sealed with stelvin closures (ie. screw caps).
The result of all this work is incredible texture, and the resulting smoothness on the palate is a real Bekkers signature. Emmanuelle told me about a Japanese sommelier who described the 3 reds as silk (Grenache), satin (Syrah Grenache), and velvet (Syrah). This wannabe haberdasher’s description succinctly captures the common thread running through these wines - a textural smoothness, as well as the difference between them - the weight.
“We believe that the textural element holds the key to fine wine.” Emmanuelle and Toby.
Made in tiny quantities, these stunning and delicious wines are the equal of wines worth twice as much. Be sure to grab some of each before they become hard to get.
The wine is blend of 60% Syrah from Clarendon and 40% Grenache from Onkaparinga. There are several parcels, which were vinified separately. The fruit was cold soaked for 5-6 days and then fermented naturally using wild/indigenous yeasts. Post a long, slow ferment, the wine was aged in old puncheons (500-600L) for around 15 months, before being blended. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration and sealed with screwcap.
Like all the Bekkers wines, it’s the texture that grabbed me with this beauty.
Included in Halliday’s Top 100 Wines for 2019
Included in Halliday’s 2020 Shiraz and/or Grenache Varietal Winners.
Awarded a Special Value Rating in Halliday’s Wine Companion.
“As ever, a sumptuous wine; perfect in its balance and symmetry, everything in its seemingly preordained place, Bekkers is a star.” 98 points, James Halliday.
“A gorgeous, plush, generous wine with fabulous flavour intensity and impeccable balance. Brightness, concentration, focused flavours and purity. The fruit flavours are harmonious and are a mix of red and black elements, and the tannins are simply exquisite and frame the fruit perfectly. It is a stylish and sophisticated wine with impressive length and great integrity. Magic.” 96 points, Toni Paterson, The Real Review.
“Deepish red-purple hue and a bright raspberry nose with a dried herb, almost bayleaf overlay. The grenache is evident in the aroma and flavour spectrum. The wine is medium to full-bodied, with savoury elements to its flavour and plenty of appeal. There is sweet berry fruit buried in the middle palate. It’s very attractive drinking right now - and for quite a few years hence. An elegant rendition of a regional style.” 94 points, Huon Hooke (who I admire for his more conservative scoring - this is a top score from him).
“An intense array of red-plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit aromas with a sense of expressive ripeness on the palate. The length and flavour and level of vibrant fruit here is exceptional. Long, plush and fluid. Drink or hold.” 94 points, James Suckling.
Not much more to add really.
I can offer it for $80 a bottle. Order here
The great news is that I have a few more bottles of this wine, which quickly sold out last year. For those who missed out, here’s your chance.
Let me say straight up, this is simply a stunning wine.
The fruit was sourced from two sites - 64% coming from Hickinbotham vineyard in the Clarendon sub-region (elevated and cooler) and 36% coming from the Gateway vineyard in the Seaview sub-region (coastal breeze influence). The winemaking was as described above, with ageing for around 20 months, 40% in new French oak and 60% older, large format 500-600L barrels.
This will knock your socks off with its wonderful velvety texture and smooth mouthfeel. Dense, dark and gently powerful. Long, complex and lingering flavours of plum, pomegranate and aniseed. But I’m really taken with the phenomenal viscosity and smoothness. Yum.
"Probably the best modern-style McLaren Vale Syrah I’ve tasted. It’s intensely fragrant and complex with a rasp of black pepper to nose and palate, liquorice, five spice, peonies and inky florals, a gentle savouriness and a touch of mocha oak. As for the fruit, supple, concentrated but juicy blackberry and plum is sumptuous, yet vivid and fresh - very persistent. Tasted at home, I lingered over this sensual Syrah for three days and it never stopped giving. I loved, loved the tannins - fine spun, but mineral (iron filing) and present, as if interwoven with the fruit. With terrific perfume, depth, length and detail, it is a seemingly bottomless pit of delights. Bet it ages really well (if you can resist it now).” Sarah Ahmed (UK wine critic).
“This wine has instant impact: rich damson in colour, with intense black spice, it balances the punch and intensity of an Australian Shiraz with the elegance of the same grape from the Northern Rhône. It seems to elongate in your mouth, with silky tannins and dark fruits backed up by chocolate notes and crunchy redcurrants. Delicious, it deepens after 15 minutes of opening." Jane Anson, Wine Revolution (she also writes for Decanter Magazine).
“Deep, dark red/purple colour, youthfully deep and bright. There are very ripe blackberry, dark plum aromas, with earthy and sooty notes, fresh and bright with vitality and intensity. A full-bodied, marvellously concentrated, deeply-flavoured Shiraz with real gravitas, persistence and ageing ability. Outstanding, Drink 2017 to 2040. Top rated 2015 McLaren Vale Shiraz from 75 tasted to date.” 96 points, Five Stars, Huon Hooke.
“This makes the marriage of intensity and elegance seem simple, purity and power likewise. It is suspended in time and place with glorious fruit (no chocolate), gently savoury/spicy fine tannins and oak hiding in the panoply of fruit flavours.” 98 points, James Halliday Wine Companion 2018.
Amazingly the wine also gets a Special Value Rating from James Halliday. This highly coveted gong is awarded to“wines considered to offer special value for money.”
It’s unusual for a wine of this price and clearly indicates Halliday thinks it could/should sell for much more. I have to say I agree.
A world class wine.
I can offer it for $110 a bottle. Order here
Head Wines Head Red Montepulciano 2018 @ $23 a bottle. Told you it was good.