Rolls Royce always meant luxury. Only the finest cows were despatched to cover the seats and the prettiest sheep given a haircut for the carpets and no tree less than a hundred years old was knocked down to make the dashboard. The cars glided through every pothole with such ease and sophistication that the hat on Lady Cuthbertson-Smythe's head was never nudged out of place, nor did the line of cocaine being done in the back end up a snowstorm on the lap of the rock star owner.
But look at a 1980s Rolls Royce nowadays. Unless the owner has spent a small fortune on the car, you can guarantee that it is a bit of a rust bucket and falling to pieces. But then Volkswagen bought the company and any Rolls Royce being produced nowadays will almost certainly never suffer the same fate. When something does go wrong it will cost many many pounds to fix (VWs are pricy enough, goodness knows what a brake pad will cost for a new Phantom), but rust and fragility will never occur. If you are Simon Cowell, you know that the massive producer of Passats and Beetles has done a good thing to this prestigious British company. In this case, bigger is better, but boy do you pay loads for it!
Which is the exact opposite of what I normally think about wine. Sure, big producers have their place, but I'd normally prefer to find an interesting small grower Champagne than buy a bottle of fizz from Moet & Chandon. Faustino's top Riojas are all well and good, but give me an entry level Tondonia Rioja any day of the week, as you'll get a better wine for less money. Usually, when a big producer makes a 'winemakers wine', they feel the need to justify its place by charging extortionate prices, when smaller winemakers offer better wines for less money. Bigger companies often mean worse, and you still have to pay loads for it!
But today I tried five wines from Australian producer Peter Lehmann and I may start to think that bigger producers can do really good, higher end wines without charging the vinous equivalent of a Rolls Royce price tag.I started with a 2005 Peter Lehmann Wigan Eden Valley Riesling (£18). Made from 50 to 60 year old vines, it showed bright fresh citrus, a little bit of plasticine coming off, but then some more sweeter citrus comes out, quite cleanly - all oranges and limes. The palate has a nice sweet lime flavour but none of the sugar. Crisp and acidic with a precise, linear flavour profile. Good balance, a nice fresh clean wine with some rounder citrus flavours rather than the brash acidic zingy Riesling you often get from Australia. I liked this a lot. 89pts
The next wine - 2006 Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon (£15) - was equally nice. If the RIesling was all about limes, this was about lemons! Initially a bit of peachy fruit and then with a clean, minerally and lime aroma coming through. Some milky elements coming out, giving a bit of roundness and depth, but then the palate has lemon galore, lots of fresh lemon juice but with that creamier texture - almost like tart lemon curd! Lots of clean fruit, and with a chalky element and a waxy texture on the finish. Lovely. 90pts.
The third wine is a fun wine thrown in a bundle of seriousness. The 2011 Peter Lehmann Princess Moscato (£11 for 50cl) has a bright, pretty and floral nose with some orange and rose petal aromas. A slightly harsh bubble but with some sweet honey and turkish delight softening it a bit. Very fun, clean and simple with a lovely bright citrus and strawberry flavour. Fun, silly and very drinkable wine but a bit pricy for something that is supposed to be a light hearted wine. 84pts
Onto the reds and the company's top Cabernet, the 2008 Peter Lehmann Mentor Cabernet Sauvignon (£20). It had big Cabernet aromas but with some floral notes coming out with just a little of the greener fruit aromas you would normally expect a lot of in an Aussie Cab. A touch of liquorice and mint, but more leaning towards the fruit. Some chunky tannin, but not over the top, dark, earthier berries - blueberries and dark cherries. A nice balance., with dry leather and coconut husk on the finish. A delicious Cabernet from Australia at a really good price. 91pts.
Finally, the company's iconic wine, the 2007 Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz (£32). I've always liked this wine, and it didn't disappoint today. A touch of aniseed balls on the nose and a little bit of blueberries, liquorice and cinnamon too. There is a slight sweetness, more compote than jam on the palate which has a big, dark, liquorice and fennel element coming off with some black pepper flavours cut by some fresh blueberries. A dark, smoky delicious wine. 89pts
All of these are well made, terroir driven wines that express their country and show that Barossa can make restrained, elegant wines. By abandoning American oak, the Stonewell Shiraz has become classy. Picking early makes the Wigan Riesling an very pretty dry Riesling with balanced acid and the Semillon is one of the best examples I've seen of this variety from down under. Also, giving both of them time to age has resulted in good wines becoming great. Even the Moscato, though pricy, is a nice wine to try. The star for me though was the Mentor Cabernet. At twenty pounds it is a delight in a glass. It is a Rolls Royce for the price of a Golf.