Australian wine has come a long way in the last 125 years, and the Kay family has been there through it all. Colin Kay, descendant of Kay Brothers founders Herbert and Frederick Kay, has been in the midst of an international tour to spread the word about his family winery’s 125th anniversary. Kay Brothers is the oldest, continuous family-owned winery in South Australia, but it makes wine that’s relevant for today.
Colin came to Corkbuzz in Manhattan on September 28 to pour a selection of his Block 6 Shiraz and share some family memories. The original Kay brothers planted Shiraz in 1892, and there are still vines with fruit from this pre-phylloxera clone.
At the Corkbuzz tasting, members of the trade and media were able to sample some Shiraz vintages from the last 24 years. The 1991 Block 6 Shiraz had much life left, firm red fruit, a long finish and caramel on the back end. The tannin and spice had softened and there was a gentle grace about this still-vibrant wine.
The 1995 vintage of Block 6 Shiraz had bacon notes on the nose, with rich blackberry and black cherry fruit flavors. The tannins were polished and this was still a lush wine, despite its 20 years.
Taking at look at the 2000 vintage, there was a strong rootbeer nose – quite distinct from the other vintages we tasted. There was again plenty of black fruit, and a long finish. A number of tasters felt this vintage was among the strongest shown.
We moved through the early 2000s, and came to some vintages of note. 2006 was slightly more restrained, with black cherries and cocoa notes and nice balance. The 2008 was also a rich but graceful wine, with the characteristic bold dark fruit and long finish. Finally, the still-young 2012 looks to have great potential. At the moment it has pure blackberry and black cherry fruit, some coffee, and is a generous wine that Colin thinks may show well in the future.
As the wine was poured, Colin regaled those in attendance with family stories. He recalled how his father said to him when he was just a boy, “Look old chap, watch out for the heat waves.” Colin never forgot those words, and they saved him in 2008, when he harvested right before a brutal 15 day heatwave which would have cooked the grapes had they been left hanging.
Colin believes many of their best vintages can age for 15-20 years or longer. As for bottle aging, Colin strongly dislikes the use of cork and the winery switched to all stelvin closures in 2002. He believes that cork has caused inconsistency among bottles within the same vintage, and aspires to eliminate this in all future bottlings.
During the reception after the tasting, attendees were able to try more recent vintages, including sampling the Cuthbert Cabernet Sauvignon. Cuthbert was Colin’s father, and a fan of the variety. The 2010 Cabernet was a vivid rendition, lighter than the Shiraz with bright blackberry flavors.
Tasting through more than 20 years of Kay Brothers vintages, it was clear that they offer polished wines that consistently deliver big fruit flavors, lush mouthfeel and good length. These are big, but balanced, wines from a small winery with a big past.