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Wednesday 26 May 2021

Ahead of the pack: a Barossa wine range that shines with food

Usually when I taste a range of wines from one producer, one or two stand out as being of particular quality, or outstanding value. 

Not so at a recent tasting with Alex Head from Head Wines. Not only did just about every wine shine; they were also all excellent value - from entry level to cellaring prospects. 

From the black-fruited Head 2020 Heart and Home Barossa Dry Red for around $25 retail to his Côte-Rôtie tributes, each wine I tried offered attention to detail and balance. 

Head says the Rhone Valley is both his "obsession and inspiration".

He qualified in chemistry at Sydney University before working for importers, retailers and fine wine producers; including Tyrrell's and Torbreck.  

In 2006 he started Head Wines, with an unashamed Rhone accent to his production; using fruit from the Eden (80%) and Barrosa valleys. 

In contrast to some of his Barossa cohorts, Head says his house style is "one of elegance, freshness, balance and purity of fruit." 

The focus is on vines that can be early picked and produce dried herb and subtle styles using larger-format, less intrusive, oak. 

"We've got enough big wines in the Barossa; we tend to operate at the other end of the spectrum," Head says. "It is about not dominating the food at the table, and making wines that are accessible." 

All the vineyards from which he sources fruit are farmed sustainably using organic principles where possible. Minimal sulfur and other additions are used during the whole wine-making process and bottling is without fining or filtration. 

He makes over 6,000 cases a year, distributed by Red & White in Australia, and says: "I’ve been fortunate enough to find unique, elevated sites in the Barossa where the geology and climate allows me to explore my take on these Old World styles."

The first-release Heart and Home cabernet and blend offers exceptional everyday drinking value with its fruit-driven richness and easily accessible style with some dry tannins.

For under $30 retail you'll find the "H" red and rosé wines (above); prime among them a 2019 GSM, my pick with outstanding drinkability, and a 2018 shiraz, but also a montepulciano. Dinner party worthy.

Next step up, the 2018 Brunette ($69) and Blonde ($54) shirazes - as close to Côte-Rôtie as you'll find in Australia and from special sites; designed for cellaring. 

Also the Old Vine Shiraz and Grenache (from 50 and 100 year old vines in traditional Barossa style) and the idiosyncratic The Contrarian ($38). 

This challenges Barossa orthodoxies with fruit from vineyards in the Eden Valley which develop flavour at lower than usual alcohols and show ripeness in their stems.

"We use a different medium for fermentation in cement; which holds the acidity and tannins in a fresher light," says Head. "We mature (instead of age) the wine in oak that is 10 times larger than a traditional barrel and bottle a little earlier too."

A step up again is the 2019 Ancestor Vine Grenache ($98), made in tiny quantities.

All the wines are balanced and food friendly. 

"Big wine is easy, but it is also lazy," Head says. "We want to give people wines with personality that complement dishes, not overpower them."

He recommends pairing his wines with French cuisine (no surprise there), Italian food, and, more surprisingly, Japanese dishes. The GSM and The Contrarian are his tips to pair with Japanese foods.  

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