75th Anniversary Tasting of the Bin/Reserve/Eric Stevens Purbrick (ESP) Range
Written by Alister Purbrick
On Monday 13th February 2023, Tahbilk organised a tasting of 6 decades of the Bin/Reserve/ESP range which was started 75 years ago by Grandfather Eric with the release of the 1948 Tahbilk Bin 11 Shiraz which precedes the release of Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz.
The tasting was attended by 9 of Australia’s most prominent wine writers, including James Halliday, our winemakers, management and family.
It’s not often that we put together a multi-decade tasting…the last was a complete vertical of the 1860 Vines Shiraz in September 2015 (1979 to 2010) and before that, as part of Tahbilk’s 150th Anniversary in 2010, we tasted verticals of Estate Marsanne, Shiraz and Cabernet sauvignon, 1927 Vines Marsanne, Old Vines Cabernet Shiraz, the ESP range and 1860 Vines Shiraz.
Some background history on the Bin/Reserve/ESP range.
Grandfather would pick his best cask produced in any particular year and that became his Bin release wine. It could be a Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon or even a blend of both such as the 1957 Bin 26 Cabernet Shiraz.
In 1985, I changed the name from “Bin” to “Reserve” and in 2002 changed it to “Eric Stevens Purbrick” or “ESP” in honour of Grandfather.
In 1994, I decided that we would expand this range and produce two wines each year rather than one….a Cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz.
I should also mention that the winemaking technique has been consistent throughout but the oak regime varies from vintage to vintage and decade to decade.
The wines tasted on the day were:
- Shiraz: 1971, 1974, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Total of 19 wines.
- Cabernet sauvignon: 1966, 1968, 1979, 1981, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Total of 21 wines.
The wines, whether older or younger, opened up really well and showcased the high quality of the Shiraz and Cabernet sauvignon that we grow on the Estate. The consistency of quality from wine to wine was amazing with the Cabernet sauvignon just shading the Shiraz overall.
It’s a statement of the obvious to say that the tasting was a huge success with the wine writers suitably impressed with the quality of all wines and I’m sure that a lot of press column centimetres will result in the weeks and months ahead.
I asked all present to choose their best 7 wines in each bracket and the highest pointed wines were:
- ESP Shiraz: 2014 (15 points), 1971 (14 points), 1999 (14 points), 2008 (14 points), 2017 (11 points) and 2018 (11 points) and every wine, except the 1974, got at least one vote.
- ESP Cabernet Sauvignon: 2018 (12 points), 1996 (10 points), 2006 (10 points), 1999 (9 points), nearly every other wine got between 5-8 points and every wine scored at least one vote.
A wonderful day and wonderful result.
A note on the winemaking
All wines have been made using open vats and simply turning the fermenting juice over for 20-30 minutes, twice/day, for 8-10 days which extracts all the flavour, colour and tannins we require.
No header boards or cap plunging has been used as we found that both these methods extracted too much tannin.
For the wines tasted until 1978, the fruit was hand-harvested at the temperature of the day, crushed, stalks removed and the must was pumped into the open vats. Some water cooling from the Goulburn River was available when electricity was installed in the 1950s.
From 1979 to the present day, the fruit was harvested, crushed, stalks removed, the must is cooled to 10-12 degrees centigrade and then pumped into the open vats. This ensures a cold soak of the must for a few days before fermentation begins which we believe adds further complexity to the resultant red wine.