A class with Wolf Blass' chief winemaker Chris Hatcher

The Australian brand has won over 10,000 awards since its inception in 1966.

Wolf Blass' chief winemaker Chris Hatcher (Photo: Wolf Blass)

After running away from school in Germany, Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass began a three-year wine apprenticeship that set him on the path to creating one of the most successful wine brands in the world. Blass was the youngest person to achieve a Masters in Oenology from Veitshöchheim-Würzburg. He then moved to England to study in 1959 and found himself in Australia’s Barossa Valley in 1961. Five years later, Wolf Blass winery was established. It has certainly come a long way from the small tin sheds of its early years and earned more than 10,000 awards and successfully increased its exports.

Options had the opportunity to sample some of Wolf Blass’ luxury wines at a media luncheon at Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur with chief winemaker Chris Hatcher. “Mr Blass was one of the pioneers of the modern wine industry because he changed the style of red wine we made in the country ... His key to success was that he made wines that people loved and felt that every bottle of wine should be ready to drink when it is sold,” says Hatcher who reminisces that when Blass first came to his office, he said, “Chris, no gold medals means no job”.

We began with the only white wine, the Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014. “This is four years old and the colour is still vibrant. You can see a lot of green tint, which says this is well made,” Hatcher comments. With the aroma of grapefruit and peaches, the Chardonnay is rich, creamy and very easy to drink.

Wolf Blass wines pair perfectly with food to help make any meal an occasion (Photo: Wolf Blass)

Next up was the Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, made with grapes from the Coonawarra region, known for developing complex and intensely flavoured wines. We compare this red wine with the Barossa Shiraz 2013, which is also in their gold label category. “Colour is one of those things that’s a really good indicator of a good wine. If you look at the Cabernet and Shiraz together, the Shiraz has a deeper and richer colour. The difference between these wines is the variety, but they’re made the exact same way.”

The Cabernet Sauvignon was a fruity red and medium-bodied, with flavours reminiscent of berries and dark chocolate. The Shiraz was richer, with a more rounded flavour. Both wines were matured in French oak barrels, which Hatcher explains subtly complement the fruity flavours rather than overpower them, like American oak would.

From their Grey Label collection, we tried the Langhorne Creek Cabernet Shiraz 2014, a medium to full-bodied wine that had a very deep fruit palate and nice soft tannins. “Here, we blend Cabernet and Shiraz together. Cabernet gives what we call the structure and it tends to be more on the upside of the palate and firmer on the finish. Merlot and Shiraz are rounder in the middle and softer in the end,” says Hatcher.

Hatcher: "Colour is one of those things that’s a really good indicator of a good wine." (Photo: Wolf Blass)

The tasting ended with the iconic Black Label Cabernet Shiraz Malbec 2012, made exactly the same way since its creation. The wine has an interesting history: in 1973, Blass picked the best barrels of the year from his cellar, blended them together and entered the wine for the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy competition and won. The Black Label went on to win for three years in a row and helped make Wolf Blass the household name we have come to love today. The 2012 bottle is the 40th consecutive vintage of Black Label and is a velvety blend that is impressively rich and complex.

Hatcher tells us that although Blass has retired, he still calls him to give instructions and keep abreast of the company. “He makes it fun, and that’s the key thing with wine — it should be fun. He’s 84 years old and is a great advertisement for drinking good red wine — it keeps you young,” he says.


This article first appeared on Dec 24, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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