Lambert Wines

Once more, With Feeling: Earth-go-Glass Chardonnay, Syrah and Nebbiolo from one of Australia’s Most Humble and Innately Talented Wine Families

In the liner notes to ‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson’, Miles Davis refers to guitarist John McLaughlin’s playing as “far in”. Those familiar with this record will know what Davis was alluding to; McLaughlin’s playing was so natural that it had become indistinguishable from his music. If you know Luke Lambert and his wines, then you will recognise this analogy. Refusing to follow the conventions and rituals of by-the-book winemaking, Luke Lambert crafts the kind of wine that we feel confident his vineyards would want him to make; deep, wholesome and “far in”.

One of Australia’s most humble and innately talented winemakers, Lambert is obviously inspired by his experience making wine in Piemonte and Australia yet firmly believes that “...the shape of a wine should be governed by what soil you’re on, the aspect, the amount of sunshine and rain.” In other words, the personality of a wine will be dictated by its “place”. Lambert’s source vineyards (in poor, rocky and elevated pockets of the Yarra Valley) therefore manage to bring out their unique signature in the final cut.

All Lambert wines are handpicked and of single-vineyard origin. They are sublimely perfumed, with moderate alcohols, fresh acidities, powdery tannins, and limited oak influence. Luke’s artisanal methodology includes wild ferments without the aid of temperature control, hand plunging, long macerations (with plenty of whole-bunch for the Syrah’s), gravity rather than pumping, old, large format oak and no fining or filtration.

As Luke tells The New York Times’ wine correspondent, Eric Asimov, “For me, Nebbiolo makes the best wines in the world… When I first tried the wines of Bartolo Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno and Giuseppe Rinaldi, I was completely blown away and wanted to make Nebbiolo and nothing else.”

Lambert’s belief that “...the best wines have always been made by feel and are always sourced from unique and interesting vineyards that have natural balance and grow grapes full of character...” shines through in the remarkable complexity and ‘somewhereness’ of these wines.

In terms of the range, Lambert keeps it as simple as his winemaking philosophy. The delicious, earth-to-glass entry-level Crudo wines are sourced from the granite outcrop of Denton View Hill at Yarra Glen. Compromising a Chardonnay, Shiraz and a Shiraz-based Rose, The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh has written that this “range, quite possibly, offers the most sophisticated and high-quality drinking available at its price point in this country.” Enough said.

Lambert’s flagship ‘Black Label’ Chardonnay and Syrah are both drawn from the windy, east-facing slope of the Tibooburra Estate, a site where the poor volcanic soils offer up the low yields and intensely flavoured berries that are sine qua non to Lambert’s minimal-intervention style. “The volcanic soils of the Tibooburra vineyard are most evident here”, notes Luke, adding that “because of the elevation and the aspect, the wines hold their acid structure and elegance and sail through the hotter years.” For the Syrah, the quality of the vineyard’s clonal material supplies Lambert with a deeper, darker and more structured Syrah than we typically see from the Yarra. This is what drew Lambert to the site and helped make this Syrah a touchstone example of cool-climate Australian Shiraz.

As exciting as these wines are, Lambert’s true love has always been Nebbiolo. His early Nebbiolo releases were sourced from the highland Jansz vineyard at St Andrews. Since 2013, the wine has been sourced from a single parcel of vines in the Denton vineyard, a parcel that Lambert himself grafted to the best clonal material in 2008. Here, the soils of granitic sand over granite boulders and the long, slow-growing seasons provide a near-perfect Australian terroir for Nebbiolo. Lambert Wines’ Nebbiolo has scaled extraordinary heights from this site, and today is undoubtedly Australia’s touchstone example. Yet the story does not end here.

Come 2022, Lambert has relinquished all his contract winemaking duties to focus solely on the Yarra Valley label and the establishment of the family’s new Nebbiolo vineyard. In 2017 Luke and Rosalind purchased a tract of land at Glenburn, just north of the Yarra Valley, near the town of Yea. What drew Lambert to this site was a steep, northeast-facing slope shaped like an amphitheatre, which has now been planted exclusively to Nebbiolo.

The vineyard, pictured above, is full of rocks and iron, with a bit of alluvial soil over the top, and has been christened Sparkletown, after daughter Olive’s love of all things shiny and new. Ultimately, the Lamberts will have only 2.5-hectares under vine, planted to six different clones of Nebbiolo on three different rootstocks at three different densities. An olive grove is also being established, from which the family hopes to make a high-quality oil in the finest Tuscan style.

Lambert is working organically, and in these early years, the work is focused on developing robust root systems and soil health. Lambert Wines expects the first Nebbiolo crop from their home vineyard in 2023. But let’s not get our hopes up just yet, folks. Luke thinks it’s far too early to talk of a potential release date but, when pushed, suggests the first release could be around 2030. Mark that date in your diary.

The Range

Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2023
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Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2023

This year’s Crudo Shiraz is the first release from Luke and Rosalind’s new vineyard source, the Martingale vineyard in Gruyere. Friend and owner Chris Kennedy established the vineyard in 2017 on a gentle, north-facing slope at 140 metres above sea level on the grey duplex soils of the Lower Yarra Valley. He and Luke are on the same page when it comes to farming practices, and the site is managed sustainably. The clone of Shiraz planted on the site proved a drawcard for Luke. Unlike the lion’s share of Shiraz vines in the Yarra Valley, which are PT23 clone, the Martingale vineyard is planted to Tahbilk, a clone Luke worked with at the Tibooburra vineyard. It’s a clone that gives bunches with small round berries and rich wines with more body and mass than PT23. You can expect a delicious uptick in spice, structure and savoury nuance from 2023. As always, Luke takes a no-frills approach in the cellar. The fruit was destemmed, and spontaneous fermentation occurred in an old 5,000-litre oak cask before being bottled without fining or filtration. The results are super impressive: it’s a high-toned, captivating, layered Shiraz, svelte and silky in weight with deep dark fruits mingled with spicy pepper notes and earthy complexity. Joyful stuff.

Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2023
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Lambert Crudo Rosé 2023
Lambert Crudo Rosé 2023
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Lambert Crudo Rosé 2023

Sourced entirely from the granite-rich Denton vineyard, the 2023 Crudo Rosé is 95% Shiraz with a 5% lift from Nebbiolo off the same site. The vines have spent 16 years in these rocky soils, facing northwest from near the top of the cone-shaped slope. The fruit was pressed as whole bunches and fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tank. The wine completed malolactic conversion and was bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. From the cool, low-cropping 2023 season, we agree with Luke’s assertion that this is the most refined and perfumed rosé he’s made. It’s got a lot in common with the bright, red-fruited and fragrant 2022 but feels more vinous and savoury and shows a touch more elegance and mineral appeal. It’s got al fresco dining written all over it.

"It’s a delight. Sappy, savoury-edged, tart and red berry fruited. Pretty perfume, good depth and crunch, indeed, despite the ruby colour only a few pay grades below light red, you could say. A little slickness to texture, then that little rumble of tannin and bitey, chewy acidity rolls through. Energetic, thirst-quenching stuff."
93 points, Mike Bennie, The Wine Front
Lambert Crudo Rosé 2023
Lambert Crudo Rosé 2023
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Lambert Crudo Chardonnay 2023
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Lambert Crudo Chardonnay 2023

Since moving his Chardonnay sourcing to the Denton vineyard, we have seen even greater mineral depth in both the Lambert Crudo and Estate Chardonnays. “The granite soils of the Denton vineyard are most evident in the Chardonnay wines,” Luke tells us. And what’s in the glass certainly backs up this claim. The Crudo fruit hails from the east/northeast-facing slope on the cone-shaped Denton vineyard. The vines are now 20 years old, sitting on those expressive soils of granitic sand over heavy granite boulders. As is the norm, the fruit was whole bunch-pressed and spontaneously fermented with no temperature control. The wine went through full malolactic conversion and matured in old oak (2,000-litre French oak foudre) for three to four months. It was bottled without fining or filtration and with minimum sulphur.It’s another scintillating release, a wine as composed, refined, chiselled and elegant as many with a loftier price tag. A picture of balance and harmony, it’s springtime fresh, with pure, ripe fruit flavours accented by white flowers and deep, stony minerals. It sits beautifully on the palate, composed and flowing to a long, seamless finish. Flat out gorgeous. 

Lambert Crudo Chardonnay 2023
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Lambert Syrah 2022
Lambert Syrah 2022
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Lambert Syrah 2022

The fruit for this Syrah was sourced from the west side of the Denton vineyard, where it enjoys more afternoon sun. The vines are located at the top of the hill where the topsoil depth is negligible, and yields are much lower than is the case for the Crudo vines, which are on the lower part of the slope. Luke tells us that one of the most valuable things he’s learned over his career is “how to extract the best out of bunch”, and those of you familiar with his reds will know this to be true (2022 saw an 80% whole bunch component). His ferments are fast—usually 10 to 12 days for the Syrah. Rosalind and Olive (Luke’s daughter) managed pigeage, doing so twice a day and really working the cap. It was then pressed to tank to naturally settle before it was racked to large, old foudre.Luke has found a new gear with Syrah from Denton; you can expect more structure and potency than ever before. It’s vibrantly perfumed with berry fruits, smoky graphite and savoury spices. The brooding depth flows through to a richly textured palate charged with taut acidity and assertive tannins. The finish is as long as a pair of Tex Perkins’ jeans. Intense, yet full of light and energy, it’s not hard to see why Luke Lambert considers this one of, if not the finest, Syrah he has released.

Luke has found a new gear with Syrah from Denton; you can expect more structure and potency than ever before. It’s vibrantly perfumed with berry fruits, smoky graphite and savoury spices. The brooding depth flows through to a richly textured palate charged with taut acidity and assertive tannins. The finish is as long as a pair of Tex Perkins’ jeans. Intense, yet full of light and energy, it’s not hard to see why Luke Lambert considers this one of, if not the finest, Syrah he has released.

"An unirrigated patch of vines, still establishing themselves. A medium-bodied wine of ethereal scents and a savory structural latticework that brings the drinker back to chew on the tannins. Great tannins, here. Violets, blueberries, iodine, tapenade and saucisson, with a hint of dill, clove and something loamy and ferrous to the mouthfeel, imparting warmth and a strong sense of place. There is something evocative about this, even if new to the style. It all feels intuitive. It all feels right. Drink or hold.”
95 points, Ned Goodwin MW, Top 100 Wines of Australia 2023, jamessuckling.com
Lambert Syrah 2022
Lambert Syrah 2022
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Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2022
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Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2022

The cooler conditions in 2022 saw Luke deploy shorter maceration times to lessen the stalk influence, which, counterintuitively resulted in a more powerful wine than the 2021. The 2022 Shiraz was fermented wild (with 60% whole bunches) and raised in 5,000-litre old oak cask before being bottled without fining or filtration. Showcasing all the youthful and vibrant charm we have come to expect from a Lambert Shiraz, the 2022 ramps up the complexity and elegance to another level. It’s aromatic and lively, with a spine of juicy, blue fruits and spice matched by a distinct mineral lift and remarkable finesse throughout the palate. Intense, yet light and full of energy, the finish is long with a peppery and earthy flair. A marvellous release of this wine.

Showcasing all the youthful and vibrant charm we have come to expect from a Lambert Shiraz, the 2022 ramps up the complexity and elegance to another level. It’s aromatic and lively, with a spine of juicy, blue fruits and spice matched by a distinct mineral lift and remarkable finesse throughout the palate. Intense, yet light and full of energy, the finish is long with a peppery and earthy flair. A marvellous release of this wine.

Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2022
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“In an unassuming shed near this small town in the center of the Yarra Valley, just northeast of Melbourne, Luke Lambert makes gorgeous, minerally chardonnays and perfumed, savory syrahs under the Luke Lambert label. The wines are fresh and energetic… They are the sorts of wines I love to drink — pure and unpretentious but with character and depth.” Eric Asimov, The New York Times

Country

Australia

Primary Region

Yarra Valley, Victoria

People

Winemaker: Luke Lambert

Availability

National

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