By TOM MARQUARDT
& PATRICK DARR
THE WINE GUYS
Nearly a decade ago Mollydooker became a household word among American wine enthusiasts. The Australia brand hit shelves with a flourish, in large part due to the personality of its Australian creators, Sparky and Sarah Marquis. But the attention it got was also due to its controversial style: heady, extracted and, well, delicious.
Located in McLaren Vale, Mollydooker reaps 11 acres of sustainably grown shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The couple is left-handed, which is the Australian translation of Mollydooker.
The couple had struck out on their own in 2005 after a successful run with the highly successful Marquis Philips brand. Two weeks after launch they were down to $17 in the bank when a local businessman stopped by with a big check. Despite the risk they took, Mollydooker was an overnight success. At $20 a bottle, it was a premium wine buyers could afford. In its debut, wine critic Robert Parker Jr. named The Boxer shiraz the "Best Value Red Wine in the World;" The Violinist was the "Best Value White Wine in the World."
Mollydooker’s inventory sold out in 19 days.
Not all critics, however, were effusive in praise. Even fellow Australian winemakers still criticize the wines for their high alcohol and extracted fruit. Alcohol levels are above 16 percent when most others are 13-14 percent. Could Mollydooker sustain its popularity – or would it be another fading star?
That was Tom’s question when he opened a 2010 Mollydooker shiraz from his cellar. He put away a couple of bottles just to see if such a showy wine could survive the test of time. "The Boxer," as it is known, did age well even though that wasn’t the winemaker’s intent.
The occasion offered an opportunity for us to catch up with Marquis just to take a read on how the brand is doing after its first decade.
We caught Marquis, now 52, on a marketing swing through the United States. He and Sarah had sipped the 2006 Mollydooker Velvet Glove for breakfast. It was their first wine produced under the Mollydooker label.
"Wow," he said. It’s a favorite word. "Massive fruit, rich, balanced, chocolate."
Although a number of Australian brands fell from grace, Mollydooker has enjoyed sustaining power. Marquis attributes that to its consistency year after year.
"Everyone was talking about structure in wine when we were talking about flavor," he said. "Our wine can be enjoyed by anyone, anytime, in any glass, and people will get enjoyment."
Such a formula seems predictably successful, but it wasn’t so clear when the wine was first launched.
"We were scared when we started out," Marquis said. "I told my crew that we had better make wine just as we like it in case we have to drink it all."
But he didn’t have to worry. One customer just bought 60 cases of the 2014 Two Left Feet, a sale that intrigued Marquis so much that he visited the man in his Charlottesville home.
"He told me, ‘We just love the wine so much, we don’t ever want to run out.’"
Although some of his critics protest the flamboyant, heady style of Mollydooker, there’s no denying its success among people who enjoy jammy, rich fruit flavors. Every time we pour these wines to a crowd, there are conflicting and often vociferous opinions. It is the most polarizing wine we have encountered – and one that clearly isn’t for everyone.
Mollydooker’s production in 2005 was 32,000 cases; last year it was 75,000 cases. Prices of its "lefty" wines rose from $20 in 2005 to $25 in 2007 and $28 in 2015. That’s still a remarkable deal for such approachable wines.
More importantly, the flagship Carnival of Love shiraz has ranked in Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 wines three times. The magazine ranked the 2014 shiraz its number two wine in the world. The Wine Advocate gave 99 points to the first Carnival of Love and has been praised it year after year.
In short, Mollydooker is just as strong today as it was when the brand was launched a decade ago.
"I pinch myself," he said of Mollydooker’s success. "Is this really us? Is this my life?"
Here are some of the latest releases. Mollydooker recommends that you pour a bit of wine out of the bottle, recap and shake it vigorously, reopen the cap to let the nitrogen escape and repeat. This, they believe, removes the nitrogen used to protect the wine from sulphites. Nitrogen compresses flavors.
Mollydooker The Maitre d’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($28). Ripe and dense dark berry fruit with an incredibly intense floral nose.
Mollydooker Two Left Feet 2014 ($28). There’s no denying the delicious factor in this blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2014 ($28). You won’t find a better, most tasty shiraz. Lots of plum and chocolate notes to keep you humming.
Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz 2014 ($49). There is more complexity in this reserve shiraz. Same plum and chocolate flavors but with depth and finish.
Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz 2014 ($75). We’re not surprised this wine continues to rank so high every year. Great depth and power but with a silky mouthfeel and balance.
Mollydooker Velvet Glove Shiraz 2013 ($185). This wine is so thick you could spread it on bread in the morning. Rich, complex, explosive aromas, smooth texture and a dose of licorice to keep it intriguing. Wow, as Sparky would say.