Monthly Archives: November 2013

Brezza Fresh Heir

They’re not textbook tasting conditions – a tad dingy, bulbs missing from the chandelier above – yet the setting’s perfect. The room’s littered with old photos and pristine current-release wines. Dusty ancient bottles adorn the mantelpiece and fourth-generation family winemaker Enzo Brezza sits opposite me.
These organic wines, fermented with natural yeasts, are made from fruit sourced from 16.5 hectares of vines. Just over three-quarters are in Barolo itself, taking in vineyards such as Cannubi, Sarmassa and Bricco Sarmassa. Add to this a hectare in each of Novello and Monforte d’Alba and another two situated between Barolo and Barbaresco.
Enzo places a cheeseboard and grissini in front of me as we prepare for a look at his handiwork. We’ll be here a while. The 2013 harvest ran pretty late and there’s still a fair amount going on in the winery. Also, visits are sporadic this time of year and some open samples have to be tested for freshness. Any lack of would stick out like a sore thumb; my host has successfully made freshness a priority. “I like elegant style,” he tells me. “I don’t like overconcentrated wine. I like the character of the grape.”

The wines bear out his claim. The Dolcetto d’Alba 2011 (13% alcohol, stainless steel, Vinolok glass closure or natural cork options) I found a bit too subtle for its own good, missing out on the juice and sport of this variety, but both the super-fresh, traditional Barbera d’Alba 2011 (14.5% alcohol, stainless steel, Vinolok) and the less lifted, rounded, plummy and smooth Barbera Superiore 2010 (14% alcohol; one year in big, newish oak, cork) were vibrant, gluggable and elegant. The light-bodied Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 (14.5% alcohol, stainless steel, Vinolok) with which we kicked off, was gorgeously fragrant and caressing, with strawberry compote, roses, liquorice and herbs. The Santa Rosalia Nebbiolo d’Alba 2011 (15% alcohol, one year in oak, Vinolok and cork) is clearly related: medium bodied this time, with roses, raspberry and earth.
The Barolos (there are five; I’ll take a closer look at two of them) undergo a 20-30 day maceration and immediate malolactic fermentation, They get two years in large-format, seasoned Slavonian oak before an additional year in bottle. Enzo says he likes to drink Barolo between six to 15 years after the harvest, with the best window between eight and 10. “For me, you like it because you like it, not because it’s old and you respect it,” he adds.

Brezza Barolo Cannubi 2009 Barolo DOCG, Italy

Medium ruby in colour with a relatively pronounced nose of raspberry, strawberry and wood smoke. It’s medium bodied with poise and strength, great depth of red fruit on the palate plus some sagey herb. The rich tannins are nicely integrated, the natural acidity high, and it finishes long with raspberry and a sensation of crushed flowers.

RRP €25 from the cellar* – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 19/11/13 – Cork

Brezza Barolo Sarmassa 2009 Barolo DOCG, Italy

The pick of the bunch for me. Nose of lifted roses and violets, plus red cherries, redcurrants and strawberry compote. The savoury side of things is catered for with earth, rosemary, fennel and fresh mint. It’s high in tannin, of course, but these are almost lacy and well balanced with the fresh acid. There’s some roundness to the fruit but there’s nothing broad about it; it’s focused and linear. Again, only medium bodied but superb strength across the palate, with a long finish of plum and raspberry. Sensational.

RRP €28 from the cellar* – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 19/11/13 – Cork

*Brezza’s Australian distributor Déjà Vu expects the 2009 wines to arrive here in December. The best outlets to get them will be Prince Wine Store and Winestar. Prices are expected to be around $79 for the Brezza Barolo Cannubi 2009 and $85 for the Brezza Barolo Sarmassa.

In Praise Of Freisa

This might shock and amaze ya
But you’re gonna dig this Freisa

At the mention of this little-known Piedmontese grape, my teetotal father – as white and English as they come – pulled out a terrible impression of Muhammad Ali’s rhyming-couplet threat to “destroy Joe Frazier”. Perhaps the fact that he’d nosed more Nebbiolo than the wine critic at the Barolo Chronicle had something to do with it. Whatever, the boxing legend and this underdog variety will be forever linked in my memory.
It’s fair to say Freisa is not the greatest. In fact, it was almost out for the count – once Piedmont’s second most planted variety, it’s little more than a palooka these days. Giuseppe Vaira, of Barolo family winery G.D. Vajra, says its decline has come about for a number of reasons. First, a good chunk of it is used for Vermouth, thanks to its vibrant acidity. Then there are the inconsistent yields, and the fact that it’s way down the pecking order when it comes to selecting sites. In addition, this highly tannic variety gives lots of harsh, malic acid. “If it’s not ripe, the acid/tannin combination kills the wine,” says Vaira.
It also has identity issues. It’s commonly made “vivace”, as a slightly sweet, forthy wine for quaffing at picnics, but is a very different beast as a quite masculine, dry red. And let’s not forget the divisive bittersweet flavour profile. The Oxford Companion to Wine quotes Hugh Johnson as finding it “immensely appetising” and Robert Parker shuddering at a “totally repugnant wine”.
So what does it have going for it? Well, one can never overlook breeding, and Freisa is a close relative of Nebbiolo, Italy’s king of reds. (Apparently this DNA-profiling revelation was “mindblowing” for local growers. ‘How can this crappy grape be related to noble Nebbiolo?’ is the refrain Vaira recalls.) Then there’s its comely purple colour and fragrance of wild red fruits and violets.
For many, it’s a bit of a legacy grape. “We make Freisa because we’ve always made Freisa,” they quip at Bartolo Mascarello. Here it’s a dry version, but there’s no firm line taken on the spritz. If it happens, it happens, which means customers have to take the rough with the smooth – or the flat with the fizz. It’s not the kind of variation normally tolerated by wine folk but like everything at Bartolo Mascarello, the wine is good and runs out in no time.
Conversely, Brezza’s Langhe Freisa 2012 (14% alcohol) is a resolutely still version, with a perfumed nose of raspberry and red cherry, zingy acid and lots of fine tannins that carry the fruit nicely. It definitely calls out for food, though – pork belly or salami would go down a treat.
At Vajra they’ve gone to even greater lengths to get Freisa fighting fit. Giuseppe Vaira says the trick is to pick it late, at the same time or later than Nebbiolo. He gives it a long maceration – 20 to 25 days – before 12 to 18 months’ ageing in large, seasoned oak casks. The Langhe Freisa Kyè 2010 (14.5% alcohol; the name’s a phonetic transcription of the Italian ‘Chi é?’, or ‘Who is it?’) is a knockout. A nose of earth, cherry, plum, white pepper and spice, its rich, fine tannins and vibrant acidity give a firm frame for the juicy cherries, plums, redcurrants and herbs.
Not necessarily the greatest, but it’s well worth going a few rounds with this one.

Meet Johnny Canonica

“I’m a lucky man. One and a half hectares of land is enough to live.” Giovanni Canonica – Gianni to his mates and honoured guests at his Barolo home – is pretty cool from where I’m sitting. Scruffy and handsome in red-rimmed specs that only an Italian could carry off, he’s showing us his wine in his sitting room. We’re staying next door, in his three-bedroom farm stay, Il Quarto Stato. The place is named after the iconic 1901 painting of striking peasants by Piedmontese neo-impressionist Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, a print of which adorns our front door. The house is slap bang in the middle of this storied village, and the Paiagallo vineyard can be seen from my bedroom window.
It’s from a 1.5-hectare patch of this vineyard that Gianni makes his one and only Barolo. He does it naturally, with no yeasts, no filtering, just a touch of sulphur at bottling to arrive at 30mg/L. It’s made in tiny quantities – 6,000 bottles in 2009 – in the shed and cellar out back. The basket press is endearingly ancient, the 2,500L Slavonian oak casks cumbersome and uncomplicated. The only other wine Gianni makes is 1,000 bottles of Barbera d’Alba.
And distribution is fittingly random yet simple. In the mid-1990s, when times were pretty desperate here, a natural wine lover from Japan tasted some and became unofficial brand evangelist. Gianni now sells half his production to the Japanese. They’ve scored a rare treat.

Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo 2009, Barolo DOCG, Italy

Light ruby to garnet colour, this 100% Nebbiolo has a pronounced nose of cherry blossom, roses, red cherry, tar, leather and roasted nuts. It’s medium to light bodied, and the soft strawberry, red and black cherries and prunes on the palate are a striking follow-up to the savoury overload of the nose. Plenty of layers here too, though, with caramelised orange, leather and spice on the back palate. The tannins are very fine with a firmness that keeps everything in check. The wine finishes long, with bit of tang and some spirity warmth. It’s a bit out there but honest as the day is long, and with bundles of intrigue to go back for. Personally I loved it. Drink 2014 to 2022.

RRP €20 from the cellar* – Alcohol 15% – Tasted on 16/11/13

*Gianni says he’s sending 120 bottles of Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo 2009 to Australia this month.

Barolo Travel Cheat Sheet

Seems strange now, but I used to be daunted by Barolo: that authoritative label bearing down on you from a high shelf, like a hilltop fortress. I suppose the price tag – not astronomical in the UK, but enough to intimidate a scavenging journo – played a part.
In reality, the region is extremely accessible. I’ll be writing about some of the fantastic people and wines I came across on my recent visit, but first want to put together a basic guide. Though sketchy – especially relating to prices – I hope it’ll persuade some to discover the region for themselves.


Barolo is a village just over an hour’s drive south of Turin or 15km south of Alba, in the region of Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s also a DOCG appellation for wines made from Nebbiolo grapes sourced within the immediate vicinity of Barolo itself, including famous villages such as La Morra, Castiglione Falleto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. These villages are an easy 10-minute drive away. It’s a fabulously picturesque area, strewn with steep vineyards and hilltop castles.


For my money, it’s agriturismo all the way. These local farm stays are often well situated, give good guidance on food and wine and offer great value, starting at about €45 a single and €55 a double. I stayed at – and heartily recommend – Gioco dell’Oca, 2km from Barolo, and Il Quarto Stato, in the heart of the village. Friends stayed at Casa Svizzera a couple of doors down. Another one that caught my eye was Le Viole, but there’s nothing to stop you staying in La Morra or Serralunga. For a more complete listing go to Agriturismo.It


The villages are small but have quite a few options. You may need to book on Friday and Saturday night, especially in Barolo. My favourite in Barolo was La Cantinetta, while L’Osteria del Vignaoiolo in La Morra was sensational. Value across the board is good – primi piatti (pasta ribbons with porcini mushrooms or ravioli with butter and sage, say) start around €9, and secondi piatti might start at €12. As you’d expect, the wine lists are superb and the mark-ups thankfully modest – say, €20-€25 for a lovely drop of Nebbiolo. For Barolo you’re probably looking at more like €40+. There are also by-the-glass options – Dolcetto and Barbera from €3.50, Nebbiolo from €4 and Barolo from €8.


It’s common for wineries to close the doors for a couple of hours for lunch. In any case, it’s best to email or ring ahead to make sure it’s OK to visit. You’ll often find the ensuing welcome embarrassingly warm. Many will show you round the winery and chances are there’s unlikely to be any hard sell attached to your tasting. For those meaning to buy, price lists are not prominently displayed, so here’s an idea of what you might be in for: Dolcetto d’Alba from €6, Barbera d’Alba from €7-8 basic Nebbiolo from €10-12, Barolo from €25-€30 (climbing much higher for single-vineyard wines from best sites and producers).

This is red territory. Some producers have a token international white in their stable – we tried a good Chardonnay and Riesling – or else a white from further afield in Piedmont, such as a Gavi, Arneis or Moscato d’Asti. But really it’s all about these varieties:

Nebbiolo: High in tannin and acidity, low in colour, with typical aromas of roses, tar, red fruits from strawberry to plum, and liquorice. Producers may offer a Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba, often approachable, ready to be drunk young and spectacular value. Barolo is the cream of the crop, produced from a designated area and released after at least three years (minimum 18 months in wood). It has the potential to change your life and, with age, do things you can’t even imagine.

Barbera: High in colour and acid, low in tannin. Varies in quality but can be extremely juicy, lively and fresh and food friendly. Some producers also make a Superiore version, a little more complex, ready to drink a little later, perhaps with some oak, perhaps able to age well over an extended period.

Dolcetto: Low-acid grape producing early-drinking wines that are fragrant, soft, round and juicy. Typical aromas of cherries and plums, liquorice and almonds. As one winemaker quipped of this and Barbera: “They’re family wines. You can drink them all day.”

Freisa: A slightly weird and much-maligned local grape, which you can read about on the blogpost, In Praise Of Freisa.

For more information about wineries, the Barolo di Barolo website is good for producers in the village itself, but you’d be missing out on lots of other great Barolo makers on your doorstep. Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion has good recommendations, including contact details. Bear in mind, too, that Barbaresco has Nebbiolo to rival these, and is just a few miles up the road…

Yabby Über Achiever

It’s barely been around five minutes, but it’s made quite a name for itself. Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 has just picked up best Pinot Noir and best single-vineyard dry red at the National Wine Show of Australia. That’s after becoming the first Pinot ever to win Australia’s most prestigious wine prize, the Jimmy Watson trophy.
Easy to suspect the bloke who made it of serial over achievement, too. Tom Carson was Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial in 2002 on his way to becoming the youngest National Wine Show chairman, and also led Yering Station to the International Winemaker of the Year title in 2004.
I got a chance to chat with the man of the moment following his triumph at last month’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, where his victory speech eloquently summarised his philosophy: “Wines for me shouldn’t have winemaker thumbprints all over them. They should be very natural, very easy, very expressive and just show their beauty without being poked and prodded and fined, filtered or manipulated.”
Carson was quick to dish out credit to Australian Pinot pioneers (pinotneers?) such as Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip, Main Ridge Estate’s Nat White, wine writer and Coldstream Hills founder James Halliday and the late John Middleton of Mount Mary.
Next came the Yabby Lake team, most notably his “gentle, thorough and sensitive” vineyard manager, Keith Harris. It was Harris who planted the vines in 1997/98 and laid the groundwork for greatness. “It’s an exceptionally good site,” Carson told me. “When I arrived in 2008, that’s when we started really delving into the vineyard and looking at each part of it as a separate wine – and trying to understand what we could do, during the season and in the winery, to bring those wines to life, to get that potential out of the vineyard and into the bottle.”
The meticulous mapping of the vineyard, with its myriad clones and sections, means Carson and Harris roam the rows for up to five hours a day during vintage. They chew the fat, taste the fruit and work out when the everything will be ready. “Getting the picking right is a massive part of winemaking,” says Carson.
And from the moment the Block 1 fruit came in, he was sure he was onto a winner. “Right through its ageing in barrel, it was always destined to be a block wine. For me, Pinot has beautiful texture, and this has fragrance and aromatics, with some rose petals and beautiful violets and real subtlety and detail in the aromas. The wine has got a lot of extract and depth and evenness to the palate. There’s real gravitas and energy at the back palate. The completeness of it is what excited us.”
For sure, Carson’s creation isn’t a light, bright babe. It’s a dark, brooding and serious Pinot Noir: deep in colour, with dark cherries, plums and spice beneath those floral tones. Its silky texture belies a taut strength and imposing length. And there’s no question it’s only just begun; the fragrance, purity and structure are obvious, but it’s just hinting at pleasures to come, with 2014 to 2022 shaping up as a promising window.
Just as Block 1’s best is ahead of it, I wouldn’t count on Carson & Co resting on their laurels. If he’s prepared to accept credit for anything, it’s setting “impossible” standards – and pushing his team to surpass them. “It’s about instilling confidence in people that we can do it better next year.”
Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012
The nerdy stuff: The MV6-clone fruit for Yabby Lake Block 1 Pinot Noir 2012 was grown on the lower, more sheltered part of the vineyard in Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula. The soils here are light clay over loam, though they’re a bit deeper, the clay a touch heavier, than in other parts of the vineyard. It was hand picked, hand sorted and gently de-stemmed into small open fermenters, with a small percentage of whole bunches added. Carson then gave it a three- to four-day soaking before a fermentation that peaked at 32 degrees. The wine was pressed off skins after 10 days into French oak puncheons for malolactic fermentation and maturation. It stayed in oak until February 2013, when it was bottled. Only 270 dozen made.

Far From Home Nebbiolo

It’s hosing down with rain outside, it’s five in the morning, I can’t sleep – and I don’t care. Why not? Because I’m in Milan, and in a couple of hours I’ll be heading down to Barolo to taste some of my favourite wines in the stunning landscape in which they were grown. And to plant the idea that I’m not just a loser that sits up at night in a darkened room blogging about Nebbiolo, I’ll be meeting my parents and a couple of great English mates who’ve flown down especially.
So here’s a bit of jetlagged reminiscing about a lovely wine from the other side of the world. I’m not going to bang on about what a great bloke Steve Pannell is or how wonderful all his wines are – though these things are manifestly true – because I still harbour hopes of some shut-eye before the bus goes.
So: Nebbiolo. Hunting for a good ‘un in Australia can be an expensive hobby – in general, our best Nebs are ahead of us and Italians start pricey. On that point, though, the chap who set up this blind tasting also brought along a Marcarini ‘Lasarin’ 2012 from the Langhe ($30 at Vino Italiano). It was very good (juicy strawberry, liquorice, balsamic) but didn’t quite muster the light-and-shade complexity that makes the grape so exciting.

S.C. Pannell Nebbiolo 2009 Adelaide Hills

Bright light ruby with an orange-pink tinge, this has an enticing nose of roses, strawberry, orange peel, earth, tar and charcoal. Strawberries, black cherries and plums float along the medium-bodied palate, accompanied by an orangey tang and some spice. As one would expect, there are tannins aplenty but these are fine, savoury and sit back nicely, combining with lively acid to drive it out to a long and lovely conclusion. Satisfyingly complex and complete. Bravo.

Costs $50 from the Prince Wine Store, Melbourne – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 14/10/13

Euro Summer Whites

Four European countries, five whites from seven different varieties, all with one thing in common: they’re made for summer. They’re not cheap but certainly cheerful and worth the asking price.
I came across them in various different ways: the Verdicchio had a certain fame that prompted me to take it to a blind tasting; the Albariño and Grüner Veltliner were brought to my attention by sommelier, blogger and closet Italian Raffaele Mastrovincenzo; and the Saint-Mont blend and Timorasso caught my eye at a tasting with a couple of Melbourne importers. They are Ludovic Deloche, whose Halle Aux Vins brings in some lovely French stuff, and Naz Fazio of Vinositá, who weaves similar magic from Italian materials.

La Colombera Derthona Timorasso 2011 Colli Tortonesi DOC, Italy

I almost went off it when I read in fab new mag Noble Rot that this was pretty much the house white for Coldplay. I’m sure they’re nice guys, but if their music were wine, I wouldn’t even cook with it. Of course, they’re millionaire rockstars who can afford to bathe in this stuff, so what do they care?
They’ve evidently got taste, though, because this Piedmont white is delicious. The grape is Timorasso, and up to two days of skin contact followed by weekly lees stirring for nine months lends it texture, freshness and complexity. It’s medium lemon in colour and smells of summer orchards, with lovely fresh stone fruits, pear and honey washing through a slightly unctuous, full-bodied palate. It finishes with a lovely evocation of pear tarte tatin with cream. Para, para, paradise. (Sorry.)

Costs $51 from City Wine Shop, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 23/09/13

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrasen Federspiel 2011 Wachau DAC, Austria

Bear with me, because that name needs some picking apart. Grüner Veltliner is the variety and it’s Austria’s signature white, with Wachau an exemplary region. The grapes were grown on steep terraces (‘Terrasen’) and ‘Federspiel’ is the ripeness/style classification.
Where were we? Oh yes, wine. So it’s pale lemon in colour, with a nose of apple, pear, stone fruits, white pepper and musk. The dry, medium-bodied palate displays pear, ripe apple and dried apricots, with high acid and a marked minerality, finishing long with almond oil and stone fruits. A very good, expressive wine, which should develop nicely over the next few years.

Costs $25 (2012 vintage) at City Wine Shop, Melbourne – Alcohol 12.5% – Tasted on 02/09/13

Plaimont ‘Les Vignes Retrouvées’ Blanc 2011 AOC Saint-Mont, France

A blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac from a recently upgraded appellation in southwest France. The name means ‘rediscovered vines’, and Arrufiac in particular is something of an endangered species. From the foot of the French Pyrenees, it gives a slight herbal/citrus bitterness to the finish. This wine has a pronounced nose of white flowers, white peach, fresh apricot, tangerine, grapefruit, white pepper and fresh mint.
Fresh fruit spills forth on the palate, with fresh apricots, pear skin, grapefruit and kumquat. It’s medium bodied and quite viognierish in texture, with a fresh, herbal finish and an attractive length to it. That fresh-picked mint and herb, plus the racy acid, lends this wine real vibrancy. Apparently it develops a lovely mineral character with age. Whether it gets a chance to prove it is another matter.

RRP $26.50 at Blackhearts & Sparrows – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 23/09/13

Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne 2009 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore

This old-vine Verdicchio hails from the grape’s spiritual home on Italy’s Adriatic coast, a place I’m yet to visit but where I gather locals gorge on seafood washed down with this stuff. Umani Ronchi releases this wine with a bit of age, initially in concrete tanks in contact with the native yeasts, then in bottle.
And what a wine it is. It’s pale lemon in colour, water white at the rim and smells of sea air, apple, pear, chamomile and sage. Almonds, brine and pear are all there on the medium-bodied palate, along with a touch of honey, beeswax and spice. It’s high in acid and finishes long with pear and brine. It’s a complex, intriguing wine that takes time to unfurl. And watching it do so over a shellfish feast would indeed be a delight.

Costs $40 from Boccaccio Cellars, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 29/07/13

Con Un Par Albariño 2010 Rías Baixas DO, Spain

I got laughed at for calling it cute, but it is: trendy Galician Albariño in a sassy package. The name means ‘With a pair’, and white high heels adorn the eye-catching turquoise label.
It’s medium lemon in colour, with a fairly pronounced nose of orange blossom, stone fruits, honey and a yeasty creaminess. It’s a little more than medium bodied, a touch oily, smoky and steely. The mid palate is rich with ripe stone fruits and citrus, finishing smoky with apricot kernel and refreshing acidity. Not a dazzling wine but fun to be had here, and not just by the chicas.

Coss $19 at King & Godfree, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 02/09/13

Tolpuddle of Tasmania

If Adelaide Hills producer Shaw + Smith was going to make a good wine in Tasmania, it wasn’t going to be by accident. “It’s a shit-hot vineyard. This is off the shelf. This is not bespoke.”
Michael Hill Smith’s words at the lunch to launch the 2012 Tolpuddle wines betrayed all the excitement he and Martin Shaw felt at acquiring such a precious piece of land in mid-2011. The vineyard was planted in 1988 and its back story is a roll call of great cool-climate wines – fruit had been used for Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and by many of Australia’s finest exponents of sparkling wine: Chandon, Heemskerk, House of Arras.
Michael wasn’t so keen on the name but had decided to stick with it. Good move, I reckon. It sounds a little cutesy and the label’s pretty conservative, but Tolpuddle has a great history beyond wine. It’s named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of men from Dorset, England, sent as convicts to Australia for setting up a farmers’ union. The leader of the group was a chap with the evocative name of George Loveless, who worked on part of the property that is now Tolpuddle Vineyard.
The vineyard won the inaugural award for Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year in 2006, and used to be worked on by Ray Guerin in his capacity as viticulturist for Hardys. Ray is now viticulturist at Shaw + Smith – and Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Viticulturist of the Year 2013. So it would seem the stars are aligned for some pretty good wine.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (RRP $65)

Nerdy stuff: Fruit was handpicked, whole bunch pressed and fermented mostly wild into French oak barriques (roughly a third new, a third one year old and a third two year old). About 20% went through malolactic fermentation. It spent about 10 months on lees, with occasional battonage.

What it was like: There’s nothing meek about this wine as you approach it. The colour is medium to deep lemon, and the nose fairly pronounced with lemon, white peach and a whiff of earth. It’s strong and forceful across the palate, getting on for full bodied and with great drive and fruit purity. A really fine, dry acid line keeps it taut, but there’s nothing hard about it. Bracing, yes, with a long finish of lime and white stone fruits. Impressive. Drink now to 2017+

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 (RRP $75)

Nerdy stuff: Grapes were hand picked, fermented in open fermenters and hand plunged, with an average of 25% whole bunches. The wine was then aged in French oak barriques (roughly a third new) for 10 months.

What it was like: Amazing perfume. As with the Chardonnay, leaves you in no doubt that this is going to grab your attention. Exceptionally floral, especially violets, plus cherries and earth-encrusted mushrooms. It’s smooth-textured and vigorous in the mouth, mostly primary fruit (strawberry compote and cherries) that pulses through to the long finish. Very good acid and tannin structure. Drink now to 2020.

Overall, the Chardonnay edged it for me but both wines show real strength of identity and structure. Generous but measured, and very drinkable.

I attended this lunch on 14/10/13 as a guest of Shaw + Smith

Australia’s Growing Pains

Southeast England, early 90s: I was a smitten schoolkid and should’ve seen it coming. The exchange student waltzed in from Down Under and bowled my beloved over. It happened every year; these sprightly, laidback Aussies won hearts without seeming to try.
Australian wine did much the same thing back then. In 1994 it was the third favourite country among readers of UK magazine Decanter. Now, I’ve just learned, it’s slipped to sixth. The reasons are complex and manifold. I touched upon many of them in my piece on Savour Australia, and won’t go into them again here.
Instead, I wanted to share some words of realism and encouragement. I had the pleasure of speaking to UK-based Master of Wine Sarah Abbott a couple of weeks ago, following her stint as guest judge at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards. She summarised Australia’s position pretty well. “I think what you’ve had in Australia is huge, rapid and unprecedented success, coming from nowhere to having a fifth of all wine in the UK in the space of 15 years,” she told me over the phone from England. “You introduced a whole generation to it. It had accessibility, fun and enjoyment and came with a coherent message.”
But times have changed. Australia’s at a stage where it wants to differentiate and go upmarket, moving away from what Abbott calls “cheery stuff that’s price driven”. Regionality and quality are key, as we heard time and again at Savour Australia. Abbott says – and I couldn’t agree more – that Australia has a lot to shout about on both of these counts. But getting the message across is tough, not least because Australia’s New World rivals – notably Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa – are capable of producing stunning wines and have a compelling story of their own. “It will be a painful time,” Abbott warned.
But Australian winemakers can’t influence the exchange rate or wait for their competitors to fall out of favour. They need to make the most of what they’ve got. The tricky part is working together as an industry – easier said than done when big players and boutiques are wont to act like enemies. I also agree with Abbott when she says we need to promote regionality while maintaining an overarching country identity. “Those things should go together, not fight against one another.”
But there are grounds for optimism. Abbott praised the “dynamism, drive and great sensitivity” of the winemakers and “the thrill, diversity and elegant generosity of great Australian wine”.
Wine consumers – and the girls I went to school with – are no longer easy prey for Aussie charm. But Australian wine has done a lot of growing up since then, too. It’s day should come again.

A Brace of Arneis

Arneis and I didn’t see eye to eye the first time we met. It was during a weekend for SYners (pronounced “swiners”; looks like “swingers” but it ain’t like that), a four-couple wine-geek group founded in South Yarra back when we were reckless and childless. The opening night’s theme was Minority Grapes. Someone brought along an intensely floral Arneis where the fruit was hard to find beneath the petals and bitter kernel character. We probably just weren’t ready for it.

I’ve since developed a soft spot for the variety, whose home is Piedmont, northwest Italy. Apparently it’s a tough sell here in Australia, where it’s most notably grown in Victoria’s King Valley. Some think it’s the ‘hard-to-pronounce’ name (really? ar-NACE will get the message across) but it might just be – as it was for me – a question of naivety.

Here are a couple I had the pleasure of tasting at an evening for friends, hosted by Simon Dal Zotto of DOC Wines, whose family produced one of the two examples.


Matteo Correggia Roero Arneis 2012 Roero Arneis DOCG, Italy

Clear, bright pale lemon in colour, with white flowers, ripe pear stone fruits on the nose. It’s dry, just more than medium bodied, a little unctuous. The palate displays green apple, lemon zest and stone fruits with at touch of ginger and almond, with a pleasant, slightly bitter finish. It’s nice and fresh, especially given the grape’s relatively low acidity, and opens up quite a bit after some time in the glass. Good with food.

Price: $25 at Prince Wine Store – Alcohol: 13% – Tasting date: 14/10/13

Dal Zotto Arneis 2009 King Valley, Australia

Clear medium lemon in colour with quite a pronounced nose of ripe peach, pear and citrus. The rich, juicy palate has stone fruits, lime, pear and melon, with some peach-kernel bitterness and spice. It may be the age difference, but this was rounder than the Matteo Correggia, with good length and a slightly sweeter finish. A pretty, generous wine.

Price: Current release (2011) is $27 direct from Dal Zotto – Alcohol: 12.5% – Tasting date: 14/10/13