Monthly Archives: January 2014

Onannonward Journey

“Wow. This is my first interview,” jokes Will Byron. As we watch my one-year-old son clamber over barrel racks towards the sulphur dioxide, I think it’s fair to say Byron hasn’t hit the big time yet. But I’m honoured to catch him near the start of Onannon’s journey. The three lads behind it have “proper” jobs at wineries of fine repute. But this too is a serious venture that’s turned out some seriously good wines.
Charming, cheerful and hardworking, Byron’s the kind of bloke at whom mums would gladly fling their daughters – or themselves. The same could be said for the other two Onannoners, Kaspar Hermann and Sam Middleton, grandson of Mount Mary legend Dr. John Middleton. The three of them kicked off Onannon with a three-barrel production of Gippsland Pinot Noir in 2008. By 2012, the range had grown to three releases, taking in a Mornington Peninsula Pinot and Gippsland Chardonnay.
When I first heard the name it immediately called to mind the peerless Longpigs song On and On, while it seems those of a less romantic bent have linked it with a seed-spilling sinner from the Bible. It is, in fact, an amalgam of the last letters of the boys’ surnames. Whatever, it seems assured that the story of Onannon will run and run.
Gippsland likewise appears to have a bright future. The likes of Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip have put it on the map but that map remains sketchy. “I think it’s still an untapped resource. It’s going to take people to go out there and make definable wines from specific sites for Gippsland to become a region that people can taste and recognise,” says Byron. “It’s nice to feel like you’re at the forefront of a region getting discovered.”
For those who don’t know, Gippsland is a zone to the east of Melbourne’s suburbs, with well over 200km separating its westernmost winery from its counterpart in the farthest east. The latest edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Encyclopedia has the area’s winery tally at 56, but it’s a fair bet a few new ones have sprung up since.
Onannon makes its wines on the Mornington Peninsula, home to the bolder but equally good Pinot Noir the trio makes. Their Gippsland wines, meanwhile, betray the coolness of the zone with their fresh, almost crunchy fruit. “We’re not afraid of having some acid in our wines,” says Byron. “To my mind, Chardonnay and Pinot are wines that probably should be a little bit edgy when they’re young. You’re waiting for the flesh and personality to go around the skeletal stuff that you prepare when you’re making it.”
Fruit for the 2012 wines came from East Gippsland. Byron says the Chardonnay here shows stone fruit characters reminiscent of classic Yarra Valley, while the acid line reminds him of the Mornington Peninsula. On top of that, there’s an elusive dimension that sets it apart. This particular one was fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak barriques (25% new), saw a little lees work and didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.
The 2012 Pinot hails from another vineyard close by, where Byron sees “gameyness, purity and prettiness” as hallmarks. The future 2013 release, on the other hand, is made from South Gippsland fruit, noted for the structure and ageworthiness of its wines.
Byron and his partners are “bloody busy doing a lot of other things” but they’ll somehow find time during vintage to put together some more head-turning wines. The plan is for one of them, most likely Byron, to take a lead and build it into a two to three thousand-case production over the next couple of years.
“We’re just really good mates and we wanted to make wine together,” says Byron. “It’s a bit like being in a band. We could all go off and release our own solo albums but we thought that with the three of us coming together, it just ticks all the boxes.”

Onannon Gippsland Chardonnay 2012

Gleaming medium lemon in colour with a somewhat muted nose of lemon peel, peach and banana skin, plus some nuttiness. It really grabs your interest on entry, with pure, zesty lemon zinging around a core of firm white nectarine. Tightly structured and focused, with bracing, citrusy acid driving it to a white-grapefruit finish of moderate length. Drink now to 2018+.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 13.3% – Tasted 22/12/13 – Diam

Onannon Gippsland Pinot Noir 2012

Crimson pink and perky, a touch hazy too. Lovely, fragrant nose of strawberries, red cherries, fennel and spice. Fresh, crunchy red berries are there on the silky palate, which has good intensity, too. The tannins are fine, the acidity cleansing with a tangy sharpness. The finish of wild strawberry with a faint whiff of rose petals leaves the mouth watering for another glass. Beautiful, summer-drinking Pinot Noir. A revisit a few months later showed greater complexity and depth to the wine; I expect the next five or so years to be very kind to it.

Costs $38 direct from producer – Alcohol 12.8% – Tasted 03/09/13 – Diam

Riesling And Nothingness

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

So wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in L’Être et le Néant. When it comes to philosophy, Sartre was no slouch. But he never quite nailed it like Paul Grieco of New York wine bar Terroir, who had this to say on the subject of freedom and responsibility: “By drinking Riesling, you become a better person.”
Sartre of course should have known this, being of good Alsatian stock. And yet not once in his aforementioned existential treatise does he point out that the human condition improves immeasurably with the regular intake of Riesling.
Thankfully, Sartre has been succeeded by thinkers like Grieco and Aussie counterparts Jason Hoy and Stuart Knox. Grieco founded Summer of Riesling in 2008 and the concept arrived down under in 2011 thanks to Hoy, of boutique wine distributor AWR, and Knox, the sommelier behind Sydney institution Fix St James. The idea, as explained in my article in the Guardian, is simple: to get people to drink more Riesling. Hence we’re being treated to two months of events across the nation, with a host of bars, restaurants and producers involved. The showpiece is a dedicated pop-up bar called Bottle and Beast, which opened its doors in Sydney in mid-January and features 125 Rieslings accompanied by Jared Ingersoll’s cuisine.
One of the movement’s many sponsors is Kerri Thompson, who heaps praise on Hoy, Knox & co for their efforts to sire a new generation of Riesling tragics. Thompson’s been around Riesling since the start of her career. She spent her first ever vintage at Quelltaler Estate (now Annies Lane) in Clare Valley and later spent eight years managing Leasingham, an exemplary producer in the same region. Her first commercial release under her own Wines by KT label followed in 2007. The range now includes five different expressions of Clare Riesling made using organic and biodynamic principles. “Drinkability is at the core of my love of Riesling,” she says. “It comes in so many shapes and sizes but always has this beautiful fruit purity.”
Another endearing trait is its honesty. It speaks candidly of the place where it’s grown, which explains Thompson’s decision to name her entry-level wine 5452 after the Watervale postcode. She also produces two single-site Rieslings named after the Churinga (planted 1954) and Peglidis (1970) vineyards. “There are very few tricks you can hide behind. And Riesling doesn’t suffer fools,” says Thompson.
So you’d think it unwise to go playing games. But despite her deep respect for the variety, Thompson’s Melva and Pazza wines prove she’s not in thrall to it. In both cases, fruit from the Peglidis vineyard in Watervale “gets thrown about a bit and treated pretty meanly”.
The first vintage of Pazza was 2012, a kind of experiment to see how far she could push the indigenous yeast, barrel-fermented, lees-stirred style of her glorious off-dry Melva. The Pazza is oxidatively handled and fermented in a mix of stainless steel and ten-year-old French oak barriques, where it spends about three months before being bottled without filtration.
The name means ‘crazy’ in Italian. That would’ve seemed apt when her first attempt turned bright orange, giving the distinct impression she’d buggered it up. She needn’t have worried though. It came good and the craze is set to continue. “I just find the imperfections sometimes create something so captivating,” says Thompson.
No way could Sartre have summed it up better.
2014-01-18 19.34.20
Pazza by KT Riesling 2013 Clare Valley

Pale lemon in colour and a touch turbid, the nose is bright and pronounced, with lime blossom, tangerine, lemon sherbet, ruby grapefruit, bath talc and creamy yeast. Dry and medium bodied with a chalky minerality, it’s immensely alive and fresh on the palate, with all the lifted citrus evoked by the nose plus some white peach beneath. And then the texture: soft, creamy and somehow broad enough to carry several clear and delicious signals at once, while the fine natural acidity ensures no slackening of pace and focus. It finishes with savoury kaffir lime, grapefruit pith and a murmur of lemon soufflé. Mind-expanding stuff.

Costs $29 from Wines by KT or $31 at Barrique in Healesville – Alcohol 12% – Tasted 18/01/14

Quealy’s Daring Gambol

Pobblebonk. I know what you’re thinking: Wacky. Wait till you hear the ingredients. But this inauspicious start heralds an experience as joyous and carefree as a frolic in summer meadows. And then there’s Rageous. Odd name again, the label displeased my eyes and the ménage à trois – Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir – seemed a tad far-fetched. The woman behind it admits her friends tried to save her from herself. “When I made Rageous, everyone said ‘You shouldn’t make that wine’. But it’s like the Pobblebonk. To make it, you have to commit from the beginning; you can’t just whack it together later on.”
Few would dispute the fact that Kathleen Quealy’s committed – though some might wonder if she should be committed. These are wines that undoubtedly inspire curiosity. I had to know more.
Fittingly it developed into something of a quest, in spite of the fact they were concocted a stone’s throw from my home. Part of the problem was the holiday season, part of it communication issues. “So where do I find your blog? Is that an internet thing?” she asked when I tried to set up an interview.
I was pleasantly disoriented on arrival at Balnarring Vineyard. It was like landing in a foreign country, an extreme version of Australia, possibly some time in the past. Quealy was hanging out washing on the garden fence, with five bikes lined up like family outside the shed. She still hadn’t seen my blog. “I went on the internet last night to try to figure out how to use the washing machine,” she explained. “That kind of broke me.”
Quealy started the business in 2006, three years after selling T’Gallant, the Mornington Peninsula winery she’d built up with winemaker husband Kevin McCarthy. The wines I’m dealing with here, Pobblebonk and Rageous, were the first made under the new venture, though the range has expanded to include varietal wines from Pinot Gris, Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
Pobblebonk is a nickname given to a number of species of Australian frog of the genus Limnodynastes. Their call, according to the Frogs of Australia website, is “a short musical, explosive note producing a resonant ‘bonk’”. When the billabong banter really gets going, it’s apparently quite a rousing chorus.
The name was chosen to evoke the symphony of grapes: Friulano, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Moscato Giallo. The inspiration for the wine was twofold: the Pinot Grigio blends of Friuli in Italy, and whites such as Houghton White Burgundy, the humble but brilliant Aussie wine which always had a good splash of aromatic grapes.
Pobblebonk is a field blend, which is important because “it has to be like a problem that you solve”. Friulano was chosen as the dominant component because of its high acidity and scent of meadow flowers. The Friulano and Moscato are given 24 hours’ skin contact for texture, and these pile on the aromatics alongside the Riesling.
The Rageous, on the other hand is Quealy’s “rip-off of the super-Tuscan”. It’s a blend of roughly 50% Sangiovese, 30% Shiraz and 20% Pinot Noir and is only made in years when the peninsula – a Chardonnay and Pinot haven – ripens the less-common black grapes well.
The Sangiovese and Shiraz are co-fermented, the Pinot added as soon as possible in order to keep its tannin. It spends 30 days on skins, with only the free-run juice used for the wine, which then spends 18 months in a mixture of French and American oak.
The label bears the Ogden Nash-penned couplet: In the land of mules, there are no rules. The Latin rendering of this (‘Mundus
 mulorum/non est regularum’, in case you’re rusty) was once handed to Quealy by a former colleague. “It kind of means that if you do it yourself, you can do whatever you want,” she explains. “That’s all it is really, just a bit of fun.” There are diehard Rageous fans out there – and I’ve met a few – but then plenty of others who won’t go near it.
So do we call it a cult wine? Quealy laughs at the suggestion. “Maybe it is a bit cult, but not with the heavy hitters. I think I’m going to miss the heavy hitters in my lifetime.”

Quealy Pobblebonk 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Pale straw in colour, it has a super-fragrant nose of chamomile, citrus blossom and honey, alongside apple, pear, apricot, lychee and slightly soapy Muscat grapeyness. Medium bodied with good flavour intensity, those orchard, citrus and stone fruits skip over each other through the slippery mid-palate. Even with that range, it’s nicely bound and harmonious, with some stone-fruit kernel savouriness too. The fine natural acidity and phenolic grip leave the perfume and a hint of sweetness lingering on the finish. A lovely wine showing great flair, probably best enjoyed over the next three years or so.

Costs $28 from the cellar door – Tasted 11/10/13 Alcohol 13.2%

Quealy Rageous 2012 Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Clear pale ruby in colour with a fairly pronounced nose of sour cherry, plums, fennel and dusty earth. The palate is bursting with sweet cherries and plums with layers of earth, black cherries and vanilla creeping in beneath. It’s exquisitely soft but the real joy is how nicely framed the wine is, with tannins ranging from fine to dusty and chewy shepherding the fruit to a long and very moreish finish. This offers well-judged generosity, and Sangiovese rightly gets its chance to shine. Drink with lamb backstraps. I’d expect it to develop nicely over the next five years.

Costs $35 at Merricks General Wine Store – Tasted 11/01/14 – Alcohol 13.5%

Romance & Romorantin

Gouais Blanc can get just about any grape’s juices flowing. This Casanova of the world’s vineyard has sired at least 81 distinct varieties, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. And Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir have been at it like rabbits, producing more than 20 offspring including Chardonnay and the Beaujolais berry, Gamay Noir. Less well known than these high achievers is Romorantin, the white grape of the 20-year-old Cour-Cheverny appellation in the Loire Valley.
Legend has it that François I of France ordered 80,000 plants of this vine from Burgundy for his mother’s castle in the village of Romorantin near Blois in 1519. However it came about, it’s found a good home in Cheverny, which accounts for almost all of France’s 70-odd hectares of Romorantin.
The first I’d heard of it was at a tasting of wines brought into Australia by Halle Aux Vins, which had this example from Michel Gendrier at Domaine des Huards. The family’s been on the land some 80km east of Vouvray since 1846, and Michel’s son Alexandre is a seventh-generation winemaker. La famille Gendrier has followed organic and biodynamic principles for the past 15 years.
This particular wine is 100% Romorantin from 35-year-old vines. The fruit was lightly pressed and fermented using natural yeasts, after which the wine spent six months on fine lees.
The end product has Chablis-like minerality and drive. It also has a ring of good Aussie Semillon about it, combining a young Sem’s lemon, nettliness and acidity with the texture of bottle-aged Sem. It’s drinking beautifully now, but it’s easy to imagine how these wines could age well for 20-plus years, developing stronger notes of honey, flint and petrol as they go.
Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny 2011 AOC Cour-Cheverny, Loire

Clear pale straw in colour, with a nose of honeysuckle, nettles, lemon and orange zest, peach skin and creamy lees. This dry, medium-bodied wine has a soft, slightly waxy texture. The palate is supremely fresh with lemon, honey and a flinty character. It has pulsing vigour through the back palate, with grip and acidity contributing to a long and harmonious finish of honey, spice and bitter-lemon savouriness. This bright, lovely wine is pregnant with food-matching possibilities thanks to its strength and structure. Sole meunière would be a dream.

Costs $33 at City Wine Shop in Melbourne – Alcohol 12% – Tasted 29/12/13 – Cork