Tag Archives: Clare Valley

Cabernet Reshuffle

I grew up in a time and place where “wine” meant Bordeaux. Sure as Champagne set the stage for a celebratory meal, Cabernet Sauvignon was the majestic protagonist brooding in the decanter, waiting to steal the show. It smelt at once of pretty things and the world of men: flowers, redcurrants, blackcurrants, dad’s cigar box and leather brogues. It filled your whole head.
Cabernet is not by any stretch an appropriate yuletide beverage in Australia. And yet some internal seasonal sensor set this particular pom yearning for it. Throughout the festive season it’s vital to know there are no chinks in your hosting armour; you need the right bottle at hand at any given moment. But we had no Cabernet of acceptable calibre and maturity hanging around.
That was when it dawned on me: in a year of wine, I’d heard sommeliers, winemakers, journalists and friends gush over just about every grape under the sun bar one: Cabernet.
At first glance it appears odd that this should be the case. Global plantings have doubled since the 1990s to make Cabernet Sauvignon the planet’s most popular grape. It makes some of the world’s most expensive, revered and long-lived wines. So why’s it getting so thoroughly dissed by people whose job it is to love and share wine?
In a world where cult rules, ubiquity is uncool. Cab’s rise to top spot on earth’s vineyard prompted Time magazine to brand it “the Coca-Cola of viticulture”. “Cabernet is conformist,” young Sydney sommelier Julia Sewell tells me. “Buying Cabernet is buying into the commercialist aspect of wine.” Another young somm, Leanne Altmann of Cutler & Co in Melbourne, wonders if overfamiliarity has left drinkers unconvinced of the grape’s capacity to surprise. “The cool kids will drink Cabernet – if it’s Franc,” she jokes.
My fellow Cab-loving pom Dan Coward, currently a vintage cellar hand at Shaw + Smith, thinks it’s possible that Cabernet has rested on its laurels for too long. That means trading on its Bordeaux image, when for many Bordeaux is “boring and alienating”. “Cabernet Sauvignon’s not communicating itself well at the moment, so people are drawn to more seductive targets,” he says.
And there are plenty of those around. Cab’s world domination makes any grape exotic in comparison. And that’s before you go busting wine stylin’ moves. Other grapes get the full Kama Sutra thrown at them; Cabernet is strictly missionary.
And then there’s the perception of Cabernet drinkers as older people who “know what they like” – which is probably to have sex with the lights off and their clothes on. The herd of rude, red-faced old men who elbowed their way through a recent public tasting of Coonawarra wines did little to dispel this myth.
But Cab doesn’t just lack hipster drinkers; where are the with-it winemakers when you need them? Probably with their head in a vat of whole-bunchy Syrah or skin-contact Savagnin. Wherever, they’re certainly not standing on their soapbox for contemporary claret.
If Chinese millionaires and imposing Châteaux lend Bordeaux an air of aloofness, Cabernet in Australia may suffer from a different kind of inaccessibility. Coward points out that Coonawarra and Margaret River, Australia’s finest regions for the variety – and the ones hell-bent on championing it – are also bloody miles from anywhere. The cellar doors of the country’s Chardonnay and Pinot havens – think Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania – are abuzz with trendsetting daytrippers. There’s brilliant Cab tucked into the valleys of Eden, Clare and Yarra, of course, but it’s often overlooked.
And then there’s one other theory, perhaps one that could only have come from someone who’s slowly discovering he should have stayed in the Cabernet closet. But here goes: maybe they’ve forgotten that there’s nothing quite like great Cabernet because they haven’t had one in a while. And by “great” I don’t mean Bordeaux and I don’t mean expensive. I mean a good producer and region, good bottle age and an auspicious time and place – think food, company, even weather.
Looking at that, yes, it’s a demanding old bugger. In the age of “smashable” wines, that’s not going to win it many friends. “I guess it appeals to my head,” says Altmann. “But despite the delicious Cabernets I’ve been lucky to try, it isn’t a variety that appeals to my heart. I want a glass of Burgundy in my hand.”
But Coward’s still with me, lustily reminiscing about a “luxurious” 2001 Cabernet he and his wife recently enjoyed with lunch. The perfume, depth, complexity, length and chameleon-like quality in the glass: how could one not covet it?
“All retro habits eventually become cool again. I just don’t think it’s Cabernet’s time at the moment,” says Coward.
No, but that time will come; it has to. It’s taking over the world, or hadn’t you heard?

Contributors’ Cabs To Try:

Leanne Altmann

Oakridge Local Vineyard Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Yarra Valley $35 “Crunchy, bright, and oh-so-gluggable.”
Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Coonawarra $49 at Cloudwine in Melbourne. “Classically-styled, drinking so well now but built for the long haul.”

Dan Coward

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Clare Valley $20 “Good luncheon-claret style.”
Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011 Yarra Valley $70 from Prince Wine Store, Melbourne. Cooler-climate beauty.

Julia Sewell

Man O’ War Ironclad Merlot Cabernets 2009 Waiheke Island, NZ $45 from Vinaffairs “I was once told by a very happy diner that it was like running with wolves through a pine forest.”
Yeringberg 2010, Yarra Valley $75 from Prince Wine Store. Bordeaux blend from historic Victorian winery.

Ed Merrison

Tim Adams Cabernet Malbec 2008 Clare Valley $24 Regional style released with bottle age; perfumed, approachable, delicious.
Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Margaret River $90 at Cloudwine Profound Western Australian classic.

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

The Sem But Different

It reminded me of the one about London and the streets there being paved with gold. ‘I’m not falling for that one again,’ I thought. But then it turned out to be true: Clare Valley really did have a Riesling trail! You can even taken a short detour from this path of enlightenment to Polish Hill River and drink even more Riesling. And they leave it to you to work out how good the Cabernet and Shiraz are.
But if the Cab and Shiraz are well-kept secrets, Semillon is the Treadstone of Clare. You don’t need a bunch of fake passports and black belt in kali to get to the truth, though. Twenty bucks and an open mind will do it.
It was Tim Adams that gave me my initial taste on that first visit to Clare long ago. I’ve since enjoyed this same wine with several years of age, when it’s deep golden green, toasty, waxy and mellow lemony. Winemaker Brett Schutz says this is the drop he reaches for at the end of a hot day’s work in the Clare summer. “A lot of people who come to the cellar door are amazed by it,” he tells me.
The reasons for their amazement, I suspect, are threefold. One: Semillon. Once the most widely planted quality white-wine grape in the world, these days it often has to settle for the role of Tweedledum to Sauvignon Blanc’s Tweedledee. Two: Clare. People who know Semillon as a varietal table wine will be familiar know the piercing youngsters and glorious aged numbers from the Hunter Valley. At a pinch they may know it in the Barossa, where the wonderful Peter Lehmann Margaret Semillon flies the flag. But not Clare. And what was the third reason again? Oh yes, this wine is bloody good.
Oak is part of the story here, and also in the fine renditions at Mitchell and Mount Horrocks. At Tim Adams, fruit sourced from the Watervale sub-region is given about 12 hours’ skin contact before barrel fermentation in new French hogsheads. It doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation and sits on lees for about nine months. In 2010, about 65% of the final blend was fermented and aged in barrel, with the rest in stainless steel to retain lift and freshness. Once bottled, it’s left for up to 24 months before release to soften the acid and let everything come together.
Tim Adams Semillon 2010 Clare Valley

Gleaming medium lemon in colour, with the slightest tinge of green. The nose shows freshly squeezed lemon, pastry, roast nuts and cream, plus a touch of toast and smokiness. On the palate, it gives an initial impression of being blunt and even broad but tapers quickly as puckering lemon, quince and lime pith spear their way through the mouth, with cream and nutty characters folded through. It’s a touch more than medium bodied, with texture and some grip. Refreshing, cleansing acidity takes hold from the mid-palate and leads to a finish that is long and clean, with a lemon soufflé afterthought. Drink with crayfish risotto.

RRP $23 – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 11/12/13