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%