Tag Archives: shiraz

Pannell Beater

McLaren Vale winemaker Stephen Pannell has won the highest prize in Australian wine for his 2013 Adelaide Hills Syrah.
It’s the second time he’s taken out the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, which he first snagged 18 years ago with the 1995 Eileen Hardy Shiraz.
His is the first Adelaide Hills wine to win the award and breaks a seven-year drought for South Australia, which once dominated this competition to unearth Australia’s best one- to two-year-old dry red wine.

Jimmy Trophy engraved
“They’re honest, affordable wines, for people – not collectors. They’re wines that when I see them I can afford them, I buy them and I drink them.”
Stephen Pannell* is talking about the reds that inspired the 2013 Adelaide Hills Syrah, which just snagged the greatest prize in the Australian vinosphere. “Some of the most inspiring wines I’ve had came from 2010 in the Northern Rhône. I’ve been absolutely obsessed with those wines. As I was drinking them I kept thinking ‘We can make that here’.”
The wine that won Pannell his second Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy wasn’t designed to emulate the wines of Saint-Joseph and Cornas but rather to pay homage to their brilliance. “I love that duality where you have intensity, strength, depth and power on the one hand, and then you have delicacy and finesse,” he says.
Pannell uses the term “Syrah” – something some Aussies see as treacherous affectation – as a deliberate demarcation of this cool-climate style. By contrast, he also makes a McLaren Vale “Shiraz” that seeks to harness the region’s naturally sweet, rich mouthfeel and mid-palate. They’re very distinct renderings of the same variety, but the philosophy is the same. “They’re made to taste like grapes and like they come from somewhere rather than tasting of how they’re made,” Pannell says.
This has meant working the vineyard hard in able to pick earlier, elevating the role of “real grape tannins”, keeping oxygen out and trimming back on new oak. “So sweet! So gentle!” wrote Jancis Robinson of the 2011 S.C. Pannell Shiraz. “Sumptuous and beautifully balanced. Wonderfully clean and refreshing on the finish.”
But what of the wine of the moment? Fruit for Pannell’s 2013 Syrah was grown on well-drained, granitic soil in Echunga, 410 metres above sea level in the southern Adelaide Hills. The Syrah grapes, along with 2% Viognier, were picked by hand and vinified in small, open-top fermenters, with 15 to 20% whole bunches included in the ferment. It was then aged for 12 months in large format French oak vats and puncheons, a quarter of which were new.
Syrah 13 twitter
As one of Australia’s most respected show judges (he presides over the National Wine Show of Australia) with a palate to match, Pannell knows it takes a “huge slice of luck” to win the Jimmy Watson, but he knew the Syrah was something special from day one. “Yes, it’s lovely,” he confesses. “The 2013s have a real grapeyness about them, a presence and a freshness. In these wines the fruit looks alive. The grape doesn’t look like it was half dead before you shoved it in the bottle. I still think the 2010 Grenache was my best wine, but this Syrah is one of the top two I’ve made under this label. I suppose if I was ever going to win the Jimmy Watson, it would be with this wine.”
Pannell often jokes that he doesn’t do much to make his wines – and doesn’t know why they turn out so well. That’s mostly nonsense, of course; a combination of instinct and experience mean you couldn’t meet a more sure-footed winemaker. He was born into wine, as a member of the family that founded Moss Wood, one of Margaret River’s most exalted wineries. He’s worked vintages in Burgundy, Barolo, Bordeaux and Priorat and held domestic winemaking roles at Andrew Garrett, Seppelt and Tim Knappstein, where he was first alerted to the potential of the Adelaide Hills. That was followed by an eight-year stint at Hardys, which saw him snag that first Jimmy Watson and rise to the role of Chief Red Winemaker.
“It takes knowledge to let the wines make themselves. When I say I don’t do anything, that’s not true. Where we do more is in the vineyard. And then you’ve still got to decide when you’re going to pick, how much whole bunch to do, how much Viognier to add, when to press, when to rack, what temperature to ferment at. There’s a lot of decisions.”
He’s developed the knack of getting those decisions right – and in a sense the Jimmy Watson is a vindication of the hardest one of all: the move to strike out under his own name, launching S.C. Pannell as a “virtual winery” in 2004.
Stephen Pannell close up seated jacketed with glass, pic grant nowell
The past decade has seen its fair share of “hard days and a lot of self-examination”. But the purpose has always been clear: an honest translation of grape and place – be it the cool slopes of Adelaide Hills or the warm, Mediterranean climate of Pannell’s McLaren Vale home. He’s one those surprisingly rare winemakers that talks like a winelover, drinks widely and avidly enjoys his own wine. Those traits have helped him chase styles that suit the way Australians live and the food we eat.
As well as an enduring love of McLaren Vale staples Grenache and Shiraz, this has stretched to an affection for Nebbiolo in the Adelaide Hills and Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional from the Fleurieu Peninsula. His faith has paid off, with the 2012 Tempranillo Touriga winning Best Red Blend at last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Awards. “Touriga’s always really interesting,” says Pannell. “For me it’s probably the third most important variety in McLaren Vale after Shiraz and Grenache.”
The Jimmy Watson win tops off a dream run for Pannell and wife Fiona, who followed up the purchase of a long-coveted vineyard with the acquisition in June of a new cellar door and winery in the heart of their beloved McLaren Vale. “I’m trying to contain the excitement,” says Pannell. “You’re lucky to win just once and I still look at that old medallion and think ‘Wow! That was me’. But to do it with my own label is just incredible.” In the old days at Hardys, he was making wines to win awards. The difference now is he’s making wines that – just like those great Northern Rhônes from 2010 – he loves to drink. It seems he’s not alone on that count.
“I’ve invested a lot more in this than when I won with Hardys. When we first started doing this we couldn’t have imagined it; it was impossible. That brings an immense amount of satisfaction. And it’s fun. I love it – and I love that people get it now.”

*A version of this article appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the distributor of S.C. Pannell wines in Victoria and NSW.

Playing It Cool

Anna Flowerday says ‘cool’ a lot. Not ‘cool’ as in climate – though her journey from fifth-generation Shiraz-swilling McLaren Vale lass to South Island NZ is a big part of the story. Nor ‘cool’ meaning on-trend – in fact some of the best moves she’s made run counter to fashion (and received wisdom). No, just cool in that simple, spontaneous way that says you’re going to dig it, whatever happens.
Example: it’s “pretty cool” that’s she gets to do a job she utterly loves with her husband. The fact that Marlborough Pinot is underrated isn’t an injustice; it’s a “cool opportunity”. And it’s “a cool thing” that her two sets of twin girls get to see her excel in a role once seen as the domain of men. “I’m very conscious of being a mother of four daughters and I want them to think they can do anything,” she says.
This positivity shimmers through Anna’s perspective on Marlborough, where she and husband Jason have been running the Te Whare Ra* (TWR) winery for the past decade. When we catch up over coffee in Melbourne, I ask whether the region’s runaway success with Sauvignon Blanc has been a blessing or a curse. She concedes it’s a double-edged sword, with “savvy” stealing the limelight – and the vineyard area – from other varieties, and leading some to write off Marlborough as a one-trick pony.
But she also sees the grape, which accounts for a third of TWR production, as a wellspring of opportunity. “To me Marlborough and Sauvignon was just a lucky accident, a variety and place that gave you something a bit different and a bit special,” she says. “I think it’s introduced people to Marlborough and it’s up to us as winemakers to be a bit thoughtful about what we do with it. At Te Whare Ra we’re trying to make a long-term, really strong estate. I want to be known for a really cool range of wines and it’s kind of like my kids; I like them all for different reasons on different days, but I love them all equally.”
Girls in net
It’d be tempting to put her sunny outlook down to all that UV light but in fact the unbridled optimism goes back to where it all started: Hardys in McLaren Vale in the mid-1990s. For a young winemaker back then, it was the coolest gig in town. “Wine was king, and there were a lot of us who were all pretty young. We all knew we’d been given a massive opportunity and we worked our arses off to prove ourselves.”
She was at Hardys for seven years all up, working in a positive, collaborative culture that encouraged speaking up and trying things out. “If you look at the Hardys kindergarten and who’s come out of it – Stephen Pannell and KT (Kerri Thompson) were slightly older than me and then there was Larry Cherubino, Rob Mann, Sue Bell – a lot of young winemakers who are now in the upper echelon in Australia. Those really were the glory days,” she says.
Much of the credit goes to Peter Dawson, Hardys chief winemaker of the time and now co-owner of Dawson & James in Tasmania. “The two things he believed in were passion and palate,” says Anna. “Those are the two things he looked for in winemakers and I think they stand you in good stead. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, that’s really what this industry’s all about.”
TWR syrah and pinot
At Hardys Anna also fell deeply in love – twice. The first time was in McLaren Vale and took the form of “that old vintage romance kind of thing” with Marlborough boy, Jason Flowerday. And the other – no less significant – was when she was promoted to a position at Leasingham in Clare Valley, working with Kerri Thompson. “That’s really where the love of Riesling kicked in and I guess that just spread to other aromatic varieties.”
The Flowerdays’ aromatic white range now takes in Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, as well as a blend of all three, named Toru. Their success in this area has a lot to do with organic and biodynamic viticulture, says Anna. The vines are routinely delivering sugar, acid and flavour ripeness at the same time, so there’s no need to go chasing balance in the winery. “With Riesling you’re balancing the sweetness and the acidity; with Pinot Gris there’s a bit of that but then texture comes into it too; Gewürz has no acidity so you’re almost balancing the alcohol and the ripeness of the wine again with the sweetness. But when you get it right, it’s almost like you don’t see it. Balance really equals drinkability.”
As well as opening up aromatic options, life in a cool climate has changed Anna’s tastes. Where once she’d think nothing of knocking back youthful, ball-busting Shiraz, these days those same wines face a 10-year wait in the cellar, while whites and Pinot Noir are constant companions. “I guess one thing that I really look for – and I’ve appreciated it a lot more as I’ve matured as a winemaker – is that there’s a lot of beauty in purity. I think especially coming out of those late 90s, everything was about ‘big’ – big this, big that, big oak, big fruit – and I look now for more subtlety and nuances. I’m happy with wines that are a bit quieter, more understated.”
Vine row beautiful ground cover
True to form, she loves the challenge of the heartbreak grape. When they bought the vineyard in 2003, the Pinot Noir vines were young and not ready to deliver the wine they wanted – a fact that no amount of winery wizardry could distort. “Pinot’s about patience, that’s one thing I really have learned. You can’t force it anywhere it doesn’t want to go. If you overwork it or you cut corners you’re really going to see that in the wine. It’s very transparent like that. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity.”
Now, with older vines and better farming practices, the complexity has come of its own accord and TWR’s Pinot has won ardent fans. Thanks to greater care and investment across the region – and the annual Pinot Bootcamp where winemakers gather to compare notes on trial wines – Anna views Marlborough as the sleeping giant of Kiwi Pinot. “There’s a really strong line-up that I’d happily stand by and defend to all comers,” she says.
But if Marlborough Pinot has long “been the bridesmaid” Syrah would be lucky to even crack an invite. “It was a bit of a punt, to be honest,” Anna admits. It’s one that has paid off – but how did they come to take the plunge in the first place? Turns out the Hardys have-a-go spirit is only part of the answer. Temperature data monitoring and ripening dates had alerted them to a warm spot in the vineyard that might show promise. On top of that, TWR’s founders used to have a block they used for a Bordeaux blend, and a look at some of the old vintages showed they’d managed to ripen Cabernet almost as often as not. So from there Syrah – which tends to ripen a month or so earlier – was in with a chance. “If you asked 10 people in the region, nine of them would say you’re totally nuts to even try it. But that’s the whole point of what we’re doing. It’s not same-same and we don’t have to wear a commercial hat all the time.”
Picking the Syrah together is a Flowerday family tradition. The two sets of twins, who’ve just turned seven and ten respectively, really enjoy it – and it’s more than a clever cost-cutting scheme for their parents. “I think it’s good for them to understand what we do and why we do it,” says Anna. “Wine is such an obsessive thing. It’s our life, not just a job. And I think if you’re not into it, it’s actually quite hard to understand why you’re there for all those hours or why it’s a 360-day-a-year thing.”
A&J sorting table
And if you find your TWR wine seamlessly drinkable, then that might just be the taste of marital harmony. Anna says she and Jason make better wines together than they ever did in their individual careers. “Some of the best wines I’ve ever had were made by more than one person, because you’re not infallible and different people are sensitive to different things.” Anna and Jason agree 95% of the time – with the vexed question of when to pick being the source of most of their domestics.
And she credits Jason with what she sees as their proudest achievement at TWR: the restoration of some of the oldest vines in Marlborough to impeccable health. When they purchased the property they were “pretty near stuffed”, to the point where many would’ve given up on them. But instead those same vines live on to lend their own character to the wines. “And that’s really full credit to Jase because he’s the guru of growing things. He just has a real knack for understanding plants and what they need, and I get the benefit of that when we bring the fruit into the winery.”
Theirs is a vineyard that gets checked out an awful lot, such is the paperwork that goes with organic and biodynamic certification. But do you want to know the coolest thing? It’s when those soil scientists come with their clipboards and declare TWR the best organic vineyard in New Zealand. “Because everything we do is about being the best,” says Anna. “Not the biggest, not the loudest. It’s a long game that we’re playing, and I think we’re taking Te Whare Ra to a good place.”

*A version of this article appeared on the CellarHand website. CellarHand is both the author’s employer and the distributor of TWR’s wines in Victoria and NSW.

The Scarce & The Sacred

Wirra Wirra’s a bit of an all-round good bloke. It blends all the ingredients that give Aussie wine its charm: a respectful nod to tradition, bold vision, high not haughty ambition, unflagging humour and wines that look Australian – and are worth more than you pay for them. It lives up to the sound philosophy of Greg Trott, late founding father of the modern Wirra: “Never give misery an even break, nor bad wine a second sip. You must be serious about quality, dedicated to your task in life, especially winemaking, but this should all be fun.”
A couple of wines at either end of the price spectrum illustrate the point. One needs no introduction – winemaker Paul Carpenter (above; photo by Simon Casson) calls it “the wine we live and breathe by” – but the other demands a lengthy preface, so please bear with me.
Wirra Wirra Whaite Old Block Shiraz 2012 is the winery’s latest release under McLaren Vale’s Scarce Earth project. The first wines to bear the Scarce Earth neck label came from the 2009 vintage and were launched in 2011, a year after the publication of Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region. This painstakingly prepared map identified 40-plus geologies varying in age from 15,000 years to more than 550 million.
IMG_2055
As well as being a slick piece of marketing, Scarce Earth is an inward- and outward-looking initiative. It gives local winemakers a platform to explore the relative influence on wine style of McLaren Vale’s geology, soil, climate and topography. Tight parameters are in place in an attempt to give the results some meaning. Wines must be made from 100% vintage fruit from Shiraz vines, with at least 95% coming from a single block. A panel comprising three local winemakers and three independent experts, assesses potential releases to ensure they show no signs of overripeness or “overt winemaking influences”.
We drinkers, meanwhile, get to sample the results of their work in progress. And judging by the 2012 wines, work is progressing well. Cradle of Hills Row 23 Shiraz, Battle of Bosworth Bradens Shiraz and Coriole Willunga 1920 Shiraz were among standouts in the $45-$55 bracket, which I mention because I’m writing about the most expensive wine in the range. (Don’t worry, I’m also keeping it real with a bargain built for the broader congregation.)
Carpenter is one of the three local Scarce Earth panellists. He’s spent 10 years at Wirra, split in two by a five-year stint with local giant Hardys. The latter’s blends of fruit from far and wide are as far as you can get from the distilled, single-site ethos of Scarce Earth. “At Hardys we’d taste about 150 Shirazes over a day or two,” says Carpenter. “Over time you develop all these characters from blocks, from sites, from geologies perhaps, and then you sort of chuck them into a big blended Shiraz and never see all those nuances of single sites. That’s the beauty of Scarce Earth.”
photo-14
It makes a big difference, too, that winemakers are forced to tone down oak and fruit ripeness. “I love that this forces us to make wines that I think consumers want to taste and want to drink,” says Carpenter. “I see in the marketplace that McLaren Vale is sometimes viewed as one dimensional as a style. But having lived there all my life I know it’s much more than that.”
Carpenter and chief Wirra winemaker Paul Smith taste all their blocks after vintage to decide which to send down the Scarce Earth path. In 2012 that was Whaite Old Block, one of the four or five sites that traditionally make up Wirra’s $70 flagship Shiraz, RSW. The fruit is grown on an organically and biodynamically farmed, northeast-facing vineyard planted in 1975. Situated in the north eastern corner of the district, the site comprises deep sand over ironstone and yellow clay at an altitude of 200m, which Carpenter says gives reliably high natural acidity. “It’s my favourite part of the Vale,” he says. “I love perfume and spice and more medium-bodied styles, and for me Blewitt Springs and those deep sands provide that.”
Wirra only made 540 bottles of Whaite Old Block 2012, and at $130 a pop it’s not one for the masses. In the world of Wirra, it’s as far as you can get from Church Block, the fabled blend celebrating its 40th birthday with the current release. “In the early days Trotter (Greg Trott) used to tuck a couple of bottles of Church Block in his kit bag and go visiting retailers and restaurants around the country, and that sort of established a whole folklore around it,” says Carpenter. “I can go to a pub on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and there’ll be Church Block, and I can also go to a really good restaurant in Melbourne or Sydney and there’s Church Block on the list. It’s the sort of wine that can appeal to you whether you’re a wine aficionado or just love a nice red wine.”
IMG_1545
I applaud the boundary-pushing community spirit of Scarce Earth. But the down-to-earth excellence of Church Block is also something to be celebrated. It’s a wine where what you see is what you get. It has structure, depth and a whiff of authority, while at the same time being utterly easygoing.
“It’s more than half of our production, so it’s really bloody important,” says Carpenter. “When it comes to blending, I get more nervous about Church Block than about (Wirra’s top-flight trio) Absconder, RSW or Angelus.”

Wirra Wirra Whaite Old Block Scarce Earth Shiraz 2012 McLaren Vale

Clear medium to deep ruby with a vibrant crimson rim. The nose is floral, perfumed and youthful, with lifted red to blue fruit and a touch of pencil lead. The attack is graceful and then there’s an effortless flow of firm plum and red/black berries through the medium-bodied palate. Intense and sinewy without ever feeling big. The structure is extremely neat, with fine-grained tannins and linear acidity. There’s a savoury edge but really it’s the transparent fruit that does the talking. It finishes with pippy blackberry fruit, a twist of cracked pepper and lingering perfume.

RRP $130 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 05/05/14

Wirra Wirra Church Block 2012 McLaren Vale

A 49/35/16% split between Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. Clear deep purple. The nose is fairly pronounced, the blackcurrant Cabernet notes prominent but not drowning out plums, red fruit, mocha and a touch of leather. Blackberries and plum mark the entry, before a fairly soft, rounded and juicy mid-palate of black cherries, berries and chocolate. It’s a little more than medium bodied, and the soft, clingy mesh of tannin and medium acidity draw it to moderate length. The finish is marked by leafy blackcurrant, just slightly tinged with alcohol warmth. A confident, comforting wine with no chinks in its armour.

RRP $20 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 09/03/14 – Sample supplied

Wirra Wirra Woodhenge Shiraz 2012 McLaren Vale

Clear deep purple, crimson purple at the rim. When it opens up the nose displays violets, blueberry, black cherry, dark chocolate and toasted hot cross bun. In the mouth, there’s sweet blueberry, black cherries and cream up front. It’s just a whisker more than medium bodied, smooth and lithe, with chocolate-dusted cherries through the mid palate. It has good weight, energy and fine juicy tannins. Fruitcake, blackberry and spice mark a finish of moderate length. A seamless and hugely pleasurable Shiraz.

RRP $35 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 24/05/14 – Sample supplied

Game Of Rhones Rules

If I say “wine tasting”, this is what you see: Men – I bet it’s men – swirling and snorting, scowling and spitting in a space with all the cheer of a dentist’s waiting room. What you don’t see is the swashbuckling sauciness of the Seven Kingdoms.
But armour-clad winemakers and goblet-toting maidens are exactly what you get at Game of Rhones. This event, now in its second year, kicked off in Adelaide on 24th May before heading to Brisbane and then Melbourne on 7th and 14th June respectively. It features 150-odd drops from almost 50 Australian producers, as well as – say it quietly – fun.
The initiative is the brainchild of Melbourne sommelier and wine educator Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts. It’s his act of rebellion against “boring-arse masterclasses” that cater solely for the geekiest 5% of the wine-drinking public. “We’re trying to speak to the other 95% and tell them that it’s possible to come along, enjoy yourself and learn about wine,” he says. “Plus by sticking to Rhône varieties, we’re keeping it simple.”

Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts
Dan Sims of Bottle Shop Concepts
This last point is important. Beyond the theatricality – and organisers have camped up the Game of Thrones parody to the max – this is a chance to get to know some of Australia’s most enjoyable wines and the people who make them.
So which varieties are we talking about? For a start, reds rule the Rhône. Syrah (Shiraz) reigns supreme in the cooler northern end of the valley, while Grenache leads the way in the south, usually blended with the likes of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and others. Playing second fiddle are aromatic whites ranging from hedonistic Viognier to floral Marsanne and fashionable Roussanne.
10368264_644640338937514_1036772097982642264_n
French wines will be available at Game of Rhones, but homegrown talent takes centre stage. It’s time to banish for good the stereotype of Aussie Shiraz as a generic big, dry red. “Shiraz in Australia is so diverse,” says Sims. “What we want to celebrate is the diversity of style within the variety.” Full-throttle blockbusters are but a detail in a tapestry that includes earthy, medium-bodied Hunter Valley wines, the peppery, black-olive notes of Victoria and evolving elegance from Adelaide Hills and Margaret River.
Meanwhile the Barossa and McLaren Vale are getting Grenache to sing right now. It loves the heat, as does frequent blending partner Mourvèdre (Mataro), and a trend away from hot, jammy numbers in favour of freshness, is allowing them to shine. “We’ve got some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world and the wines offer ridiculous value,” says Sims. “GSM is wonderful, medium bodied and goes great with food.”
Corinna Wright of Oliver's Taranga
Winemaker Corinna Wright
Let’s not forget the white varieties of the Rhône, which continue their mouthwatering march. The once isolated success of Yalumba with Viognier or Tahbilk with Marsanne is being built on by others. “Viognier is always going to be a richer style of wine,” says Sims. “Then you have Marsanne and Roussanne and blends. They’re never going to be as popular as Chardonnay but I think they offer a more savoury style, and Australian winemakers are learning to play with them better.”
Game of Rhones: you’ve got to be in it to win it. And the beauty is you can always play along at home.

Dan Sims’s Game of Rhones heroes:

Head Red GSM 2013 Barossa Valley $25

“Alex Head’s wines are going from strength to strength and this is just bloody delicious. Medium-bodied, red-fruited deliciousness.”

Voyager Estate Shiraz 2011 Margaret River $38

“While the west isn’t famed for Shiraz, Voyager is nailing it. Fuller flavour, dark plums with a savoury edge. It begs for roasted meats.”

Tyrrell’s Stevens Single Vineyard Shiraz 2011 Hunter Valley $38

“I really like Hunter Shiraz as it’s classically medium bodied without being too much. Perfumed and elegant now but long lived for sure.”

Oliver’s Taranga Shiraz 2012 McLaren Vale $30

“Superfresh, dark-fruited, slippery and slurpy deliciousness from winemaker Corinna Wright.”

Mitchell Harris Mataro 2012 Pyrenees $29

“Recently did very well in the North East Versus Western Victoria Challenge. Medium bodied, spicy, attractive fruit. Great drink.”

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2012 Adelaide Hills $50

“Cool climate, spicy fresh Shiraz at its Adelaide best. Super smooth and seductive.”

Don Quijote De La Yarra

Let’s start with the similarities. Don Quixote was a wandering romantic on a Spanish quest, a noble sort with lofty ideals whose author lent him the epithet “ingenious”. And the differences? The man from La Mancha was vain, deluded and got his name on the cover of the book.
Andrew Marks, meanwhile, turned down the role of hero in his own story. When I ask where the Wanderer moniker came from, he tells me: “I just didn’t feel it needed to be eponymous. The wine has to speak for itself.” You hear that a lot in this game, but often the wines don’t get to do the talking. You sense an ego there, prodding the wine to perform. Wines raised to get themselves noticed, groomed for the limelight.
But the Wanderer wines, like Marks, are measured, modest and gently persuasive. They make no grand demands and then you note their welcome presence, stronger and more enduring than you’d expected. You nod and think, “Good trick,” but then realise it wasn’t a trick. It was good wine. And then you want some more.
Marks has been around wine since he was a child, with his parents planting vineyards at Gembrook Hill in the southern part of the Yarra Valley in 1983. After high school, Marks studied Oenology at Adelaide University and landed a job at Penfolds in 1998, a year after graduating. He stayed with the company until 2003, during which he fitted in vintages in Sonoma, Burgundy and the Languedoc.
Then came the time to expound some Marksist theory. “After working for Penfolds all those years, I just thought I’d be better off working on my own dream rather than someone else’s,” as he puts it. So he returned to the Yarra Valley, where he does his real job at Gembrook Hill.
Marks released his first Wanderer wines in 2005. He started with a pair of field blends – a Gewurztraminer/Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay rosé – plus a frizzante Muscat he called Moscatito. He then started adopting, bit by bit, the sites that make up the current range. First came a single-vineyard Lower Yarra Pinot Noir in 2007. This was followed a year later by an Upper Yarra Pinot and brilliant Shiraz from single vineyards in Yellingbo and Dixons Creek respectively. In 2010 he added a lovely barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc.
Where a company like Penfolds has a glut of options when it comes to fruit sources, Marks is more exposed to the vagaries of nature at home in the Yarra. Perhaps it’s further sharpened his acutely sensitive touch. “With Gembrook Hill, working in the vineyard you learn year in, year out that you’re producing a wine that’s a product of the year and of the vineyard,” he says. “The most important step is getting the picking day correct. I’m looking for bright, sweet fruit flavours, with the acid balanced.”
BonzGonzWanderer1
Then there’s Marks’s quixotic venture far from the Yarra, in Catalunya. El Wanderer traces its roots back to 2000, the year Marks met “legend” Anna Espelt while working in California. Her family has Carinyena (Carignan) vines planted in 1908 in the Empordà region of Spain’s Costa Brava. Marks worked a few months in the Espelt cellar in 2004, then spent a further six months there a year later, at the end of which he was invited to head up the winemaking. Needless to say he declined, but the annual pilgrimage to this second home continues.
Marks plans the trip to ensure he’s on Catalan soil comfortably in advance of the fruit hitting perfect ripeness. As with the Upper Yarra Pinot Noir, he sorts the Carinyena grapes in the vineyard. He then places them in an open fermenter (10% whole bunches), gives them three weeks on skins and likes to have them pressed to barrel before hopping on the plane back to Australia. “I feel pretty lucky to play with fruit of that character,” he says. “It’s a medium-bodied wine with good structure and balance, light enough to go with fine foods. As with all wines, texture is critical. Texture is what makes wines drinkable and smashable. Sometimes it’s a little bit overlooked.”
The Wanderer name wasn’t simply inspired by Marks’s globetrotting winemaking escapades. He was something of a searcher before all this began and, of course, it isn’t just about him anyway. “I’ve always enjoyed a sense of adventure, and as you get older you realise that pretty much everyone is on a journey in some respect,” he says. “I just want people to drink the wines and enjoy them. And people who look for a little bit more should find it.”

The Wanderer Upper Yarra Pinot Noir 2012 Yarra Valley

Clear pale ruby. Pretty nose, red fruits leaping from the glass accompanied by rhubarb and fresh mint. Crunchy red fruits – strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant – mark the entry, and the wine is shot through with subtle sweetness and spice across the palate. It’s medium-bodied with a somehow surprising intensity. The very fine tannins give a touch of grip and there’s lively acidity. A strong sense of unhurried, assertive flow, leading to a finish of juicy redcurrant and fresh herbs. Gorgeous.

Costs $55 from the Wanderer website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

El Wanderer Alt Empordà Carinyena 2010 Empordà DO, Spain

Clear medium ruby, bright and inviting in the glass. Red-fruited nose, raspberries and cherries, with fresh liquorice. It’s juicy and medium bodied in the mouth, with base notes of beetroot earthiness and cinnamon spice playing below buoyant raspberry and blackberry. Firm, chewy tannins and sprightly acidity fit like comfortable clothes. It has a sense of rusticity; candid with a country air to that wholesome fruit and earth. Not fussy and precise, but beautifully composed. Delicious and full of character.

Costs $55 – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 14/04/14 – Diam closure

A Cracking Pair Of Bress

“Because it f*@king rocks!”
There’s a pause while Adam Marks wonders whether such language was appropriate and while I wonder what Bonnezeaux Gonzo’s f-word policy is. I’d posed a simple enough question: Why is Pinot Noir his favourite wine to drink and make? But I realise the empathic recklessness was the most telling aspect of the response. That’s why the expletive must stay – even if it needs silly symbols to sugarcoat the pill for my older readers (aka ‘dad’).
I haven’t met Marks in person; he wasn’t at the Bress winery when my wife and I popped in for an Easter Monday tasting. But you can feel the crackle of energy on the phone; he’s excitable, impulsive, impish. It’s not altogether a surprise. You poke around the premises of this biodynamic producer and its all laidback, hippyish rusticity, but the wines themselves have a certain exuberance about them. And a bit of bravado is a bloody good thing when there’s skill and soul in the mix.
A 2001 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was the first wine Adam made when he and wife Lynne returned from their honeymoon and started Bress. For the first few years they ran it like a négociant business, choosing good fruit from good vineyards in good regions and juicing it up in mates’ wineries.
Then in 2004 they started looking for a permanent place. They thought about setting up shop in the Yarra Valley, where Marks had fond memories of working under Rob Dolan at Sticks, but they couldn’t quite stretch to the cost. Instead they settled on some granite-strewn hills just south of Bendigo in Victoria, a stone’s throw from Harcourt Valley Vineyards where Marks started making wine in the late 80s. “It was squalor. The property was just a rundown shithole,” he recalls.
IMG_1960
Ten years later it’s a lovely home complete with cellar door, market garden, wood-fired pizza ovens and working winery, as well as a bunch of free-range chickens strutting about. The label is a homage to the tasty birds of Bourg-en-Bresse in France, a place where proud artisans nurture a delicacy valued for its provenance, integrity and deliciousness.
The property also came with what was then Australia’s largest cider apple and perry pear orchard, from which Bress now turns out excellent traditional-method fizz. Elsewhere, the négociant ethos lives on, with Marks putting together a relatively broad range of wines. Edited highlights include a silky, nectarine-and-nougat Macedon Chardonnay 2012 ($35) and floral, pure-fruited Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($25), in addition to those below.
But back to my initial question: Why Pinot Noir? “It’s the crown jewel,” says Marks. “It’s captivating, it gets you excited and it makes you want to go and make a better wine.” So far, so familiar. But then: “The first one that set me on the way was a Hungerford Hill Hunter Valley Pinot Noir from the late 80s or early 90s made by Ralph Fowler. People may pooh-pooh me for that, but it was just a revelation to me.”
That love of Pinot Noir went up a notch in 1996. Marks calls the Yarra Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir from that vintage “a smoker” and “the most pleasing wine I’d ever made”. That was also the year Rob “best boss in the world” Dolan sent him to Beaujolais and Burgundy.
photo-12
Marks reserves great admiration for a range of great Aussie Pinot makers, reeling off the likes of Dan Pannell at Picardy, Michael Glover at Bannockburn, Steve Flamsteed at Giant Steps, Nat White at Main Ridge and Phil Moraghan at Curly Flat.
But nothing inspires him like France, a land that encapsulates the timeless qualities he’s after: savoury, textured, nuanced, complex wines. Marks looks to conjure a quiet strength in his own creations. “I want the wines to be a little understated, especially on the nose, then open up and compel you to think.”
As you might expect, there are no hard-and-fast winemaking rules here. It’s all instinct and freedom, which pretty much goes for the business arrangements too. There are no contracts with suppliers or growers; you give your word and that’s that. “You care for people and they care for you back,” says Marks. “We’re just one big, happy kumbayah here at Bress. We just want to keep things nice and simple because there’s just too much in this world that isn’t that way. I hope this is a place where people can come and learn more about the things they enjoy. Wine is a very good vehicle for sharing things.”

Bress Gold Chook Macedon Pinot Noir 2012

Bright medium garnet. The nose is a fairly dense fog of possibilities, thanks largely to the inclusion of about 80% whole bunches in the ferment: wild berries, plum sauce, gingerbread, mixed spice and some bloodiness too. It’s the fresh fruit that hits you on entry, though, and this floods through to a berry-rich medium-bodied palate, with truffle and spice along for the ride. Firm blood plums and red cherries zing through the longish finish. It’s a gorgeous Pinot with generous fruit, a good dose of enigma and structure to frame its boldness.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 13% – Tasted 21/04/14

Bress Gold Chook Heathcote Shiraz 2012

Marks used 50-70% whole bunches for this, the kind of Shiraz I could drink over and over. Clear dark ruby with a pronounced nose of black cherry, damson compote, ginger root, black olive, earth and vanilla bean. Ripe red cherry and plum mark the attack with cracked black pepper sprinkled around the sides. It’s supple and not much more than medium bodied, but there’s striking concentration to the juicy, fresh fruit. It’s also nicely layered, with bright red berries, firm plum, tapenade and almost a pleasant prickle to its spice. Firm, chalky tannins bolster its presence and it finishes fairly long.

Costs $40 from the winery website – Alcohol 14% – Tasted 21/04/14

Grenache? Get On Board!

I applaud promiscuity when it comes to wine. Any red-blooded drinker confronted with a world of beauty and diversity is duty bound to get out there and share the love. That’s why I was quick to doff my cap to the polygamist proclamations of a bloke who wears his heart on his sleeve – well, on his twitter handle. That’s right, @ILoveRiesling has a roving eye. I caught Tom Hogan, celebrated sommelier and co-owner of Melbourne wine bar Harry & Frankie, whispering sweet nothings about Grenache. I just thought you ought to know.
“In terms of something quintessentially Australian, old-vine Grenache is being made particularly well at the moment,” Hogan tells me. “People are reining in alcohol levels and getting more finesse, elegance and perfume. The wines are more at that floral end of the spectrum instead of high alcohol and largesse. What’s exciting is they’re not trying to copy anywhere else; they’re not trying to be French Grenache or Garnacha from Spain. They have their own take.”
Hogan, an associate judge at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards and Sydney Royal Wine Show, concedes that Grenache may have suffered from something of a cultural cringe, with the variety relegated in the eyes of some to “B” grade status, below A-listers like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In part this was down to over-the-top, boozy styles with sweet, confected fruit. He hopes that wine-judging attitudes may change now, with wines like Ochota Barrels’ Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2012 ($38; sold out – 2014 released 1st December) and The Green Room Grenache Syrah 2013 (sold out – 2014 released 1st September) almost taking their cue from Pinot and mimicking its ethereal appeal.
“A lot of these new styles are being led by a new wave of producers who are looking for deliciousness and drinkability. Australia’s making some of the best Chardonnay in the world but a lot of it is made in cerebral fashion instead of just being delicious and moreish. The modern movement of Grenache has delicacy and vitality, brightness and freshness.” Take the Jauma Biggles 2013 ($25; sold out with new vintage due in spring) for example. “I absolutely adored that wine,” says Hogan. “It’s bright, vibrant and almost Beaujolais-like – so fresh and accessible.”

Jauma's James Erskine
Jauma’s James Erskine
Hogan’s background as an Adelaide-bred member of the hospitality industry means he’s never been far away from Grenache. He’s also deliberately thrown himself in its path. He’s worked a couple of vintages in the Barossa, including in 2008 at Spinifex, producer of the Papillon Grenache Cinsault blend ($26) – an old favourite. He’s also paid a couple of visits over the years to the southern Rhone, home to Clos des Papes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “probably my favourite producer year in, year out”. He’s currently got around 25+ Grenache wines on the 650-strong list at Harry & Frankie.
From Australia, it’s no surprise to hear Hogan laud McLaren Vale, particularly the Blewitt Springs sub-region. Less obvious is Victoria’s Pyrenees, where he’s captivated by DogRock’s Degraves Road Shiraz Grenache Tempranillo blend ($75). “That’s a top wine, more in the bay leaf/dried herb spectrum,” he adds.
He sees GSM as the Barossa Valley’s strongest suit, preferring his Shiraz from the higher, cooler climes of Eden Valley and Barossa Ranges. “In the Barossa, it’s the Grenache that comes in looking pristine. This is the variety that should be embraced there,” says Hogan. “To some extent, a lot of Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz can come across as dry reddy – a lot of dark fruit and tannin. But the Grenache and the GSM from those regions have a transparency about them and feel at ease with themselves. The great thing about these wines is that they have such a history about them and when you buy a bottle, you’re buying a bit of that history as well.”

More Go-To Grenache From Tom Hogan

Ruggabellus, Barossa Valley“Abel Gibson’s wines are a bit more resinous, a bit more structured and speak more of the earth. The 2012 Timaeus ($40; sold out) has a lot of lift and perfume. It’s alluring and sits in the red-fruit end of the spectrum without being simple.”

Izway, Barossa Valley –Three Brians Grenache 2012 ($75) “Old style meets new. This is one of those wines that manages to carry pretty high alcohol and show elegance and femininity. It’s super light on its feet.”

Bekkers, McLaren Vale – The 2012 Grenache ($80) has unfortunately sold out, but the 2013 is slated for release in November this year. “Those wines are pretty impressive. Definitely one to watch.”

SC Pannell, McLaren Vale“The straight Grenache from 2010 and 2011 ($55) were absolutely delicious. 2011 was a vintage to separate the men from the boys. That wine shows how you can produce a wine in a more restrained style and still come up with something brilliant and interesting.”

Samuels Gorge, McLaren Vale“Try the straight Grenache 2011 ($35).”

Wonky Canberra Angle

Bryan Martin is a brainy sort. It speaks volumes that the high-IQ winery where he does his real job has this this to say about him: “He brings wisdom and intellect to the question we constantly ask ourselves at Clonakilla: ‘What can we do to make better wine?’” The cool thing is that the wines Martin makes under his Ravensworth label are first and foremost a sensual, rather than cerebral, affair.
His background as a chef, a profession he practised until 1997, helps explain his heightened sense of a wine’s tactile and savoury qualities, as does his authorship of a Canberra Times food column (so yes, both my prose and palate are under the microscope when he reads this). “When Tim (Kirk, Clonakilla chief) and I taste wine, Tim always talks about aromatics and I always talk about the flavour and shape of the palate,” he tells me. “For me what happens with texture is the most important thing. I’m always thinking about how we can modify texture and what we can do next year to influence the shape.”
And Martin’s using his head rather than inputs to answer those questions. He adds no yeast, bacteria, enzymes or nutrients to the wine, while the cool, high vineyards of the Canberra District chip in with essential acidity. Not everything is a riddle, though. He plays it straight and pristine with his Riesling, which in 2012 fended off more than 400 competitors from six countries to be crowned best wine of show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. The Shiraz Viognier is likewise made in the mould of the peerless Clonakilla – cofermented fruit, 20% to 30% whole bunches, three to four week maceration and a preference for puncheons (30% new oak) for maturation.
2014-03-18 10.50.13
Aside from those regional classics “anything else is fair game for experimentation” – and grape skins are a key part of the puzzle. “A lot of places don’t think of skins at all, but I love this idea of soaks and macerations with whites and reds,” he says. Take the Chardonnay for example: the 2013 was made in two separate parcels, the first with 24 hours’ skin contact and the second fermented with 50% whole bunches and on skins for about 14 days. When I tasted the wines I couldn’t bring myself to cut short the sensation of its delicate folds furling and unfurling across the palate, like sun-dappled lace billowing in the breeze. Yeah, I know he’s a writer and he’ll read this; I’ll bear the shame of that sentence because it’s true.
Martin, who lives with wife Jocelyn and their three children on a 650m-high vineyard in Murrumbateman, began working at Clonakilla in 2004 after six-odd years studying viticulture and wine science at Charles Sturt University. It all adds up to a solid platform from which to launch experiments, especially when you chuck in his employer’s well-appointed winery. Martin also seems to relish a bit of mental sparring, bouncing ideas off a visiting Kiwi and Israeli during vintage 2014 and finding himself “very much at home” among the wide-horizoned winefolk of Sydney’s Rootstock festival, where he hosted a session on hunter-gathering. “If you’re not careful you can get insular in your own winery,” he says. “Just by tweaking and playing around at the edges, you can find something that can fine-tune a wine. I’m just really happy to have the time and the interest to go ahead and try things out. I’m always playing around with food and I’m inclined to do the same with winemaking.”

Ravensworth The Grainery 2013 Murrumbateman

A field blend from Martin’s own vineyard comprising Marsanne, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Traminer and Sauvignon Blanc. “The idea is a Rhone blend with some aromatics to give it lift and acid. I’ve tried to make a style based on varieties, not techniques.”
Clear pale lemon, fairly pronounced on the nose with grass and nettles prominent; beyond these are murmurs of citrus and orchard fruits, with no one voice rising above the rest. From a juicy, lemony attack it broadens as white stone fruits and citrus fan out on the mid-palate, the zesty acidity working to keep it trim. It’s a touch more than medium bodied, creamy and velvety in the mouth with orange and gingery spice in there too. It tapers to a lingering finish of white flowers, stone fruits and nettly zing.

Costs $27 from winery website* – Alcohol 12.5% – Tasted 18/03/14* (*applies to all)

Ravensworth Chardonnay 2013 Tumbarumba

Clear medium lemon in colour. The nose is a touch herbaceous, with white flowers, citrus notes, creamy lees and nutty oak. From there it’s an essay in mouthfeel and harmony. Citrus zest drives the palate and the oak feels really good – a firm guide but not the least intrusive. Savoury, soft and lacy on the palate. Grapefruit, white peach, nougat, cinnamon and vanilla skip over each other to a delicate but persistent finish.

Costs $30 – Alcohol 12.5%

Ravensworth ‘Le Querce’ Sangiovese 2013 Canberra District

Sangiovese was the first variety Martin planted, and this is the 10th vintage he’s made. The fruit comes from a few different sites, following Martin’s belief that the variety works best in the lower (circa 500m) vineyards.
Pale ruby and with a pinkish rim. Nose of cherry, dusty herb, fresh plum too. The juicy attack sets the tone for a sprightly, mid-weight wine with soft blood plum, blood orange, sour cherry and earth across the palate. It has the fresh acid and dusty tannins you’d expect and finishes with a lovely cherrystone tang. Immensely pleasurable.

Costs $24 – Alcohol 13%

Ravensworth Nebbiolo 2013 Hilltops

Martin decided “not too go too wild” with his four tonnes of Young-grown grapes in 2013, since this is the first Nebbiolo to appear under his label. The two batches were given three weeks and six weeks respectively on skins.
Pale to mid ruby and pink-orange at rim. Red and black cherry, smoked meat and a bit of earth and tar on the nose. It’s medium bodied and silky smooth, with sweet red cherry offset by orangey sharpness. Racy acidity and intense, scratchy tannin on the finish complete the picture. The varietal signs, feel and price are spot on but I felt the palate came up short on depth and complexity.

Costs $27 – Alcohol 14%

Ravensworth Shiraz Viognier 2013 Murrumbateman

Medium to deep ruby/garnet. Terrific nose: pronounced perfume of violets and roses swirling above a deep well of pepper, plum and cherry. Lithe and textured, with a mid-weight palate of great complexity and concentration – sappy red fruits, star anise and gingerbread. You sense a lot more tightly bound up within a core framed by firm, ripe tannins and tangy acidity. Great wine – time will be kind to it, and it will be a friend to food.

Costs $32 – Alcohol 14%

Slaking Thirst For Novelty

Innovation: a word from Silicon Valley, not the Barossa. Yet it peppered my conversations with bosses of Australia’s biggest wine companies over recent weeks. The interviews were for the Top 20 feature in April’s Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. You’ll find no spoilers here, merely a reflection on a recurring theme. This is about fleet-footed giants who know consumers won’t hang around if you don’t give them a reason to.
Many producers preach intimate knowledge of vineyard site and hands-off winemaking. But the major players juggle this with a markedly different mantra: intimate knowledge of consumer tastes and hands-on engineering of bottled novelty. Their preoccupation with relevance is understandable. In an industry where competition is fierce and margins razor thin, they have to build their “share of throat” anyway they can. Any throat will do, of course, but those belonging to so-called millennials – who make up a quarter of the drinking population – are particularly coveted. Last week a UK Wine Intelligence report found these 18- to 35-year-olds “have an overall lack of engagement with wine” and could easily be driven to beer, cider and spirits.
BONDI RD Range with Glass
Which may help explain why Casella, the group that gave us Yellow Tail – and which copped some flak for relying too heavily on the 8.5 million cases it flogs to the US each year – has brought out a sangría at 5.5% alcohol and a Bondi Rd Sauvignon Blanc spritzer at the same strength. This latter comes as a four-pack of 275mL bottles including the improbable flavours elderflower & mint and ginger & green tea. Better they drink something grape-related and graduate to wine than be lost for ever, the argument goes.
Casella’s spritzer isn’t alone in playing with alcopoppy packaging. Some notable debuts this year include the “naughty but nice” labels for De Bortoli’s 330mL Sia Moscato bottles and the piccolo-format bottles for Brown Brothers’ popular, and very good, Prosecco. Brown Brothers, like fellow Australian First Families of Wine member McWilliam’s, has also given its labels a mass makeover. Staid is gone, making way for a colourful, contemporary look. Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) went a step further for its Yellowglen Peacock Lane bubbles, drafting in jewellery designer Samantha Wills. The bottle looks good enough to drink.
TWE says consumers are looking for solutions for mind, body and spirit. These might be portion-controlled (à la piccolo format), calorie-counted (as with TWE’s own Lindeman’s Early Harvest or US brand Skinny Vine) or lower alcohol. Moscato and friends fall under this last heading, and both Jacob’s Creek (Twin Pickings) and Brown Brothers (Moscato with Sauvignon Blanc) have made new forays into semi-sweet territory this past year. The plan here is to bridge the gap between sweet and dry in the hope that sweet-toothed sippers will become committed wine drinkers when they, err, grow up. It’s an interesting area, and one often looked down upon by serious winelovers (see previous sentence).
2014-01-19 18.18.06
That’s not to say all the innovation is directed at this younger, dynamic segment in the market. Jacob’s Creek has been busy in the kitchen, rustling up a couple of wines to match Asian cuisine. Its white Wah wine for sushi now has a red brother for Japanese red-meat dishes. I’m yet to try the red but liked the white: citrus and tropical notes, savoury, grippy with a fittingly briny finish. Then there’s Lamoon, a Grenache-based, plum-sauce-and-five-spice wine that works well with a Thai beef roll. Beef’s also on the menu at TWE, where a pair of Pepperjack Shirazes have been created to go with two different cuts of steak.
Big Wine is also engaging in more small-scale, sustainable practices as people apparently become more interested in the origins of their booze. Hence Angove will soon add another organic wine alongside its Sauvignon Blanc and Peter Lehmann is working on its first carbon-neutral wine. The Barossa company has made a concerted effort to shake its blokey-red-and-Semillon tag in recent years, building a strong following among women and younger drinkers. Meanwhile Victoria’s oldest family-owned winery Tahbilk, which achieved carbon neutral status in 2012, released a pair of new wines to trumpet its green credentials. The Tower Shiraz (RRP: $17) is a fresh, bright-fruited, peppery affair and I was really taken with the Marsanne Viognier Roussanne: creamy, rich, harmonious and brimming with orange blossom, peaches and apricots (RRP: $15).
2013-11-29 09.41.46
Mainstream companies are also getting to grips with fringe varieties such as Carmenère, Grüner Veltliner and Montepulciano. “I’m an idiot. Am I on drugs?” said one CEO as he ran through the weird and wonderful grapes he’s planting. The likes of Fiano, Vermentino, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Tempranillo have tended to be boutique territory; now they’re anything but. Exhibits A and B: Jacob’s Creek Classic Fiano and Classic Sangiovese.
In general the cognoscenti applaud efforts to push boundaries on sustainable practices and wine styles. They tend to be more dismissive of gimmicks they see as dumbing down wine. But is there a clear-cut distinction? The success of these companies is built on a readiness to serve popular taste. On this evidence their thirst remains undiminished.

Hunting Down Some S&M

Confession time: I clean forgot about Hunter Shiraz. It barely exists in London and wasn’t on my radar when I returned to Melbourne. But then some young blokes set my screen a-bleeping with the news they were coming to Melbourne on an interstate charm offensive.
The six-man group, calling themselves Next Generation Hunter Valley, arrived last May. They were armed with buckets of the obligatory Semillon. Young, old, bone- or off-dry, it was great. No surprise there. But what struck me was the way Shiraz, in this Shiraz-soaked land, stood out so handsomely.
“It’s a very different style from what the world would think of as Australian Shiraz,” Andrew Margan preaches to the reconverted. “It’s more savoury, it’s earthy, it’s structured around acidity, it tends to age very well and goes really well with food. It’s coming more into vogue as people get sick of the sweeter-fruit styles.”
Margan cut his teeth making Shiraz under the tutelage of the great Murray Tyrrell. He had access to some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the country and, with them, several strata of old Hunter wisdom. He’s dug even deeper to unearth the region’s potential with the likes of Andrew Thomas, Mike de Iuliis and Iain Riggs of Brokenwood. “We get together and talk about where the Hunter is going and work accordingly,” says Margan. “The style’s evolved wonderfully into a combination of terroir with more fruit ripeness plus fruit weight and texture, all made possible through viticulture.”
But let’s leave those straight Shirazes for another day. Many other days, I hope. Because this is about Hunter Shiraz with a twist, born of a happy accident and discovered at that Next Gen HV tasting.
Shiraz Mourvèdre – the S and M of GSM blends – is a rare beast in the Hunter. Margan’s version is a field blend made from 40-year-old bush vines grown on the red-clay soils of the Vere vineyard in Broke. When Andrew and wife Lisa took on the vineyard in 1997, the Mourvèdre vines were randomly interplanted with Shiraz and other varieties. The other randoms have since been grafted over to Shiraz, but the small, sweet, thick-skinned Mourvèdre berries, whose vines comprise about 14% of the vineyard, have been picked and co-fermented with the Shiraz ever since. The resulting wine is aged in mainly one-year-old French and American hogsheads for nine to 12 months, though it might see some new oak if the Mourvèdre tannins are really ripe.
Mourvèdre buds and ripens late – up to two weeks after Shiraz – so this limited-release bottling is restricted to years when its flavours develop fully. That means picking the Shiraz at a pretty advanced stage too, so the blend is relatively soft and approachable when young.
“I love the fact it’s different. It’s the only Hunter Shiraz Mourvèdre,” enthuses Margan. “When the conditions are right, Mourvèdre has such an impact on the Shiraz, it really lifts it and you really get the spice coming in.”
So taken is he that the field blends are going to keep on coming. “I picked Tempranillo, Graciano and Shiraz together this year and have got some other things up my sleeve too,” he says.
I look forward to seeing what Margan’s patch of Hunter dirt conjures up. I’ll also be stashing away some of the Shiraz Mourvèdre to enjoy down the track. But first I’d better to get back to basics and plough into some earthy Hunter Shiraz. I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.
2014-02-19 11.15.20
Margan Shiraz Mourvèdre 2011 Hunter Valley

Clear deep ruby with a heady, complex and slightly evolved nose of red, blue and black berries, beetroot, earth, pencil shavings, clove and more. The attack is savoury before sweet plum and briary fruit come tumbling in with a strong undercurrent of earth, spice and vanilla bean. It’s medium bodied, soft and fleshy but neatly framed by ripe, savoury, blackberry-tinged tannins. These lend it a dusty texture and combine with lively acidity to deliver pulsating, berry-charged length. Drink now to 2024. Drink with slow-roasted lamb.

Costs $45 direct from the producer – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 19/02/14