Tag Archives: shiraz

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

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.
IMG_1234
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
IMG_0677
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
IMG_1084
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%

Grenache-Led Trio

Grenache stars in some fantastic blends, with the Barossa and McLaren Vale leading the charge. It was great to see these celebrated earlier this year at Game of Rhônes, an epic, energised tasting event hosted by Dan Sims and the team at Bottle Shop Concepts.

Ruggabellus Timaeus 2012 Barossa Valley

I’m a total blow-in when it comes to Abel Gibson, the guy behind Ruggabellus. But now I’m in the know, I can’t get enough. He came to my attention by winning the Young Gun of Wine Award 2012 but his CV includes stints with Penfolds, Rockford, Chris Ringland, Charles Melton and Spinifex.
IMG_0417
Gibson made 2066 bottles of Timaeus, one of four Rhône-blend labels produced under the Ruggabellus name. It’s comprises 76% Grenache 14% Syrah and 10% Mataro. There’s red, blue and black fruit on the nose, which also has funky, savoury and smoky bacon tones. The medium-bodied palate is beautifully layered, with more of the same fruits, plus spice and a lilting leafiness on the finish. Gorgeously complex and alive, it’s a wine that unfurls gradually and gives great enjoyment. Timaeus is ancient Greek for honour, apparently, and that’s exactly what it is to drink this wine.

RRP $40 – Alcohol 13.6% – Tasted 26/07/13

Yangarra GSM 2011 McLaren Vale

This blend from excellent Grenache exponent Yangarra is led by old bush-vine fruit (41%) from 1946 plantings, with Shiraz (31%) and Mourvèdre (28%) in support. It’s a glossy, bright medium ruby in colour, with a perfumed nose of mixed berries and cherries with a touch of herb and spice. It’s pretty full bodied, with juicy red and black fruits backed by black pepper and aniseed, a perfect complement of sweet and savoury characters. Good to see Mourvèdre playing more than a minor role. The wine has good fresh acid and length.

RRP $28 – Alcohol 14% – Tasted 18/09/13

Wirra Wirra Original Blend Grenache Shiraz 2012 McLaren Vale

A great package all round, this, from the small, classic, old-school label and unassuming name. It’s clear, bright, crimson purple in colour, with lifted raspberry and floral notes on the nose. Milk chocolate raspberry bullets and aniseed sit in the background, with deeper notes of pippy bramble fruit and a bit of earth.
It’s just over medium bodied, lovely and smooth, with red fruits up front and that chocolatey note. The ripe, dusty tannins have a pleasant firmness and combine with good acid to really push out the finish of raspberries, blackberry and black cherry with a touch of spice.
It’s a lovely wine – easy to enjoy and a great example of the harmony of good Grenache with Shiraz. It has spice and richness and there’s a lovely, juicy, slinky feeling to it. Drink with lamb backstraps. Drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so over the next few years.

RRP $25 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 17/10/13 – Sample supplied