Tag Archives: wine

Imagination & Wine

Imagination was the theme of Davis McCaughey’s speech when the Victorian Governor of the time opened the brand-new Stonier winery back in 1991. It was imagination that led to the planting of grapevines in the hills of Merricks, imagination that dreamt up a building “important for its function and a place of beauty in itself”.
In that speech Dr. McCaughey quoted British philosopher Mary Warnock, author of Imagination & Time, and her assertion that the great end of education is to stop people being bored. I wonder what the two of them would have said about wine education. You needn’t be an expert to enjoy the stuff; perhaps it’s an indulgence too far to spend time studying it. And what if an analytic approach were to drain wine of its joy? Or worse, turn you into the kind of wine-gargling know-all you go out of your way to avoid having a drink with?
Wine education is booming. Everywhere you look someone’s offering a masterclass, short course or meet-the-maker evening. Then there’s the formal side of things, from the multi-tiered Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) awards to the revered Master of Wine. WSET now offers courses in 17 languages across 62 countries. Just shy of 50,000 people sat for one of its qualifications in the last academic year, representing a fourfold increase over the past decade.
So why take the plunge? Len Evans, the late, great Australian wine evangelist, offers a typically blunt response: “You bother to learn about wine in order to enjoy it more.” Assessing wine from a technical point of view is just one aspect of this, but it’s an important one. This means understanding the interplay of a wine’s sensual and structural elements. It’s not about putting every drop that passes your lips under the microscope. But knowing what you like gets you nowhere. Knowing why you like it is a step on the journey to more wine you’ll enjoy.
2014-03-24 17.09.07
The idea of a journey is an important one, since history and geography are written into every detail of wine. Where were the grapes grown? Why do they grow those varieties? And why does the wine taste the way it does? Already we’re travelling through time and space, broadening horizons and drawing a map to aid further exploration.
It’s all the more pleasurable to explore when you move with self-assurance. Let’s face it: wine can be intimidating, with its arcane language, traditions and hierarchies. Gaining a sense of ease about your palate leaves you to relish the prospect of choosing and sharing a bottle, with no heed to fashion or 100-point scores. The rules of service can seem like another minefield, but seeing the rationale behind convention – serving temperature, stemware, food pairing – frees you from blind obedience. Stick to rules that make the wine more enjoyable and ignore the rest.
If the fear persists that wine education will turn an exercise in fun into a dreary lesson in facts and figures, I say this: education doesn’t douse imagination, it ignites it. And to return to Mary Warnock, imagination’s the key if we’re to go beyond witnessing beauty to actually feel beauty. “The difference is this: in feeling the beauty of objects, we enjoy not only the common, shared pleasures of the senses, but also the private pleasures of the imagination, peculiar to ourselves, and such that we have to struggle to articulate them.”

This piece was first published in the Stonier Newsletter Autumn 2014 and is reproduced with the kind permission of the winery.

Euro Summer Whites

Four European countries, five whites from seven different varieties, all with one thing in common: they’re made for summer. They’re not cheap but certainly cheerful and worth the asking price.
I came across them in various different ways: the Verdicchio had a certain fame that prompted me to take it to a blind tasting; the Albariño and Grüner Veltliner were brought to my attention by sommelier, blogger and closet Italian Raffaele Mastrovincenzo; and the Saint-Mont blend and Timorasso caught my eye at a tasting with a couple of Melbourne importers. They are Ludovic Deloche, whose Halle Aux Vins brings in some lovely French stuff, and Naz Fazio of Vinositá, who weaves similar magic from Italian materials.

La Colombera Derthona Timorasso 2011 Colli Tortonesi DOC, Italy

I almost went off it when I read in fab new mag Noble Rot that this was pretty much the house white for Coldplay. I’m sure they’re nice guys, but if their music were wine, I wouldn’t even cook with it. Of course, they’re millionaire rockstars who can afford to bathe in this stuff, so what do they care?
They’ve evidently got taste, though, because this Piedmont white is delicious. The grape is Timorasso, and up to two days of skin contact followed by weekly lees stirring for nine months lends it texture, freshness and complexity. It’s medium lemon in colour and smells of summer orchards, with lovely fresh stone fruits, pear and honey washing through a slightly unctuous, full-bodied palate. It finishes with a lovely evocation of pear tarte tatin with cream. Para, para, paradise. (Sorry.)

Costs $51 from City Wine Shop, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 23/09/13

Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrasen Federspiel 2011 Wachau DAC, Austria

Bear with me, because that name needs some picking apart. Grüner Veltliner is the variety and it’s Austria’s signature white, with Wachau an exemplary region. The grapes were grown on steep terraces (‘Terrasen’) and ‘Federspiel’ is the ripeness/style classification.
Where were we? Oh yes, wine. So it’s pale lemon in colour, with a nose of apple, pear, stone fruits, white pepper and musk. The dry, medium-bodied palate displays pear, ripe apple and dried apricots, with high acid and a marked minerality, finishing long with almond oil and stone fruits. A very good, expressive wine, which should develop nicely over the next few years.

Costs $25 (2012 vintage) at City Wine Shop, Melbourne – Alcohol 12.5% – Tasted on 02/09/13

Plaimont ‘Les Vignes Retrouvées’ Blanc 2011 AOC Saint-Mont, France

A blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac from a recently upgraded appellation in southwest France. The name means ‘rediscovered vines’, and Arrufiac in particular is something of an endangered species. From the foot of the French Pyrenees, it gives a slight herbal/citrus bitterness to the finish. This wine has a pronounced nose of white flowers, white peach, fresh apricot, tangerine, grapefruit, white pepper and fresh mint.
Fresh fruit spills forth on the palate, with fresh apricots, pear skin, grapefruit and kumquat. It’s medium bodied and quite viognierish in texture, with a fresh, herbal finish and an attractive length to it. That fresh-picked mint and herb, plus the racy acid, lends this wine real vibrancy. Apparently it develops a lovely mineral character with age. Whether it gets a chance to prove it is another matter.

RRP $26.50 at Blackhearts & Sparrows – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 23/09/13

Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne 2009 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore

This old-vine Verdicchio hails from the grape’s spiritual home on Italy’s Adriatic coast, a place I’m yet to visit but where I gather locals gorge on seafood washed down with this stuff. Umani Ronchi releases this wine with a bit of age, initially in concrete tanks in contact with the native yeasts, then in bottle.
And what a wine it is. It’s pale lemon in colour, water white at the rim and smells of sea air, apple, pear, chamomile and sage. Almonds, brine and pear are all there on the medium-bodied palate, along with a touch of honey, beeswax and spice. It’s high in acid and finishes long with pear and brine. It’s a complex, intriguing wine that takes time to unfurl. And watching it do so over a shellfish feast would indeed be a delight.

Costs $40 from Boccaccio Cellars, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 29/07/13

Con Un Par Albariño 2010 Rías Baixas DO, Spain

I got laughed at for calling it cute, but it is: trendy Galician Albariño in a sassy package. The name means ‘With a pair’, and white high heels adorn the eye-catching turquoise label.
It’s medium lemon in colour, with a fairly pronounced nose of orange blossom, stone fruits, honey and a yeasty creaminess. It’s a little more than medium bodied, a touch oily, smoky and steely. The mid palate is rich with ripe stone fruits and citrus, finishing smoky with apricot kernel and refreshing acidity. Not a dazzling wine but fun to be had here, and not just by the chicas.

Coss $19 at King & Godfree, Melbourne – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted on 02/09/13

Tolpuddle of Tasmania

If Adelaide Hills producer Shaw + Smith was going to make a good wine in Tasmania, it wasn’t going to be by accident. “It’s a shit-hot vineyard. This is off the shelf. This is not bespoke.”
Michael Hill Smith’s words at the lunch to launch the 2012 Tolpuddle wines betrayed all the excitement he and Martin Shaw felt at acquiring such a precious piece of land in mid-2011. The vineyard was planted in 1988 and its back story is a roll call of great cool-climate wines – fruit had been used for Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and by many of Australia’s finest exponents of sparkling wine: Chandon, Heemskerk, House of Arras.
Michael wasn’t so keen on the name but had decided to stick with it. Good move, I reckon. It sounds a little cutesy and the label’s pretty conservative, but Tolpuddle has a great history beyond wine. It’s named after the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of men from Dorset, England, sent as convicts to Australia for setting up a farmers’ union. The leader of the group was a chap with the evocative name of George Loveless, who worked on part of the property that is now Tolpuddle Vineyard.
The vineyard won the inaugural award for Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year in 2006, and used to be worked on by Ray Guerin in his capacity as viticulturist for Hardys. Ray is now viticulturist at Shaw + Smith – and Gourmet Traveller WINE’s Viticulturist of the Year 2013. So it would seem the stars are aligned for some pretty good wine.

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (RRP $65)

Nerdy stuff: Fruit was handpicked, whole bunch pressed and fermented mostly wild into French oak barriques (roughly a third new, a third one year old and a third two year old). About 20% went through malolactic fermentation. It spent about 10 months on lees, with occasional battonage.

What it was like: There’s nothing meek about this wine as you approach it. The colour is medium to deep lemon, and the nose fairly pronounced with lemon, white peach and a whiff of earth. It’s strong and forceful across the palate, getting on for full bodied and with great drive and fruit purity. A really fine, dry acid line keeps it taut, but there’s nothing hard about it. Bracing, yes, with a long finish of lime and white stone fruits. Impressive. Drink now to 2017+

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 (RRP $75)

Nerdy stuff: Grapes were hand picked, fermented in open fermenters and hand plunged, with an average of 25% whole bunches. The wine was then aged in French oak barriques (roughly a third new) for 10 months.

What it was like: Amazing perfume. As with the Chardonnay, leaves you in no doubt that this is going to grab your attention. Exceptionally floral, especially violets, plus cherries and earth-encrusted mushrooms. It’s smooth-textured and vigorous in the mouth, mostly primary fruit (strawberry compote and cherries) that pulses through to the long finish. Very good acid and tannin structure. Drink now to 2020.

Overall, the Chardonnay edged it for me but both wines show real strength of identity and structure. Generous but measured, and very drinkable.

I attended this lunch on 14/10/13 as a guest of Shaw + Smith

Australia’s Growing Pains

Southeast England, early 90s: I was a smitten schoolkid and should’ve seen it coming. The exchange student waltzed in from Down Under and bowled my beloved over. It happened every year; these sprightly, laidback Aussies won hearts without seeming to try.
Australian wine did much the same thing back then. In 1994 it was the third favourite country among readers of UK magazine Decanter. Now, I’ve just learned, it’s slipped to sixth. The reasons are complex and manifold. I touched upon many of them in my piece on Savour Australia, and won’t go into them again here.
Instead, I wanted to share some words of realism and encouragement. I had the pleasure of speaking to UK-based Master of Wine Sarah Abbott a couple of weeks ago, following her stint as guest judge at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards. She summarised Australia’s position pretty well. “I think what you’ve had in Australia is huge, rapid and unprecedented success, coming from nowhere to having a fifth of all wine in the UK in the space of 15 years,” she told me over the phone from England. “You introduced a whole generation to it. It had accessibility, fun and enjoyment and came with a coherent message.”
But times have changed. Australia’s at a stage where it wants to differentiate and go upmarket, moving away from what Abbott calls “cheery stuff that’s price driven”. Regionality and quality are key, as we heard time and again at Savour Australia. Abbott says – and I couldn’t agree more – that Australia has a lot to shout about on both of these counts. But getting the message across is tough, not least because Australia’s New World rivals – notably Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa – are capable of producing stunning wines and have a compelling story of their own. “It will be a painful time,” Abbott warned.
But Australian winemakers can’t influence the exchange rate or wait for their competitors to fall out of favour. They need to make the most of what they’ve got. The tricky part is working together as an industry – easier said than done when big players and boutiques are wont to act like enemies. I also agree with Abbott when she says we need to promote regionality while maintaining an overarching country identity. “Those things should go together, not fight against one another.”
But there are grounds for optimism. Abbott praised the “dynamism, drive and great sensitivity” of the winemakers and “the thrill, diversity and elegant generosity of great Australian wine”.
Wine consumers – and the girls I went to school with – are no longer easy prey for Aussie charm. But Australian wine has done a lot of growing up since then, too. It’s day should come again.

A Brace of Arneis

Arneis and I didn’t see eye to eye the first time we met. It was during a weekend for SYners (pronounced “swiners”; looks like “swingers” but it ain’t like that), a four-couple wine-geek group founded in South Yarra back when we were reckless and childless. The opening night’s theme was Minority Grapes. Someone brought along an intensely floral Arneis where the fruit was hard to find beneath the petals and bitter kernel character. We probably just weren’t ready for it.

I’ve since developed a soft spot for the variety, whose home is Piedmont, northwest Italy. Apparently it’s a tough sell here in Australia, where it’s most notably grown in Victoria’s King Valley. Some think it’s the ‘hard-to-pronounce’ name (really? ar-NACE will get the message across) but it might just be – as it was for me – a question of naivety.

Here are a couple I had the pleasure of tasting at an evening for friends, hosted by Simon Dal Zotto of DOC Wines, whose family produced one of the two examples.


Matteo Correggia Roero Arneis 2012 Roero Arneis DOCG, Italy

Clear, bright pale lemon in colour, with white flowers, ripe pear stone fruits on the nose. It’s dry, just more than medium bodied, a little unctuous. The palate displays green apple, lemon zest and stone fruits with at touch of ginger and almond, with a pleasant, slightly bitter finish. It’s nice and fresh, especially given the grape’s relatively low acidity, and opens up quite a bit after some time in the glass. Good with food.

Price: $25 at Prince Wine Store – Alcohol: 13% – Tasting date: 14/10/13

Dal Zotto Arneis 2009 King Valley, Australia

Clear medium lemon in colour with quite a pronounced nose of ripe peach, pear and citrus. The rich, juicy palate has stone fruits, lime, pear and melon, with some peach-kernel bitterness and spice. It may be the age difference, but this was rounder than the Matteo Correggia, with good length and a slightly sweeter finish. A pretty, generous wine.

Price: Current release (2011) is $27 direct from Dal Zotto – Alcohol: 12.5% – Tasting date: 14/10/13

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.
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

Three Great-Value Grenaches

I went on a bit of a hunt preceding World Grenache Day on 20th September this year, for an article that never got written. All was not lost; Cirillo’s The Vincent was a particularly delicious discovery.

Cirillo The Vincent Grenache 2012 Barossa Valley

Made from 80-year-old vines, this is a cracking wine – especially for the price. Pale ruby in colour, it has a pretty classic young Grenache nose – white pepper, raspberries and red plums. It’s little more than medium bodied, plush, juicy and generous on the palate, bursting with plums and soft red fruit. The tannins are ripe and slightly powdery and the finish pretty, long and with a touch of spice. Deliciously drinkable.

RRP $20 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 18/09/13

St Hallett Old Vine Grenache 2010 Barossa Valley

Medium ruby in colour, this wine was a subtle surprise. It was picked early, ending up at a relatively modest 13.5% alcohol. The label also draws attention to extended time on skins and a bit of ‘whole bunch action’, some stalks and stems in the fermentation to boost tannin and savouriness.
The nose is floral, with red cherries, raspberries – quite Pinot Noir-like – and a hint of black pepper and liquorice. That ‘pinosity’ is also there on the palate, which is soft and juicy and kind of cool (as in climate). Not a term associated with the Barossa or Grenache. We’re still talking raspberries, red cherries and blackberries, with a little bit of oak smoothness. The chalky tannins and fresh acid see the fruit through to finish alongside black pepper, gentle spice and a bit of cherrystone tang.

RRP $25 – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 20/09/13

Maxwell Four Roads Grenache 2012 McLaren Vale

Maxwell of McLaren Vale makes some excellent wines that generally offer great value for money. This Grenache is no exception, a clear expression of the grape variety and region and totally drinkable to boot. These vines were planted 90 years ago, high up in the vineyard. The intense nose features violets, plums and red cherries and the palate is full bodied, concentrated and focused. Plenty of juicy, fresh raspberry fruit with a bit of spice and chocolate coming in.

RRP $22 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 18/09/13

Classic Old-Vine Grenache

The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale make a wonderful home for Grenache, with some seriously gnarled old vines producing pure, concentrated and smooth wines. Here are just a couple.

Wirra Wirra The Absconder 2012 McLaren Vale

This Grenache shares the top echelon at Wirra Wirra alongside the RSW Shiraz and Angelus Cabernet Sauvignon, each of them exceptional and presented with true class. This is a very attractive medium purple in colour, with raspberry, plum compote, pencil lead and liquorice on the nose.
It has juicy red fruit, raspberry, strawberry and a touch of vanilla. Silky smooth, full bodied, with a good level of powdery tannins and fresh acid providing a long and delicious finish of raspberry, liquorice and chocolate. It’s a lovely wine with great concentration and purity. Savoury and balanced, you just want to go back for more. Drink with venison sausages. Drink now to 2018.

RRP $70 – Alcohol 14.5% – Tasted 04/11/13 – Sample supplied

Cirillo 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache 2010 Barossa Valley

These Cirillo Grenache vines, planted in 1848, claim to be the world’s oldest. The wine, matured in a mixture of French and American oak, has the complexity and interest you’d expect. It’s medium ruby in colour, pink-orange at the rim and it smells of fresh raspberries, rhubarb crumble, custard and a lick of leather. The intense, full-bodied palate has plums and pretty strawberry and raspberry fruit, orange peel and a touch of milk chocolate and cream. It finishes long with fresh red fruits shining through.

RRP $50 – Alcohol 14.2% – Tasted 18/09/13

A Pair of Grenache Rosés

Rosé is on a bit of an upward trajectory at the moment, with drinkers a little more tempted and winemakers seemingly enjoying it, too. These two examples are no novelty – they’ve been around for a while and always hit the spot.

Turkey Flat 2013 Rosé Barossa Valley

I’m a big fan of Turkey Flat wines and this – now on its 20th release – has become a bit of a go-to rosé. From the tall, elegant bottle to the pink smudge-feathered Turkey on the label, it’s got a real feel-good factor about it.
2013 rose press kit_Page_2
Clear, pale salmon pink in colour, with flowers and red fruits – strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and red cherries – leaping from the glass. That mesh of summery red fruits spreads across the fresh, medium-bodied palate. It finishes with wild strawberry and a lick of plumskin. Drink now – and all summer long. Blend of Grenache 81%, Shiraz 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 6%, Dolcetto 3%.

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

Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley Grenache Rosé 2013 McLaren Vale

Clear medium purple in colour, this 100% Grenache from Wirra Wirra has striking concentration for a rosé. The nose displays roses, raspberries and blackberries, as well as the suggestion of rosy apples and bubblegum.
The palate is lively, juicy and fresh, with raspberries and blackberries and that not unpleasant bubblegumminess. Good acid carries the fruit to a reasonable length, finishing with lingering pippy berries and a touch of spice. What like is its unashamed generosity. It could take some medium-weight food, too – something Middle Eastern like mildly spiced lamb or a feta and pomegranate salad. Drink young.

RRP $18 – Alcohol 13.5% – Tasted 31/10/13 – Sample supplied