Archives for April, 2010

Working with Wine-Italy, Alto Adige, Prosecco

Negociants Australia Working with Wine Seminars (WWW) bring forward some great discussion.

As the Prosecco juggernaut pushes on presenter Nicolas Belfrage MW described the delisting of the grape variety “prosecco” to being its ancient name-glera.

And now the sparkling wine style is a wine name – assuming a branding presence similar to Champagne, and that the wine is made from a prosecco grape is mere coincidence.

The wine poured was La Riva Dei Frati NV, a producer making only 80,000 bottles annually, but good value at AUD $24 (USD $22), as this is acceptable wine.

The nose has candy and musk, more fruit aromatics than base wine complexity, little lees influence either, and a plain sailing palate, with sweetness at 10 g/L for the Australian export market.

Belfrage noted that normal markets are sweetened at 18-22 g/L which would undoubtedly be the case in the U.S. where this product has taken off really well.

Further north in the Alto (high) Adige region where dual German/Italian emerges on bottle labels we experience the wines of Tiefenbrunner, but not from Christof Tiefenbrunner who was held up by the Icelandic volcano ash debacle for international travel.

The clear message on the Alto Adige is the out-of-vogue insipid red variety schiava grape which nobody wishes to buy and the second half of the story is the high interest in cold climate, higher acid whites now in northern Italy. The pale, unwooded varieties are now seen as an item of culture.

“The opposite follows further south where Romans still “continue to drink anything, even if its yellow or oxidised” without that element of discernment found in the north,” Belfrage comments.

The wine of interest is Tiefenbrunner’s Pinot Bianco 2009, lean, apple green, with a coil of savoury acidity and freshness from its stainless steel beginning; AUD $22 (USD $20).

I learnt that these wines have great aging spans, as much as 40 years. That probably accounts now for Chandon California’s original choice of pinot blanc as a founding variety for the sparkling base trio alongside chardonnay and pinot noir in Carneros. Such is the aging backbone of white pinot.

A similar entity is Hunter Valley semillon; made with austerity but a wine which ages delightfully.

Tiefenbrunner were an early adapter of screw cap, a choice which has made these racey, fruit-pure wines so well recognised internationally. Taint and oxidation-free.

After all, who would wish to keep a pinot bianco for 40 years if it was closed under a tainted cork on day one, and cellared for decades as a dead cause.

Working with Wine-Oz Seminars

The position of Australian wine around the world receives a natural level of respect.

Likewise imported brands now enjoy egalitarian treatment and this segment’s share of the market continues to grow, to well above 10 percent.

Australia’s oldest family wine company, Yalumba, through its importing arm Negociants Australia, run the biennial trade training seminars Working with Wine.

Prospective attendees actually sit an exam prior to gain acceptance to the program; and the demand is brisk.

Negociants have done much to stimulate the advance of sommelier training and roles in major Australian restaurants-and no doubt their prime imported brands are kept under the sales spotlight.

This year the focus was the wines of North East Italy, namely Alto Adige and Trentino, Veneto, and Fruili-Venezia-Giulia.

Italian wine author Nicolas Belfrage MW led the charge, describing the potted history of Italian wines through the ages and how that applied today.

The Etruscean influence on trellising systems (pergolas) was not lost on the audience with the vine arms shaped towards the heavens in order to gain greater crop.

Today’s blog reports on the white wines of Fruili through the brand Lis Nerris.

San Lorenzo’s Federica Pecorari from Lis Nerris in Fruili spoke of the family’s movements in viticulture since 1980 (where high production, more dilute wine was preferred), transforming from two thousand vines per hectare up to five and six thousand, with production limited to less than 1.5 kilograms per vine.

The region makes mono-varietal wines, essentially whites, and only recent experimentation has led to blending and more “interesting” styles with varied nose and texture.

The local traditions were once influenced heavily as a result of occupation while a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with native varieties of Northern Europe once having a presence.

These have been shed for the modern era with Lis Nerris Pinot Grigio 2008 (AUD $34 / USD $31) the basic stainless steel-made wine from young vineyards around ten years.

Federica calls these the simple philosophy wines, while the vineyard selections such as Lis Nerris “Gris” Pinot Prigio 2007 (AUD $48 / USD $44) is single vineyard wine, 25 year-old vines, high ripeness (13-14% alcohol). Gris in this instance means “crickets”, a local insect inhabiting the grass around the vines.

This wine has high colour (gris can be orange or pink with loose winemaking), plus it is oak aged (500 litre, second and third use barrels), has nose complexity but also nose “heaviness” from heavy-handed working of the grape and pungent palate. The cellar term for the acidity sensation on the finish is “saltiness”, a quaint term for the minerality of grigio.

Federica refers to 2007 as “the anticipated vintage” for the “unfolding vines” which ripened between the end of August to the end of September.

Lis Nerris Fiore di Campo 2008 (AUD $38 / USD $35) is the company’s Reserve style white blend, first released in 2003, centred around fruilano (a native grape lingering from Austrian times); 85 percent that grape plus 10 percent sauvignon and five percent riesling.

The wine created good interest-delicate yet musky from the small aromatic grape proportion; very taut, mineral and slatey acidity for longer aging, made I believe for the younger generation of wine drinkers wanting less wine “attitude” and more understated acidity (the sauvignon blanc set).

This main grape was originally named tocai fruilano but under pressure from the Hungarians the “tocai” has been dropped, and in fact it became EU law from April 2008 that wines exported from Italy be simply called fruilano.

Lis Nerris is a progressive northern Italian producer, with 50 percent of its vineyards planted to pinot gris-one of the boom grapes of the moment-and for a few years to come no doubt.

Hong Kong Wine Show – food matching

Up to recent times wine shows are fairly standard affairs; lots of anonymous wines are trotted out in groupings called classes, groups of judges (called panels) who judge individually by allocating scores.

And then a collation takes place by an independent person or a nominee to connect the medal with the entrant, withholding that result from the judging team until a later announcement.

The only food the judges encounter is over a cuppa or during lunch. The wine is on show in all its glory, and if it is an over-the-top example that’s fair enough.

Some time ago Warren Mason, owner of the Sydney International Wine Show and Top 100, very much a gastronome himself, re-designed his show into two stages.

First was the usual tasting where wines are evaluated in varietal classes, and only the top 15 percent with medals alongside them go to the second stage.

The second is a mandatory food pairing exercise but prior to the tasting all whites and reds are retasted by the chief judge who orders all wine by texture; light body, medium body and full body irrespective of variety.

All the final classes are then served against set food dishes designed by Warren with assistance where the final medals are awarded; usually six-ten wines remain per dish, and the organisation closes off entries at 2000 wines to keep the logistics of serving and judging reasonably contained.

I was quite enthused when the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition announced last year that entries would be judged with food, displaying that dim sum, kung pao chicken and Peking duck would be paired, and braised abalone was added later.

Obviously the organisers were unsure how this judging would work when I made inquiries if wines could be entered into classes where the specific dishes were nominated. Nor were there any outlines how the dishes were to be served against the wines entered. This looks like work in progress.

Last November the 2009 results were announced with sets of medals and trophies. I left it at that. However on March 24 this year out comes a release that a host of wines have received gold, silver and bronze, including a trophy when matched against the four mentioned dishes.

It appears that the all-Asian judging panels must have nominated specific wines to be re-tested against specific dishes on the way through the judging. That’s not a bad system as it allows what can be a cumbersome process to be very simply achieved while the main tasting competition progresses.

The is the process used in the annual Cairns Wine Show: all classes are judged normally but as there is a trophy for the Best wine to be consumed in the Tropics across all classes, judges make notations of wines to be put on a short list for a later judge-off. In 2009 a rose won the trophy just pipping a sparkling pink rose.

So the Braised Abalone dish, essentially Cantonese cuisine highlighted a trophy to Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose NV (AUD 9) as the best match for a mild-flavoured dish; salty, low sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, low spiciness, high umami from the long braising time.

Close with golds came Oregon riesling (light body, high acidity, medium alcohol), New Zealand sauvignon blanc (light body, highest acidity, medium plus alcohol) and New Zealand pinot noir (light body, high acidity, high alcohol).

With the dim sum range of tastes, Cantonese cuisine, the trophy went to a slightly fuller white, Wairau River Pinot Gris 2009 (AUD 23), medium body, high acidity, high alcohol) to essentially match with mild plus dishes; salty, slight sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, low to average umami depending on the ingredients. No other golds were awarded.

With the Kung Pao chicken, Sichuan cuisine, the gold went to a Californian, Martin and Weyrich Moscato Allegro 2007 (USD 7); salty, low sugar, medium bitterness, high sourness, high spiciness (chilli and Sichuan pepper), medium umami. This classical dish demands wine flavours which sate the palate; light body, low acidity, high sugar (100 g/L), low CO2 and low alcohol.

Other golds went to other suitable matches: Eden Valley Shiraz (medium plus body, low acidity, low sugar, medium plus alcohol, moderate tannin), Languedoc Viognier (medium body, low acidity, low sugar, medium plus alcohol, medium tannin) and Mosel riesling spaetlese (light body, high acidity, medium sugar, low alcohol, no tannin).

These are certainly non-challenging wines with a soothing component (sweetness, low alcohol) which does not fight with chilli. Clearly there were wine styles which failed to match fiery dishes.

With Peking duck, northern Chinese cuisine, the trophy wine was Argentinian malbec, Judas 2006 (USD 70), the dish being salty, medium sugar, low bitterness, low sourness, medium spiciness, medium umami.

This match is medium-full body, low acidity, low sugar, medium alcohol, medium-high tannin, meaning that not only simple, soft wines will suit this form of duck. This most widely-publicised form of a match is pinot noir.

Other golds went to another Argentinian malbec, a cool area Orange shiraz viognier and New Zealand sauvignon (the latter probably a better wine as a sauvignon than any reasonable match for duck, and is an inconsequential result.

As a piece of advice, organisers probably now need two chief judges; one highly technically skilled on the wine side, and a chef/sommelier expert with great experience on the food construction, flavour profiling aspect so that the erroneous Peking duck-sauvignon blanc result does not sneak through.

Pledging Wine for the PM’s Cellar-off to Canberra

This article appeared in The Week That Was on March 26, 2010.


Well over 100 wineries have pledged their top kit to the cause and the combined value is running at well over $30,000—quite a nice start, but we need to dig deeper, Australia. Henschke have tipped in six bottles of Hill of Grace and many wineries have offered museum stock and seriously precious bottles. Vanya Cullen has pledged half a dozen of her Kevin 07 Chardonnay, no more fitting wine for the current Prime Minister. Here’s some recent comments:

“As a fifth generation Eden Valley winemaker, celebrating over 140 years of family winemaking, it would give me the greatest Aussie pride to know that our Prime Minister highlights to the world leaders that our wine industry has the oldest Shiraz vines, oldest soils and some of the oldest wine families, with none better than Australia’s most famous single vineyard wine, the Henschke Hill of Grace.: 6 x 2005 Henschke Hill of Grace.” —Stephen Henschke.

“The beauty, individuality and quality of the best Australian wine needs to be appreciated and shared with world leaders at the PM’s table.” —Vanya Cullen.

“What a bloody good idea, what with all of us kicking into the wind both here and abroad, it would be great to see our highest office showcasing Australia’s finest!” —Julian Forwood, Wirra Wirra.

• To help ‘Restock the PM’s Cellar’ email

STOP PRESS FROM NICK STOCK—“We’ve nudged through $40,000 of great Australian wines pledged to the PM’s cellar. The Barossa is leading the charge and, with great Australians like Charlie Melton tipping in, it’s going to put some serious glow in some very important cheeks. Charlie says, ‘I indeed support your initiative for getting national leaders to represent their countries vinous offerings and we will offer up some fine red—6 bottles of 2006 Voice of Angels Shiraz. Since getting your email I have been pondering the contents of George W’s cellar. God forbid!’ Wonder what Obama found under the Whitehouse when he took office? Apple Jack? Matt Gant and John Retsas have pledged six bottles of their Minchia Montepulciano—‘in case Berlusconi heads Down Under!’ We need to balance it with more great Victorian and Western Australian wine!”

On March 30 I wrote to Queensland producers inviting pledges with assisted co-ordination. The aim is to reach an AUD 10,000 wine selection.

As of April 22 the pledges (AUD 5019) are:

Boireann Winery 6 x 2005 Shiraz Viognier @ AUD 330 “We are happy to add to Kevin’s cellar” – Peter Stark

Jimbour Wines 6 x 2003 Jimbour Shiraz @ AUD 360 “I wish to contribute” – David Russell QC

Settlers Rise 6 x 2005 Reserve Shiraz @ AUD 210 “OK Shiraz it is-I pledge six” – Simon Murray Manager

Ridgemill Vineyard 6 x 2008 Cabernet Malbec Merlot @ AUD 150

Heritage Estate 6 x 2007 Reserve Chardonnay @ AUD 330

Hidden Creek 6 x 2007 Tempranillo @ AUD 150 “the Granite Belt is making great strides with this Iberian variety” – Andrew Corrigan MW

Symphony Hill 6 x 2003 Reserve Shiraz @ AUD 600 “highest scoring shiraz at 2005 Sydney Royal Show” – Ewen McPherson

Clovely Estate 6 x 2006 Double Pruned Shiraz @ AUD 360 “I salute your request to fill the PM’s cellar” – Luke Firzpatrick, CEO

Sirromet Wines 6 x 2007 St Judes Cabernet sauvignon @ AUD 1800 “Sirromet will give their finest red since opening” – Adam Chapman, Chief Winemaker

Ballandean Estate 6 x 2009 Family Viognier @ AUD 150 “good things are happening with Granite Belt viognier” – Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi, Client Relations

Warrego Wines 6 x 2006 Scarlet O’Bubbles Tempranillo @ AUD 153 “fabulous for celebrating any occasion” – Kevin Watson CEO

Preston Peak 6 x 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Carmeniere @ AUD 198 “the first release with this intriguing old World variety”

Kominos Wines 6 x 2005 Reserve Merlot @ AUD 228 “my best trophy merlot” – owner Tony Comino

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