Archives for August, 2010

Tasmania Unbottled: 2010, the best

This week the Tasmanian winemakers came to town: and they were really fab. I cannot go far past saying the memorable varieties were riesling and pinot noir, as well as the increased attention given to the so called high grams of sugar riesling (low alcohol, gritty acid, beautiful sweetness).

The big challenge with the latter is when to drink, and how to drink when the German and other northern hemisphere regions growing riesling have long been branded as only “sweet winemakers” decried by palates loving dry.

But there must be a marketplace for these styles if the number of brands making them increases; and consequently if they gradually decline, then we have the true answer! Sweet wine selling is always a grind; even for Chateau D’Yquem.

Back on the dry riesling I was encouraged by the great diversity of Tassie styles; not just ripeness, intensity and prettiness, but more so on texture, layers, cleverly integrated acidity (tastes apparently lower), and additional palate length and shape.

Clearly many makers have their eye on food friendliness rather than just plain fruit purity yet that stays the basis of the wine. There were many rieslings with a backbone of support from acidity but not just lime sherbet fruit sweetness, there was more.

And that’s why these Tassie dudes should come to Queensland more often; to show how cool and cold climate riesling is just so…. good.

I chose not to taste any sauvignon blancs as they are basically second rate citizens in this classy riesling state, but undoubtedly they sell well. Enough.

Julian Allport from Moores Hill vineyard, a small five hectare one, was very animated as his rieslings have recently been widely recognised as gold and trophy standard (2008; USD 40), and worth a good focus.

He presented his 2009 Riesling (USD 26.50) with great poise, a long backbone of acidity without hardness and good texture, acid steely but still soft to make salivation a simple pastime.

Moores Hill are on the West Tamar highway at Sidmouth.

Three kilometres south of Launceston at Relbia, fourth time vigneron Josef Chromy has built a winery at the foot of his sixty hectare vineyard. The Josef Chromy Riesling 2010 (USD 23) was fresh, spiced not limey, restrained not thin with lucrative acidity and a powerful finish-all with 11.5 percent alcohol.

Further south to the Derwent Valley near Hobart, an original Tasmanian brand, Moorilla established in 1958, has experienced a makeover. And what a revision of image and quality, reducing production back to six thousand cases.

Try the Muse Riesling 2008 (USD 25.50) which is refusing to show its age, just sits in the glass looking restrained, and pale colour, tasting savoury and soft on acidity, quite an achievement for drinkability. And its 13.8 percent alcohol.

Maker Conor van deer Reest leaves this on light yeast chasing textural modification, and he is also happy to leave a little skin extract in at the press, again a mouthfeel tactic.

Then Moorilla Praxis Series Riesling 2008 (USD 22) is still pale green but its nose says a faster advance in age than Muse, though not much. There is some more flavour pressure on the palate, this wine is squarer and richer, slightly contrasting its neighbour, at 13.5 percent alcohol.

So drink up Tasmanian riesling; slurpable, acid friendly, mild mannered and easy match with a plethora of food styles.

Also cheers to the outstanding Bruny Island cheese provided by cheesemaker Nick Haddow; his Lewis goat, hard, natural rind will suit Tassie riesling down to the ground.

De Bortoli Hunter Valley: A new star

The Cowra Wine Show trophy recently for best Single Vineyard Wine went up. Sold to De Bortoli Hunter Valley for their 2004 Murphys Semillon, clearly a major achievement.

Normally the name in the winners’ circle for Hunter semillon is Tyrrells or McWilliams or Brokenwood or Meerea Park, but now De Bortoli for this first time.

Ten days earlier De Bortoli winemaker Scott Harrington had made quite an incisive statement during a visit to Brisbane to show his new DBHV (De Bortoli Hunter Valley) retro label around.

“We were releasing semillon every year as it was made. Now we need to release some older examples such as 2004, 2005 and in December our 2006 (11.5% alcohol) will be out ,” (USD 31.50) said Scott.

This wine is grown on the sandy soils of Lovedale which have a propensity to produce long aged semillon.

From 2003 De Bortoli had purchased this vineyard of eight hectares and expanded it to 20 hectares. The plantings included new varieties such as vermentino, viognier (white) and negro amaro (red).

The DBHV Field Blend 09 (USD 14) is a classic white under another name. It’s simply a classy, crisp, dry, low alcohol competitor to the Kiwi stuff, but it has more attitude and innovation.

Scott says his 2010 blend is 50% semillon, 25% vermentino, 13% verdelho and 12% viognier, all contained below 11 % alcohol.

The 2009 I tasted is semillon, verdelho and vermentino so clearly there is some tidy experimentation going on to get both the impact and vineyard personality working.

The DBHV Vermentino 2008 (USD 14) is quite a smart wine; low alcohol, melony and delectable. In recent vintages it is included in the Field Blend.

The DBHV Nouveau Shiraz 09 (USD 14) is clearly outstanding. It should not have had the word “Nouveau” attached as Scott admitted because we don’t need such a French word attached to what is clearly an Aussie wine made very well.

De Bortoli has started to think outside the traditional square since arriving in the Hunter, and this shows ever so clearly with this wine. Scott says it was originally quite sappy when first made, using early-harvested fruit, lots of whole bunches, but now that the wine is ready for release it has purity, great softness and immediate drinkability.

The DBHV Wills Hill 2008 (USD 36) is a greater extension of the Nouveau wine but barrel aged in a more serious manner. Scott also explains what De Bortoli wish to achieve.

“We want medium bodied wine without the graphite and hard backbone, no hardness or drying out early in the life of the wine. We wish for perfume of the fruit not savouriness, we are happy picking early and then have the means to make wine with detail,” he said.

The amazing aspect is this wine was made during the wet 2008 Hunter harvest; many companies ditched their reds due to dilution from the heavy rain during harvest. De Bortoli rescued 30 percent including this fabulous shiraz.

And they had no intention of ditching the crop. Their attitude is, “This is a natural expression of the vineyard and that’s what it represents.”

So let’s look out for more detailed HV shiraz.

Pinot gris or grigio? Finally tell the difference

Aussies are quite inventive when a vexing question comes up and confusion prevails.

This time the discussion is between what constitutes pinot gris and what is pinot grigio when they are in fact the same grape.

Winemakers and marketers use both labels with quite a lot of leeway such that there is little consumer understanding of what’s really in the bottle.

Some drinkers work it out, some don’t, some stay confused while others get cranky when the wine expected to be dry, turns out off-dry.

Well what a shambles. That was pre the new PinotG Style Spectrum just starting to be rolled out on back labels of Treasury Wine Estate ranges made from 2010.

Look for it first on the T’Gallant branded pinot gs. The company winemaker, and original pinot g crank, Kevin McCarthy approached the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) in 2007. The AWRI is this country’s world class site of wine industry-led research.

The AWRI together with a commercial partner has built a machine which can identify fake wine. Or more precisely, without removing cork/screw cap, an operator can direct an x-ray beam of light through the bottle to take a fingerprint. Bottles from the same batch without that fingerprint are obviously fake.

Using this instrument AWRI staff took on board Kevin’s request by testing hundreds of bottles of world-wide pinot grigio/gris. Afterwards the same wines were sent to a taste panel who profiled each wine; in particular determining the sweetness, texture, alcohol and cleverly separated the gris from the grigio without knowing the label identity.

AWRI mathematicians then calibrated the instrument so that any additional gris/grigio as with T’Gallant’s 2010 wines which can be measured on texture type from crisp to luscious.

You see there is a trademarked scale included on the back label of wines adopting the PinotG Style Spectrum from this year.

The thin, acidic, lower alcohol, unwooded, razor-sharp types will be at the left of the scale (crisp) while the rich, high alcohol, oaked, heavy extract, oily styles will be at the right, termed luscious.

Sweetness for the crisp types is 0-2 g/l sugar up to 10 g/l for luscious. It does not include dessert style wines.

There is also an international sweetness scale appearing for riesling wines as a result of some inter-continental collaboration by riesling makers.

I spied one on Peter Lehmann Dry Riesling 2009 from Eden Valley.

So future drinking generations will have silent wine assistance from these scales.

Langmeil: ancient Barossa vines

Paul Lindner from Langmeil in Tanunda called through last week. He happened to have a string of Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz that he and his family had made back to 1997 since inception. And starting with the current 2008 (USD 17.50) wine.

The Langmeil winery had been purchased by the Lindner family et al (cousins Carl and Richard Lindner, and brother-in-law Chris Bitter) back in 1996. It had traded previously as Bernkastel and previously to that Paradale, built back in 1932 when wine was a rare commodity.

However the attraction to the Langmeil group was the two hectares of old vine shiraz (Freedom Block), found to have been planted in 1843 and therefore Australia’s oldest producing shiraz. It was planted by Christian Auricht, what a pioneer.

Langmeil means “The Long Mile” in Barossan German and this small hamlet formed part of Tanunda town in past eras. It supported such quaint businesses as blacksmiths and cobblers.

A new housing estate named Langmeil there recently included several hundred century-old vines which were about to be grubbed for the development. Langmeil transplanted them to a site on their winery for posterity.

So Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz 2008-1997; shows how generous Barossa shiraz can be, and in this case the wines held their fruit stage (juicy flavours, black fruits, mocha etc) for 5-7 years before descending into the second phase of maturity (earth, beefy, prune, leather and similar flavours) which is aged shiraz.

Paul remarked that for his early days of their Barossa shiraz making, supply came from six local growers, but now that is 30 sites. American oak is a feature of this style, aged two years in barrel before bottling.

Langmeil have made it a particular interest to source grapes from very old vineyards; 50, 60, 80 and over 100 years-old. The range of wines offered is known as Old Vine Garden Wines, named very traditionally yet with simple intentions.

The Fifth Wave Grenache 2008 91 (USD 26) is sweet smelling but not of oak, just ripeness, picked before the summer heatwave, has chalky soft tannins and is very drinkable.

The Jackaman’s Cabernet 2008 90 (USD 43.50) is rich and ultra-ripe, one of those chocolate styles where high ripeness and varietal flavour intermingle.

Orphan Bank 2008 90 (USD 43.50) is an old vine shiraz which includes the transplanted vines, very closed wine, quite elegant in its tannins and suggesting it will take time to show its full maturity.

The Freedom 1843 2008 94 (USD 87) is nicely forward on the nose, shows charriness from 60 percent new French oak use, then good shiraz silkiness and lots of red fruit flavour.

Langmeil has 25 hectares under their careful eye but are finely tuned to understand the vagaries of old vineyards, and class shows in the glass.

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