Archives for September, 2010

Cullen rebuff: Puts cork off, anti-green

The now heralded 13 September interview of Vanya Cullen by Decanter has put the cork industry back in its corner where it belongs: dated, old-fashioned and wine-altering.

Expanding further, the incumbent winner of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010 International Trophy for Chardonnay outlined how anti-green it was to use cork as a preferred closure.

This smacks at the very heart of the cork industry’s ongoing media campaign which serves to play down the percentage incidence of cork damage to wine in general.

Whenever there is any positive news that the cork industry can seize there is usually a blast of information sent to all corners of the globe, based on spin. Australian authorities will often quote around ten percent of corks dud your drinking enjoyment, while Portuguese authorities try to kid you its below one percent.

Most of the international supporting information as to how the cork taint percentage has dropped is flawed; data is often non-statistical or anecdotal, or the people making the assertions are not so highly qualified to provide the level of irrefutable evidence that the cork industry would have you believe.

The only controlled tests I know of are done by Australian scientists, but that is becoming rarer as the Australian industry has moved away from cork, so the sample base has become too small to remain a focus for testing.

And Australian wine scientists have moved on to more compelling aspects of closures such as their non-destructive techniques to measure the ingress of oxygen into wine sealed with any closure type.

No longer is cork quality an argument in Australia-technology moves faster than that.

Vanya Cullen, a biodynamic wine grower in Margaret River is inferring it defies the principles of grapegrowing through to a bottled product where the carbon footprint is expanded by ten percent overall to accommodate for the ten percent loss from cork failure.

That means growing inputs, winemaking inputs and distribution inputs become futile by an additional ten percent.

Part of the packaging- the bottle, cork, carton, divider, label inputs become financially and biologically degraded by the customer having to throw away either a tainted or cork-oxidised wine as the result of cork failure.

It becomes a no brainer that screw cap retrieves the ten percent loss that cork provides.

I can also provide another form of evidence about how corks fail. There is a financial loss, sometimes of great proportion when the producer is far disconnected from the consumer, as with Bordeaux wine. Also many Chinese drinkers must be drinking these wines from failed corks.

Last month the successful family producer Voyager Estate held its Masterclass series of tastings of comparable international styles for the Australian trade and sommeliers.

Their cabernet blend tasting group was: Balnaves The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 USD 95 (Coonawarra); Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2005 USD 335 (Pauillac, Bordeaux); Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2005 USD 115 (Margaret River); Mount Mary Quintet 2005 USD 154 (Yarra Valley); Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 USD 65 (Napa, USA), Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet Merlot 2005 USD 91 (Hawkes Bay NZ), Ornellaia 2005 USD 249 (Bolgheri, Tuscany) and Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 USD 57.50 (Margaret River, WA).

As Voyager winemaker Travis Lemm noted “all the Australian wines under screw cap were spotlessly similar, bottle to bottle. But when it came to the Bordeaux, every bottle varied with some downright cork taint spoilt, but more intriguing was the variance in character with bottles obviously affected by air ingress to the extent that they appeared unsuitable to serve. We clearly did not know what Pichon was supposed to be until we uncorked a bottle which smelt fresh!”

So if I was the owner of Chateau Pichon Longueville Contesse de Lalande in Pauillac I would be very concerned about my brand integrity from this evidence. Nobody enjoys being dudded.

You see one can gamble on the public opening one bottle in isolation, having nothing to benchmark the wine, save experience, memory or current perceptions. When a major winery brand such as Voyager selects two dozen bottles of this wine, product failure though becomes glaringly obvious.

Of interest is one reason why Vanya’s mind was polarised to speak out this way in Decanter. She had recently tasted the thirty year history of her chardonnay; many years were dismal not because of poor wine, just cork failure and oxidation. Year after year had been destroyed by the use of cork.

This makes me wonder about how many wine collectors around the world are sitting on a proportion of dud wines, and don’t know so!

This Cullen story also supports the recent reports of white burgundies from the past twenty years failing to survive their expected, uninsured, longer shelf lives.

At least the Chablis growers have walked away from cork- because such fragile, pristine unwooded wines are more vulnerable to changes due to cork and are thereby merchantable.

And one final rub; if the offending character is cork taint (TCA-old boots smell), then the wine takes this smell up in the first day that it rests on its cork; then sits there spoilt for 5,10,15,20-40 years or more as an undrinkable bottle; usually consuming electrical power in a temperature-controlled environment.

Now we can see how corks become anti-green. ;

Wine from Cowra: O’Dea country

It is some time since I had tried wine from a Cowra-based wine company so I was very excited to receive a visit from Jason O’Dea and his able young winemaker, Anthony D’Onise.

In the early days of this region I had served as a mentor by becoming involved in benchmarking tastings with the Cowra brand owners.

In those days Cowra was a single variety town – it was known far and wide for its punchy Chardonnays. And red wines were quite light.

Now that has all changed with some cracker reds grown in the place.

As I commenced discussions with Jason it was immediately striking that this company was very environmentally aware.

For a start the brand has been re-aligned as wine from the Central Ranges which allows Windowrie to creep into exciting places such as Orange, Mudgee and the Hilltops, and still keep the one Geographic Indication. A smart move.

But Jason reminded me of his energy cred: no grapes are trucked more than 100 miles from the family vineyard and winery. Draw the line.

The best range of value wines to get into Windowrie is The Mill (USD 15). These wines are very honest drinks.

There was a juicy new Verdelho 2010, 14%, heady in its perfumes but also tasty; an outrageously good Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010, 12%, racy and not obvious like our mates’ wines from across the ditch, a composed but highly-flavoured Chardonnay 2009, 14%, a spicy but very intense Shiraz 2008, 15%, Cabernet Merlot 2009, 80/20,14%, a big powerful wine for red lovers, and Merlot 2008, 15.5%, spicy, sweet and rich in its over-delivery.

There are three Family Reserve wines (USD 23.75) all originating from the older vines on the family property outside Cowra: Chardonnay 2007, a touch mature, square, 14%; then a pruny, big-fruited, essency Shiraz 2008, 15%, and a parallel Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, 16%, some syrupy ripeness but all so drinkable.

These wines were sealed under cork because there are some misinformed Chinese who buy them in export markets. All the rest have the usual screw cap.

To combat the glut events of the past two years Windowrie have introduced a sub-USD 9.50 range called Deep River; a term referring to the subterranean flow of water under the family vineyard – and also the source of vineyard irrigation via a bore.

Deep River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is that lemon curd, textural style of drink, 12.8%, the Chardonnay 2008 is an unwooded style, fruity, oozy, 14.5% while the Central Ranges Shiraz 2008 is lovely rich, spicy, varietal shiraz which over-delivers, 15%. All sell for USD 7.50

Jason has planted his own vineyard and managed it organically, certified in 2002; so Pig in the House Shiraz 2009 is a lovely chunky style, oak-sweet and layered, 14.5% while its partner Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, is the sweet blackcurrant style, again showing chunk, 14.5%. Both USD 17.

The Cowra region saw some of the over-planting which occurred early this decade; and in 2006 the region crushed 25,000 tonnes. By 2010 that had retreated to 7,000 tonnes by 14 producers. The big corporate names, McGuigan and Richmond Grove have sold up, the vines taken out, others mothballed, and gone back to licking their shareholder funded wounds.

As Windowrie like to say, “share our wine” as one of the pioneers of the Cowra region.

Best’s Great Western: ‘Best’ Victorian wine

The tweet-up recently #Best’sWines was quite a hoot and really had many people talking about the destination Great Western in Victoria’s Grampians region.

Best’s is a venerable old Victorian wine company in this tiny town occupied by two wine brands: Best’s and Treasury Wine Estates.

Under the current CEO Ben Thomson since 2008 the products have been re-badged and they really look good. For a company trading since 1866, the family history and its great labels have been well preserved.

The tweet noise on September was all about the coming of the 2009 vintage of the two red grapes that the region Great Western is so famously known-shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Being a cold growing region then these are wines of intensity.

The Best’s Bin 1 Great Western Shiraz 2009 90 (USD 23.50 ) is opulent; really a fruity style aimed at immediate drinking, hardly challenged by much underlying oak character and easy to drink. Scribes call that soft (easy on the gums). I note the producer’s tasting note talks about “rolling” tannins which would be an enjoyable sensation with this wine.

It’s companion wine Best’s Bin 1 Great Western Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 90 (USD 23.50) is a little more tannic, naturally being a drying variety, with spice and mint aromas, then some chewiness and matching acidity. Young wine released young.

The third companion was a favourite, from quite old vines, Best’s Great Western Riesling 2010 91 (USD 20.50), a simply joyous wine with lemon curd, limes and tantalising acidity which is the purpose of this grape.

It reminds me of a discovery in 2007 of the 1984 vintage of this wine-memorable. About the same time Best’s re-released the 1986 to the market as an example of top aged Victorian western districts wine.

The Best’s Bin range has its origin with the company’s original wine, Bin 0 Claret which incidentally was made from shiraz not cabernet. Cabernet was only a recent addition. Bin 0 has been made since the late 1800s but nobody knows when.

The company buy the grapes for Bin 1 from local supply, or from associated vineyards, whilst preserving the original vine material for the rarer Thomson Family Shiraz (USD 141) and Bin 0 (USD 56).

To drink a mature Great Western Shiraz from Best’s is an experience.

The Farm wine: Margaret River on a wave

The wine industry is often accused of being too conservative, and repeatedly does not talk to its Gen X and Y drinkers. Well Watershed Premium Wines in Margaret River has found another way to communicate with baby boomers – a passion for a wave.

It’s no mean secret that the winemaking brigade there love a set: try Moss Wood’s Keith Mugford or McHenry Hohnen’s David Hohnen. It’s this lure which makes the place a lovely place to live.

That’s assuming that the recent proposal to build an underground coal mine goes away – as it may!

Watershed have introduced their sub-AUD 9.99 (USD 9.15) range called The Farm, which has nothing to do with cows or sheep.

It’s all about the surf. As you can see the label sports the famous VW “Kombi” van so popular with the surfing set in the ’60s and ’70s.

As the label says “The Farm surf break, is located in Bunker Bay, adjacent to Cape Naturaliste, 45 minutes north of the Margaret River townsite. Bunker Bay is protected from the strong southern winds, which so often destroy all good surf along the coast south of Cape Naturaliste during summer.

“When strong southerly winds are blowing The Farm regularly enjoys perfect surfing conditions. In winter the North West wind and swell combine for epic surfing sessions at The Farm. This surf break was discovered in the 1960s when you had to walk across farm paddocks, hence the name of the surf break, to reach the beach, and then the long trek up the beach to The Farm. Today you can park at Farm Break Lane, and you still have to trek up the beach.”

The back label has a very prominant map of Western Australia, with a black cross signifying this beach break. It encourages visiting surfers to ask locals the directions, and to not miss such an experience.

Further this label has been taken up by a German gallery specialising in retro-art, and has made The Farm label part of its exhibition this month.

Tobias Brunt of Direktorenhaus, a new art house/gallery likes The Farm Classic Red 2008; .

And the wines are USD 9 value; a Classic White, 2009, jesty dry blend, and Classic Red known by the latest jargon as a “3ormore” blend, 2008,floral, just medium weight, fresh and accessible value (a merlot, cabernet, shiraz, franc).

I guess the next label from Watershed may be intentioned for Gen X then, while they are on a roll.

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