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Monthly Archives: June 2011
Capital Wines “The Ambassador” Tempranillo 2010 $27 Kyeema Vineyard Murrumbateman, Canberra District, New South Wales The two tempranillos reviewed this week, though of comparable quality, reveal different faces of this Spanish variety – and its potential to go mainstream in Australia in the long term. The Ambassador, from six-year-old vines, emphasises vibrant, red-berry varietal flavour and the variety’s naturally assertive, but fine and soft tannins. It starts fruity, then the tannins move in reassuringly. Jennie Mooney writes, “It is the first year that we had the depth of fruit to allow the wonderful tempranillo tannins to start to sing. In previous years we have softened them off in barrel”.
Stella Bella Tempranillo 2008 $30 Karridale and Rosabrook, Margaret River, Western Australia Where Capital Wines tempranillo focuses on vibrant, youthful fruit and natural grape tannins, Stella Bella’s brings in the influences of additional oak and bottle ageing. Winemaker Stuart Pym writes that it, “leans towards this style [of Toro, Spain] – showing brighter sweeter characters, but in the Riserva style – being at least three years old with eighteen months in oak as a minimum”. The red-berry varietal flavours are off in the background and now showing secondary, aged character in a matrix with barrel-derived flavour and textural influences.
Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre 2009 $120 Koch Family Vineyard, Rowland Flat, Barossa Valley, South Australia Mourvedre, aka mataro, is a very late ripening variety and a great survivor in Australia’s hot, dry growing regions. This version, from Dean Hewitson, comes from a vineyard planted in 1853 by Friedrich Koch and still tended by his descendents. Hewitson believes it may be the world’s oldest mourvedre vineyard. Though the palest colour of three mourvedre’s reviewed today, its fruit is clearly very powerful as it effortlessly gobbles up 18 months’ maturation in all-new French oak. There are cherry- and chocolate-like fruit flavours in this deep, savoury red. It seems even more lifted and aromatic than usual in the 2009 vintage.
Yangarra Estate Mourvedre 2009 $32 Yangarra Estate Vineyard, McLaren Vale, South Australia Peter Fraser’s 100-hectare vineyard focuses predominantly on shiraz and grenache, but with significant plots, too, of other Rhone Valley varieties – including the white viognier and roussanne and the red mourvedre, cinsault and carignan. The mourvedre’s a deep, purple-rimmed, dense, spicy wine – its ripe dark-berry fruits deeply layered with its assertive but soft tannins. Fraser writes of mourvedre, “early on it has beautiful aromatics with angular tannins, but as the seeds go brown and the tannins become rounder and softer, the alcohol becomes prominent and brightness and aromatics are dulled. 2009 is the first vintage where we think we have got the balance of ripeness spot on”.
Turkey Flat Mourvedre 2009 $32 Turkey Flat Vineyard, Barossa Valley, South Australia Peter and Christie Schulz’s Turkey Flat vineyard has shiraz vines dating from 1847 as well as mature, dry-grown mourvedre vines, source of this wine. It’s deeply coloured, purple rimmed and on first opening the oak influence is obvious (20 months in new and seasoned French puncheons). But tasted over several days the beautiful, ripe and spicy fruit dominates a rich but gracefully structured wine – and the oak becomes background seasoning, adding as well to the substantial tannin structure of the wine.
Stella Bella Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $21 Margaret River, Western Australia This is a distinctive Margaret River twist on the ubiquitous sauvignon blanc style – quite a departure from those we see from Marlborough, New Zealand. Semillon accounts for a large part of the difference in aroma, flavour and texture. From this neck of the woods semillon leans to a distinctive grassy, “canned-pea” aroma. Barrel ferment some components at higher temperatures, tank ferment others at lower temperatures, throw in sauvignon blanc, keep all of the components on yeast lees – and then blend it all together. You get a distinctive, pungent, dust-dry white with greater textural richness than straight sauv blanc.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published in The Canberra Times 29 June 2011
Widespread predictions of a dramatic, disease-driven collapse in grape production this year proved way off the mark. The Winemakers Federation of Australia estimates a total wine-grape intake of 1.62 million tonnes in 2011 – one per cent up on 2010 and marginally short of the five-year average of 1.63 million tonnes. Production remained well short of the 1.8 to 1.9 million tonne peaks of vintages 2004 to 2006.
Winery intake of sauvignon blanc of just 86 thousand tonnes (up nine per cent on 2010) underlines New Zealand’s dominant role supplying Australia’s top selling white variety.
For the first time since 2007, white production outstripped red – perhaps reflecting greater disease damage to late ripening red varieties. Intake of red grapes declined from 858,111 tonnes in 2010 to 779,283 in 2011; white intake increased from 744,901 tonnes to 839,453 tonnes.
Paralleling white’s overall resurgence, chardonnay (404,610 tonnes) shoved shiraz (322,676) aside as our number one variety. Chardonnay intake increased around 23 per cent from 329,441 tonnes. Shiraz intake plummeted 84 thousand tonnes, or 21 per cent, from 406,775 tonnes in 2010 – almost certainly a direct effect of disease.
Thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon, our second most popular red variety, proved more resilient than shiraz, its intake increasing from 227,197 tonnes in 2010 to 231,869 tonnes in 2011.
This comparative success supports anecdotal evidence of a strong cabernet vintage in, among other places, the Barossa, Canberra and the nearby Hilltops region.
Winery intake of merlot, our number three red variety, mainly a blender, increased marginally from 111,684 tonnes to 113,1190 tonnes.
Intake of pinot noir, used in production of both red table wine and clear sparkling wine, declined by eight per cent from 38,830 tonnes to 35,790 tonnes. But the preliminary estimates don’t indicate which style is likely to be most affected by the shortfall.
Volume of Australia’s surprise fifth ranking red, petit verdot, dropped from 19,789 tonnes to 17,359 tonnes. You’ll see this Bordeaux variety occasionally as a straight varietal. But it’s generally a blending component with the cabernet cousins – cabernets sauvignon and franc, merlot and malbec.
After petit verdot, a comparative newcomer to mainstream Australian winemaking, comes another of our great survivors, grenache. It succeeds in fortified and table wines. It’s part of the warm-climate grenache-shiraz-mourvedre trinity, and appears increasingly in its own right. Grenache intake rocketed 53 per cent from 10,497 in 2010 to 16,069 tonnes in 2011. Such a big leap suggests new plantings coming into production. But we don’t know the answer at this stage.
After grenache, production of other niche varieties falls away markedly. For example, winery intake of mourvedre, subject of three reviews today, totalled only 4,437 tonnes in 2010 and 5,296 tonnes in 2011. Like petit verdot, it’s mainly a blender – but we have some wonderful old vines in our warmer areas and it can make a marvellous wine in its own right.
And that much-talked-about “alternative” variety, tempranillo (two reviews today), seems just a blip on our vineyard radar at 2,422 tonnes intake in 2010 and 3,045 tonnes in 2011. I do, however, predict a much bigger future for this variety given the high quality, distinctiveness and easy-drinking appeal of the wines it makes.
Another niche red attracting attention, sangiovese, increased from 3,526 tonnes to 4,150 tonnes.
The white side of our ledger looks decidedly weaker than the red side – in that we have not a single big mover and shaker after chardonnay.
While intake of number two ranked sauvignon blanc grew nine per cent, from 79,053 in 2010 tonnes to 86,043 tonnes in 2011, the variety’s suited to only a small portion of Australia’s current, comparatively warm producing areas. We have neither a Marlborough nor close runner to chardonnay as cabernet is to shiraz.
Our old workhorse, semillon comes in a tad behind sauvignon blanc at 82,243 tonnes in 2011 – up on 2010’s 78,960 tonnes. Semillon’s a great partner to sauvignon blanc in blends but has only limited appeal in its own right. Despite all the talk, and unquestioned quality and uniqueness of Hunter semillon, it remains a niche regional specialty.
Perhaps the surprise among white varieties is pinot gris (or grigio) at a respectable 43,217 tonnes (down from 44,778 tonnes in 2010) – putting it ahead of pinot noir.
The great, noble riesling maintains its perennially niche position, popular taste blithely ignoring wave after wave of publicity for it. Volumes changed little, from 32,188 tonnes in 2010 to 32,720 this year. It remains Australia’s great wine bargain.
Another surprise, albeit on a small absolute scale, is the near doubling intake of muscat-a-petit-grains-blanc from 13,952 tonnes in 2011. The Winemakers Federation attributes this to growing popularity of moscato styles.
Two varieties widely used in cheaper popular blends made solid contributions to the national grape crush, even if their names seldom appear on labels. Muscat gordo blanco contributed 54,459 tonnes and colombard 58,694 tonnes this year.
Widely talked of savagnin (originally misidentified as albarino) fails to rate a mention in the federation’s estimates. But its aromatic sibling, gewürztraminer, contributed 12,116 tonnes.
That useful warm region white, verdelho, grew from 13,588 tonnes to 14,323 tonnes in 2011, while viognier (sometimes blended with shiraz) declined from 12,464 tonnes to 10,729 tonnes.
Sultana, once the sultan of our cask wine industry, continued its long-term decline, with winery intake falling from 2,575 tonnes in 2010 to 1,713 tonnes in 2011.
But chenin blanc hung in there, declining marginally year-to-year from 6,857 tonnes to 6,770 tonnes.
Anecdotally, the late, cool vintage seems to have produced some marvellous wines – intensely flavoured and high in natural acidity. This promises to be very good for regional specialties. On a large scale, though, writes WFA president Stephen Strachan, “the vintage is too big. It may seem harsh, but a harvest in excess of 1.6 million tonnes (despite the rejections) is out of step with the realities of sustainable production and the market opportunity for premium Australian wine”.
In other words, there was little rejoicing in many quarters at the bigger than expected crop. And for growers who lost everything to disease, the pain is severe.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published in The Canberra Times 29 June 2011
Oh dear, oh dear – Lion Nathan’s Malt Shovel Brewery recently revamped the labels on its popular James Squire range. Apparently the old labels looked too similar, confusing the brand’s poor, loyal drinkers. “They often weren’t sure which beer in the range they were drinking”, writes brand director, Ralph Simpson. Perhaps they conducted market research at 3 am.
Brand directors love leaving their mark. But as Australia’s wine industry learned to its detriment, radical label changes can undermine a brand – alienating existing followers and creating confusion about what it stands for.
Fortunately the six brews in the range haven’t changed – leaving the heart of James Squire brand intact. However, my first reaction to the new labels was that they’d introduced new beers – and then a doubt, “maybe they’ve dumbed them down?’ Labels should reassure us, not create doubts or suspicions.
James Squire Four Wives Pilsener 345ml 6-pack $18.99 This is made by Tony Jones at the Lion Nathan owned Malt Shovel brewery. It’s a world-class interpretation of the Bohemian model, delivering the tremendous malt richness of the style (pale and Munich malts) as well as the distinctive aromatics and intense, lingering bitterness of Saaz hops.
James Squire Nine Tales Amber Ale 345ml 6-pack $18.99 Original Amber Ale was the first off the James Squire production line under Chuck Hahn in 1998. Now renamed as Nine Tales, it retains the original style: a deep copper colour with slightly citrusy hops aromas hovering over the fruit and malt. The fruit, malt and hops continue on a warming, supple, gently appealing palate.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011 First published in The Canberra Times 29 June 2011
Dog Trap Vineyard Canberra District Shiraz 2010 $12 Dr Dennis Hart bought the Dog Trap vineyard, then contracted to Hardys, on the outskirts of Yass in 2003. He makes a small quantity of cabernet sauvignon on site but sells much of the fruit to other makers and has part of his shiraz crop vinified at Brindabella Hills, Hall, by Brian Sinclair. Brian’s boss, Roger Harris, says the vineyard grows beautiful fruit. The quality shows in this vibrant, delicious, light-style shiraz with its lovely red berry flavours and brisk acidity. It surely rates as the district’s best-value red at $12. Available at www.dogtrapvineyard.com.au
Yangarra McLaren Vale Viognier 2010 $25 Down in McLaren Vale, Peter Fraser specialises in Rhone Valley varieties, grown on a cooler, elevated, east-facing ridge. The viognier is an outstanding example of the variety, with pure apricot-like aroma and flavour and a richly textured, slightly viscous palate – but not over the top and oily as the variety can be. Fraser removed all the non-perfect berries from the bunches before naturally fermenting the wine “in older French barriques [225-litre oak barrel]. They have been lees stirred and topped monthly, and aged in barrel for nine months”, he writes. This process added a pleasing texture without inserting oak flavours.
Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2009 $8.75–$20 Bargain alert! The big retailers periodically punish Wynns for making such good wine – by slashing the price to plain silly levels. Just a few weeks back Coles’ 1st Choice and Woolworths’ Dan Murphy outlets beat the price down to $8.75. Watch carefully as it could happen again. If it does, pile in. The 2009’s a beautifully aromatic, vibrant, cool climate shiraz featuring ripe but spicy and juicy fruit flavours and ever-so-fine, soft tannins. It’s sourced from central and northern Coonawarra and matured for just six months in older French and American oak barrels. A year after its release, it drinks beautifully, but there’s a decade or so left in it.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
Wine, Terroir and Climate Change John Gladstones, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2011 $59.95
John Gladstones wrote this mesmerising book for the world’s grape growers and winemakers. But it’ll appeal to a wider audience – including those interested in the concept of wine and “terroir”, or readers looking for a concise but painstaking discussion on natural and human-induced climate change.
Gladstones outlines the ambitious scope of the book at the outset. He writes, “This book tackles two contentious subjects that underlie the future of viticulture. Terroir is much spoken of, but nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has attempted a comprehensive definition and integration of its elements in the light of modern science. To do so is an ambitious task, given the many remaining gaps in knowledge. Some of my conclusions may prove to be wrong. But I trust at least that they will help lead to a fuller understanding.
“Climate change, which makes up much of the book’s latter half, must obviously influence all planning for future viticulture. But in approaching the subject it became evident that neither public understanding nor the ‘official’ position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was necessarily accurate. Much in the argument for global warming by anthropogenic (man-caused) greenhouse gases appeared questionable. I therefore undertook as deep a study of the basic scientific evidence as I was able. The result was disturbing, though more as to the science underlying the global warming thesis than to the future of viticulture”.
The book, like Gladstones earlier Viticulture and Environment (1992), places temperature at the centre of grape growing. He sets out the reasons for this in chapter two of the new book, titled Temperature: The Driving Force. The theme weaves through the book and crystallises into practical advice for grape growers in maturity rankings of grape varieties, viticultural climate tables and reference climate tables.
For the general reader, as opposed to vignerons and grape growers, Gladstones’ methodical dissection of “terroir” is wonderfully enlightening.
The French word, for which there is no English equivalent, has become part of the mainstream wine vocabulary and stands for the environmental forces behind a wine’s individuality. The idea is central to France’s appellation system – based on distinctive regional wines, and drills down even to individual vineyard sites.
Gladstones defines “terroir” as “the vine’s whole natural environment, the combination of climate, topography, geology and soil that bears on its growth and the characteristics of its grapes and wines”. And he links these forces to the practicality of the market, writing, “The important thing is that a wine’s defined origin conveys a meaningful message to buyers and consumers, mostly as to its style though not necessarily as to its quality”.
We then read compellingly through the elements of terroir: temperature, broken into sections on vine phenology (physiological development), diurnal temperature range, day length, growing season temperature summations, individual sites, growth and fruiting, ripening temperatures, temperature variability and within-season variability.
A controversial conclusion from this section is that the best wines come from regions with the “lowest diurnal temperature range” – seemingly at odds with the notion of great wines coming from continental climates like Canberra’s. Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk quipped to me, “I haven’t forgiven him for what he said about Canberra [in his 1992 book]”.
Gladstones then discusses light intensity and exposure, rainfall, atmospheric humidity, wind and ripening period ideals for wine styles. Next under his gaze come geography, topography and soil, broken into several sections: latitude, altitude, topography, air drainage and frosts, aspect and slope, soil and above ground microclimate, proximity to water bodies – concluding with the common threads running through known best viticultural sites.
After this, Gladstones moves underground, examining soil water relations, soil and root temperatures, development of the vine root system, the root system and fruit ripening and an hypotheses (and objections to it) on hormone-driven root control of ripening.
The next two chapters study vine balances and management (soil-atmosphere water balance, vines and root maturity, vine size and crop load and irrigation strategies) and vine nutrition (nitrogen, potassium and other nutrient elements).
Finally, he arrives at geology and soil types, two of the most mentioned but perhaps most problematic aspects of “terroir”. He presents the challenge: “associations between wine characteristics and soil type alone, and likewise to some extent geology, have nevertheless proved elusive when studied objectively”.
After looking at soils and geology in literature, soil structure and drainage, soil thermal properties, soil types and vine nutrition and relationships to geology, Gladstones concludes that there probably is a geological flavour element to “terroir” – most plausibly from deep roots of mature vines tapping elements close to bedrock.
A chapter on organic and biodynamic viticulture charts the many advantages of organic management and concludes that it probably aids the expression of “terroir”. However, biodynamics appears to add no advantage and, writes Gladstones “at worst, they represent an unhealthy retreat into irrationality and mysticism… they have no place in an enlightened 21st century”.
Unquestionably Gladstones’ conclusions on climate change are the most controversial element of the book. The section, however, is a magnificent read for its broad sweep across a complex topic. It’s written concisely, logically and expansively and is accessible to non-scientists like me. It’s richly referenced for further exploration of the issues.
Gladstone discusses pre-industrial climates, the evidence of sea levels and early history, including viticultural records, natural causes of climate change, including earth-sun geometry, volcanic activity, solar irradiance and magnetic field, and modelling pre-industrial temperatures.
He then examines anthropogenic causes of climate change, including carbon dioxide and water vapour, aerosols and other pollutants, and land uses and effects. Next he examines modelled temperature feedbacks, principally ice and snow cover and clouds.
After a detailed study of the attribution of causes, including and examination of data sources, statistical methods and climate modelling, he concludes that “warming by anthropogenic greenhouse gases has been much over-estimated”, and “The 20th century’s true warming, as recorded in sea surface temperatures, is at least largely accounted for by natural climate fluctuations, for which the most credible cause on decadal to centennial timescales is fluctuation in solar output and magnetic field”.
He also concludes that we’re likely to be now dipping into a natural cooling period to about mid century. He anticipates this will likely offset admitted human-induced warming in that period.
Gladstones’ controversial conclusions underline the inherent uncertainty in predictions of any kind. His calculations put human-induced warming at much less alarming levels than those driving public policy. He could be right. But then, he could be wrong, too. Nobody knows with certainty.
Gladstones’ views on climate change lead to his conclusions that the world’s great wine “terroirs” will ride out any changes. He also concludes “rising atmospheric CO2 concentration will itself probably increase the optimum minimum and mean temperatures for vines”, and that “Sustainable production methods and improving quality and reliability across both market segments will help further establish wine as a world beverage of preference and moderation. The 21st century stands to become wine’s golden age”.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
Yangarra Estate Vineyard Roussanne 2010 $25 McLaren Vale, South Australia Roussanne, a Rhone Valley white variety, occasionally appears on its own in Australia, but more often in tandem with viognier or marsanne. Jancis Robinson called it the “shy” member of the trio as it avoids the viscosity of viognier or tannins of marsanne. In this version, vigneron Peter Fraser subtly sets the comparatively delicate roussanne fruit flavour in a web of barrel-ferment characters that add more to texture than flavour. A soft but bright and savoury white with a difference, it keeps inviting another sip. Fraser says it’s estate grown and made, with quality selection drilling down to individual, healthy berries.
Hewitson Gun Metal Riesling 2011 $21.50–$26 Eden Valley, South Australia Our first 2011 white review gives exciting hope for the vintage. In this cool season, Dean Hewitson’s austere, stony, elevated Eden Valley site, near Mengler’s Hill, delivered a highly aromatic white (lemony and floral) with high natural acidity and intense, lingering, citrus and apple-like varietal flavours. The delicate but austere acid intensifies the wine’s flavour, and adds to the clean, fresh, brisk, dust-dry finish. It’s a style to enjoy now in its lively, fresh youth – or, alternatively, during its evolution over the next decade.
Cullen Mangan Malbec Petit Verdot Merlot 2010 $39–$45 Margaret River, Western Australia The deeper, fuller and more overtly fruity of today’s two Cullen wine draws its firing power from malbec and petit verdot. Together they make comprise 70 per cent of the blend. The two varieties “provide the middle palate with richness and depth, while the third [merlot] adds lovely aromatics and good acidity, which contribute to the excellent structure of this wine”, writes winemaker, Vanya Cullen. The excellent structure includes an assertive line of ripe tannins in harmony with the rich, lively black-cherry fruit flavours. Mangan is a strong but elegant red at a modest 13 per cent alcohol.
Cullen Diana Madeline 2009 $105 Margaret River, Western Australia Vanya Cullen regularly achieves what so many Australian winemakers seek – fully ripe fruit flavours at comparatively low sugar levels. Low sugar levels, of course, mean less alcohol – in this beautiful red, just 12 per cent. It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon (88 per cent) with six per cent cabernet franc and four per cent merlot – the cabernet sourced from vines planted by Vanya’s parents in 1971. Vanya writes, “the wine was naturally fermented and matured for 13 months in French oak, of which 55 per cent was new”. It’s an extraordinary, harmonious, elegant cabernet, easily among the best yet made in Australia.
Shelmerdine Shiraz 2008 $29–$32 Heathcote, Victoria What are we to make of two wines from the same producer, same variety and same region, but one selling at $32, the other at $65? What we found on the tasting bench were significant style differences but a tough call on quality variance – the majority of tasters rating the cheaper wine ahead of its more expensive cellar mate from the Merindoc vineyard. The $32 wine rated highly for its bright fruit, exceptionally lively palate and fine, savoury tannins – a big but balanced shiraz, relying as much on acidity as tannin to give structure.
Shelmerdine Merindoc Shiraz 2008 $59–$65 Heathcote, Victoria Winemaker Sergio Carlei made this from a four-tonne, hand selection of shiraz from the Merindoc vineyard – a three-hectare, amphitheatre block in the southern foothills of Victoria’s Heathcote region. It’s slightly deeper coloured than the cheaper Shelmerdine shiraz – and from the first sniff we’re enjoying gamey, earthy notes in with the underlying fruit. The fruit gives sweetness to the generous palate and the gamey, earthy, mushroom-like flavours add a distinctive savour to the richly textured palate. Both wines blossomed for five days after opening. In the end we rated Merindoc half a star ahead of its cellar mate.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
Cascade Brewing, part of the Foster’s Group, recently released a nifty, free iPhone app, The Brewer’s Nose.
While the app helps users link with other beer lovers via a Facebook site, the real appeal is access to a database of 600 beers.
The database describes alcohol, bitterness, sweetness and fullness, provides a brief, reliable tasting note and offers food-matching suggestions.
You access the database by tapping in key words – or, far, far cooler, by touching the “scan” button and letting the iPhone read the barcode on the bottle or stubby in your hand.
It worked quickly and well in our tests, provided, of course, the beer was in the database.
The database isn’t nearly as Foster’s-biased as you might think. It features a good range of competitor and craft brews, but falls short on exotic imports. Presumably this will change over time.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
De BortoliWindy Peak Victoria Chardonnay 2010 $11.40–$16 Gulf Station Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2010 $13.20–$20
Our top chardonnay makers, including De Bortoli, long ago moved away from the fat and oaky old-fashioned styles. In this vibrant, delicious pair, from Leanne De Bortoli and Steve Webber, we taste chardonnay as good as it gets in the middle price bracket. Windy Peak – sourced from various Victorian regions, including the King and Yarra Valleys – is the softer of the two, in a subtle, taut but generous way. In Gulf Station, high acidity accentuates the lean, citrusy varietal flavour teasing its way through the richly textured, bone-dry palate. Both wines drink well now, but I expect the Gulf Station to gain complexity over the next 3–4 years.
Cullen Kevin John Margaret River Chardonnay 2009 $75–$105 Penfolds Yattarna Derwent Valley Chardonnay 2008 $72–$130 We move from two really nice chardonnays to a sublime pair – one from a tiny producer, the other from the massive Treasury Wine Estates. Yattarna, a blend of the best material available to Penfolds in any season, comes in warm 2008 mainly from the Derwent Valley. The cool origins show in the delicacy and intense grapefruit-like varietal flavour underpinning this superb white. Sipping away, the fine texture and subtle, barrel derived complexities gradually reveal their presence. Cullens, from three separate blocks on the family vineyard, presents melon and citrus varietal flavours on a wonderfully, bright, complex, deeply layered palate.
Cullen Margaret River Red 2009 $20 Vanya Cullen’s impressive $20 blend of merlot, malbec and petit verdot weighs in at just 12 per cent alcohol – yet tastes fully ripe. The healthy soils, and consequent healthy vines (probably a result of biodynamic management), have much to do with this ability to achieve ripe flavours at low sugar levels. The medium-bodied wine features high-toned red-berry aromas and a lively palate reflecting these same berry flavours. Vanya says merlot and malbec comprise the majority of the blend, making it fleshy and supple. It must be the petit verdot, then, providing the farewell tweak of austere, savoury tannin.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
Chateau Shanahan holds in trust eight crystal wine decanters for the son of the late Professor Tony Barnett, Chair of Zoology at the Australian National University from 1971 to 2003. Barnett and his wife Kate collected the decanters over many years.
Barnett developed an appreciation of wine as a student at Oxford University in the 1930s. He often spoke of a friendship with distinguished British wine writer, Edmund Penning-Rowsell, author of the magnificent “The Wines of Bordeaux”.
Each decanter surely represents a chapter in Barnett’s long life. We even have a hunch about which one hosted his much-talked-about, last bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc 1947, one of the great Bordeaux’s of the 20th century.
This fragile old link to Barnett’s university life in the UK provides a symbolic connection with University House’s seventh wine symposium held on 20 and 21 May.
Just as Oxford sparked Barnett’s interest in wine, the House’s first symposium, in the 1950s, owed much to the long, traditional link between English universities and fine wine. But the interest now has a global focus and a strong Australian accent – as I witnessed at the memorable 1979 symposium and at last month’s event.
The 1979 event featured luminaries and winemaking stars of the day, including Professor Helmut Becker of Geisenheim, Germany, and Max Schubert, Wolf Blass and Cyril Henschke from Australia.
Just three years in the industry, I recall meeting for the first time many leading industry figures, including James Halliday. A lawyer, vigneron, author and columnist, Halliday had already become an influential opinion maker. He returned this year as the symposium’s after dinner speaker. We’ll return to his topic later.
A generation later, University House’s 2011 symposium recognised the Canberra district’s 40th anniversary. Brian and Janet Johnston launched the second edition of “Wines of the Canberra District: Coming of Age”, delegates tasted Canberra wines at the end of day one, toured our vineyards on day two, the dinner featured local wines, selected by Nick Bulleid and Nick Stock, and speakers wove Canberra into their presentations.
Brian Croser (Tapanappa Wines) and Dan Buckle (Mount Langi Ghiran) talked, respectively, on Canberra’s two proven specialties, riesling (“the noblest white”) and shiraz (“past present and future”).
Writer Nick Stock put alternative varieties in perspective. And Libby Tassie followed up with more technical aspects of growing these varieties.
However, climate change will be long remembered as the first, last and lingering topic of the symposium – as much for the topic as for debate about the debate.
Professor Andrew Pitman, head of climate science at the University of New South Wales, presented the first paper “Climate change and its local effects in Australia”. And to the surprise of those expecting a tame after dinner talk on Canberra district wines, James Halliday concluded the symposium by questioning the extent of human-induced climate change.
Halliday declared that he was making a sales pitch for a new book, “Wine, Terroir and Climate Change”, by Dr John Gladstones. He quoted his own words from the book’s cover, “For anyone interested in the future interaction between climate, climate change and viticulture, this book simply has to be read. Dr John Gladstones’s painstaking research is the foundation for his equally carefully constructed conclusions that robustly challenge mainstream opinions”.
The packed hall fell silent. After charting his own scepticism about climate change, Halliday said he’d been mesmerised by Andrew Pitman’s view the day before that sceptics had no place on the face of the earth. Halliday then summarised Gladstones’ conclusions and said, “His views of climate change will be vigorously debated, but not by me”.
I listened in fascination as I’d begun reading Gladstones’ book the day before the symposium – turning direct to the climate change chapters towards the end.
The day before, like Halliday and probably others, I’d been irritated by Andrew Pitman’s brook-no-dissent invective. Before presenting the science, Pitman told us, repeatedly, that we simply had to believe the experts. I’m not a scientist, so I expect scientists to guide me through the complexity of climate change — especially the enormous areas of uncertainty. Instead, Pitman muddied his science by insisting on us having faith in the experts.
Much of the uncertainty relates to calculating the extent and timing of temperature rises and separating anthropogenic from natural changes.
In a Canberra Times article prompted by Halliday’s talk, astronomer Brian Schmidt wrote, “I believe that science makes progress by continually challenging itself, looking for failed predictions, inconsistencies, or alternative ways of approach a problem. Few scientists become famous by towing the party line, it is by finding fault with the status quo, and improving it that scientists make their mark. So it is no wonder that there is not unanimity in any area of science – climate change is no different. The vast majority of scientists who study climate change believe anthropogenic CO2 is leading to a warming of the Earth, but there are still some who challenge this assertion. Long may this continue – but only if these challenges are based on a fundamental understanding of the science at hand, and not some anecdotal or highly limited form of phenomenological evidence”.
Now, Halliday based much of his symposium speech on Gladstones’ book – not on anecdotal or phenomenological evidence.
After a detailed discussion of the natural and anthropogenic influences on climate change, Dr Gladstone concludes, “that warming by anthropogenic greenhouse gases has been much over-estimated. The widely publicised claims of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other greenhouse proponents have depended too much on computer models unable to encompass the complexity of real climates; on uncertain data, dubious assumptions and in some key cases biased statistical procedures; and particularly in ignoring the historical record of past climate warmth. Much of the thermometer record of warming over the last 100–150 years, which the IPCC ascribes more or less exclusively to greenhouse gases, has more likely other causes”.
He further concludes that “greenhouse gases can have caused no more than 0.2ºC of warming [over the twentieth century], which equates to only 0.4–0.5ºC temperature rise for each successive doubling of atmospheric CO2 or its combined greenhouse equivalent”.
As a somewhat confused non-scientist seeking guidance on climate change, I hope that scientists might therefore review and comment on Dr Gladstone’s research and conclusions. He might be right. But he could be wrong, too. I simply don’t know.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011
Shelmerdine Pinot Noir 2010 $26–$36 Yarra Valley, Victoria Stephen Shelmerdine writes, “Between the drought-affected vintage 2009 and rain-influenced vintage 2011, vintage 2010 is now shaping up as an absolutely classic year”. I’m not sure what “classic” means, but Shelmerdine delivers the goods in this lovely pinot from his family’s Lusatia Park Vineyard, high in the Yarra Valley. The buoyant, red-fruit perfume of pinot leads to a medium bodied palate, featuring vibrant fruit, spice and savouriness, cut by quite firm but fine-boned tannins. The wine grew in interest over several days on the tasting bench, eventually joining us for dinner on day four.
Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2009 $17–$22 Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand In Australia we can make pretty good regional shiraz and cabernet for around $10. But the starting price for half decent pinot seems to be around $20, and exclusively the domain of cool growing regions. This puts Marlborough, New Zealand, in a dominant position to capture the emerging pinot noir market. Yealands is one of a growing number of producers there putting out the genuine article at a fair price. From Marlborough’s Awatere Valley, it captures much of pinot’s unique perfume and flavour. It’s medium bodied and savoury with a structure as much dependent on high acid as it is on tannin.
Running with Bulls Vermentino 2010 $17–$19 Barmera, Murray River, South Australia This Italian white variety from the coasts of Liguria, Sardinia, Tuscany and Corsica is attracting some attention in our hot inland regions, like Barmera. “The conditions are perfect for a variety like vermentino, which thrives in the heat”, writes Yalumba, owner of Running with Bulls. Yalumba’s version preserves the freshness of the grape and adds a little texture through skin and yeast-lees contact. It’s a simple, savoury and appealing wine to quaff with basic food – to me a more sympathetic approach than the Chalmers’ more highly worked version.
Running with Bulls Tempranillo 2010 $14–$19 Barossa and Wrattonbully, South Australia Shhhhh! Don’t tell the editor but this is actually a review of two equally good but different tempranillos under Yalumba’s Running with Bulls label – one from the warm Barossa, the other from somewhat cooler Wrattonbully. The Barossa version presents heaps of blueberry and plum-like varietal fruit flavour in the aroma and flavour. But firm, savoury tannins move in very quickly, giving an authoritative red-wine grip and finish. The Wrattonbully wine seems more savoury and earthy from start to finish, without fruity high notes – a tight and grippy red to enjoy with roasted red meat.
Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth Shiraz Riesling 2008 $27–$30 McMurtrie’s Vineyard, McLaren Vale, South Australia The Dandelion label presents wines from mature single vineyards in the Barossa, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. Lion’s Tooth, from the very hot 2008 vintage, comes from Nat McMurtrie’s McLaren Vale vineyard. Dandelion Partner, Zar Brooks, says hand picked shiraz was “naturally fermented in open fermenters on top of some riesling skins for seven days”. After a good aeration, this deep and brooding red began releasing its sweet, ripe-dark-cherry aromas. The ripe black-cherry flavours carried through to a deep, layered savoury and fruity palate – a rich and sturdy but not plump style.
Penfolds Reserve Bin 09A Chardonnay $71.25–$90 Adelaide Hills, South Australia Penfolds “white Grange” project of the early nineties produced the company’s flagship white, the multi-region Yattarna Chardonnay, and this superb sidekick from the Adelaide Hills. Putting the two in a Burgundy context, we might compare the oh-so-refined Yattarna with Montrachet and the more robust Reserve Bin A with Meursault. In 2009 the style seems a little less powerful than the 2008 – the aroma combining “struck match” character with intense grapefruit and nectarine-like varietal notes. The intense palate presents the same flavour characters, all tied together by lean, taut, brisk acidity. It’s a complex, distinctive wine to enjoy for many years.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011