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Category Archives: People
A few strokes on Lisa Perotti-Brown’s laptop – 100 points – gave the world its headline – “The perfect Grange”. And like catatonic chooks, eyes glued to a single point, the world’s editors obsessed on one wine of the seven Penfolds released on 2 May.
What a lot of fun they missed. But Grange makes the news every year one way or another. It’s always controversial and always delivers in the robust, long-lived style Max Schubert developed in the early 1950s.
Successive winemakers over the decades refined Grange, so that today its fruit is probably a bit brighter and the oak more refined. But it remains inky blank, powerful and layered with winemaking inputs that add more aroma, flavour and textural dimensions than fruit alone could give.
And it’s always released in good company nowadays – alongside remarkable wines, some inspired by Schubert, some created long after his death in 1994, but all made by winemakers who knew him and his wine styles well. Schubert retired in 1973, but he maintained an office at Magill winery for the rest of his life and enjoyed regular contact with his successors – Don Ditter, John Duval and Peter Gago.
The new red releases include St Henri, an elegant, supple counterpoise to Grange, but equally long lived and created by John Davoren, not Schubert. Bin 707, or Grange Cabernet as some call it, is essentially Grange made from cabernet sauvignon instead of shiraz. It’s Grange’s match in power and individual character and as good a wine at half the price. Schubert made the first vintage in 1964.
In 1983, Don Ditter made the first vintage of Magill Estate Shiraz, the single-vineyard wine that saved Penfolds’ Adelaide vineyard from urban subdivision. In late 1982, Max Schubert hand wrote a business plan, including details of the wine, for a board meeting of the Adelaide Steamship Company, then owners of Penfolds. Penfolds Managing Director Ian Mackley (ISM in the document above), and General Manager Jim Williams (JLW), convinced the board to retain the vineyard on the basis of Schubert’s proposal.
RWT Barossa Shiraz arrived in 1997, following John Duval’s quest (the ‘red wine trial’, hence RWT) for an elegant, aromatic Barossa Valley Shiraz, matured in French oak. The wine contrasts starkly with the power and American oak character of Grange shiraz.
And the newest arrival, Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is to Bin 707 what RWT is to Grange. Its creator, current winemaker Peter Gago, says Bin 169 and RWT take the pressure off Bin 707 and RWT. Gago believes the two new styles deflected criticism from some quarters that Grange and Bin 707 needed “modernising” – lightening up and moving from American oak to less aggressively flavoured French oak.
The lone chardonnay in the line up began as the “white Grange” project in the early nineties, under John Duval. Duval’s team sought a white equivalent of Grange. With no restrictions on grape variety or region, the winemakers initially sourced semillon, riesling and chardonnay from a diversity of regions. The search quickly narrowed to chardonnay, initially from mainland regions, including Tumbarumba, the Adelaide Hills and McLaren.
The first vintage released under the new flagship chardonnay label, Yattarna 1995, combined fruit from the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. However, the continuing search for suitable fruit soon took Penfolds to Tasmania – just as Hardys had done for its flagship, Eileen Hardy. The just-released 2010 vintages combines fruit from Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2009 $95 Modern St Henri reveals something of Australia’s massive vineyard expansion of the nineties. Fruit from Robe and Wrattonbully on the Limestone Coast and the Adelaide Hills now joins material from the warmer, traditional Clare Valley, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. But the style remains unchanged. St Henri 2009 is a little lighter coloured than Grange or RWT, a tad less crimson than RWT and a tad more crimson than Grange – precisely reflecting their ages. St Henri fruit is chosen for its elegance and, as well, it’s aged in old 1,460-litre vats – meaning maturation without picking up woody flavour. St Henri seems gentle and soft compared to RWT and Grange. And its supple, sweet, plummy fruit comes layered earthy and savoury notes and fine, silky tannin. This is a big, warm St Henri but still elegant and built for long cellaring under good conditions.
Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 $175 In 2005 I judged the Barossa Valley wine show with Huon Hooke and Lester Jesberg. Over dinner one night, we concluded Penfolds RWT 1998 was perhaps the best Barossa shiraz any of us had tasted. It now has a rival in the 2010. Tasting it alongside Grange accentuates RWT’s heady, floral aroma and opulent, chewy, juicy palate. It’s a dense and concentrated wine, saturated with aromatic shiraz character that’s beautifully complemented by sweet and spicy French oak. While it’s harmonious and easy enough to drink now, the sheer concentration and youth of the fruit flavour suggest a beautiful flavour evolution ahead.
Penfolds Grange 2008 $785 Max Schubert’s encounter with magnificent 50 year-old Bordeaux reds in 1950 inspired Grange. And tasting the inky deep, tannic wines of the new vintage, he realised Grange would have to be similarly powerful to last the half century he had in mind. He realised great wine requires more than just good fruit. And so, the 2008 Grange, like those before it combines the inky deep colour, flavour and tannins of fully ripened shiraz. And the fruit’s layered with the flavour and tannin of American oak and a distinctive hint of volatile acidity, deliberately encouraged during winemaking to give extra lift to such a huge, powerful wine. A description of the parts, though, can’t adequately convey the sense of a remarkable and unique wine. From tasting every vintage back to 1951, some of them many times, I conclude that age is perhaps the best fining agent of all. Over time Grange becomes finer – in the words of Max Schubert, “it has a similar elegance [to those ancient Bordeaux reds tasted in 1950], even after starting from a big, rough Australian red”. 2008 is a particularly powerful expression of the style, destined to evolve for decades.
Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2010 $130 With Yattarna, Penfolds aim for finesse, harmony and longevity – a style inspired by the elegant chardonnays of Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy. Suitable fruit comes from the coolest growing regions – in 2010 from Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills. Fermentation and maturation in French oak barrels, 57 per cent of them new, produced a fine, complex wine, its rich but delicate fruit meshed through with barrel-derived character. It seems very young and fresh at three years and should evolve well for another five or six years.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 22 May 2013 in the Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Barrel-strength malt whisky isn’t “a dram for the feint hearted”, declares a recent Scotch Malt Whisky Society press release. I’m sure they meant faint hearted. But we get their drift. We could also add that making, maturing and marketing luxury goods, like malt whisky, isn’t for faint-of-heart businesses. Success requires loads of capital, patience, global reach and unique marketing skills.
Successful marketers of luxury goods make us feel good about paying big bucks for their glamorous brands. They have to bring in enough money to cover the real cost of production and marketing, plus a nice mark-up for themselves and acceptable profit margins for everyone in the distribution chain. In the case of single-malt whisky, production might involve maturation in oak barrels for a decade or more before blending and bottling.
In simple terms, this means a malt whisky producer carries the costs of production, storage and maintenance for ten years or more before receiving a cent. But it takes considerable market power – and powerful brand marketing – to achieve a good return on investment.
Good marketers follow consumer tastes but also head off in new directions, taking consumers with them. A colourful example of this in recent years was The Glenmorangie Company’s acquisition of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
Glenmorangie, a distiller of Highland Malt Whisky, is part of luxury goods company, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). The company makes and markets, as well as Louis Vuitton luggage, many of the world’s great wine and spirit brands, including Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot Champagnes and Hennessy Cognac. Its southern hemisphere wineries include Domain Chandon and Cape Mentelle in Australia and Cloudy Bay, New Zealand.
Glenmorangie’s purchase of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society steps away from the beaten path. It picks up on a growing consumer taste for small-production specialties, generally with strong regional appeal. But the society’s operations seem disconnected from the Glenmorangie brand.
The society, with 26 thousand members globally (1,500 in Australia), formed 30 years ago. Society Ambassador, Georgie Bell, said during a recent visit to Canberra, the society grew from a group of Edinburgh malt enthusiasts, led by Pip Hill. The story goes that in the late seventies, with little single-malt whisky on the market, Hill sourced a single barrel from a Speyside producer and decanted it to gallon jars with a group of like-minded friends.
The group grew by word of mouth and in 1983 became a society, dedicated to sourcing and bottling individual casks of malt whisky. Bell says the society now has 15 branches in 18 countries (one branch for the Benelux countries and one for Australia-New Zealand).
She says the society selects and bottles individual barrels of whisky from 129 distilleries, principally in Scotland, but also from two in Ireland, one in Wales and two in Japan.
An enthusiastic 24 year-old, Bell taught herself to like whisky while working in an Edinburgh cocktail bar as a uni student. She submitted a final-year dissertation on the geography of whisky, based on a case study of the island of Islay and how its identity stems mainly from its whisky production.
Bell attended the society’s Canberra tasting at Regatta point, following events in Canada, the USA, Sydney and Melbourne. She jetted off to open the new Mumbai branch the next morning.
Over three single-cask malts before the Canberra tasting, Bell talked of a new image for malt whisky – a shift away from cigar-smoking, middle-aged blokes. (Though a bloke, Drew McKinnie, heads up the local branch).
Bell describes a significant women and whisky movement emerging in the UK. And she attributes whisky’s appeal to the collection of flavours it presents – seeing strong parallels to perfume, another of her interests.
The three whiskies we compare vary amazingly from one another. They’re to be served at the society tasting with matching entrees prepared by chef, Michael Shilling.
The society’s whisk labels feature two numbers – one representing the distillery, the other the cask number – and cryptic descriptor. For example, we tasted 121.57, described as “bittersweet symphony”. By going to whiskyportal.com I learned that 121 is the number for the Island of Arran Distillery. This is a pale, comparatively delicate whisky with attractive citrus character. Go easy, though, as 55.4 per cent alcohol.
The second whisky, 35.78 “Praline and flat Coca Cola” (from the Glen Moray Distillery, 58.5 per cent alcohol) had been matured for 14 years in sherry casks. It was, in a way, like sherry on steroids, with a rich, delicious caramel-like malt flavour pushing through the sherry-like overlay, with a spicy, oaky aftertaste.
The third whisky, 53.174, “Sumptuous barbecue on the Machair”, combined strong, smokey, peatey aromas (derived from drying the malted barley with peat smoke) with tangy sea-spray character. This 64.2-per-cent-alcohol dram came from the Caol Ila Distillery, Islay.
The society sells its whiskies to members only. However, you can become a member by paying a joining fee and annual subs or, far more palatably, by attending one its quarterly tastings, known as outturns, and purchasing whisky – details at smws.com.au
Prices of whiskies in the current release vary from $150 to $680 a bottle. If you’re visiting Melbourne, several are on tasting at the Whisky and Alement bar, Russell Street.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 27 March 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
On Valentine’s Day, Canberra vignerons took the district’s white darling, riesling, on a date. Not a romantic, love-you, can’t-get-enough-of-you fling, but a forensic examination, under the stark spotlights inside Mount Majura’s squeaky-clean cellar.
Critics, show judges and increasing numbers of drinkers love our rieslings. But they’re enjoying mainly youthful, fresh, just-released wines, within months or maybe a year of bottling.
But it’s often said our rieslings require bottle age to soften their sometimes-austere acids and allow the underlying varietal flavours to emerge.
And it’s true that if you taste Canberra’s 2012 rieslings alongside those from the Clare Valley (a long-established specialist in the variety), our wines tend to be swept aside by Clare’s generally fruitier, softer versions.
Certainly I’ve rated Clare and some Eden Valley rieslings from this stellar vintage ahead of their Canberra counterparts – largely for this reason and in full recognition that the best Canberra wines may catch up or pull ahead in the years to come.
To some extent, then, we can only enjoy what’s before us in the glass now – not what might be there in two or ten years. But we can’t ignore riesling’s potential to blossom with age – nor the youthful austerity of Australia’s and the world’s greatest.
Germany’s great Rhine and Mosel river rieslings age in all their pristine glory for decades. They achieve this on the back of intense fruit flavour and the high acidity that makes them sometimes forbidding in youth.
Likewise Australia’s very finest rieslings tend to be slow out of the box, but to finish strongly. For example, one of Australia’s largest riesling makers, Jacob’s Creek, tends to win show medals in the year of vintage for its cheaper Classic Riesling. But the company’s flagship, generally begins hauling in the medals years after vintage.
The more established, austere but long-lived rieslings of the Clare and Eden Valleys can get away with austerity. Why? Because they have a proven capacity to age well – the best for decades.
If Canberra’s to match these wines in the market place, then our makers need to demonstrate how well the wines age – especially the driest, most acidic versions. Producers can’t expect drinkers to buy wine as an act of faith.
Hence, Canberra’s Valentine’s Day gathering looked at older Canberra rieslings – 27 wines in total, 26 dry; one sweet, the youngest five years old, the oldest 19 years.
Individual producers donated bottles from their own cellars, in Roger Harris’s case, literally displaying a life’s work.
The tasting comprised five brackets – four from individual producers, the final a mixed group. The wines weren’t masked and didn’t include any samples from other regions. So we could call it a Canberra-only benchmarking. I chaired the tasting. The format was: taste the five or six wines in each bracket in silence; call on the maker for comments about style, viticulture and winemaking; offer my own views; call for questions on comments from all tasters.
One big conclusion: the adoption of screw cap by Australian winemakers is one of the great quality breakthroughs of modern times. As the adoption began only from 1998 (and more broadly in Canberra from 2002), our tasting took in both cork- and screw-cap sealed wines. The tasting suffered only one screw-cap casualty (the maker, Roger Harris, called it his only dud bottle in eleven years), but most of the cork-sealed wines suffered, some fatally.
Makers said in some cases they opened several cork-sealed bottles to find one good one – a luxury most drinkers don’t have. Any tasting of older cork-sealed riesling, then, becomes a lottery. Indeed, the likelihood of cork damage, through taint or oxidation, prevents reliable assessment of older rieslings unless we’re dead lucky or have access to half a dozen bottles.
That caveat aside, the cork-sealed Brindabella Hills Riesling 1997 proved one of the most loveable wines of the night – maturing but still lively and fresh after 16 years.
We can also conclude Canberra doesn’t have a single riesling style. If fact, we could argue winemaker preferences probably outweigh the notion of terroir. That is, we have the right climate for riesling (arguably the biggest single factor in terroir). But, for example, winemaker preferences for complete dryness or including residual grape sweetness or picking grapes riper or less ripe strongly influence wine style.
We also observed a trend over the last 20 years to lower alcohol riesling – from a widespread realisation that riesling develops ripe flavours at comparatively low sugar levels. Alcohol levels still vary from maker to maker and from vintage to vintage – the 2012 vintage, for example, producing some of the lowest alcohol wines ever.
A couple of style differences I noted: Brindabella Hills makes soft, easy-drinking styles, a conscious decision by maker Roger Harris to suit his own palate. Clonakilla makes a richer style but with an assertive acid backbone, ameliorated in high-acid years like 2011 and 2012 by back-blending a small amount of unfermented grape juice. And Ken Helm opts for delicate, bone-dry, low-alcohol styles – his Classic slightly fuller and more approachable in youth; his Premium, minerally and austere as a youngster and probably the strongest contender in the district for an element of terroir.
Most importantly, within the individual style differences, Canberra’s best rieslings age deliciously – offering different characteristics as they age. The tasting didn’t include all of our top riesling producers. But the sample was wide enough and good enough to say Clare and Eden Valley have a challenger.
I rated many of the 27 wines very highly. In descending order of preference they were: Helm Premium 2005 and 2008, Brindabella Hills 1997, Clonakilla 2006 and 1997, Centenary Riesling 2008, Nick O’Leary 2008, Mount Majura 2008 and 2005 and Helm Premium 2006.
I rated each of these highly not just for freshness and drinkability now, but for potential to continue drinking well (with that big cork caveat hanging over the two 1997 wines, the only cork-sealed wines in the line up).
For a future masked tasting, Canberra makers should include aged rieslings, vintage for vintage, from the very best Clare and Eden Valley producers. This will help form an objective view of where we stand in relation to the acknowledged best. The best winemakers tend to build this very broad frame of reference.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 27 February 2013 in The Canberra Times and goodfood.com.au
Australia’s sparkling wine king, Ed Carr first put bubbles in wine in 1977. Charged with sorting out “some issues with secondary fermentation”, Carr, a microbiologist, joined senior winemaker Pam Dunsford at Seaview’s Glenloth winery, Reynella.
“We got through, though I was straight out of uni”, recalls Carr. At the time, Dunsford made the base wines for Seaview “Champagne”, as it was then called. The wines were finished off by Norm Walker at Seaview’s sparkling cellars in the Adelaide suburb of Magill.
Today that division of labour seems as foreign as the grapes our sparkling makers used just a generation ago. The classic sparkling varieties, pinot noir and chardonnay, were little planted in Australia at the time. And our sparkling makers used neutral grape varieties. They intentionally created a blank canvas on which they painted the aromas, flavours and textures arising from bottle fermentation and maturation on spent yeast cells.
Carr recalls using muscadelle, chenin blanc and even a touch of grenache. “Pinot noir and chardonnay didn’t come onto our agenda until the late eighties”, he says. “But Seaview 1990 was a big year for us, our first pinot noir chardonnay”. The fruit came from Wynns vineyards (also part of the Penfolds group) at Coonawarra and Padthaway.
By this time, Seaview had become part of the Penfolds Wine Group. In 1986 Carr relocated to the new sparkling wine cellars in the Barossa. The state-of-the-art facility had originally been planned as an underground cellar at Glenloth, but ultimately built above ground at Penfolds’ Nuriootpa site.
The fruit from Coonawarra and Padthaway, however, fell a long way short of ideal, largely because both regions were too warm. By this time, says Carr, fruit sourcing occupied his mind. And Seaview’s joining with the Penfolds group opened new opportunities.
A mid-1980s trip with fellow winemaker Rob Gibson opened Carr’s eyes to the potential of cooler growing areas. The pair swung through the Yarra Valley, where Chandon was just beginning, to high, cool sites in the Pyrenees and on to Tasmania.
In Tasmania they met with Julian Alcorso at Moorilla Estate, on the Derwent near Hobart, and Dr Andrew Pirie at Piper’s Brook, near Launceston. Though it would a decade before Carr sourced fruit from Tasmania, he decided on that trip, “this was the place to be”.
At about the same time, Seppelt became part of the Penfolds group, bringing Carr into contact with wines made by Warren Randall and Ian McKenzie from Tumbarumba, NSW, and Drumborg, southwestern Victoria.
The two regions made different styles, recalls Carr – those from young, highly cropped vines at Tumbarumba being less intense than those from mature vines in the very cold Drumborg region.
In 1994, Hardys recruited Carr as head of sparkling wine production. Carr says they lagged the other large wine companies in sparkling wine making at the time, despite runaway success with the Sir James brand.
The company wanted to make top sparkling wines and poured in the resources to achieve the goal. At about the same time as they hired Carr, they acquired a substantial Yarra Valley vineyard, near Gembrook.
The vineyard had been set up specifically for sparkling wine production by well-known viticulturist, David Paxton. It belonged to a syndicate of wine companies, including Hardys, and until 1994 sold fruit to the various shareholders.
However, from 1995, Hardys, now the sole owner, took all the fruit for its upmarket sparklers. In the same year they planted large areas of pinot noir along the Riverland to feed its big-volume, cheaper Omni brand.
And in 1995, Carr took his first small batches of Tasmanian fruit. He says, “I visited Tassie and let it be known we were after grapes and would see what turned up”. He spread the world largely through winemaker Steve Lubiana and viticultural consultant, Fred Peacock, owner of Bream Creek Vineyard.
Hardys paid good market prices, says Carr, and over the next few years the grape volumes and range of vineyards they sourced from grew rapidly. Table wines, particularly chardonnay and pinot came on the agenda, too.
In 2001 Hardys acquired the Bay of Fires winery and vineyard. Until then, Tasmanian contract wineries pressed, chilled and shipped juice to Carr in Adelaide. Following the acquisition, Bay of Fires made all of the group’s Tasmanian table wines on site and took over the pressing, chilling and shipping juice for sparkling wine production, which remains totally under Carr’s control at Tintara.
Carr says, “It took 10 to 15 years to get a picture” of what worked and where. Many sites can be managed for both table and sparkling wine production, he says. But for sparkling wine, sourcing moved south to include vineyards along the East Coast, near Swansea and Cranbrook, the Coal River Valley, and the Meadowbank vineyard, on the Derwent near New Norfolk, west of Hobart.
Winemaking follows traditional French techniques, including prolonged ageing on yeast lees in bottle following the secondary fermentation. This vital stage of sparkling production adds subtly to the aroma, flavour, structure and bubble size of sparkling wine.
Carr says when he began making top-shelf sparklers for Hardys, he aimed for four years’ maturation on yeast lees before release. But by holding museum stock for longer periods, he’s learned that the best wines, particularly those from Tasmania, develop beautifully with much longer maturation. This led to the release of a late disgorged product, matured on lees for 10 years.
Carr believes it’s difficult to separate the characters derived during yeast autolysis from aged varietal character and other winemaking inputs, such as maturation of base wines in oak barrels before the secondary fermentation. However, he says, “it’s the total mix that matters”.
As to the tiny bubbles in good sparkling wine, he says he doesn’t understand the cause chemically but it relates to surface tension and long maturation on yeast lees. He observes a clear pattern between bubble size and length of maturation.
Carr sees a clear distinction between the minerality of Tasmanian sparkling wine and the fruitier quality of mainland fruit – a quality making it well suited to great bottle ageing.
His style for both House of Arras, the flagship Tasmanian brand, and Bay of fires includes fermentation and maturation of components in oak barrels and full malolactic fermentation.
Future tweaking will include a little more reserve wine blended into the base wines and the influence of new plantings, yet to bear fruit.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2013 First published 16 January 2013 in The Canberra Times
The old saying “perception is reality” preceded current understanding of how we taste. Sensory cues seemingly unconnected to our senses of smell and taste affect not just our perceptions and the psychology of taste, but how we physically taste. It seems that when we expect something to taste a certain way, it will.
If we’re to squeeze the greatest amount of pleasure from the wines we drink, it therefore makes sense to build a rich sensory experience even before we reach for the bottle. Hence this little guide to wine gifts leans as much to the aesthetic as the practical.
The setting includes dazzling cutlery, fine bone or porcelain crockery, crisp, clean tablecloths, perhaps a brightly coloured French one – all terrific, enduring gifts in their own rights, though not covered here.
A wonderful quality of good wine accoutrements is their durability. Crystal decanters and glassware, for example, survive the generations. Some of the decanters mentioned may still be used exactly as previous owners did over the last 200 years.
Wine decanters There’s little practical reason to decant young modern wines. In the old days, less precise winemaking meant many wines contained traces of hydrogen sulphide, a by-product of winemaking, or free sulphur dioxide that tended to dissipate with a good splash of air.
That’s seldom the case these days, though very young, cellarable whites often contain noticeable levels of sulphur dioxide; and some modern chardonnays retain traces of various sulphur compounds, deliberately built in for complexity. Decanting tends to take the edge of these, too.
However, some young reds seem to release more aroma and flavour after a good splash into a decanter and an hour or two’s exposure to air. Old reds, on the other hand, should be decanted to separate the clear wine from the harmless sediment deposited during years of maturation.
That’s the practical side of decanting. But crystal decanters add hugely to wine’s visual appeal. Smooth-sided decanters allow the wine’s colour to shimmer and sparkle; those with intricately-cut patterns, offer an additional dimension – rainbows of light refractions twinkling through the various angles and shapes, made even more appealing with the flickering, yellow light of candles.
Decent crystal decanters begin at around $50, and come in sufficient shapes, sizes, brands and prices to satisfy most of us.
Even the darling of the wine world, Riedel, offers decanters on its website from $64.95, moving steadily through the price ranges and peaking at $900 for its quirky Twenty Twelve model.
But for that price, or anyway near it, Santa might bring a glorious old antique – perhaps a George III-era (circa 1815) with its “wide comb fluting body, plain neck rings and mushroom stopper”, currently selling at $785 in Hartley Cook’s Grafton Galleries (Shop 1, 15 Boundary Street, Rushcutters Bay).
Cook, a wine lover and glassware expert, always carries a range of old decanters (about twenty at present, he says), a specialty for a few decades now. He owns about 30 personally, including a rare 1810 magnum decanter. He says unlike other delicate antiques that might sit in a glass cabinet, “we can use an old decanter in the same way it was used 200 years ago”.
Wine glasses We possess only one nose, albeit with two inlets, and one tongue, quickly inundated by the smallest sip of wine. But if we believe Riedel, every wine deserves a unique glass shaped to deliver aroma and flavour to just the right places in these two esteemed organs. Unlikely as that proposition seems, Riedel wows the crowds in its master classes by harnessing the power of suggestion – a potent technique when teamed with the company’s elegant, functional stemware. Which takes us back to perception being reality.
Beautiful wine glasses deliver drinking pleasure by creating a sense of anticipation, displaying a wine in its best light and capturing its full spectrum of aromas. In August at a Quay Restaurant degustation lunch, a unique wine glass arrived with each of eight food courses
The wine service lock-stepped with the overall precise theatre of the food service: waiters arriving on time to remove crockery, cutlery and glassware; more waiters bringing new glasses and crockery; food arriving and a new wine being poured.
Small volumes of wines partly filled brilliantly polished glasses. The low fill allowed light to flood through, revealing vivid colours against the crisp, white table cloth, and sufficient room to swirl the liquid, releasing the aromas – nicely trapped for our noses by the tapering tops.
The pleasure peaked with Phillip Jones’s magnificent 2010 Bass Phillip Gippsland Pinot Noir – a highly aromatic, shimmering, limpid, delicious pool of red-purple sloshing leisurely around the base of a huge, fine, crystal glass.
Riedel remains the hot wine glass, if expensive, though the company also owns the Spiegelau and Nachtmann brands. Indicative of Riedel’s combined functionality and aesthetics, most Australian wine shows and many wineries and restaurants now use the company’s Ouverture Magnum glass, which is not offered at retail. However, the Ouverture red wine glass, offered on the company’s website (riedel.com.au) at $39.95 a pair appears to be the same product.
The glasses are widely distributed at retail, including in fine wine stores, and appear occasionally as well-priced job lots at Costco.
Good stem ware of whatever make should be of a fine, even thickness through the bowl, with no bubbles or swirls, sparklingly clear, with a rim tapering towards the top to capture aroma. Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, of course, so chose ones that make your mouth water in anticipation.
Cork pullers “It’s good seventeenth century technology”, said one Australian winemaker. But cork lingers on – a fringe dweller in Australia and New Zealand, though the dominant seal in some countries, including Italy, France and the United States.
If you buy wine as the need arises and drink only Australian and New Zealand wine, there’s no need ever to own a cork puller again. But if you drink imports or have a cellar with older vintages under cork, you still need a device of some kind to rip or push the cork out.
Corkscrews and parallel, metal-prong devices both pull corks out from above. A needle and pump, on the other hand, pushes corks out with compressed air. All of these devices do the job. However, after plunging a needle into my hand some years ago, I’m wary of them and absolutely happy with the more traditional devices.
Metal prong cork pullers Metal prongs, like the German made Monopol Ah So cork puller, work easily and well once you get the knack. They’re particularly handy for extracting old corks that might crumble using a corkscrew. Even better, they’re perfect for an old dinner party trick. With practice you can whip the corks out of cheap and expensive wines before the guests arrive, swap the contents, replace the corks intact, and no one’s the wiser.
Amazon offer the Ah So at $19.50, though one Australian retailer charges $49.50, Peters of Kensington and Ultimo Wine Centre websites offer it, but both were sold out in mid November.
Corkscrews The metal in the screw should be of a narrow gauge, so it worms easily through the cork, with wide loops (at least five of them) to give purchase, and of high tensile strength so it doesn’t straighten out under tension. Corkscrews should also provide leverage – a metal extension that rests on the collar of the neck in the old waiters-friend styles (these require considerable strength); or the more highly levered versions like the Analon Sure Grip ($24.95 at Kitchenware Direct) or the Starin Elegant ($30.19 at Shopbot.com.au).
These are only a few examples. There are dozens of good corkscrews online and in stores.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012 First published 5 December 2012 in The Canberra Times
The National Wine Show’s new chairman of judges, Stephen Pannell, called in his own troops for the 2012 event, judged at EPIC early this month. In town for the trophy presentation dinner on 21 November, Pannell said, “I picked people I like working with”. He selected judges who’d work harmoniously together, keep their egos tucked away and focus their energy on the wine.
He said, “It’s important as a judge to walk away from a show thinking I’d like to buy and drink these wines [the award winners]”. This hadn’t always been his experience.
In the end, he’s happy with this year’s award winners. But he’s far from happy with Australian wine shows, citing the inflexibility of the agricultural societies behind many of them. He singled out the Adelaide wine show and its 2012 results as “a time warp”, saying people shouldn’t be able to enter wines in shows they’re judging.
Pannell believes, “wine shows have lost relevance to consumers”, that shows organisers have to fix the way wines are judged and sponsors like Dan Murphy [sponsor of the National] need to become more involved and promote the winners.
He believes that wines ought to express their origin. Wine shows should therefore start parochially, looking at individual regions first before moving on to broader state and national events.
He’d like to see trophies limited to varietals and for shows to drop awards like best red, best white or best wine of show. It’s an absurd apples-versus-oranges situation, he reckons, lining up, say, trophy winners for riesling, chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc and voting on an overall best white wine. And it’s even more absurd after that tasting the best red and best white to determine the wine of the show.
The bigger issues of how shows are organised, who runs them and how wines find their ways into them remains on Pannell’s radar. But for the 2012 National he focused on judging – selecting the right people and finessing the process.
Pannell says, “Even though we judged only 120 wines a day, some people didn’t break for lunch and we ended up spending a huge amount of time in the wines”.
In most wine shows a panel of three judges and one or two associate judges work independently on a class of wines. They then tally their scores for each wine, call back potential gold medallists for group tasting and discussion. The panel then awards its gold medals for the class, sometimes in collaboration with the chair of judges.
In this situation the judges know the exhibit numbers and therefore who originally backed each wine for gold. From my own experience, judges tend to support the wine they’ve previously backed.
Pannell slowed this process down and removed one important bias. He asked his judging panels to line up fresh, randomised pours of potential silver and gold medallists and look at them with fresh eyes (or noses). As chair he’d also show wines to other panels, allowing the conversation and assessment to linger on.
Pannell also encouraged discussion on style issues. For example, with everything cool climate being cool at present, he “didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater” – meaning traditional warm-climate styles, especially shirazes, deserved rewarding if they scrubbed up (and plenty did).
Another hot topic during the show, he said, was whether “artefact in chardonnay is overwhelming a sense of place?” Roughly translated, that means when do the aroma and flavour of sulphur compounds, resulting from winemaking techniques, become too much. The debate largely replaces earlier ones on the roles of malolactic fermentation and oak in chardonnay flavour.
So, the debate moves on with each new generation of judges. But, says Pannell, “The results won’t ever be perfect”. He believes the award winners at this year’s event should mean something to consumers. And he hopes the awards and debates about style will show the industry “some direction and sensibility about where we go”.
Certainly there’s plenty to excite in this year’s results. The 2012 rieslings, especially those from Clare, offer delicious drinking at reasonable prices and rated very highly in the judges’ view. And high quality cheaper wines of many styles liberally adorn the gold-medal list.
For various reasons only five Canberra producers entered wines in this year’s show. Quantity requirements, even though reduced by show organisers in recent years, restrict the number of entries – especially following the disease-ravaged 2011 and 2012 vintages.
However, all five Canberra wineries won medals. The few shirazes entered fared sensationally well. Eden Road The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz ($22 at cellar door) won the shiraz trophy – a notable achievement in a class of generally more expensive wines. And two 2011 vintage Canberra shirazes won silver – Eden Road and Mount Majura.
Nick O’Leary repeated a stellar performance at the recent Melbourne show. His Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – from Wayne and Jennie Fischer’s Nanima vineyard, Murrumbateman – and Canberra District Shiraz 2011 both won gold medals, with Bolaro ahead by a nose. O’Leary also won bronze for his 2012 riesling, a gold medallist and trophy winner from the recent NSW Wine Awards.
Ken Helm, too, waved the Canberra riesling flag, with a bronze medal for his Classic Dry Riesling 2011. And Lerida Estate earned a silver for medal for its Josephine Canberra District Pinot Noir 2009.
The full catalogue of results is available at rncas.org.au
Eden Road Wines The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2010 – gold medal and the Shiraz Trophy Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal Canberra District Off-dry Riesling 2012 – bronze medal
Nick O’Leary Canberra District Riesling 2012 – bronze medal Canberra District Bolaro Shiraz 2011 – gold medal Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – gold medal
Helm Wines Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2011 – bronze medal
Lerida Estate Canberra District Josephine Pinot Noir 2009 – silver medal
Mount Majura Canberra District Shiraz 2011 – silver medal
FOR BARGAIN HUNTERS
Many modestly priced wines won gold medals and trophies, often in company with far more expensive products. This list highlights award wines like to cost around $20 or, in some cases considerably less. The list gives the vintage of each award-winning wine. Retailers may carry other vintages, so check labels carefully.
Trophy winnersLeasingham Clare Valley Bin 7 Riesling 2012 $16–$18, Gold medal and trophy, best dry white, commercial classes. Jim Barry Lodge Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2012 $21–$24 Gold medal and three trophies: best riesling, premium classes; best dry white table wine; best table wine of show. Houghton Wisdom Pemberton Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $22–$25 Gold medal and trophy, best sauvignon blanc, premium classes. Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Chardonnay 2010 $17–$20 Gold medal and The Chardonnay Trophy. Peter Lehmann Hill and Valley Eden Valley Chardonnay 2011 $19–$22 Gold medal and trophy, best chardonnay, premium classes. The Long Road Gundagai Shiraz 2011 $22 Gold medal and The Shiraz Trophy.
Gold medal winnersLeo Buring Clare Valley Dry Riesling 2012 $15.20–$17 Logan Weemala Orange Riesling 2012 $17 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Riesling 2011 $10.40–$16 Hardys Oomoo McLaren Vale Shiraz 2011 $10.90–$14 Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Shiraz $9.90–$14 Evans and Tate Margaret River Classic Cabernet Merlot $13–$14 Evans and Tate Metricup Road Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.95–$20 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2010 $16–$20 Gramps Barossa Cabernet Merlot 2009 $16.20–$20 Wicks Estate Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2010 $16.20–$20 Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2012 $14–$17 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2011 $14–$17 Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz 2010 $17.85–$20 Jacob’s Creek Riesling 2012 $6.95–$10 Houghton Classic Red 2011 $8.55–$10
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012 First published 28 November 2012 in The Canberra Times
Wine regions build reputations by making outstanding wine. Mediocre wines don’t cut through in a crowded market; and poor wines kill reputations. The Southern Highlands region (around Mittagong, Bowral and Berrima) struggled with its reputation for many years, largely because so many of its early wines showed green, unripe flavours.
Indeed, wine quality in the region varied so much a decade ago, newcomer Julian Tertini, founder of Freedom Furniture and Fantastic Holdings, used “Berrima Valley” on some labels – to protect his own name should the region as a whole fail.
But just 11 years after establishing Tertini, Southern Highlands remains on the labels. And, extraordinarily for a small operation that made its first wine in 2005, Tertini claims 285 trophies and medals so far. The honours include a gold medal for the 2009 pinot noir in the National Wine Show 2011, gold medals for the Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 in the 2012 Boutique Wine Awards (open to Australian and New Zealand wines) and the NSW Wine Awards 2012.
In the latter event, the 2009 Reserve won the best pinot trophy in a taste-off against Tertini 2010 pinot noir.
Like other vignerons in the area, Tertini included cabernet sauvignon and merlot among his first plantings. Thankfully, he also planted pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and arneis in the Yarraandoo vineyard – on the western side of the old Hume Highway, near the Wombeyan Caves road.
Others had included shiraz in the mix, all on expert viticultural advice that proved to be spectacularly off the mark. “It was a stupid mistake”, says Tertini’s Robert Kay. He says cabernet, shiraz and merlot don’t ripen, leaving pinot noir to date as the sole red variety ripening reliably across the district.
The failure of cabernet, merlot and shiraz, in particular, highlights the massive difference between growing conditions in the Southern Highlands and Canberra.
Despite being further north than Canberra (and potentially warmer), with vineyards at comparable altitudes, a strong maritime influence counters the effect of latitude. More cloud, more rain and more humidity mean a cooler and less hospitable environment for grapes.
Robert Kay says the area can be overcast for weeks, “and the cloud cuts down the heat”. He attributes the region’s growing strength to improved vineyard management – particularly an ability to counter moisture-related vine diseases – and a shift to suitable cool-climate varieties.
But even with the right varieties, vigilant spraying and non-stop vineyard work vineyard, nature takes a toll on local crops. Every year Southern Highlands vignerons face conditions comparable to those faced by Canberra’s in 2011 and 2012. And in those two difficult seasons, the highlands suffered even bigger crop losses than normal.
The financial losses to producers can be huge. They face increased vineyard management costs, but lower crops mean less wine and ultimately reduced sales in the years ahead. Every tonne not harvested equates to around 70 dozen bottles of wine not produced or sold.
Because of severe crop losses in the last three vintages, says Robert Kay, Tertini intends in future to make wine from the Hilltops region as well as the Southern Highlands.
In Tertini’s vineyard pinot noir and riesling perform best, and now comprise a majority of plantings. Smaller areas of chardonnay and arneis (a northern Italian white variety) also look good and there’s hope for experimental plantings of lagrein, a northern Italian red variety. And across the district, says Kay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris generally work well.
Riesling showed great promise from the first (and gold medal winning) vintage in 2005. The wines begin life austere and acidic, though very delicate, and with bottle age develop a delicious lime-like varietal flavour. Tertini therefore release their rieslings several years after vintage.
On a recent tasting at the winery, a museum release, Tertini Cross Roads Berrima Valley Riesling ($33 – a trophy and two gold medals), looked sensational. At six and a half years, it’s youthful and fresh but with a seductive honeyed note of bottle age boosting the succulent, pure, bracingly dry limey flavour.
The cellar door also offers the 2008 vintage ($38 – almost sold and out and not available for tasting), winner of five trophies and 10 gold medals, and the trophy and gold-medal winning 2009 vintage ($30).
The latter offers a delicate floral and lime aroma and flavour. Though it lacks the sheer juicy intensity of the 2006, it’s youthful and fresh and certain to build with bottle age. However, a soon-to-be released Reserve Riesling 2009 ($35) offers similar flavours and delicacy but with greater concentration.
The Piedmontese white variety, arneis, succeeds in Tertini’s vineyard, too. But it lives up to its “little rascal” nickname with miserly grape yields (about half that of riesling) and very small juice extraction rate per tonne of fruit.
The current release Tertini Reserve Arneis 2010 ($35), partly barrel fermented, provides excellent, full-bodied, crisp and savoury drinking – with exotic sappy, racy, melon-rind flavours.
Like the rieslings, the pinots (2008 $28, 2009 $55 and 2009 Reserve $58) show a family style – delicate and restrained. I’ve tasted several vintages over the years and, indeed, these were the wines that broke my longstanding doubts about the region’s wine. They’re outstanding – and reviewed in next week’s column.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan First published 7 Novemer 2012 in The Canberra Times
From a little valley near Braidwood comes the outsider that blitzed this year’s Canberra regional wine show. Half Moon Riesling 2010 won the ‘best riesling’ trophy, beating some of our hottest local riesling makers, including Helm, Clonakilla, Four Winds, Ravensworth, Gallagher and Nick O’Leary.
Half Moon then secured the ‘best white’ trophy then won a taste off with the best red – Hungerford Hill Hh Tumbarumba Classic Shiraz 2010 – to seize a third trophy as champion wine of the show. It was the first riesling in the top spot since Helm Premium 2008 shared the honours with Eden Road The Long Road Hilltops Shiraz in 2009.
The tiny vineyard – located near Mongarlowe, about 16 kilometres from Braidwood – belongs to Sydneysiders Tony and Robyn Maxwell. Manager Malcolm Sharp says the wine bug bit Tony Maxwell in the nineties when he established a vineyard at Rylstone, near Mudgee.
With Rod James, he planted vines at Nullo Mountain, a challenging site within the Mudgee region – but, at 1100 metres, totally different viticulturally. While the pair pulled out many of the vines during the industry downturn early last decade, the wine bug remained with Maxwell.
He asked Sharp, a long-term friend, if he’d look after a vineyard if he planted one on his weekend block at Mongarlowe. What Maxwell had in mind, recalls Sharp, was a very small vineyard he could enjoy, with the aim of making good wine.
Sharp says he knew nothing about vineyards, but accepted the task and planted 200 vines each of riesling and chardonnay in 2000. While Maxwell and Sharp were aware that some people regarded the frost-prone site as an unlikely place to grow grapes, the first vines reached the cordon in the first year, suggesting they could be onto something.
But a subsequent planting of merlot failed and a run of heavy frosts in October 2006 destroyed 500 vines, including a block of pinot noir. Tempranillo took off well, but as the stock they planted carried a virus, Sharp dug them out and planted more riesling, by now a consistent performer.
The vineyard now includes shiraz, viognier, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling.
Early on, Maxwell introduced Sharp to well-known viticulturist David Botting (he’d consulted on the Nullo Mountain vineyard). And Botting, impressed by the vineyard, came on board as consultant.
At the time the grapes were being trucked to David Lowe’s winery at Mudgee, a legacy of the Nullo Mountain venture. But Botting suggested making the wines closer to the vineyard. The whites in particular, he recommended, needed quick processing. He arranged a meeting on site between Maxwell and Sharp and Murrumbateman winemaker, Alex McKay. As a result McKay took over the winemaking from 2008.
McKay describes the Half Moon site as a little bit cooler than Canberra with double the rainfall (on well-drained soil), with more humidity – a plus for retention of grape aroma and flavour.
He says, “management is first class with a level of attention and hand work you’d be more likely to see in Europe than around here”.
Malcolm Sharp confirms he and his wife Jenny do the majority of work by hand, with a little spraying from a quad bike on one flatter section. On the steep sections, for example, Jenny reels the spray hose out to him from a utility parked at the top as he descends and sprays on foot; then reels him in like a lifesaver as he struggles back up the slope.
To date, says McKay, riesling shows the most consistency and potential. It starts with “enormous levels of acid”, he says, so as a young wine it’s difficult to see the fruit quality lurking under the acidity. But it’s there he say, as the trophy winning 2010 demonstrates, having fleshed out notably in the two years since bottling.
That high acidity, reasons Sharp, comes from the very cool site. The vineyard, at around 630 metres, is flanked by higher ground, with the coastal escarpment immediately to the east. The days tend to be warm to hot, but cold air pools there in the evening, with overnight temperatures of just four and five degrees common during the growing season.
McKay rates the chardonnay as very good, too, and similar in style to wines from Tumbarumba. But production of just one barrel a year provides little scope to explore the style.
He’s optimistic about shiraz even though it’s difficult and harvested from the individually staked bush vines “at the dusk of vintage”. He adds, “We can’t say as emphatically it’s as suited as riesling”.
While the trophy-winning riesling sold out quickly, the 2011 (a very good wine needing time, says McKay) has been released. It and the other Half Moon wines are available at Plonk, Fyshwick Markets, and at Local Liquor and Boutique Wines on Wallace in Braidwood.
This is a producer to watch, though production will remain small. Tony Maxwell has no plans to expand the vineyard says Malcolm Sharp.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012 First published 24 October 2012 in The Canberra Times
Canberra’s amateur brewing competition this year resulted in 18 category winners progressing to the Wig and Pen trophy taste-off.
The coveted trophy gives the brewer a chance (working with brewer Richard Watkins) to make a one-off commercial batch of the winning beer for sale through the Wig and Pen.
This year’s winner, Mark Overton, fielded five of the 18 finalists. Overton won the trophy with an American cream ale style, described by Watkins as an easy drinking style with plenty of flavour, a light finish and the distinctive taste of American Liberty hops. The winner contained a high proportion of polenta in the mash. He says it’s a recognised hybrid style, developed in America from Germany’s Kolsch beer.
Watkins expects to brew the beer with Overton at the Wig and Pen in mid October and to release it in mid November.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012 First published 24 October 2012 in The Canberra Times
Canberra’s Ravensworth Wines topped the honours list at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge 2012. Ravensworth Riesling 2012, made by Food and Wine columnist Bryan Martin, and owned by Martin and his wife Jocelyn, won a gold medal and three trophies.
The judges rated it best Canberra District riesling, best Australian riesling and, in a first for a Canberra riesling, best wine of the show – against 426 contenders from six countries.
Show organiser Ken Helm, a Canberra riesling legend himself, welcomed Ravensworth’s success, especially for winning best wine of show trophy. He said, “This is exciting as it shows beyond doubt that Canberra is up there with Australia’s best”.
Helm said the chair of judges, Ben Edwards, rated quality across the board as the highest in the time he’s judged there.
The impressive medal strike rate supports this view. The 426 wines judged won 278 medals (51 golds, 60 silvers and 167 bronzes), for an overall success rate of 65 per cent.
While Ravensworth brought home the bacon for Canberra, our district provided little support for the event, entering just 12 wines in total across five categories, and underperforming the overall field with a medal strike rate of 58 per cent. We won one gold, one silver and five bronze medals.
In the important class for 2012 vintage dry rieslings (less than eight grams per litre of sugar), Canberra fielded just six wines and won two bronze medals. Compare this performance to the September regional wine show, where 12 Canberra 2012 vintage dry rieslings won nine medals, including three golds.
Admittedly, the class definitions of the two shows vary slightly, so that Ravensworth at 11 grams per litre of sugar, moved from “dry” in the regional show to “semi-dry” at the challenge. But the change of classification doesn’t explain the startlingly different ratings – bronze at the regional, gold and ultimately trophies at the challenge.
As well, Gallagher 2012, Nick O’Leary 2012 and Mount Majura 2012 – all medal winners in the regional show – failed to rate in the challenge, a variance that’s hard to understand.
Perhaps the high acidity of the Canberra rieslings worked against them in this broader environment. Certainly our wines tend to blossom with age as the fruit comes through. And it’s worth considering the top gold medallist in the regional show, Clonakilla 2012, and the top Canberra wine of the challenge, Ravensworth 2012, have a sugar levels of 10 and 11 grams per litre respectively – sufficient to take the edge off the acid and not taste sweet.
If we look only at the classes for 2012 dry rieslings, several regions outperformed the overall medal strike rate of 65 per cent. This supports the growing view of 2012 as an exceptional riesling vintage.
Western Australia’s Great Southern region, for example, won 16 medals (two gold, five silver and nine bronze) from 19 entries, an 84 per cent strike rate.
Clare Valley, the traditional heartland of dry Australian riesling, entered 38 wines for a strike rate of 76 per cent – four golds, six silvers and 19 bronzes. I’ve tried many of these wines and they really are delicious and well priced. Most are already soft and ready to drink.
The Eden Valley, Clare’s southern neighbour on the Mount Lofty Ranges, fielded 25 wines to win five gold, four silver and nine bronze medals – a 72 per cent strike rate.
And tiny Tasmania entered 10 dry riesling from the 2012 vintage to win two golds, two silver and three bronze medals – a 70 per cent strike rate.
While riesling remains a perennially niche variety in Australia, its sales a fraction of those of sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, it offers wonderful drinking, great cellaring and quite often amazing value for money.
The trophy winning Ravensworth 2012, for example, sells at just $20 and its podium mate, Richmond Grove Watervale 2011, often specials at around $18. These are bargain prices for such beautiful wines – the latter with proven long-term cellaring potential; the Ravensworth untested, but likely to do the distance.
From a drinker’s perspective then it’s worth downloading and trolling through the full results. They’re available at rieslingchallenge.com
The honours list includes dry, half dry and sweet styles from many different regions and, indeed, from other countries, and from a spread of vintages. The successful older wines provide some guidance to the cellaring ability of younger wines. Indeed some of the most cellarable rieslings perform poorly at shows in youth, but blossom after a few years’ bottle age.
Canberra International Riesling Challenge 2012 Trophy winners
Wine of the show Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012
Best Australian riesling Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012
Best Canberra District riesling Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012
Best current vintage dry riesling Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2012
Best dry riesling Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2011
Best sweet riesling Heggies Eden Valley Botrytis Riesling 2011
Best Tasmanian riesling Bay of Fires Riesling 2011
Best European riesling Weingut Georg Muller Stiftung Hattenheimer Hassel Riesling Spaetlese Trocken 2011
Best museum riesling d’Arenberg The Dry Dam McLaren Vale Riesling 2008
The champ – born in adversity Ravensworth Canberra District Riesling 2012 Fruit source: Bryan and Jocelyn Martin’s Ravensworth vineyard, Murrumbateman Gold medal and three trophies: Best Canberra District wine; best Australian wine; best wine of show Canberra’s first grand champion of the riesling challenge almost didn’t exist. Winemaker Bryan Martin says hail stripped the vines almost bare, then 200mm of rain threatened the remaining crop with botrytis cinerea, a potentially destructive fungal disease.
But he sprayed the vines, spread anti-bird netting over the top and waited. The grapes ripened at comparatively low sugar levels and high acidity; and the missing leaves allowed the sun in and moisture out, defeating the botrytis spores.
Almost every bunch, however, included withered berries, the result of direct hail hits. So the picking crew cut the damaged fruit from every bunch before delivering it to nearby Clonakilla winery, where Martin works as a winemaker. The labour intensive work pushed Martin’s harvesting cost out to $1200 a tonne, he says.
In the winery he chilled the fruit to below 10 degrees Celsius in small, broad, flat bins. The shallow bins helped keep the berries intact, thereby avoiding release of phenolics, or tannins, into the juice. And chilling the whole bunches before crushing them in a gentle air-bag press, helped extract fine, phenolic-free juice.
Martin says he held back the last 100 litres – the product of the final, firmest pressing – as unfermented juice to blend back into the finished wine.
A cool fermentation captured the delicate riesling flavours in a bone dry and very acidic wine – a result of the unusually cool ripening period. Martin balanced the acidity by blending a small amount of unfermented juice into the wine.
The addition gave the wine a natural grape sugar content of 11 grams per litre. This subtly fleshed out the middle palate, without being discernibly sweet, reducing the impact of the potentially mouth-searing13 grams per litre of acid.
Until this year, says Martin, he sold his riesling grapes to Clonakilla. He made just 150 dozen bottles. Alas, the wine sold out at just $20 a bottle on withing days of the trophy presentation.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2012 First published 17 October 2012 in The Canberra Times