Yearly Archives: 2018

Memories of a Christian Pol Roger visit and tasting Champagne Bruno Paillard

When I began wine retailing in 1976 Australians already drank impressive volumes of Champagne. Indeed for a time we were the only country buying more vintage than non-vintage product.

Australia now imports around eight million bottles a year, though the mix favours non-vintage Champagne, a change driven partly by direct retailer imports and aggressive discounting by importers of some of the big houses. As well, consumption is now more widely dispersed through a society far more affluent and wine savvy than it was 40 years ago.

Along with the shipping containers over the decades came a steady flow of Champagne personalities looking as if they could hardly believe their own good luck.

Heads of houses, sales reps and titled family members spruiked – and continue to spruik – their wares across the country. They’re part of a great machine that markets, and tenaciously protects, not just individual brands but the Champagne brand as a whole.

And it’s a very big luxury brand by any measure. According to Comite Champagne, in 2016 the region sold 306 million bottles worth 4.7 billion Euros. Exports accounted for 48 per cent of volume and 55 per cent of value. Australia ranked sixth biggest market by volume, behind the UK, USA, Germany, Japan, and Belgium. All of those countries, Belgium excepted, have vastly bigger populations than Australia’s 24.8 million people.

Little wonder then the Champenoise regularly visit our shores.

Christian Pol Roger, a once regular visitor to Australia.

One of note, I recall, was the gracious, generous, hard-working Christian Pol Roger from the Champagne house of the same name. He’s retired now, but visited Australia over quite a long period.

On one visit in the mid 1980s, we asked and he accepted our invitation to a tasting at the Farmer Bros Wine and Spirits warehouse in the inner Sydney suburb of Waterloo.

We promoted Pol Roger’s visit through our monthly wine newsletter and a full-page advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald. Here was an opportunity, we said to customers, to meet the famous Mr Pol Roger and pick up a magnum or two at a great price.

Mr Pol Roger worked tirelessly through a busy Saturday, talking to customers, pouring wine, and signing magnums – a task well removed from the usual smaller scale trade tastings he traditionally hosted. His labours proved a huge success for us commercially, for the Pol Roger brand and for the many customers who met him and enjoyed his Champagne.

Visiting Champagne heads customarily dispense largesse to the trade, as we well knew from long experience. They’ll wine you, dine you and leave you with a good impression of their product.

Berowra Waters Inn as it is today – not much changed in appearance from when Gay Bilson owned it over 30 years ago

On this occasion, however, we insisted Christian be our guest at Berowra Waters Inn – an invitation he accepted graciously but with some surprise. Under Gay Bilson, the waterside restaurant, located in one of Sydney’s remote and dramatic sandstone gorges, was then at its outstanding peak.

Bilson had recently converted her wine list to an all-Australian affair, with one exception, a house Champagne. From memory (possibly unreliable) it was Louis Roederer, though certainly not Pol Roger.

We also knew from experience visiting Champagne heads understandably prefer to drink their own product. I therefore took the precaution of phoning Gay Bilson ahead of the dinner and asking if she’d adopt Pol Roger as house Champagne for the evening.

She understood the situation and obliged. On a balmy Sydney evening we drove Pol Roger to Berowra. Delighting at the beautiful bush, sandstone and water setting, Pol Roger stepped into the aluminium skiff for the short ride to the restaurant. Bilson greeted us at the door, Pol Roger Champagne was poured and we sat down to a memorable Bilson meal in the unique setting.

More than 30 years later the Champagne folk continue to arrive, the latest being a Canberra visit by Francois Colas, representing Champagne Bruno Paillard, a comparative newcomer to the region’s ranks.

Bruno Paillard and daughter Alice at the blending bench

Bruno Paillard founded the company in 1981 and for the first 10 years bought grapes from growers. From 1984 he began acquiring vineyards, initially in Oger, and now owns 33-hectares spread over 17 villages.

Colas says the company now controls two thirds of its grape sourcing and buys the rest. Grapes come from 35 villages.

Bruno Paillard continues to run the business while gradually handing control to his daughter Alice.

The wines are very much in Champagne’s ‘built’ style. Fruit flavour underpins the blends. But winemaker inputs add many layers to texture and flavour. For Bruno Paillard these influences include barrel fermentation of 26% of all varietal components; extensive use of older reserve wines (up to 50% in the non-vintage), prolonged ageing on yeast lees, followed by six-months to three years maturation after disgorgement.

Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée NV
Pinot Noir 45%, chardonnay 33%, pinot meunier 22%
Disgorged June 2017. Minimum three years maturation on lees
An impressive NV (or multi-vintage as Paillard calls it), showing the benefit of extended ageing on lees. Many NVs on the market show simple fruit flavours and lack the depth of those aged on lees. Paillard’s offers delicious fruit flavours coated in Champagne’s lovely add-ons, in a fine, lean, taut style.

Champagne Bruno Paillard Assemblage Vintage 2008
42% chardonnay, 42% pinot noir, 16% pinot meunier
disgorged June 2015
From a great Champagne vintage, the wine combines freshness, the structural and flavour characters of long maturation on yeast lees, and delicious underlying fruit character. Pinot flavours push through while the chardonnay is probably behind a zingy, fresh, lemony finish.

Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2006
Chardonnay. Disgorged March 2015
A little over 11 years old on tasting, Blanc de Blancs belied its age with a shimmering med-lemon-gold, green tinted colour. The freshness suggested by the colour came through in the aroma and palate as a vibrant pear-like character. However, the backbone derived from lees ageing, along with a subtle almond-like character, contributed to the lingering, satisfying finish.

Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra 2002
From five grand-cru vineyards. Chardonnay 50%, Pinot Noir 50%
Made only in great vintages. Disgorged 2014.
A beautiful, elegant Champagne, layers of flavour, firm but fine structure with finesse.

Champagne Bruno Paillard Rosé Premiere Cuvée
Pinot noir with a splash of chardonnay. Three years on lees.
High level of reserve wines, a blend of 25 vintages from 1985
A powerful and fine rosé built on pinot noir varietal flavour and the variety’s firm backbone, augmented by its three years on lees.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Tasting an Aussie blue-chip: Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay 2004–2017

Bruce and Chris Tyrrell, viticulturist Andrew Pengilly, winemaker Andrew Spinaze. Bennelong Restaurant, Sydney Opera House, 20 March 2018.

Tyrrell’s turns 160 this year. Marking the anniversary, Bruce Tyrrell, his son Chris, winemaker Andrew Spinaze and vineyard manager Andrew Pengilly held a tasting of Vat 47 Chardonnays, vintages 2004 to 2017.

With Murray Tyrrell’s release of the 1971 vintage, Vat 47 became one of the earliest Australian wines labelled ‘chardonnay’ (albeit as ‘pinot chardonnay’, an historical misnomer that stuck for 30 years). It remains one of Australia’s great chardonnay styles, with proven long-term cellaring capacity. Vat 47 evolved over the years from a leaner, long-cellaring style in the 1970s to a fatter, shorter-lived, Californian-inspired version in the 1980s, and back to a finer style from the late 1980s. Introduction of the screw cap in 2004 and improvements to fruit sourcing, winemaking technique and oak maturation lifted the quality another notch over the past decade.

The 14-vintage sequence revealed Vat 47’s continuing style evolution and the profound impact of the screw cap – ‘Perhaps the greatest step forward…[it] saved Vat 47’s reputation from the damage done by dud corks’ says Bruce Tyrrell.

Tyrrell said, ‘Chardonnay’s moved on across the country but Vat 47 has never stood still. It’s not stuck in the past’. He said the vintages on tasting deliberately started with the 2004 (the first vintage sealed with screw cap), and revealed other influences, including a gradual shift from partial basket pressing in 2007 to 100 per cent in 2013.

At the same, Tyrrells had been eliminating several vineyard sources from the blend. By 2013 sourcing had retreated solely to the Short Flat Vineyard across the road from the winery –site of the company’s original 1960s chardonnay plantings.

There’s a day will come now that Vat 47’s off a single vineyard that there’ll be a gap in a future vertical tasting. We won’t elevate a wine just to have a Vat 47’, says Bruce.

Changes to fruit sourcing and winemaking over the last decade were driven by a desire, ‘to improve the Hunter Valley style or be left behind by the cooler climate areas’, write Bruce Tyrrell and winemaker Andrew Spinaze. ‘We are not a cool climate area and you cannot change your identity but you can modify your style’.

Winemaking changes included the introduction of basket pressing (improving flavour and texture and increasing natural acidity), elimination of pectin enzyme additions, increased spontaneous fermentation and ongoing work with French barrel cooper Francois Frères to ‘create a barrel that suited what we are trying to achieve in our final style’.

Future tweaking will likely come more from work in the vineyards than in winemaking. Says Chris Tyrrell, ‘There are so many great chardonnays we need to lift the bar and focus on the best blocks [in the Short Flat vineyard]’.

Message in a bottle

Even the 14-year-old 2004 Vat 47 (bottom left-hand) retains a vivid lemon-gold, green-tinted colour. In the cork-seal era we might have said the colour belied its age. What we now know is that well-made whites protected from oxygen under screw cap take on deeper colours very slowly, not dramatically, and in wide variations, as they do under cork. The limited colour spectrum from youngest to oldest wine in the tasting mirrored the subtle shifts of aroma and flavour attributable to age. Yes, the wines changed with age, but in pleasing ways, combining freshness with bottle-aged character.

What a contrast to earlier vertical tastings of cork-sealed Tyrrell’s whites, where random oxidation, caused by corks, marred many bottles. Every bottle opened bright, fresh and with vivid, green-tinged colours. The older wines presented beautiful nutty and honeyed characters of age, while remaining fresh and vital. The spectrum of aromas and flavours faithfully captured the character of each vintage.

For example, the neighbouring 2007 and 2008 vintages reflected the full flavour of a hot vintage and the more subtle, citrusy character of a cold, wet year respectively. Likewise, the 2012, from another cold, wet vintage, allowed some of the winemaking inputs to push above the fruit character, without overwhelming it.

The current release 2014 showed its gentle, melon-like varietal flavour on a mouth-filling but tightly structured palate. However, in a flawless line-up among many beautiful wines, two wines topped my scoresheet: 2009 and 2013.

Here’s a couple of earlier pieces on Vat 47 plus one on the introduction of the screw cap.

Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay: ahead of its time, still a leader

Langton’s Classification: Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Chardonnay one of the few white elites

Tyrrell’s goes screw cap

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Canberra’s BentSpoke brewery denies rumours of sale

BentSpoke Brewing Co co-owner Richard Watkins today issued a statement denying industry rumours the company had been sold. Mr Watkins said there had been no sale of the company and there were no plans for such a sale.

He said, ‘It’s flattering to hear some people think we’re worth $49 million, but there is absolutely no substance to the rumour that we have sold all or part of our business. Here at BentSpoke we are a family business and we value our independence. We value our place in our local community as a brewer, as a beer wholesaler and retailer, as an employer, and as a place where friends can meet. We also take a huge amount of pride in being able to make the kind of beer we want to make, and to make it the best way we think it can be made. When you consider all of that, and bear in mind that our business is growing rapidly, we’re just not interested in giving it up, at any price’.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Wine review – Mount Majura Vineyard, Canberra

Mount Majura Vineyard Canberra District Mondeuse 2017 $29
Interesting wines begin not in the vineyard, as conventional wisdom has it, but in the mind of the winemaker. The grape variety mondeuse entered Frank van de Loo’s mind in 2002 and 2004 during tastings in France’s Savoie region. He planted the first small plot of the variety in 2010 and subsequently expanded it to 0.4 hectares. That little plot of vines now produces a unique red that was but a thought bubble just four years ago. Medium bodied in the Canberra mould, it offers delicious, ripe fruit with striking spice, herb and black pepper character.

Mount Majura Canberra District Graciano 2017 $29
Frank van de Loo planted the Spanish varieties tempranillo and graciano at Mount Majura earlier this century. Tempranillo became the vineyard’s signature red while the smaller production graciano graces blends as well filling its own special niche. As a very late ripener it’s at risk of not maturing in the Canberra climate. However, the balmy 2017 autumn ripened the variety in late April. The resulting medium bodied wine captures graciano’s floral aroma, soft tannins and plush, pepper-tinged vibrant fruit flavour. It’s another red of great individuality.

Mount Majura Canberra District Lime Kiln Red 2017 $25
Named after the site of an old lime kiln near the vineyard, Mount Majura’s new red combines shiraz (50%) with mondeuse (25%), touriga (20%) and tempranillo (5%). Frank van de Loo says, ‘With such a collection of interesting varieties in the vineyard and winery, new blending trials are irresistible fun’. The blend takes spicy-fruity Canberra shiraz as a base, then throws in floral, spicy, peppery and herbal notes of the other varieties. It’s medium bodied, soft, smooth, and a delight to drink now.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

Canberra 2018 – another trouble-free vintage

Mount Majura vigneron Frank van de Loo welcomes another trouble-free Canberra vintage. Located about 100km inland with vineyard altitudes between about 550 metres and 860 metres, the volume of the district’s harvest varies widely across any given decade. Frost, wind, hail, and sustained cold weather have all at times reduced the region’s harvest and at times wine quality.

But as vintage gets underway for earlier ripening varieties, clear blue skies, warm days and cool nights – following a generally benign growing season – means ample crops of ripe, disease-free grapes in 2018.

Most reds remain on the vine with harvest due to commence in the next few weeks. Picking of riesling, the district’s signature white variety, is imminent in some parts of the region. The vintage will likely stretch into April or even May for some varieties and sites.

Mount Majura Vineyard’s Frank van de Loo with pinot gris grapes, Friday 9 March 2018. He’ll chill the grapes overnight before they’re crushed and fermented.
Mount Majura’s clean, ripe pinot gris. Note the distinctive colours. Now you know why there’s sometimes a blush of pink or grey in wines made from the variety.

© Copyright Chris Shanahan 2018. Published 9 March 2018.

Wine review – Helm 2017 vintage rieslings

Ken Helm grows grapes and makes wine at Murrumbateman in the Canberra District. He also sources riesling grapes from neighbouring regions of the New South Wales high country on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range.

In the 2017 vintage, working from a new, dedicated riesling cellar, Helm produced three rieslings from the Canberra District and one each from Tumbarumba and Orange.

Murrumbateman’s the centre of the universe’, reckons Helm. Hence, I took great trouble to locate his village in the middle of the map below. Tumbarumba lies 130km to the southwest of Murrumbateman, while Orange is 190km to its north.

The three sites share a continental climate – amplified by altitudes between 600 and 700 metres – resulting in warm days and cool nights during the autumn ripening period. In these conditions, the late-ripening riesling grape develops clear varietal character while retaining fresh acidity.

The wines present subtle variations of riesling, driven largely by minor differences in growing and ripening temperatures of the sites.

Winemaker Ken Helm draws riesling grapes from Tumbarumba and Orange in the New South Wales high country in the vicinity of his vineyard and winery at Murrumbateman (marked red, centre). Orange is marked red at the top, while Tumbarumba lies to the south west, bottom left hand corner. These are all at 600–700 metres altitude on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. Sydney is on the coast, top right-hand corner.

Helm Tumbarumba Riesling 2017 $30 (sold out)
The grapes come from Juliette Cullen’s Tumbarumba vineyard at 620-metres altitude. The site’s cooler and wetter than Helm’s at Murrumbateman and probably explains the apple- and pear-like character widening the spectrum of the usual floral and citrus nature of riesling. The shimmering fresh palate finishes bone dry, with scintillating acidity.

Helm Orange Region Riesling 2017 $30
Although Orange lies 190km to the north of Murrumbateman, growing temperatures are lower, influenced by cool air flowing from Mount Canobolas, the seminal landmark of the region, and the 700m altitude of the vineyard. The wine presents Granny Smith apple-like characters, cut with tangy lime-like acidity and flavour. It’s bone-dry and taut as a high wire.

Helm Canberra District Classic Dry Riesling 2017 $38
Helm’s original riesling, now in its fifth decade of production, presents a tangy, lemony side of riesling with notably rounder, fuller palate than the more austere wines from Tumbarumba and Orange. That extra body and up-front fruitiness mean absolutely delicious drinking now. But naturally high acidity and a decades-long track record mean you can cellar this wine for ten years or more and enjoy its flavour evolution along the way.

Helm Canberra District Premium Riesling 2017 $52
Possibly the best wine yet under this label, the 2017 is for the second time sourced entirely from Ken’s 2008 vineyard planted to the Pewsey Vale riesling clone. Previous vintages, with the exception of the 2016, came from the neighbouring Lustenberger vineyard. The wine presents the combined power and delicacy of riesling, with amazingly concentrated lime-like varietal flavour. The flavour lingers in the purest most delicious way.

Helm Canberra District Half Dry Riesling 2017 $30
With 12 grams per litre of residual grape sugar, Helm Half Dry lives up to its name, being neither dessert sweet nor bone dry. The sugar and fruit combine to give a plush, full mid palate, while high natural acidity prevents the cloying sensation that comes with unalloyed sweetness. Unlike the Helm dry riesling, this one’s intended for early consumption, not cellaring. It pairs well with all sorts of spicy and (chilli) hot food.

Vintage preview

Ken Helm’s photo 8 March 2018, a week out from vintage. It could be the biggest crop ever says Helm. They look yummy, don’t they.









© Chris Shanahan 2018. First published 8 March 2018.