Tag Archives: Australia

An Australian lunch in Wiltshire at The Harrow

You might think that working in the wine trade means an endless cycle of wine tastings, lunches and dinners. Sadly the reality is rather more mundane; featuring a computer, a desk and the occasional cup of tea. Not exactly glamorous.

But, I have to admit, every so often the fantasy comes to life – and these occasions are real privileges.

Yesterday, one such occasion took me out into rural Wiltshire to enjoy a stunning lunch matched with a selection of great Australian wines at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. There, husband and wife team Roger and Sue Jones have created the ultimate in English country dining –laid back and relaxed, and a real haven for foodies.

We started off out in the garden, soaking up the springtime sun and enjoying a glass of Charles Heidsieck NV champagne. Attention to detail is key in any restaurant – and at The Harrow that means that Roger and Sue had kept the champagne in their cellar for a number of months (“a minimum of 6… I prefer a year”) before selling it to their customers. This added bottle age had given the wine a wonderful golden hue and a great depth of toasty notes: really rather delicious and a great tip for any champagne lover.

To accompany the bubbles were two different canapés. First off was a Roger classic: foie gras macaroon. The creamy disc of foie gras with a dollop of salted caramel was sandwiched between a macaroon made with cep powder – an incredible savoury taste sensation that was so different to what you might expect. The second was a little pot of crab with a watercress sauce: delicate and refreshing, and the perfect counterpoint to the richness of the previous canapé.

Then we headed inside to our table to start the lunch properly. Our first wine was a Riesling from the Eden Valley: Pewsey Vale Contours Riesling 2009, served with ceviche of bream with wasabi sorbet. And what a great match that was: the dry, zesty Riesling complementing the delicate fish, and the toasty notes from extended bottle ageing counteracting the slight heat from the wasabi sorbet. Fresh and refreshing: the perfect starter.

Ceviche of Bream with wasabi sorbet

Ceviche of Bream with wasabi sorbet

From there we moved onto Chardonnay – and a wine from Margaret River in Western Australia: Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2009. This was paired with a lobster doughnut complete with red curry jam. Here the richness of the Chardonnay worked both to complement the meaty lobster and offset the curry flavour from the jam. Another take home message: Chardonnay can be a great match for curry dishes, particularly those which are spiced rather than overly spicy.

Lobster Doughnut

Lobster Doughnut

Our final white was much more unusual than the previous two: Aeolia Roussanne from Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria. Unusual for the fact it is not a very well known variety and also because Giaconda stopped making this wine in 2012: so it is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Roussanne as a grape variety tends to give rich, textural white wines with a notable savoury edge – and this was no exception.

Giaconda Aeolia Roussanne

Giaconda Aeolia Roussanne

The pairing with a dish of cod, chorizo and squid was really something special: one of those rare occasions where the duo go beyond being a good match and instead become something altogether different. A real case of where the whole is far more than the sum of the two parts.

Cod, Chorizo and Squid

Cod, Chorizo and Squid

Whilst, it has to be said, that was quite the highlight for me – there was more yet to come. The main course of Welsh lamb, Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus was served with Dawson and James Pinot Noir 2010 from Tasmania. The dark, smoky Pinot worked a treat with the pink lamb and fresh vegetables: a real array of flavours on a plate and beautiful to look at too.

Welsh lamb with Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus

Welsh lamb with Isle of Wight tomatoes and asparagus

Finally, it was time for dessert. Simply titled ‘Rhubarb’ on the menu, this turned out to be a celebration of this classic English vegetable with both rhubarb ice cream and sorbet, rhubarb sponge cake, poached rhubarb and rhubarb meringue. Delicious – and delightfully refreshing after the range of flavours we had encountered throughout the lunch. We didn’t have a sweet wine with the dish, but I would think a sweet, spritzy Moscato – perhaps the Innocent Bystander Moscato – would be a lovely addition.



So, as you can see – not exactly the toughest day in the office, and I can only say a huge thank you to Roger and Sue at the Harrow for their generosity in inviting us out to their little patch of foodie heaven. If you ever find yourself out in Wiltshire (or just take the hour-and-a-bit train from London) – go and visit the Harrow. You won’t be disappointed.



Celebrating the 120th birthday of Elderton’s Command vineyard

It’s not every day that you get invited to celebrate the birthday of a vineyard. But then, this wasn’t just any birthday, or indeed, any vineyard.

2014 marked the 120th birthday of Elderton’s Command vineyard in the Barossa Valley. To celebrate I was invited to a masterclass of Command Shiraz led by Elderton’s co-Managing Director, Cameron Ashmead. Leaving aside the fact that this particular party was really a belated birthday (happening a week ago – firmly in 2015), it made a fantastic hook for a tasting of these old vine wines.

Elderton Command Shiraz

Elderton Command Shiraz

When the Command vineyard was planted in 1894 it was in quite a different world. Queen Victoria was still on the throne here in the UK. Aeroplanes, world wars and the civil rights movement were all still yet to happen. And we three monkeys were not even a twinkle in our grandparents’ eyes. So much has changed in the world in those intervening 120 years, and yet that vineyard is still there and still producing wine from its gnarly old vines. Impressive stuff.

The story of the Command Vineyard begins rather unusually in a country not known for its love of alcohol: Saudi Arabia. There Cameron’s father Neil made a living selling tractors, whilst also making his own ‘wine’ for home consumption from grape concentrate. The family returned to the Barossa in the late 1970s and started looking for a home to buy. Eventually Neil found a suitable house he liked in Nuriootpa and was told by the agent “If you buy the house I will give you the surrounding 72 acres of old vines for nothing”. Of course, he bought the house – and that vineyard is now known as the Command Vineyard and has gone from being worthless to being considered as one of the top single vineyards in the Barossa. I wonder if it was really the house that attracted Neil – or, after time making ‘wine’ in Saudi Arabia, it was the vineyard that did it.

After a few years of selling the grapes to local wineries, Neil decided to try his hand at making his own wine in the early 80’s – and in 1984 produced the very first vintage of Command Shiraz from those old vines: then labelled as Command Hermitage. Since then there have only been three vintages where Command Shiraz has not been made: in 1989 and 2011 due to very wet years, and in 1991 due to the recession. In typical Aussie tell-it-like-it-is style, Cameron explained that his parents needed cashflow that year and so downgraded the Command fruit into the standard Estate Shiraz blend. With less time ageing in oak and bottle, it could be released for sale much earlier than the Command Shiraz could have been.

To celebrate the 120th birthday of the vineayrd, Cameron presented us with seven vintages of Command, spanning 2010 to 1992. As well as allowing us some insight into the wine’s capacity for bottle ageing, this also highlighted the difference closures can make. Both the 1998 and 1992 were under cork and Cameron had brought along three bottles of each. Of these, 1 bottle of 1992 and 2 bottles of 1998 were corked. As Cameron put it: “soul-destroying”. He also told us that last year he had overseen the recorking of all of the wines from the 1980s and up to 50% of each vintage was either corked or oxidised. No surprise then that the wine has been 100% under screwcap since 2006.

Onto the wines:

2010 – This was my favourite of all of the vintages, showing a lovely freshness and real elegance. Vanilla and coconut aromas from the American oak were obvious on the nose, but on the palate these softened into more savoury brown spice notes. Driven by juicy, red fruit with fine, taut tannin and bright acidity – clearly made for the long haul.

Cameron said this new, fresher style was something they were aiming for and a slight departure from the more intense styles of previous vintages. He thinks it is the best they’ve ever made.

Winemaking – the grapes were handpicked in four different picks, each at a different level of ripeness in order to give more complexity as well as retaining acidity. Fermented in open tanks at 20-24C: a surprisingly low temperature for reds. This was explained by Cameron as a method of stopping too much overextraction and preventing any baked character in the wine. After ferment the wine was aged in new oak for 18 months – 65% American and 35% French – and then a further 12 months in old oak. It was then stored in bottle for one year before release.

2008 – Softer fruit, plums and blackberries. Concentrated and layered with hints of herbaceousness. Not quite as fine as the ’10, somehow a little blurry around the edges.

2007 – A hot year with only 20% of their normal yield, showing in the slightly paler colour and more baked nose. This showed more herbal, minty notes than the 2008 did and lacked the fruit concentration both the 2008 and 2010 had. One to drink sooner rather than later.

2006 – Served in magnum. Incredibly deep, inky colour: indicating the intensity of the wine to come. Despite being nearly 9 years old this was still full of primary dark fruit flavours with notes of mocha, pepper and spice giving complexity and depth. Dense and concentrated with lots of fine tannins: this has a very long life ahead and I’d love to try it again in another 5-10 years.

2004 – At 10 years old this was just beginning to show some evolution with a core of lingering juicy fruit surrounded by more savoury, complex aromas. Still that concentration of flavour, but here the tannins were softening and allowing the layers of complexity to shine through. Very long and at a lovely stage in its development – unlike the 2006 I could happily drink this now.

1998 – Just a hint of oxidative character around the edges. Much more delicate texture than the younger wines, although that core of dark fruit was still there along with a real exotic spice mix: caraway and fenugreek.

1992 – Somehow fresher than the 1998. Delicate with brown spice notes along with that savoury mocha character that was present in many of the other vintages. Tannins have softened and integrated, with just a whisper of grip on the finish to keep everything together. Complex and really quite pretty.

All in all this was a fascinating tasting. Happy birthday Command vineyard.


Of Mice and Penfolds

A product of the 80s, my childhood TV-watching centred around a host of well-loved cartoons. Thundercats. The Mysterious Cities of Gold. Inspector Gadget. To name but a few. Each with its own iconic theme song which still have the ability to lodge in my head and take me back in time.

But the one that perhaps I think of most often is Danger Mouse. This time, not because of the theme song (although it is equally hummable), or even memories of the exploits the greatest superagent in the world got up to – but instead because of Danger Mouse’s sidekick, the rather meek and cowardly Penfold.

Ok, aside from the name, there is nothing much to connect the hamster Penfold with the giant of the Aussie wine industry that is Penfolds – but the child inside me always thinks “Cor!” or “Crumbs!” whenever I see the name. Followed closely by “Penfold, shush!”.

This is all a rather long preamble to say that it was Penfolds’ New Release tasting last week. Held at the RSA in London, it was a rather smart affair where the trade, media and a few lucky customers were able to taste the new vintages of Penfolds’ top wines for the first time. And I got to go along too. Crumbs!



Descending the stairs down into the RSA vaults where the tasting took place, part of the Danger Mouse theme kept playing through my head. “He’s the greatest, he’s fantastic…” For there was no denying it, this was quite the blinged-up tasting, designed to show off some of Australia’s finest wines. And yet, once you got past the neon red Penfolds signs, the backlit bottles and glossy catalogue – once you tried the wine, there was Danger Mouse again: “It’s Penfolds, shush”. For the wines really did deserve a bit of quiet, a bit of thought, a bit of stillness.

I won’t write out a long list of notes on the wines – there are plenty available on the Internet from numerous critics should you choose to look – but I have to admit to being quietly impressed with many of them. In keeping with the mood of the tasting the wines all showed a certain gloss – fine tannins and a lush texture. But this perhaps belied the power, concentration and elegance beneath. Grange 2010 was clearly the main drawcard, the pinnacle of the range and as iconic a wine as they get. Hugely complex and powerful yet simultaneously delicate and pretty, this was clearly built for the long term.


And yet for me the highlight of the night was the magnum of 2004 RWT Shiraz. Not part of the new release tasting, instead this offered insight into how well these wines can age – and this was still a baby. This was a beguiling wine, offering layer upon layer of complexity and interest. Delicate, fragrant, lifted, it somehow felt more ethereal than all of the other wines I tasted that night. And then it hit me – the main difference: the temperature of the wine. The magnum had been sitting on top of a metal grate which was pumping out cold air. This meant the wine was a few degrees cooler than all of the others I had tasted, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that can make – helping to accentuate the lifted aromas and also rein in the richer, riper aromas. A lesson in how best to serve red wine if ever there was one.

Oh crikey! Danger Mouse would be proud.


Inspiring wine

A recent event I had to organise for work was called the ‘Inspired Tasting’. It consisted of 102 wines all chosen by members of the wine trade who had visited Australia over the last two years – with the instruction that they each choose a wine that inspired them on their trip. A fabulous hook for a tasting – and just one of the many effective ideas dreamt up by my wonderful boss, the late, great Yvonne May.

Walking around the wines and reading the descriptions each person had given, it was fascinating to see how everyone defined ‘inspiring’.

There were vivid descriptions of wines enjoyed in the vineyard: surrounded by the vines it had come from, standing on the ground that had produced it and in the company of the man or woman who had made it. Others remembered a particular dinner where the wine was drunk and enjoyed with like-minded friends, where the wine helped to elevate the evening to another, more memorable, level. Still more talked of a moment of clarity on tasting that particular wine that helped them to truly understand the style, or helped them to debase an old preconception.

What was true of all of these descriptions was that they talked as much of a feeling experienced as of the wine that was tasted. That wine helped to elevate a particular moment in time, freeze it in their memory, and so enable them to share it with other people days, months or even years later.

It is this feeling that for me is the pinnacle of wine. Something that you look for often but only rarely find. On first sniff the hairs on your arms begin to stand up and then as you swirl the glass a shiver might go up your spine. It is when you realise you’ve been smelling the wine for minutes, lost in it’s scent, and you haven’t even taken the first sip. And then when you do, you close your eyes, a smile lifting the sides of your mouth. Time slows; for a minute you are lost, revelling in the experience of the taste.

But that is not all, there is one missing element. Someone else to share the experience, to discuss the wine with and enjoy it together. Wine cannot be inspirational on its own. You need to share that with someone else – and in the sharing can also come the inspiration.

When Alex and I were in the Hunter Valley last year, the young Semillon we drank on Brokenback Ridge would perhaps just have been enjoyable on its own. But when drank on that ridge with a stunning view over the vineyards, accompanied by friends and winemakers (and the odd oyster), it became something more. The combination of wine, people and place made that occasion truly special, even inspiring.

These special wines and their ability to resonate in your memory long after the last drop has been drunk may not come around everyday, but that is part of their lure – and part of what we monkeys are searching for with each new wine tasted. It is what makes wine so fascinating, intoxicating in both senses of the word, and, yes, so inspiring.


Tasmania – a sparkling gem

When you think of Australia you probably think of sun, beaches, kangaroos and barbies. Mountains, cold rivers, wind and rain aren’t the things that immediately come to mind.

Welcome to Tasmania. Australia, but not as you know it.

In fact, having lived in New Zealand I can tell you Tasmania has more in common with the land of the kiwi than the land of the kangaroo. Both occupy similar latitudes around 42 degrees south and the mountainous landscape riven with winding rivers, green fields and spectacular coastline is a feature of both. Add to this a climate dominated by the cold surrounding oceans and roaring forties trade winds and you begin to paint a very similar picture.


The similarities exist in wine terms too. New Zealand produces world class Pinot Noir. So does Tassie. Chardonnay and Riesling are equally at home in both and you can even find Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the two. The difference exists in where New Zealand and Tasmania having chosen to hang their hat – which wine has become their calling card to the world. For New Zealand this is of course Sauvignon Blanc. You can’t walk into a shop, bar or restaurant these days without being offered a Kiwi Sauvignon and their distinctive, pungent aromas and crisp styles are hugely popular. A brand in its own right, for better or worse Sauvignon blanc is what New Zealand is best known for.

Tasmania has chosen a different route and opted not for still table wine but for sparkling wine as its USP. Or as one winemaker wittily refers to it – Methode Tasmanoise.

In Australia any decent bar or restaurant lists at least one Tasmanian sparkling and these wines are very popular. Australians as a rule seem to be very proud of these wines, perceiving them as a high quality domestic product that can be compared with anything else in the world – and they are willing to spend a decent amount of money on them.

Sadly for those of us who don’t live in Australia this means we don’t see so many of these wines on our shelves. A high domestic demand means that not very much is exported and this coupled with the premium pricing (the strong Aussie dollar not helping either) means that it can be a hard sell. For consumers over here why buy a Tassie sparkling when you can buy Champagne for around the same price? Champagne has all of the attached prestige, a name everyone knows and recognises. Tasmanian sparkling, much less. Methode Tasmanoise, forget it.

And yet, and yet. Having undergone a lengthy masterclass on sparkling wine in Tasmania I can tell you that there are truly great wines being made over there and frankly they can beat the pants off basic Champagne. The non-vintage styles offer seriously good value for money combining fresh apple and citrus fruit character with bright cool-climate acidity along with those lovely yeasty, biscuity notes. Far more complexity than you would expect in most NV Champagne. The rose styles had delicate perfume, creamy texture and a beautiful pale salmon pink hue. LP rose eat your heart out. The vintage styles were serious, concentrated and intense with savoury complexity and long, long finishes. Of course there were some wines that didn’t quite reach these heights but overall the tasting showed the huge quality of Tasmanian sparkling and it was a fantastic experience.


The good news is that you can track down some producers over here without too much trouble. The better news is that most of the producers I talked to are interested in exporting more wine and telling the world about Tasmanian sparkling. So whilst it is unlikely Tasmanian sparkling will be as readily available as New Zealand Sauvignon anytime soon, hopefully it will become better known and appreciated.

If you fancy tasting some Tassie sparkling for yourself, the following producers are distributed in the UK: Jansz, Josef Chromy, Pirie, Clover Hill. Search for local stockists on http://www.winesearcher.com


Exploring Yarra Valley Chardonnay

My first impressions of the Yarra Valley were of lush greenness and rolling hills. Think of the Shire and you won’t be far off. I wasn’t quite prepared for how pretty it is with the larger mountains surrounding, the regimented vineyards on the lower slopes and cows and sheep grazing in the fields of the plains. But we weren’t here for the view, pretty as it is, but for the wines.

Yarra is renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but in the last 5 or so years these wines have both gone through some stylistic changes – with Chardonnay winemakers flirting with (or in some cases having a full-on affair with) reductive aromas and Pinot Noir makers experimenting with whole bunch winemaking. The issue of reductive flavours in Chardonnay particularly cropped up throughout our tastings and created lots of interesting debate both between winemakers and between my guests.

As any high school chemistry student will tell you, reduction is the opposite of oxidation. In chemical terms reduction occurs when a molecule, atom or ion gains an electron – and is always balanced by the opposite reaction: oxidation, which is the loss of an electron.

Whilst this is also true of wine, in wine tasting terms these words are used to describe a certain variety of flavours. In the case of reduction, at the lesser end of the scale aromas such as flinty or matchstick are called reductive – I also often detect this by a slight prickle at the back of the nose. Or to put it the Aussie way, as quoted by Tim, the winemaker from Giant Steps: “it’s like smelling your own farts and that slight pleasure you get from that”!

This then runs the whole gamut through to full-on reduction with really quite stinky rotten egg and cooked cabbage notes: a faulty wine. The level at which a reductive wine (showing these matchstick characters but them adding complexity and not dominating the wine) becomes a reduced wine (where these characters dominate and render the wine unappealing) is a completely personal one, hence the amount of heated debate that arose.

Until just a few years ago Chardonnay winemaking in the Yarra proceeded much as in the rest of Australia, and indeed in much of the rest of the world. The cool climate gave the bright acidity but the style was geared towards the soft peachy fruit character of the region. In no way the big, blowsy Chardonnay of yester-year, but also quite different to the more linear style of today. It now seems unclear where the trend towards more reductive styles started, but is likely partly due to young winemakers increasingly doing a vintage in Burgundy and being influenced by styles there and also due to the inherent interest in experimentation that Aussie winemakers have.

The end result has been more restrained, mineral wines with dialled-back fruit character, often a more prominent acid backbone and lifted matchstick aromas adding another layer of complexity.

At least, that is the idea. The reality is probably a little more mixed.

For sure there are those wines that get the mix between fruit roundness, acid zest and just a touch of reductive aromas bang on, and these are truly exciting wines and world-class Chardonnays. However, there are also those wines where the reductive notes overwhelm the fruit and edge into the realm of faulty reduction. I found this, perhaps surprisingly, a particular problem at the lower end of the scale for some wineries where the fruit just didn’t have enough concentration to balance the what-seemed-to-be house style of intense reductive aromas.

The other issue that came out of the tastings was with some wines acid-fruit balance where the quest for leanness and restraint seemed to have edged worryingly into hard green acidity rather than zesty lemon acidity. This seemed a particular issue for the cool 2011 vintage. Interestingly, many of these wines hadn’t gone through malolactic fermentation which would have softened this harsh green acidity.

Darren, winemaker at Yering Station, said this was because they get such high malic:tartaric acid ratios in the juice that MLF gives too high diacetyl characters to the wine – adding too high a level of popcorn-style aromas: not something he wants in his wines. However, if you compare this to Chablis which has the same high malic acid issue, those wines routinely go through MLF and do not show these aromas – so I wonder if it is more a case of them not using/having access to the right bacteria to inoculate with to manage diacetyl levels, or just not managing their MLF right. At any rate some of these very lean wines could do with a little more fruit ripeness to balance this firm acidity.

But for all that, tasting these wines really showed what the Yarra Valley is doing with Chardonnay these days. Listening to the winemakers and understanding their desire to keep perfecting their wines, experimenting and creating new styles is exciting and could be easily seen in the Chardonnays we tasted. And as a winemonkey, the best tastings are those that create debate and where some people like some wines and not others and vice versa. Everyone has different palates and so everyone has different preferences and tastes – and discussing these tastes is part of the fun of enjoying wine.

Wines tasted:

Mac Forbes Hoddles Creek 2010

Yering Station Reserve 2010

Yeringberg 2011

De Bortoli Reserve 2011

Punt Road Napoleone Vineyard 2012

Phi 2011

Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard 2012

Giant Steps Arthur’s Creek Vineyard 2012

Oakridge Over the Shoulder 2012

Oakridge Lusatia Park 2012

Seville Estate 2012

Airlie Bank 2012

Rob Dolan 2012

Yering Station Reserve 2012

Yering Station Reserve 2005

Yarra Yering Chardonnay 2011

Of these, my particular favourites were the mac forbes, De Bortoli Reserve, Giant Steps Arthur’s Creek and Phi (which handily for me are all available in the UK) – but there were certainly people in the group who would argue for other top picks, so my suggestion would be to get out there and grab a bottle to see for yourself.


Disclaimer: One of the great treats of working for Wine Australia is that every so often I get to lead a trip to Australia taking a group of trade and media around some of the wine regions. Sadly this time I wasn’t able to squirrel along either of my fellow monkeys to join me, so it is solely up to me to coalesce some of my thoughts and feelings for the regions into a readable blog post. So, whilst I am here for my job, this is very much me writing as me and not as a Wine Australia employee.

Sing-a-long Barossa

As you might remember from previous posts, two of the monkeys are rather partial to singing along to Disney on long journeys and know many of the songs word perfect. Well, after their hugely successful performance of ‘Amarillo’ in Hunter Valley with the rest of their group (“this is our evening in the Hunter…”) they were given the task of composing a new song to sing in the Barossa. There was only one choice really – the brilliant ‘Part of their World’ song from the Little Mermaid that had previously featured on the monkeys’ Bordeaux tour. So, after much thought and consideration the words were changed and they were very pleased with the result. Only to then sing it to the rest of the group who all had somewhat bemused faces. “Whats that song?” “I dont know the tune” and “Disney? Really?” were just some of the comments received. So after discussion the monkeys were overruled and instead Bon Jovi’s Summer of ’69 was used instead (to much less success in our opinion).

But, we can’t be the only Disney fans out there – so for posterity here is our rather fabulous re-working of the Little Mermaid.
Emma and Alex
Look at this wine
Isnt it neat?
Wouldn’t you think our collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think we’re the group
The group who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many bottles can one cellar hold?
Looking around here you’d think
Sure, they’ve got everything
We’ve got Bordeaux and Burgundy aplenty
We’ve got Champagne and Sherry galore
You want Vintage Port?
We’ve got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
We want more
We wanna drink wanna drink some Shiraz
We wanna see wanna see Barossa
Walking around through these, what do you call ’em?
Oh – vines!
Drinking European wine doesn’t make us happy 
Barossa Shiraz is what we want 
A great big glass and a steak on the barbie
Up the valley, in the hot sun
Oh we will have so-oh much fun
Drinking Shiraz wish we could stay
In Barossa
What would we give if we could live in Australia?
What would do to live here in the hot sun?
Betcha back home it’s snowing
Hailing, raining, chilly, windy
Its miserable, sick of winter
Ready to tan
And ready to learn what the winemakers know 
Ask ’em our questions and get some answers 
What is yeast and why does it – what’s the word 
When’s it our turn?
Wouldn’t we love, love to buy lots of Shiraz 
Having lots of fun 
In the hot sun 
Barossa Valley

Riesling: to drink, or not to drink?

Riesling: to drink or not to drink?

You might think that the wine trade is all about selling wine. Simples, right? Then how come we in the trade can talk until we’re blue in the face about certain wine styles but consumers just don’t seem to get them?

This disconnect came up recently at a frankly fantastic Riesling masterclass I was at in Australia in the Clare Valley, hosted by Kevin Mitchell of Kilikanoon and Jeffrey Grosset of his eponymous winery. (And apologies as I know we monkeys have been posting rather a lot about our fabulous travels lately. If it makes you feel better our exams are now looming imminently and we are fast turning from the calm carefree monkeys of our travels to little stressball monkeys who are tearing their fur out with the amount of study ahead of us). But, I digress – onto the Riesling. We were lucky enough to be presented with a flight of 2012 Rieslings and then a flight of the same wines from older vintages back to 2003. As a whole the wines were superb. The 2012s were taut, citrus dominated wines with floral blossom notes adding prettiness. The older wines had developed some of those classic aged Riesling toastiness and honey notes along with stony minerality. All were bone dry with sharp-as-a-knife acidity.


Fast forward to the end of the tasting and a discussion about why consumers don’t seem to appreciate these wines. For as much as we were all bowled over by the precision, length and elegance of the wines, Riesling just doesn’t seem to be something that is on many consumers radar. And this is no recent phenomenon. For years there have been rumours among the trade of Riesling being The Next Big Thing, but it just hasn’t happened. First there was Marlborough Sauvignon, then Pinot Grigio and now it looks to be the turn of Moscato. And yet, on the face of it, Riesling isn’t so dissimilar from either Sauvignon or Moscato. It is another aromatic white grape, made in a fruity unoaked style – crisp and refreshing.
So, what is holding it back? Well, for a long time Germany and Liebfraumilch was blamed and the trade assumed consumers didn’t like Riesling as they thought it would be sweet. Well, a) I’m not sure that’s a valid argument anymore as those wines had their heyday at the end of the last century and I doubt consumers today remember them, and b) it turns out consumers actually quite like wines with a bit of sweetness. Most commercial Sauvignons will have a few grams of residual sugar to balance that zesty acidity and Moscato is made in an unashamedly sweet style. Personally I think it’s a simple case of price. The average bottle price in the UK is just over £5 a bottle. From a small bit of research, I can tell you at the time of writing Tesco currently sell at less than £6 a bottle 11 Pinot Grigios, 12 Sauvignon Blancs and a mere 1 Riesling. Ok, not the most scientific study ever but I suspect further analysis would help prove with my point: Riesling just isn’t that cheap. Now, whether that is consumer-driven or due to vineyard/winery factors is an entirely different (potentially quite interesting) matter.
Where does this leave Clare Valley Riesling? Well, interestingly, many of the winemakers have cottoned onto the fact that consumers like a bit of sweetness in their wines – and so there has been a recent emergence of new off-dry styles. These wines use a touch of residual sugar to balance that searing acidity, giving a softer – dare I say it? – more consumer-friendly wine. And talking to Jeffrey Grosset over dinner that evening I was left in no doubt that he sees big potential for this new style of Australian Riesling.
I’m not sure if Riesling will ever be the next big thing, but I’m also not sure that’s really a problem. For those of us who have discovered the variety and fallen in love with it, it is perhaps enough to enjoy the wines, share them with like-minded friends – and merely raise an eyebrow to those consumers who would rather be drinking Sauvignon Blanc. But that’s another story evil monkey will doubtless touch on in the future.

Barossa – the winds of change are blowing

Barossa Shiraz has a reputation for being the hairy armed Neanderthal of the wine world.  Driving into the parched valley; yellow grasses paying testament to the heat of the summer, it is easy to understand how it got this reputation.  However 3 days in this beautiful valley opened my eyes to the unique patch of dirt that these farmers have the fortune of working with.

There is a timelessness to this valley, a feeling of ancient power that radiates from those red soils that makes one acutely aware of how brief our history on this land has been.  It has highlighted our role of caretaker rather than owner in such a way that it has seen a distinct movement among the producers of the region.  Gone are the days of high volume fruit bombs reflecting nothing but a kowtow to profit, they have been replaced by a commitment to the earth and the history of the soil.  It has seen both the establishment of the Barossa Grounds Project, a vast undertaking not only mapping the huge diversity of the soils, but analyzing the impact of these soil types on the wine aromatics and structure.  This goes hand in hand with the Barossa Old Vine Charter, a record and protection for the old un-grafted vines of the region which range from the original vines brought from the Hill of Hermitage in the Rhone to 35 year old vines which are cuttings of these historic monuments and grown on their own roots.
The wines we tasted were a mirror providing a unique window into the soil through the gnarled roots of the hallowed old vines which have spent 165 years stretching deep into the world’s most ancient soil.  The ethereal perfume emanating from the ruby and garnet depths intrigued and excited the senses while the palate was a textural master piece of dark smoky perfume and intense minerality.  Fresh yet powerful, supple yet structured these wines showed soul and personality and the promise of longevity.  Shiraz is of course what we all associate with the Barossa and it is indeed something they do with aplomb, but overlook Grenache at your peril.  The Grenache and Grenache based blends were for me some of the most exciting and perfumed wines of the many that we tasted.  The fine boned Rieslings from the high hills of the Eden Valley were another beautiful encounter as they danced along the tongue and sent goosebumps up the spine. Perched up in the Steingarten Riesling vineyards with breath taking views down into the Barossa Valley, the cool breeze lifting your hair and the slopes in shadow, protected from the afternoon sun it was clear how the wines retained such beautiful aromatics and fresh acidity.
Though there are still a handful of bruisers clinging on to their Parkeresque past, the fact that these movements are still in their infancy promises the dawn of a bright new era for the Barossa Valley.  Pioneered by a dedicated group of intelligent and passionate men and women who are working to make a future that both protects their past and gives birth to a new style of fresh and perfumed wines.  The winds of change have started to blow.

The future’s bright, the future’s Orange

Orange is a region that is full of contradictions: called Orange it is of course famous for its cherries, an aussie wine region but cool climate. Now you would be forgiven for being sceptical when linking the words cool and Australia. Indeed we have all heard that term banded around hopefully by various new world wine regions, and I think the majority of us Europeans have concluded that our definition of cool is fundamentally different. Orange however, I can testify with goosebumps on my arms is distinctly cool climate. It is the only GI that is defined by altitude and ranges from 600m above sea level to 1100m and that, my friends, gives them snow in the winter, long sunshine hours, moderated temperature and blessedly cold nights – the perfect recipe for premium wines.

Beyond these idyllic conditions what really stood out about the Orange wine growing community was the excitement and sense of frontier adventure that permeated the air. It is a young producing region, the old hands have been going for a mere 25 years, and as such they are masters of their own destiny, unfettered by history and free to define their style as they see fit. They have all the latest technology at their fingertips as far as soil mapping, clonal research and training methods go, not to mention many vintages under their belt making wine across the world. This combined with the obvious passion and excitement for their own wines, and the wines of their neighbours promises a very exciting future.

We had the pleasure of tasting wines from Logan, Philip Shaw, Cumulus, Brangayne, Borrodell, De Salis, Ross Hill, Faisan and Highland Heritage. There was a distinct fingerprint that made these wines uniquely Orange: elegance, freshness, subtlety, fine boned structure and lingering nervy finish combined with depth and vitality defined both whites and reds making them invigorating and memorable to taste. And yet each wine was beautifully reflective of the winemaker, their personalities as distinct and likable as each of their creators. The region is just on the start of their march to greatness and it is a journey I will be following with great interest.

The future is bright, the future is definitely Orange.