This week's annual Australia Day Tasting was, to me, the best yet, showcasing a wide range of styles, regionality, quality and price point - something Australia excels at. A rough guess would say 1000+ wines on display, though I only tasted 10% of these. Some highlights are featured below:
Fraser Gallop 'Parterre' Margaret River Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2012
This wine is not currently available in the UK, though others in the range are available through Bibendum. It was an 'under the table', unlisted wine, which easily won my 'wine of the day'.
The style is clearly 'White Graves' and the quality is right up there. A blend of 64% Semillon and 36% Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is destined to unravel beautifully over the next decade, though I'd be delighted to drink it right now. Soils are standard Margaret River gravelly/Laterite
Grapes are hand picked over 5 passes through the vineyard at an average of 11-12 baumé. The wine sees 9 months in new and older French oak barriques, puncheons and stainless steel 225L barrels, whilst Malolactic Fermentation is not induced. Wild yeasts are used to kick off fermentation, adding to the complexity of the nose. Sold at 13% abv.
With virtually no residual sugar and 8 grams of tartratible acidity, the wine has a pH of below 3.2 and finishes crisp and clean, but the mouthfeel is silky-gorgeous due to lees contact, battonage and superb fruit.
The nose is of vanilla oak, married extremely well to primary fruits like grapefruit and gooseberry with a hint of tropicality. The silken mouth feel of the wine completes the picture and makes it a staggeringly beautiful white blend.
Not currently available in the UK but should retail for approx £18-£25/bottle
Best's 'Great Western' Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2011
Another 'under the table' wine, I'm afraid, though this one is available through Bibendum.
This one is something of an oddity and I feel lucky to have tasted it. Pinot Meunier isn't that common in Australian fizz with most opting for Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blends. To find Pinot Meunier as a single varietal, still, red wine is rarer again. As if that isn't enough, the vines are from the 1860's and are in a mixed plot. Within this collection, believed to be the most extensive pre-phylloxera plantings in Australian and possibly the world, there are over 39 separate varietals planted, eight of which remain unknown and unidentified to this day! Some of the varieties grown include Chasselas, Palomino, Mataro, Gouais, Dolcetto and Gordo.
Grown on a small, 1.1 acre plot of 11 rows, these 149 year old vines are hand-harvested and yields are truly miniscule with small bunches produced. Based in Victoria's Grampians Region, soils are clay rich and the climate is cool mediterranean, which, along with the ancient vines, leads to a true 'terroir wine', if you'll forgive the parlance. The vines are dry-grown (without irrigation), leaving these dusty old vines to quench their own thirst.
The wine is also fermented with wild yeasts and in 2nd or 3rd year oak barriques for 6 months and 25% of bunches are pressed whole. With all of this going on, the wine is not about primary, Pinot Meunier fruit, more about the soils, vines, yeasts and barriques leading to a savoury and herbal wine.
Of course there are brambly red fruit notes typical of the variety, but they are muted under the savoury complexity of dried herbs and wild flowers. I can see this wine developing some light, meaty aromas in time, and losing even more of its very light ruby colour. In all honesty, I'm not sure I've tasted anything like it, though it has the structure of an ageing, cool climate Pinot Noir.
Best's also make a young vine Pinot Meunier, which is the antithesis of the old vine iteration - all purple juice and bright fruit.
I can't recall the price of this wine though £30-35 sounds about right. It's worth it for scarcity value alone.
Brown Brothers 'Patricia' Sparkling 2009
Wow! My first taste of this wine and what an unexpected delight it was. This is certainly the best Australian mainland (excludes Tasmania) traditional method sparkling wine I've tasted. High praise from this Champagne-addict.
Vine are grown in Victoria's King Valley and the Whitlands Vineyard is at a sub-alpine 800m metres above seal level. All of the fruit in this blend comes from here and the cèpage is 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay.
Grapes were gently whole-bunch pressed in a pneumatic press so that just the cleanest 'cuvee' is run off leading to minimal phenolics or other unwanted character in the juice. All of the base wines underwent Malolactic Fermentation to add complexity and temper the acidity and a slow second fermentation in bottle followed. A further 5 years of bottle ageing (on lees) prior to disgorgement, leads to a wine of dominant autolytic (yeasty/bready) character and soft, creamy mouthfeel.
Post disgorgement, the wine was topped up with older wines (to add complexity) and sugar dosage (unknown, but feels around 9 grams) leaving a wine with overall pH of 3.2.
White floral notes mix with red apple and cherry fruit floated on a strong current of bread/pastry/toasty aromas. The wine is not a light, aperitif style, but a serious and complex wine less suited to shellfish or sushi and more at home with spatchcock, goose or roast pork.
Brown Brothers 'Patricia' Retails at around £31 and blows the socks off many well known Champagnes at this price point.
Henschke 'Cyril Henschke' Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Eden Valley
Wines of this nature are often way too big and extracted for me, especially at such a tender age, though the quality here is dynamite.
A blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc, the Cyril Henschke 2010 is matured in 45% new and 55% seasoned French hogsheads for 18 months prior to blending and bottling.
The wine is super-concentrated and tannins are firm, but ripe. The nose sings of cassis/blackcurrants and dried herbs, with a lifting floral aroma - possibly violet. Hiding amongst the black fruits are black plums, allspice and pencil shavings.
An epic wine that needs time to evolve and soften with an estimated peak drinking window of 2025-2030 and beyond.
Drink on its own (in time) or to accompany wonderful dark meats. Chateaubriand, rack of lamb or venison stew.
RRP for this wine is £70
Ulithorne 'Flamma' Sparkling Shiraz NV
Ok, so I rarely drink Sparkling Shiraz and many others see it as a novelty, but this is a well made and serious wine, worthy of mention.
The fruit for this wine comes from McLarenvale, South Australia, and only the pick of the crop is used. Leftover grapes are bought and sold to Penfolds and end up in Grange - no worries about fruit quality then.
The base wine is made from 11 back vintages of Shiraz reserve wines, fermented in open top fermenters before 14 months of barrel ageing. The wines are then blended before tirage and second fermentation in bottle, followed by 9 months of lees ageing to add complexity.
Following disgorgement, the wine is topped up and dosaged with fortified Shiraz which has itself gone through a solera style (think Sherry) system of barrel ageing.
Unlike so many Sparkling Shiraz' on the market, this one isn't overly sweet with a dosage of just 5 grams to accompany the small amount of residual sugar left after 1st fermentation.
The nose is black cherry, plum, violets, herbs and mocha whilst the palate is powerful but shows elegance due to the low dosage, premium fruit, restrained alcohol (13.5%) and balanced acidity.
This wine is Christmas pudding worthy, and would also work with bitter chocolate desserts, salty and funky cheeses or game stews such as 'venison, port and chocolate'.
Price unavailable and wine supplied by Hallowed Ground.