Australias Regional Classics Presentation
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AUSTRALIA’S REGIONAL CLASSICS
Michael Hill Smith AM MW
1 June 2009
Australia makes some wonderful Regional Classics – wines where region and grape combine to produce a wine style that has regional uniqueness and international relevance.
Some of these are traditional classics, others modern classics, but classic nonetheless.
This tasting is not intended to be comprehensive but rather to give you a sense of some of these regional classics.
EDEN VALLEY & CLARE WATERVALE RIESLING• Riesling is one of the great Aussie styles. Wonderful fresh lively when young and toasty honeyed and
complex with age.
• Many regions make good Riesling but Clare-Watervale and Eden Valley are the undisputed regional classics.
• Riesling needs to “struggle” so it is not surprising that the best sites in both regions are stony, “hard rock” with low fertility.
• Eden Valley is slightly cooler than Clare, acids can be higher, has great fruit vibrancy but not full in the mid-palate.
• Clare-Watervale has more lime, citrus tones , Eden Valley more floral notes.
• The history of Riesling in South Australia is really the history of winemakers learning how to make fresh, delicate whites in a warmer often challenging climate.
• As early as the mid- 1930’s Yalumba winemaker Rudi Kronberger introduced Geisenheim cultivars, cultured yeast, and early bottling.
• In 1952 Gunter Prass and Colin Gramp Orlando ordered the first pressure tanks from Germany which allowed for slower more controlled fermentation resulting in the totally new Orlando 1953 Barossa Riesling.
• Riesling was further refined by John Vickery at Leo Buring, Peter Lehmann and Peter Wall at Yalumba through the 1970’s.
• Today Jeffrey Grosset, Louisa Rose, Kerri Thompson, Andrew Wigan and others continue the tradition of dry, fine Riesling.
• These wines are drier than most German wines, Aussie Riesling has very low phenol levels and are not nearly as chunky or as “four square” as many Austrian and Alsatian styles.
• Consumers may not have embraced dry Riesling but sommeliers, wine writers, winemakers and lovers of Riesling seem eternally optimistic that quality will triumph over fashion.
HUNTER VALLEY SEMILLON
• Semillon is a most useful grape. It plays an important role in the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends of Margaret River and makes a creditable and often impressive oaked whites in Barossa and Clare.
• But in the Hunter Valley it makes Australia’s most idiosyncratic, individual, long-living and remarkable white wine.
• My first exposure to aged Lindeman’s Semillon was an epiphany – toasty, complex and wonderfully individual. Confusing however as in the those days their 1970 Chablis, 1964 Riesling and 1968 White Burgundy were all made from the same grape variety.
• Aged Hunter Semillon requires considerable understanding: young wines are often acid and neutral but evolve with bottle age into marvellous complex wines with honeyed toasty characters. The best take at least 10 years to evolve and can stay fresh for 15-20 years. They are all about developed tertiary characters. James Halliday refers to them as “undervalued treasures”.
• They have been termed “schizophrenic” as the honeyed toasty bouquet promises a full bodied wine yet the palate is lean and light bodied.
• Low alcohol, high acid, no oak and last for decades. 10-11% alcohol, pH 3, bone dry with acid levels of 7gm and above.
• Maurice O’Shea made some great Semillons in the 1940’s, Karl Stockhausen the wonderful classics at Lindemans in the 1960’s, and today Tyrrell, Brokenwood and McWilliams keep the flame alive.
MARGARET RIVER CHARDONNAY
• As you well know the first commercial Chardonnay was Murray Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley 1971 Vat 47.
• Chardonnay planted in Margaret River by Cullen in 1976 and Leeuwin in 1978 - predominately the Gin Gin or Mendoza clone. Traditionally Margaret River has had a pronounced “green pineapple” character. Various winemakers report dried pear characters to the south and more citrus and limes to the north.
• Margaret River is not a cool area but has a Mediterranean maritime climate. The role of the sea is very important in tempering the seasonal range and diurnal range.
• Chardonnay is a very important wine style in the region – in part due to the reputation of Leeuwin Estate but also the overall quality of the best producers.
ADELAIDE HILLS CHARDONNAY
• Chardonnay was planted in the Adelaide Hills by Brian Croser at Piccadilly in 1980 using OF clone. I10V1 clone is widely planted but Bernard Dijon Clones 95,96 and 76 are now favoured.
• The area is cool – particularly around Piccadilly area. This is due to altitude and the affects of the Mt Lofty Ranges. Site selection within the Hills is important.
• It can get warm during the days with cool nights and a high diurnal range.
• Produces tighter leaner Chardonnay with good natural acidity and texture – not hard edged.
• Pronounced stone fruit particularly nectarine in the cooler sites - more peachy in the warmer areas.
• Has an excellent reputation for Chardonnay from producers such as Petaluma, Shaw + Smith, Weaver but also from the bigger companies who use Adelaide Hills fruit in many of their super premium wines.
There has been significant movement away from stereotypical heavy Aussie Chardonnay and this is particularly true of the Chardonnay from both the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River.
Burgundian process of hand harvesting, whole bunch pressing, use of wild yeasts, barrel fermentation, partial malolactic fermentation and battonage in barrel are widely practiced.
GEELONG PINOT NOIR• The emergence of quality Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy is one of the most exhilarating developments in the
world of wine. Not Burgundy outside of Burgundy but Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy.
• The Pinot evolution has been driven and fuelled by a small number of fanatics or “true believers”.
• None more than Gary Farr who began with Pinot in Geelong at Bannockburn in 1984. Gary Farr is the “John the Baptist” of Aussie Pinot – a voice in a vinous wilderness dominated by Shiraz. In the early days Gary couldn’t even get people to taste Pinot Noir let alone buy it. In the 1980’s Pinot was for wimps!
• These Pinot “true believers” had a deep and profound love of Burgundy. They bought it and worked it. Gary did virtually every vintage with Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac from 1983-2002. Not surprising his wines were much more Burgundian than many of his rivals.
• Key to quality Pinot seems to be:
Cooler regions or sites – debatably with a narrow diurnal range
Miserly vineyard yields
An understanding of the Pinot Noir winemaking. Pre-fermentation maceration, % of whole berries and or stems, subtle use of oak, and above all access to the new Pinot Noir clones.
The limiting factor has been access to the best clonal material. MV6 has been the workhorse of many of the best Pinots but is increasingly being replaced by Dijon clones 112, 113,114 and 115 and the intensely fruity 777.
Today Pinot is so fashionable that wine enthusiasts site clonal numbers!
• In the beginning we simply looked for wines that were “correct” with Pinot aromas and flavours. Now intensity, complexity, length and structure are increasingly important.
• Ideally these wines have new world fruit purity coupled with the complexity and structure of good Burgundy.
• Alcohol levels are around 13-13.5 % and are never as high as those found commonly in California - nor are they as intensely “fruity” as Central Ottago.
COONAWARRA & MARGARET RIVER CABERNET SAUVIGNON/ MERLOT
• Cabernet like Shiraz is widely planted throughout Australia.
• Style varies greatly from the rich wines of warmer regions through to the leaner wines from more marginal sites.
• Merlot is planted widely and has proved successful blended with Cabernet. Far less convincing as a straight varietal.
• Due to the international demand and focus on Aussie Shiraz , Cabernet has become the ‘poor relation”.
• Shiraz has tended to overshadow the real quality of the best Australian Cabernets.
• The two most famous regions are Coonawarra in South Australia and Margaret River in Western Australia. There is intense rivalry between the two which has resulted in better wines in both regions.
• Margaret River has a strong maritime influence and has red ironstone soils.
• Coonawarra is less maritime, has their famous terra rosa soils - red brown earth over limestone.
• Simply put Coonawarra has very pure fruit expression of Cabernet whilst Margaret River has greater earthiness and minerality.
• Both regions have small producers but Coonawarra is more dominated by the larger companies. In the 80’s and early 90’s Coonawarra somewhat lost its way. The large vineyards became highly mechanised, in particular the use of mechanical pruning.
• Moreover many of the wines were big and powerful – concentrated by “saignee” and heavy oak ageing. Process overshadowed variety – today there is a welcomed return to purer, finer and better balanced wines.
Indisputably Shiraz has driven Australia’s international success.
It is grown wildly and styles vary greatly depending upon region and winemaking philosophy.
HUNTER VALLEY SHIRAZ
• One of our most idiosyncratic styles – almost always medium bodied and often with a distinctive savoury earthiness, almost iodine character.
• Somewhat of an acquired taste but one of Australia’s most unique styles.
• Rarely, if ever shows the chocolately characters of Barossa or McLaren Vale.
• Climate is warm and humid with a short growing season resulting in low alcohol, anthocyannins and resultant colour.
• Proves “cool climate” Shiraz is far from a recent phenomena.
• The Grampians – especially around the Great Western – has been making wine since the 1860’s.
• The area is cool producing wines with great pepper spice purity but avoiding the lean and skinny palates of some very cool sites.
EDEN VALLEY SHIRAZ
• Eden Valley abuts the Barossa but the wines are very different.
• As part of the Mt Lofty Ranges Eden Valley is much cooler than the Barossa floor. There is much greater diurnal range and whilst the days can be hot the nights are cool.
• The wines are more elegant and restrained, the acidity is higher and the fruit quite pure in the plum, spice and blackberry range.
BAROSSA VALLEY SHIRAZ
• Barossa Shiraz can be divided into two very different schools of winemaking: those making ultra- ripe, high alcohol and often heavily oaked and aimed to win favour from Robert Parker, and those making wines at 14.5% alcohol or less.
• The lower alcohol wines are still rich and powerful but have better balance and avoid excessive raisining.
• Barossa Shiraz has dark chocolate, prune overtones which often morphs into mocha with bottle age.
• The wines are full bodied but have a soft finish with ripe tannins. Increasingly there is a move away from American Oak to French or a mixture of the two.
• Sub-regions such as Marinanga, Stonewell and Kalimna are highly sought after – as is Lyndoch in warmer years.
• Whilst Penfolds Grange is a regional blend it is rarely, if ever, over 14.5% alcohol so these elevated alcohol wines are a new aberration or direction depending upon your point of view.
BAROSSA VALLEY SHIRAZ - CABERNET
• Cabernet-Shiraz or Shiraz-Cabernet is the quintessential Australian Blend – more often or not with a hefty dose of American Oak.
• Born of scarcity when Cabernet was in much shorter supply than Shiraz. In the 1980’s Cabernet commanded a 20-30% premium over Shiraz in both grape and bottle prices.
• Len Evans joked that the percentage of Cabernet on the label was determined by how fast the truck of Cabernet grapes drove past the Shiraz vineyard – pre- label Integrity Scheme of course!!
• Some of Australia’s greatest wines have been Cab-Shiraz blends.
• Cabernet can have a dip in the mid-palate which is filled by Merlot in Bordeaux and Shiraz in Australia.
• Believed to be uniquely Australian, this blend has a bizarre precedent in France where pre-Appellation Bordeaux was occasionally “hermitaged” with Syrah from the Rhone.
• Cab-Shiraz is less fashionable than the racier Cab-Merlot which is a perplexing given the quality and uniqueness of this blend.
RIVERINA BOTRYTIS SEMILLON
• In 1982 Darren De Bortoli returned home to his family winery in the Riverland and made his first Noble One.
• He was inspired by the 1975 Château Coutet he had tasted at Roseworthy and was keen to try making a botrytis affected wine from Semillon.
• In the early years he sought to make the most concentrated wine possible – but more recently they pick at lower sugar levels and the wine is now more refined – refined but still powerful!
• Noble One’s international success had given rise to other botrytised wines from the Riverina producers such as Nugan Estate and Lillypilly.
• Botrytis happens naturally in some of the vineyards although a number of producers use sprinklers to encourage botrytis growth.