Grapevine Archive for Australia
Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.
As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.
One of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.
From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.
If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.
Tastings & Events Team
£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Members know a good thing when they taste it, and judging from the highly enthusiastic response to our current offering of Australian wines (available until Sunday 8th May while stocks last), the Aussie buzz is truly back.
How fitting then that Alex Vooght has chosen to feature a favourite Australian red for his Staff Choice – courtesy of a producer who are no strangers to this blog, Wirra Wirra.
I love reds packed full of fruit with silky tannins and which are punchy enough to hold up to a nice steak meal. It’s also important for me to have a wine where I can enjoy a glass (or two) just as it is.
Church Block from Wirra Wirra fits the bill nicely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste a fair few vintages of it at a vertical tasting and it ages surprisingly well for a wine under £12.
Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot are blended perfectly giving this wine its jammy black-fruit style with enough peppery spice to keep me coming back for more. The stylish bottle only adds to its appeal. A sure bet with all my friends and family. Enjoy!
£11.50 – Bottle
£69 – Case of six
View Wine Details
Our exclusive Blind Spot range can sound too good to be true. A little like The Wine Society… however, both really are transparent!
How does it work?
Mac Forbes, one of the hottest winemaking talents in Australia at the moment, collects samples of wines from winemaker friends and sends them to me each year to try.
I sample up to 20 wines, and cherry-pick the range.
The wines are usually surplus wines made by sought-after names, who have to limit their own-label production due to demand, and so sell to us at a huge discount, which we pass on to Society members.
This means our members have access to an ever-evolving line-up of delicious, authentic expressions of Australia’s best regions at everyday prices.
Mac took some time to explain the process himself in this short video below:
What’s new for 2016?
The Blind Spot range is dynamic by nature, thanks to the opportunities afforded by each different vintage and Mac’s clever detective work. I only select the very best samples to be bottled, and this year’s selection includes four new additions.
They are available by the bottle or in a 12-bottle mixed case with a saving of £11.70.
• Blind Spot Old-Vine Clare Valley Mataro 2014 (£9.95) is a truly serendipitous find, and Mac was thrilled when he came across this tiny-production gem made in tiny quantities from very old vines. Mataro may be better known to many members under its French name of mourvèdre or Spanish, monastrell, and it’s the archetypal winter warmer for bangers and mash and hearty stews.
• Blind Spot Frankland River Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2013 (£9.95) is a blend whose elegance, we feel, belies its price tag. It’s a perfect Sunday-roast wine. Indicative of the value that can be found in this range, this under-£10 wine will also repay cellaring (though it may prove difficult to resist now!).
• The garganega grape is more commonly associated with the production of Soave in northern Italy, but the King Valley in Victoria is starting to produce some very good examples. Blind Spot King Valley Garganega 2015 (£7.50) is crisp, dry and thoroughly refreshing, with a pleasant mineral quality and plenty of fresh-lemon flavours.
• Australian riesling is capable of world-class quality, and our Clare Valley bottling is joined this year by a new Blind Spot Frankland River Riesling 2015 (£9.50), an area that’s quickly gaining a stunning reputation for its flinty dry interpretation of this noble white grape.
I’m really excited about these wines, and hope members enjoy them.
Sarah Knowles MW
It is some years now since McLaren Vale producer Wirra Wirra was forced to rename its flagship cabernet sauvignon when the ‘international naming police’ ruled that it was too similar to that of a leading Bordeaux château.
The 3/4-tonne Angelus bell that sits atop Wirra Wirra’s cellars had been retrieved from a wreckers’ yard after its former life calling the faithful to prayer at the Jesuit church in Norwood, South Australia. Traditionally rung at the start and end of each vintage and to mark special occasions, it seemed fitting that its name be used for the property’s top cuvée of cabernet.
When forced to change the label, the late Greg Trott, with typical wry humour, chose to call the wine ‘Dead Ringer’. In case there was any doubt, the back label of the first wine to be sold under the new nomenclature read:
Dead Ringer: Colloquial for “resemble exactly.”
…the wine formerly known as The Angelus is now The Dead Ringer. It is indeed a dead ringer for The Angelus – being a blend of 80% McLaren Vale and 20% Coonawarra cabernet, and matured in French oak barriques for 20 months. Whatever the name, this wine is quite simply the best cabernet sauvignon we can make from each vintage.
Members can now try the wine for themselves in the form of the 2013 and 2012 vintages, and a mixed case including the 2005, 2009 and 2012, in the ‘Wirra Wirra: The Name Rings A Bell’ section of our current Fine Wine List.
So my second week as a part of the buying department came to a rather spectacular end the Friday before last, as I was lucky enough to taste the new-vintage Penfolds wines with buyer Sarah Knowles MW.
Penfolds ambassador Sam Stephens brought all of the new releases with him (mostly 2013 reds, and 2014 whites) along with a number of older examples of similar vintages so we could see how ageing changed the wine.A standout for me was the £20-per-bottle Bin 28, which was shown in both the 2013 and 2001 vintages. The opportunity to show the two side by side really highlighted how unbelievably well this wine can age. The 2013 was packed with intense cassis and was as fruit-forward as you would expect a young wine to be. The 2001, however was just stunning, still with incredibly fresh blackberry fruit but now showing hints of leather and a touch of pepper. The ability to age this well at the £20 mark is something so rarely seen in the modern wine world.
A little further on and equally stunning, was the Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, from both 2013 and 1999. The herbaceous, fresh and spicy 2013 was good but the 1999 was better. Still surprisingly fresh for the age, it had the most luscious nose of milk chocolate, spice and red fruit and a super smooth texture to match.
What does this all mean?
Well, for me, it just goes to show how much you can get from these wines if you invest a bit of time. If you aren’t patient enough though, you can browse our Penfolds offer, which is now available online. Here you can find the wines that I have written about (although not quite the same vintages), plus a number of others. This is selling well and some wines have sold out already, but do have a look and see if there are wines which take your fancy.
Perhaps it was a ‘fruit day’ or simply a Friday, but I honestly couldn’t pick a disappointing one out of the bunch.
Sam kindly talked to camera for a minute or two about the wines so please have a look at the video here:
Trainee Wine Buyer
You may have noticed that it’s been a number of years since The Wine Society sold any top wines from Austraila’s iconic Penfolds.
Around eight years ago, when I had the pleasure of buying these wines for members, I realised we had a problem: as worldwide demand soared, allocations were being cut, and we risked frustrating more members than we could satisfy. After much thought, we decided to turn this challenge into an advantage.
The results will be live on our website on Monday 5th October: an offering of rare and delicious Penfolds wines from vintages going back to 2000 and spanning Grange, St Henri, RWT, Yattarna and many more.
An accountant’s nightmare; a wine lover’s dream
The Wine Society is unique in the world of wine: we are able to ship wines, store them in our cellars to age, then release them many years later when they are ready to drink. With this in mind, I bought our allocations throughout the past eight years and held them in our cellars until we had enough bottles to put together several mixed cases across a number of styles and vintages.
Taking the long view
By keeping the wines and offering them in this way, we can share them out to a bigger audience, meaning we can be fairer to members an important element of our co-operative ethos.
Tasting notes from Penfolds’s winemaker, Jancis Robinson and more
Such is the quality and rarity of some of these wines that Penfolds’ head winemaker Peter Gago made the trip to Stevenage for our final assessment tasting earlier this year. His comments, as well as those of Jancis Robinson MW and Anthony Rose (who also joined us), and of current Australia buyer Sarah Knowles MW, will be included in the offer.
Our offer of Penfolds’ wines will be published online on Monday 5th October and a printed offer will be mailed to those that have bought fine Australian wines from The Wine Society in the past two years.
If you don’t believe you fall in to this category but wish to receive the printed offer, please contact Member Services on 01438 741177 or by e-mail, remembering to include your share number.
Our third virtual #TWStaste event, where members sit in the comfort of their own homes communing with one another online over a glass of liquid, happened at the end of August. (Details of the next one can be found at the bottom of this post).
This time it involved tasting two wines from our Blind Spot range, Australian wines with a ‘sense of place’, made / selected / bottled for us by Mac Forbes – Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 and Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013.
Present in the virtual tasting room (or rather in their respective studies in London and Hitchin) were our buyer for Australia Sarah Knowles MW (@SarahKnowles) with yours truly (@Ewbz) taking charge of The Society’s feed. This time we had singles, couples and even groups taking part from all over the country, juggling glass, bottle and device!
For the hour between 7.30 & 8.30 (as well as before and after) tweets flew around filled with …
… anticipation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… congregation …
… information …
— The Wine Society (@TheWineSociety) August 27, 2015
… orientation …
… sensation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… imagination …
… evaluation …
Joy says it clears the tubes #twstaste
— Alan Barclay-Devine (@AlanBD) August 27, 2015
… computation …
… satisfaction …
— Burnham Beachcomber (@preachermanpaul) August 27, 2015
… and valediction.
The next #TWStaste will be happening on Thursday 15th October from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. Buyer Marcel Orford Williams (@owmarcel) will be there and he, together with Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman), yours truly (@Ewbz) but chiefly … yourselves, will be tasting two wines from the Languedoc – Bourboulenc Domaine de Simonet 2014 and Syrah-Mourvèdre Côtes de Thongue Domaine Condamine L’Evêque 2014. Both wines are currently available individually and will also be in the Everyday Languedoc Mixed Dozen Case as part of our Languedoc offer which begins on 25th September.
We look forward to seeing you, tasting and tweeting with you then.
Some members may remember that in November last year we produced an infographic all about Rioja.
At the time there was lots of positive feedback with members keen to see more.
So why not move from a relatively well-defined winemaking region like Rioja to one of the largest wine producing countries in the world, Australia?!
Click the image to enlarge
The sheer quantity of information available about Australian wine is mind blowing: everything from exact grape tonnage by year to daily temperatures and pretty much anything else imaginable. Trying to cram it in all this into one simple infographic would be a like trying to define wine in a single word, so I happily admit this is not an attempt to do so but more of starting point when delving into Aussie wines or as an aide-mémoire for those already familiar.
The list of sub regions, grapes and producers featured is far from exhaustive but hopefully members will find it of some use and as always your suggestions on improvements or other regions to represent in this way are more than welcome.
Marketing Campaign Manager
Our current offer of Australian wines, featuring the fruits of buyer Sarah Knowles’ most recent trip to the region, can be found here.
Getting to the root of the resurgence of interest in some of the wine world’s lesser-known grapesThe number of, and knowledge about, different grapes that are consciously made into wine has increased immeasurably in the last decade (thanks in the main to technological improvements such as DNA profiling). There are about 10,000 different varieties, members of half a dozen species; a mere(?!) 1,368 are involved in making wine of any commercial importance (according to Jancis Robinson MW who has co-written the most definitive guide to grapes in existence, Wine Grapes).
When we start to learn about wine it is often initially based around getting to know the characteristics of different grape varieties – what one tastes like compared to another and then what the same grape tastes like when produced in a different region or climate or when different vinification techniques are employed.
The grapes that start us out on our love of wine are inevitably the classic, or ‘noble’, varieties whose reputation was thus acquired because they are capable of making great wines and, usually, of being transported to other wine-producing regions from their home to make equally good wines worthy of international renown.
But this approach to wine is relatively recent. When I first started out in the wine trade, there seemed to be far greater interest in property or domaine name and vintage, for example. I was always quite surprised that wine lovers who had been collecting claret for years had little knowledge or interest even in the grapes of their favourite wines. In fact the French regarded ‘vin de cépage’ as being rather inferior and they even legislated against putting the name of the grape variety/ies on labels.
New world wines put a change to this, and from the 1990s onwards varietal labelling became much more the norm. The French realised that they were missing out on potential customers so we started to see chardonnay and pinot noir on cheaper Burgundies and even basic Bordeaux sold as cabernet-merlot.
As a result there was both more interest in varieties by consumers and growers and then a degree of boredom struck… the so-called ABC effect (wine drinkers wanting ‘Anything But Chardonnay’!).
Winemakers started to look around them and show more interest in older vines. In Italy, for example, where they have always kept things local, there are about 380 varieties making wine in commercial quantities. And the more growers valued what was growing in their own back yard, the greater the realisation that some long-forgotten varieties of old were under threat of dying out, so there was a strong desire to resurrect old vineyards and keep old indigenous varieties for posterity. There has been a real passion for ‘heritage’ varieties and also a realisation that blending different varieties might be what gets the best out of your piece of soil rather than relying on one or two to interpret your terroir.
The revival of heritage varieties has also come about because today’s winemakers have realised that some older varieties fell out of fashion because they were low-yielding – those that survived were often planted in fertile soil so didn’t necessarily show the grape off in a good light. Today, where the emphasis is much more on quality rather than quantity, people are now realising the potential of yesterday’s forgotten grapes.
In some ways we also have the Aussies to thank for the renewed interest in forgotten varieties. Newer wine-producing regions are not bound by laws or tradition to grow specific varieties; there’s still a drive to find the best grapes for your particular plot of land.
Today a younger generation of winemakers are much more wedded to the idea that wines are made in the vineyard not the winery. They tend to travel more widely too, giving greater opportunities to seek out unusual varieties and question what is grown where.
Curiosity may have killed the cat but it has revived the wine industry!
Landing in Adelaide late on a Saturday night, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I were pretty relived to have our first day off in two weeks the following morning. I spent most of my Sunday sleeping, and washing the full contents of my suitcase with the prospect of a further two weeks’ travel, beginning with five regions in five days:
We then took the hire car south to Langhorne Creek to see long-term Society supplier Bleasdale. One of the oldest wineries in Australia, Bleasdale was founded by Frank Potts in 1850. We had a great tasting and confirmed the blend for the next vintage of The Society’s Australian Shiraz.
A busy but fulfilling day: many great intense wines with lots of character, and increasing elegance. Some of the best wines we tried were older examples, confirming our belief that Australia’s wines can age and improve wonderfully.
We were delighted with Grosset’s new vintages of Gaia, Springvale and Polish Hill – all of which we were happy to confirm our allocation on.
Wendouree was both a high and low light in the trip: Tony was a wonderful host, and meticulous winemaker. We had a very rare tour of the Burgundy-esque winery and a tasting from barrels. However, the popularity of the wines domestically confirmed our worries that really there isn’t enough stock to ship.
‘It’s a long game,’ Tim reminded me on the way out, and I am happy to play!
Our fourth day saw us in the McLaren Vale, with a very busy day fitting in Steve Pannell, Richard Hamilton, d’Arenberg, Dowie Doole and Wirra Wirra! Steve has a wonderful new winery which looked great and the large range set us up for the day. I hope everyone has filled their boots with our recent first release on the d’Arenberg icons as they were really looking smart (although need a bit of cellaring).
Finishing the day at Wirra Wirra with Paul was educational – a great tour and tasting, including a tasting of the new blend for our Society’s Australian Chardonnay.
Tim had caught a very early morning flight home, but fear not – today was an Adelaide Hills day. Enlightening tastings with Geoff Weaver, Petaluma and Shaw and Smith were most reinvigorating at this point in the schedule, and I hope to highlight some of these wines in next year’s Australian offer.
So a jam-packed week, with some exceptional wines, wonderful people and many miles in the hire car.
Not that I rested on Day Six – that’s when I managed to squeeze in Eden Valley and the Henschkes before flying on to Western Australia!
Society Buyer for Australia