Grapevine Archive for McLaren Vale
South-east of Adelaide, the coastal McLaren Vale region is home to a great number of Society regulars, including Wirra Wirra, d?Arenberg and Brick Kiln. Although best known for its shiraz, the wines which bowled me over were the grenaches and some of the new wines coming through using Mediterranean varieties such as fiano and verdelho.
In the US particularly, there is a massive and growing demand for pink moscato (thanks in no small part to the hip hop community) and many producers from all over Australia now are introducing these wines. These are starting to take off in the UK too.
Sustainability and environmental concern is very important in McLaren Vale, with many producers using biodynamic principles in the vineyard. After a long project to map the region?s varied and ancient geology, the winemakers have started The Scarce Earth Project. Here, single-block shirazes are made from a variety of properties, as free as possible from any ?overt? winemaking (e.g. use of oak) to show off the effect of the different terroirs on the wines. Unfortunately these are currently only available at the cellar doors or specific tastings.Similarly, Barossa?s winemakers are coming together in their Barossa Grounds Project. This seeks to ascertain once and for all if the wine from certain plots year in year out has characteristics that define the terroir and if generalisations can be made to describe the sub-regions.
The Barossa was originally settled by the Lutherans who were fleeing persecution in their then-Germanic homeland (now a part of modern-day Poland). This is reflected in the architecture of the many churches and the names of the regions towns and wine estates. I was surprised to find that the Eden Valley famed for its riesling lies adjacent to the Barossa Valley forming a part of the Barossa region and so some of the reds contain a dash of riesling to add freshness in the same tradition as viognier in the Rhône.
Almost everyone has now moved to screw-cap, even for their top wines. Cork-taint aside, the winemakers believe that the wine stays truer to their vision without the ?help? of the extra oxygenation that the cork brings.We had a very interesting experiment at Jacob?s Creek where we tried two bottles of their 2004 St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet under both cork and screw-cap. The difference between the two wines was incredible: if I hadn?t known they were the same wine, I would have thought that they were totally unconnected. For drinking now, I actually preferred the wine closed with cork as it was noticeably softer and fleshier, but in two years? time I suspect the screw-cap would definitely be the victor. This movement to screw-cap is obviously affecting the ageability of the wines and I certainly found that in most cases the older vintages we tried were much more in keeping with my palate than the most recent releases.
The tastes of the domestic market and financial concerns mean that most of the wines are sold when they are babies. I really would recommend laying a few down to compare through a few years, for the reds in particular. Andrew Wigan at Peter Lehman even suggested that our 88 Growers Semillon (£7.50) could be kept for up to 10 years, which is astonishing for such a modest wine. However, this is a matter of taste and our buyer Pierre Mansour gives the wines a relatively short drinking window as he feels its appeal is in its youthful freshness.
Whilst many of you were enjoying a cold Christmas and sipping warm, rich reds ? pinot noir, cabernet, shiraz ? I was enjoying crisp, refreshing whites ? sauvignon blancs, rieslings and viogniers ? in the Land Down Under for a delightfully warm festive season.
Having recently returned from a month long visit to my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia, I look back and cheer that I took the opportunity to mix business with pleasure and visit some amazing wineries. Fortunately, as a Wine Society employee, I was privileged to have representatives from six well-known producers throughout McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley, meet with me for an experience not to be forgotten. Unfortunately, I feel I may have developed cenosilicaphobia ? fear of an empty glass (thank you d?Arenberg for teaching me this!)?
Approaching the cellar door at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, there was no mistaking we were in the right place as an oversized monument of the famed Church Block, clad in hundreds of bottle corks, greeted us at the entrance. An overcast, windy Wednesday morning was perhaps not the best welcome to the McLaren Vale ? a stunning blanket of vines, patchworked across the land ? but our host Julian Forwood ensured a great start to the day.
Wirra Wirra, meaning ?amongst the gum trees? in the local native language, was pioneered by Robert Strangways Wigley in 1894, a ?black sheep? in his family who moved away and turned his hand to wine production. Sadly the winery went to ruin, but was saved by Greg Trott in the 1960?s and rebuilt as the beautiful stone building that appears today. Although Greg has now passed away, his presence in the winery is still very much apparent, from the trebuchet in the grounds which was built because he wanted one of his own, to the stories behind some of the labels which represent Greg?s character ? The Lost Watch (a birthday present he lost after one day), The Twelfth Man (his love of cricket) and Hiding Champion (Trott?s nickname).
After harvest ? happening in about a month?s time ? each variety, vineyard and section is fermented separately in stainless steel or oak (mostly French) and remain separate until they are ready to be blended, allowing the true character of each wine to shine through. Interestingly, the final three blends leading up to each end product are tasted with food and, with regular features on restaurant wine lists (and currently on Qantas flights), this is surely producing better wines for us to enjoy in a social capacity.
We were treated to a tasting of thirteen wines; four whites, a rosé, seven reds and a sweet sparkling ? yes, our overcast Wednesday did improve! Many a Society member will know Wirra Wirra Church Block (£12.50), which is the number one selling wine in Oz in its category and has a strong consumer following. The ruby red Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot blend at 14.5% is abundant with blackcurrant, red fruit and sweet spice on both the nose and the palate. Shiraz is the performer in the 2009 vintage, but I am told cabernet will shine in the 2010. Grapes are estate grown with a blend of hand and machine picking and 100% barrel fermented with a third to a half in new oak. 1972 was the first vintage of Church Block and I can safely vouch that it is still going strong!
For perhaps a more special occasion (or an amazing steak) try Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz (£35) ? generously juicy, fruity, and a little bit spicy ? or Wirra Wirra Dead Ringer (also £35) ? a McLaren Vale Cabernet with grippy tannins, red fruit, aromas of tobacco and a hint of mint. Branded as The Angelus in Australia, it goes by the name Dead Ringer in the UK after a polite (?!) letter ? in French ? from Château Angelus in St Emilion advising that it would not be an appropriate name. Dead Ringer: an exact duplicate ? I think not in this case, but by far Wirra Wirra gets my vote for taking it so lightheartedly!
Perhaps, for some, tasting nine wines at 10.15am on a Wednesday morning may seem out of the ordinary and slightly too much to take on. But when you are in company of Claire Scott, a lively, passionate representative of d’Arenberg Wines from Adelaide, South Australia, you can’t help but be excited about what’s on offer.
Being an Adelaidean myself, perhaps my excitement was more for the area these wines come from and the memories of home. However, on tasting these wines and hearing of the stories and passion behind them, I left feeling that d’Arenberg is about more than just the wet stuff – it’s the character, the personality and the commitment to their product which make them as successful as they are.
Established in 1912, by Joseph Osborn, d’Arenberg is headed by fourth generation winemaker, Chester Osborn – who describes himself as slightly crazy. In daring to be different he planted grape varieties traditionally associated with France, Spain and Italy – including marsanne, roussanne, viognier, tempranillo, sangiovese and sagrantino – not knowing what they would create.
Fortunately their McLaren Vale location, with its proximity to the ocean providing cooling ocean breezes and its Mediterranean climate, proved these varieties to be a success and d’Arenberg have planted their feet solidly in the wine market both in Australia and internationally.
The real personality of Chester Osborn comes through not only the wine, but through an eclectic collection of titles including: The Money Spider, The Coppermine Road, The Footbolt, The Wild Pixie (referring to Chester himself), The Dead Arm and d’Arry’s Original, each with a personal story behind it.
For me, particular highlights of the tasting included the modestly priced d’Arenberg White Ochre (£6.95), a blended white which is deliciously fruity, fresh and floral on the nose, and does not disappoint on the palate. Perfect with light salads, fish, or as an aperitif, this wine is summer in a glass.
For the reds, the d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz – their most reputable wine – provides a complexity that gives a deep, ruby red colour, red fruit and spicy character on the nose, and definitely delivers on the palate. Spicy, mocha, liquorice and aniseed flavours combine with good body and tannin to create a well balanced red which will develop to an even greater level with age. Perfect with an Aussie barbie!
In celebration of their centurion achievement next year in 2012, the Osborn family are taking their creations to the next level and are currently in production of a sparkling wine with the working title of DADD – perhaps to be comically paired with the well known Mumm? – to add to their cracking range.
I tilt my glass to the Osborn family and the pride that shouts “don’t just drink me, enjoy and savour me” from their wines.