Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004

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Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004

As anyone who has read more than one of my posts will know, I don’t have a copy editor.  I do my best, but it seems every time I go back and read an old post I find a letter or word out of place.  Alas, with over 150 wines reviewed, I’m unlikely to ever find all the typos.  So it may seem like I’m just asking for trouble reviewing this wine, but it is such a favourite of mine that I’m willing to risk spelling the producer’s name five different ways through the course of this post in order to bring you the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004.

With a name like that, Boekenhoutskloof can only be from South Africa (or the Netherlands, I suppose).  The label gives some hint as to the origin – the seven chairs represent traditional styles of 18th and 19th century furniture making, and in South Africa these chairs would ideally have been fashioned from native Cape Beech, also known as Boekenhout.  A kloof is a ravine, and the full name dates to the founding of the original farm in 1776 near Franschhoek.  It took its most recent form in 1993 when the property was purchased by a group of partners and vines replanted.  The first vintage was produced in 1997.

When my wife and I visited South Africa in 2007, we managed to swing by the Boekenhoutskloof cellar door but unfortunately they were sold out entirely of their eponymous line of wines.  It turns out their winemaker, Marc Kent who joined as a partner in 1994, had just won Diners Club Winemaker of the Year.  (He is a finalist for the 2012 award as well, to be announced on November 3rd.)  We were able to enjoy a bottle subsequently at a restaurant, though we were assured it was the last one to be found.  Fortunately though, it turns out to be one of the few fine wines of South Africa imported into Australia, and since news of the award didn’t make the front page in Adelaide, I was able to pick up this bottle and the rest that our local wine merchant had on hand.

Boekenhoutskloof is the name of the company as a whole, as well as their flagship line of wines, which includes Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and this Syrah.  It’s produced in very limited quantities – less than 1000 cases of each of the reds and much less of the Semillon.  Their second brand consists of a single wine, the Chocolate Block, which is a Rhône style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Viognier, with some Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in as well.  Their Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap ranges are everyday drinking wines, and constitute the bulk of production.

Before I get to the wine itself, a quick word about the production.  While some brands are somewhat coy regarding what happens in their winery, Boekenhoutskloof actually lists some of the specific equipment they use, from mechanized berry selection tables, to the specific destemmer, press, pump, and even the trendy egg-shaped fermenter from Nomblot, all of which appeal to me for having worked a few vintages.  Winemakers like their toys as much as anyone, and it’s nice that Boekenhoutskloof is willing to share those details.

Likewise, this Syrah has had a number of winemaking techniques applied across the different parcels sourced from a single vineyard that made up the final wine, including some whole bunches, carbonic maceration, and some stalks.  Fermentation was with natural yeast in a combination of open top oak and concrete vessels, and after some maceration the wine was put into used French oak for over two years.  Fining was done twice with egg whites, but it was bottled without filtration.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a dark garnet colour and quick thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developed, with medium intensity and notes of sweet spice, red fruit, raspberries, pumpkin, and red cherries.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus integrated tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  There are notes of green peppercorns, sweet spice, brambles, blackberries, and liquorice.

This is a very good wine.  It’s clearly a Syrah on the nose, but it took a while to show that typicity on the palate.  It’s nicely balanced, and really driving – the combination of length and intensity makes the wine stand out.  I especially liked the contrast of the relatively sweet nose with the more savoury notes on the palate.  I don’t know exactly how many bottles of Boekenhoutskloof I have in the cellar, but I look forward to drinking the rest over several years.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

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Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

While I did bring home a set of interesting new (to me) varietals from my trip to Vancouver, I don’t want to leave people with the impression they only grow cold climate German grapes in British Columbia.  There are certainly plantings of Ehrenfelser and Kerner, but not at the expense of better known international varieties, including some that are often associated with much warmer climates.  Today we have one such example, the Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007.

This is another wine I enjoyed back in September, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about cool climate Syrah / Shiraz, which is fairly trendy at the moment.  I generally think of Syrah as a warm climate grape, though part of that is a South Australian bias.  Within France, it typically doesn’t ripen reliably further north than the Northern Rhône, where slopes with ideal aspects and natural sun traps are where the variety does best.  Here in Australia, the best known Shiraz is from the Barossa Valley, where the warmth and sunshine can provide an abundance of fruit and alcohol.

However, Syrah is a versatile and climate sensitive grape.  It’s not always easy (for me at least) to point out the climatic difference in the grape between Northern and Southern Rhône Syrahs because in the south they’re often part of the blend.  However, in Australia there is Shiraz grown in the relatively cool Adelaide Hills, such as from Hahndorf Hill Winery, which can be markedly different from a warmer Barossa example, such as Charles Melton.  Cool climate Shiraz tends to be less fruit driven, with more peppery notes instead of sweet spice, blue fruit instead of red, and often some violet or floral notes.

Before I get into this Syrah, first a few words about the producer, Tinhorn Creek.  Established in 1993, the company is a collaboration of friends who went into business together.  Sandra Oldfield, originally from the USA and a graduate of the UC Davis Enology Department, is at the helm as winemaker and president/CEO.   Based in the Golden Mile in South Okanagan, but with an additional vineyard on the eastern side of the valley on Black Sage Bench, they’re probably best known for the flagship Merlot.  However, they have a wine range of plantings, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and this Syrah in red, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Semillon and Kerner in white.  They produce varietals and blends in red and white, a Cabernet Franc rosé, and ice wine or late harvest Kerner depending on the vintage conditions.

Even though the southern Okanagan Valley is certainly warmer than the northern end, and there’s no shortage of lakes and rivers to help mitigate the weather, it’s still considered a fairly cool climate.  I couldn’t find a fact sheet for this vintage, but if it is similar to the 2009 vintage then grapes for this wine were taken from both the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench sides of the valley from fairly young vines and saw just over a year and a half in French oak.  2007 in Okanagan had a cold start and with light rain in the spring but heavy rain over June.  July was hot but also wet.  August and early September were drier if cooler, though rain returned at harvest.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus ruby colour and  lots of quick thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of raspberries, sweet spice, pomegranate,and a fair whack of oak.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium intensity, medium body, and medium length. There are notes of green stalks, black pepper, raspberries, and pencil shavings.

I rate this wine as good but there was something about the green notes on the palate that I didn’t find overly attractive (but which I don’t mind in Cabernet Franc).  I don’t know if I’m getting that due to the vines being young, fruit that wasn’t fully ripe (unlikely at 14.6% ABV), or if it’s just down to my personal palate.  It’s certainly from a cool climate but without the blueberries that usually tip me off.  However, there was no shortage of peppery character and there was a good diversity of fruit and savoury notes.  The wine as a whole had a nice balance and I hope to try another vintage to compare and contrast.

Laurenz V. Friendly Grüner Veltliner 2007

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Laurenz V. Friendly Grüner Veltliner 2007

Laurenz V. Friendly Grüner Veltliner 2007

For the first time ever, each post on the homepage of this blog features a wine from a different country.  While in general, I aim for roughly 50% Australian wines and 50% rest of world, between my recent Canadian trip and a visit to my cellar, I’ve managed to be slightly more worldly of late.  I know it won’t last, but rounding out the group, I give you a wine from Austria, the Laurenz V. Friendly Grüner Veltliner 2007.

This is actually the fourth wine of Austria I’ve covered, but strangely for a country I so strongly associate with white wines, the first three were red or rosé.  As it turns out, while white grape production is roughly double that of red, that is down from triple in 1999.  Plantings of white grapes have been declining across the board and plantings of reds have increased for all major varieties except Blauer Portugieser.

While I’ve covered Grüner Veltliner before, it was an Australian, and for the time being I think the best are still from Austria.  Despite a drop in plantings over the last decade, it remains the most widely planted grape in Austria, with more area under vines than the next three varieties combined.  It’s also arguably the most iconic Austrian grape – if someone knows a single Austrian grape, this is the one.

Laurenz V. (that’s Roman numeral five) was formed in 2005 by Laurenz Maria Moser V of the Lenz Moser family with a long history in wine, dating back to 1124.  He partnered with an accountant, Franz Schweiger, and Dieter Hübler who runs marketing and distribution.  The three of them embraced Grüner Veltliner as their sole grape, staking their entire company on it, and claim to be the only producer working exclusively with it.  Focused on the export market, the company’s goal is to promote the grape variety on the world stage as a previously overlooked fine wine grape.  They source their grapes from the Kamptal, Kremstal and Weinviertel subregions within the Niederösterreich (Lower Austria) region.

The wines themselves, each with a very approachable name such as Charming, Friendly, and Sunny, are differentiated on a number of fronts.  While all are fermented in stainless steel, some are from specific subregions and others are blends.  Most are dry with only a few grams of residual sugar, though there is one off-dry called Forbidden.  There is even a low (10%) alcohol wine called Grüner Forever.  This wine, Friendly, is largely from the Kamptal region with some blending from Kremstal and is meant to be fresh and fruit driven.

Despite translating to Lower Austria, Niederösterreich is in the north east of the country.  The lower part of the name refers to it being downriver on the Danube from Oberösterreich, or Upper Austria.  The area is made up of eight subregions, each with its own character, so I’ll focus on Kremstal and Kamptal with this wine.  Kremstal is home to vineyards on clay and limestone near the town of Krems, which shift to loess, or half rock, half soil, going north through the Krems Valley.  Parts of the region are steep enough to require terracing.  The loess is also a feature of Kamptal to the north and east, and both regions enjoy an abundance of south facing slopes to maximize sunshine.  The area as a whole is a continental climate, and enjoys hot summers but cold winters, allowing full ripeness but with cool enough nights for acidity retention.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a thin film inside the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of mineral, citrus, cream, and a bit of custard.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and a medium plus length.  There are notes of minerals (almost briny), Nashi pear, some citrus, sandalwood and white pepper.

This is a very good wine – rich and complex, with strong typicity and a very crisp flavour even as a five year old white.  The minerality, a character I always associate with Grüner Veltliner, is very evident, and the acidity keeps it sharp.

“Natural” wine

The other day Jamie Goode @jamiegoode, a wine journalist for whom I have a great deal of respect, tweeted “Why is natural wine so divisive? Lots of people enjoy drinking them. There are many that are profound. No reason to get upset.”  My knee-jerk reaction would have been to reply “There’s no such thing” but rather than try to have a discussion 140 characters at a time, I thought I might put together what I intend to be a more thoughtful response.

[He has since posted an article as well, though I wrote this post before I saw it.]

Let me start by saying that I judge wine first and foremost by what’s in the glass, and I encourage producers to use whatever methods they think will result in the best wine.  When it comes to wines described as “natural”, I have enjoyed some a great deal and others I have enjoyed much less, but that is also true of wines in general, irrespective of how they are made.

When it comes to the term “natural” however, I do have some opinions.  I think it is neither a useful nor appropriate term to adopt for the non-interventionist approach to winemaking.  Even before the term became something of a movement in the context of wine, it had been completely devalued by its use with regards to food in general – see Cheetos for details.  The way the term is used to describe wine is no more useful than with food as there is no definition or regulatory organization.  Anyone can describe their wine as “natural”, irrespective of their viticultural or vinification practices.  Given the proliferation of “natural” on food labels, there is little reason to believe won’t happen with wine should consumers favour wines so labelled.

If that’s why the term “natural” isn’t useful, why is it inappropriate?  Start to finish, wine is not a natural product.  The vineyards where I work contain two types of fruit – blackberries and grapes.  The blackberry bushes appear randomly across the property, grown from seeds dispersed by animals, and producing fruit each season for anyone who braves the prickles.  I think “natural” is a fair description of the bushes and their fruit.

On the other hand, the grapevines are specifically selected clones, grown from clippings, with thousands of genetically identical vines set in neat rows, densely spaced, and carefully pruned over each season.  There is nothing natural about how the vines were cloned, planted, and cultivated.  If blackberries are the equivalent of free range eggs, grapes for wine are the product of battery caged hens.

With regards to the winery, if wine were a “natural” product, there would be no winery, because there would be no need to “make” the wine.  It’s romantically been said that wine is made in the vineyard, but the baskets, bins and trucks that turn up at wineries each vintage contain grapes, not wine.  Even the least interventionist winemaking starts at the harvest and continues through crushing and pressing, none of which could be considered natural processes by any stretch of the imagination.

Am I being too literal, or worse, pedantic, since that is how vines have been cultivated and wine produced for millennia?  For those who think the term “natural” should mean whatever they want it to mean, undoubtedly.  But really, this whole controversy is about terminology.  Winemakers should always be free to make their wines by whatever methods they choose.  However, when they hypocritically label those practices as “natural” they’re not only being dishonest, they’re also disparaging producers not using those methods by establishing the dichotomy of “natural” versus “unnatural”.  That is the root of this issue as far as I’m concerned.  No producer should object if their neighbour refrains from using SO2 or cultured yeast, because it’s up to consumers to decide which wine they want to drink.  However, it’s unacceptable for anyone to call their practices “natural” when they are so clearly not, and worse to the tar fellow winemakers as “unnatural” by comparison.

 

Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

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Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009

While I don’t mention them by name, I’m very grateful for a small handful of restaurants and wine bars in my area that have interesting wine lists, in particular by the glass.  You can generally tell when I write about their wines because the bottle photographs are different, typically featuring a glass as well.  Today is one such wine, the Domaine Léon Barral Faugères 2009.

A stereotypical by the glass wine list around here will have a local sparkler and a Champagne, an aromatic white, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a middle weight red, and a Shiraz.  Except for the Champagne, and possibly a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, everything will be Australian, largely from South Australia.  While I’m all for supporting local producers, it can be quite predictable, and if you eat out regularly, somewhat boring.

Fortunately, there are a few places I frequent which offer a wider range of wines by the glass, with roughly a third from South Australia and the rest being divided between Europe and other parts of Australia, with the occasional New World wines as well.  Often I find myself with a glass in front of me and I have no idea what it is or where it’s from.

That was the case with this wine, and only subsequent reading allowed me to locate the region and identify the blend.  This wine is from Faugères, an appellation located in Languedoc in the south of France.  It emerged as a wine producing region in the 19th century, and was promoted from VDQS to AOC in 1982 for red and rosé wines and in 2005 for whites.  The soil is primarily schist and the climate is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and fairly cold wet winters.  The grapes for red and rosé wines are traditionally Carignan and Cinsault, though Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah are not just permitted but being promoted as replacement varieties.  White wine may be made of Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino, though red wines dominate with 80% of production.

While it’s true I knew nothing about this wine when it was placed in front of me, Faugères is in fact listed as a regional entry for WSET Diploma students, so I should have known everything in the last paragraph and more.  In terms of the producer, its name would likewise have been familiar had I been a better student, because in the Faugères entry in the Oxford Companion to Wine, it is mentioned as being a top quality producer.

Domaine Leon Barral was founded in 1993 by Didier Barrel and is named after his grandfather.  He’s a champion for the biodynamic movement, and so his team working the vineyard consists of himself, horses, cows and pigs.  His youngest vineyard is Mourvèdre and Syrah with vines that are 15 to 30 years old, though his older vineyard are dominated by Carignan vines that are up to 90 years old.  He produces three AOC red blends and a white vin de pays of Terrets Blanc and Gris, Viognier and Roussanne.

Grapes are hand picked, and then fermented in concrete without the addition of sulphur or introduced yeasts.  This wine was aged a further two years in tanks without oak influence, and bottled without racking, fining or filtration.  (The other two reds do see time in barrel.)  Based on 50% Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault make up the remainder of the blend.  As this blog is no stranger to those grapes, it’s on to the tasting.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a dark ruby colour and quick abundant legs.  On the nose it’s clean, and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of violets, sweet spice, simple red fruit, and lavender.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium body, and medium length.  There are notes of chocolate, simple red fruit, violets, plums, and red cherries, with some hazelnut and coffee on the finish.

This is a very good wine.  The palate has a very complex and pleasing collection of flavours.  The red fruit is not especially distinct, but all the other flavours are very evocative.  It’s nicely balanced, and even the 14% alcohol is noticeable but not hot.  A pleasant surprise and a reminder to me that I still have plenty of studying to do to be worthy of the Diploma.

Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

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Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

One of the goals for my Vancouver trip was to enjoy some wines not so readily available in Australia.  I’ve written about a number of wines already in that regard from both Canada and the USA, but I couldn’t help but pick up this bottle from Germany as well because not a great deal of German wine makes its way to Australia, and those that do are almost entirely Riesling.  So today it’s a wine straight out of Pfalz, the Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008.

This is my third German wine in this blog, with the first having been the Wittmann Silvaner and the second the Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Riesling.  Germany was a curious area to study at the Diploma level because for me it was heavy on theory and light on the practical.  At one point I was expected to be able to list the differences in wine quality levels and identify regions and villages, but sadly I haven’t retained a great deal of that information, largely because in Australia I have so few opportunities to make use of it.  Even here in South Australia, which has a very large German community, Barossa especially, producers may have Germanic names like Kellermeister or LiebichWein but their wines are Australian through and through.  So when I had the chance to grab a bottle of German Pinot Noir, I didn’t hesitate.

Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, with the name meaning late ripening Burgundian.  It is the most widely planted red grape in the country, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir, though it still accounts for a smaller percentage of production than both Riesling and Müller-Thurgau.  Red wine production as a whole in Germany is rising, though exports continue to be dominated by the white wines for which the country is better known.

This wine is from Pfalz, in the south of Germany, hemmed in between the Haardt Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the the east.  Perhaps a more familiar way for some to locate it would be to start in Alsace and follow the natural curve of the region northward and when you cross the border into Germany you are in Pfalz.  The climate is continental, and being situated in a rain shadow, it is one of the driest and sunniest German wine region.  Soil types vary along the lines of Alsace, with granite and basalt influences from the mountains, sandstone and limestone underlying the flats, and alluvial gravel washed throughout.

The J.L. Wolf wine estate was founded in 1756 in Wachenheim.  An assessment of slopes of the region was done in 1828 for tax purposes.  In the style of Burgundian classification, the Wolf estate had a number of grand cru and premier cru vineyards.  It reached something of a pinnacle mid-19th century with the construction of and estate house and villa, featured on the label.  However, in the second half of the 20th century it fell into decline.

In 1996 the estate was taken over by Ernst Loosen (of Dr. Loosen, arguably the best known quality wine brand of Germany) who wanted to produce drier, fuller bodied Pfalz Rieslings to complement the lighter wines he was already producing in the Mosel.  In addition, the Dr. Loosen collection of wines was expanded to include the Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir of the estate, as well as Gewürztraminer and Silvaner.  The current production range includes entry level Villa Wolf varietals (including a Pinot Noir rosé) and Rieslings from village, classified vineyard and first-grown vineyard levels of quality.

[While I'm fairly certain this bottle falls into the entry level varietal collection, it is branded Johann Wolf whereas every other wine referenced on the company website is branded J.L. Wolf.]

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus ruby colour and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of raspberry, some sour cherry, and herbs.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus tannins, medium plus acidity, and medium plus length.  There are notes of raspberry, pencil lead, sour cherry, and just a bit of cranberry.

This is a good wine.  It’s fruity for a Pinot Noir in a very New World style.  The fruit though is fresh – not candied.  The alcohol sticks out a bit even though the bottle only indicates 12.5% ABV.  It’s not overly complex but it is certainly not simple.  I would think this wine would be unlikely to make it to Australia, in that the style is too similar to locally produced wines and with taxation it would be priced above its direct competition.  Still, I am very glad I was able to try it because it was certainly enjoyable and not something I see very often.

Millton Gisborne Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006

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Millton Gisborne Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006

Millton Gisborne Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006

Today it’s a wine I actually drank some time ago, but am only just now writing it up.  Alas, when you drink more quickly than you write, it’s difficult to keep up, but I’ve slowed down slightly on the drinking front and hope to clear out the backlog before the end of the year.  So without further delay, I give you the Millton Gisborne Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006.

My wife and I have been together for long enough that when we sit down at a restaurant and are looking through the menu I can tell what she will order even before she has decided.  Her tastes are fairly consistent and there’s usually something that I know she’ll go for.  She can typically do the same in terms of knowing what I’ll drink, and if she spotted this on a wine list she would pick it for me right away.  The combination of an under appreciated classic Old World grape in a New World terroir draws me in more often than not.

This is not the first varietal Chenin Blanc we’ve seen, nor even the first from a New World producer, but the Kilikanoon Brut Vouvray was something of a trick – a holiday wine essentially, made by an Australian while visiting France.  A quick recap of the grape is probably worthwhile.  Chenin Blanc is a white grape with its Old World roots in the Loire Valley, most famously in Vouvray where it is made into sparkling wine, dry wine and sweet wine, all depending on the vintage.  It was at one time the biggest white grape of South Africa, and it can be found planted throughout the rest of New World.  It requires a long growing season to fully ripen, but it rewards warm climates by retaining its acidity when other grapes become flabby.  It’s also one of the few white wines that really improves with cellaring – Chenin Blanc can develop complexity over years or decades in bottle.

Gisborne is a new region to this blog, situated in the eastern peninsula of the North Island of New Zealand, roughly in the middle.  It is situated on a flat, fertile river valley, with loam being the dominant soil type.  The climate for New Zealand as a whole is often described as maritime, with mild winters and cool summer.  Gisborne in particular has low heat summation, and most grapes grown are cool climate white varieties.

The region initially rose to prominence in the 1960s-1970s for the production of vast quantities of bulk wine, much of it slightly sweet and made of German varieties such as Müller-Thurgau.  When the area was struck in the 1980s by phylloxera it required replanting, and many growers took the opportunity to replace Müller-Thurgau with Chardonnay at the same time they were replacing their rootstock.  The area also diversified somewhat from exclusively bulk production with smaller, often high quality, wineries carving out a niche.  The ratio of grape growers to wineries remains high.

Millton Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1984 by James and Annie Millton around Manutuke where Annie’s family had been involved in grape growing since the 1960s.  The couple had spent the preceding years learning the trade in France and Germany before returning home to replant much of the family holdings and establish the winery.  They became New Zealand’s first certified organic winery in 1986 and then were one of the first to qualify for certification as biodynamic.  (I expressed my thoughts on biodynamic practices when I wrote about Marchand & Burch.)

Millton specializes in single vineyard varietal wines of their own estate.  They have three lines of wines, their namesake, Clos de Ste. Anne and Crazy by Nature, and have plantings of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot.  In addition to varietals of those grapes, they produce a Muscat Mistell, a sparkling Muscat, and organic grape juice.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour, and slow, thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of green apple, quince, some lemon, and a bit of honey.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, full flavour intensity, medium plus body, medium minus alcohol, but a medium minus length.  There are notes of quince, sour apple, a little black pepper, and some struck match.

This is a good wine.  While it’s interesting on the nose, it comes on very strong on the palate with exceptional acidity and intensity.  The flavour profile, while clearly Chenin Blanc, has some elements that are a bit out of the ordinary, particularly the sour notes.  I would have gone for very good except that it’s a bit short, something I find surprising given its strong attack.

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007

I’m inching my way toward a century of varietal wines, and this puts me at 70/100.  I’ve actually hit 90 different grapes in total, but there are some grapes, Pinot Meunier for instance, which are only rarely found outside of a blend.  (Great Western apparently does a good one.) Today’s wine is another example of a variety that’s very easy to find in a blend, but much less common on its own, the Old Mill Estate Touriga Nacional 2007.

Like most people, I first encountered Touriga Nacional when learning about fortified wines.  It’s a black grape, thought to be native to the Dão region of Portugal, and widely considered the best of the five main grapes allowed in Port.  While it is typically the first grape mentioned with regard to Port production, what’s slightly less well known is that within the Douro Valley it represents a tiny fraction of plantings, possibly as low as 2%.  Many vineyards are field blends with different varieties intermingled, so it’s often difficult to know exactly.

It is highly regarded for the rich colour and intense concentration it brings to blends as well as structure through its high levels of tannins.  However, despite being a vigorous vine, it is traditionally prone to low yields due to poor fruit set, which may be why it is not the most popular variety in the vineyard.  Clonal selection improvements had mitigated the low yields to some extent, and the grape has been making inroads into other wine regions within Portugal as well as Australia.  While best known as a component of fortified wine, there is a growing trend for it to be made into table wine.

This is the second post in this blog concerning a wine from Langhorne Creek, the first having been the Rusticana Zinfandel back in April, which has some detail on the region.

Old Mill Estate, as shown by the sheaf on the label, actually does have its origins in grain production.  The property was initially a mill, making chaff out of lucerne.  (That’s alfalfa to Americans – I had to look it up.)  In 1992 the second highest recorded flood in the area destroyed the entire crop, prompting the owners, Peter and Vicki Widdop, to diversify by planting vines the following year.  They initially started just as grape growers, but produced their own vintage in 2004.  In 2006 they brought in John Glaetzer, something of an Australian legend, as a consultant winemaker.

I’m not sure if they still grow lucerne, but their grape plantings consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Touriga Nacional.  Their wines include still, red varietals of each and a couple of blends, as well as a rosé and a sparkling wine both made from Touriga Nacional.

This wine is clear and bright in the glass, with a deep purple colour and quick stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean, intense, and developing, with notes of raisins, plums, and sweet spice.  It’s a very rich nose with ripe fruit.  On the palate it’s dry, though heavily fruit sweet, with a medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, medium minus fine tannins, medium acidity, and medium plus length. There are notes of plum, sweet spice, black cherries, blackberries, and raisins.

This is a good wine – intensely fragrant, with great concentration and fruit flavours, though the acidity struggles to maintain balance.  It’s very full and rich, almost too much so.  I was told a story by a colleague about how he was so impressed when he first tasted Touriga Nacional as a table wine that he asked the winemaker why it wasn’t more popular.  The reply was along the lines of “try to drink a bottle”.  I feel similarly with this wine – it does have a fantastic impact but it’s somewhat overwhelming after a glass or two.  Still, I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed.

Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

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Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

I enjoyed my trip to Canada for a number of reasons, and while time with my family is certainly at the top of the list, I took the opportunity to enjoy some wines that I would have been unable to find in Australia.  Obviously, many of them were Canadian, but Canada imports wines I don’t come across at wine merchants Down Under.  Today’s wine is from the United States, Willamette Valley in Oregon to be more specific, and it’s the Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009.

While the first vines in Oregon were planted in the 1840s, production was suspended in 1919 with Prohibition and commercial wine grape planting only resumed in the 1960s.  Pinot Noir was an early favourite, paired with the cool climate and long growing season, and the 1970s saw an influx of winemakers from California as the industry grew.  In a tasting reminiscent of the Judgement of Paris in 1976, an Oregon Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards placed well in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades of 1979, drawing international attention to the state.

Other than popping down to Portland to see bands, the entirety of my experience with Oregon consists of a drive from south to north through the western half of the state when I moved from San Francisco to Seattle.  While I didn’t realize it at the time, over the course of two hours in August of 1997, I actually drove the entire length of the Willamette Valley, the area that drains into the Willamette River and which hosts a stretch of Interstate 5.  It is essentially the area from slightly south of Eugene to Portland, bounded by the Oregon Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east.

It’s a large American Viticultural Area, established in 1984, though six sub-appellations have been carved out since.  The area as a whole has a cool maritime climate, with the Valley’s western edge being roughly 60km from the Pacific Ocean, though sheltered somewhat by the mountains.  Conditions are generally mild, with cool winters but warm summers, and most of the rainfall being confined to autumn and winter. The area is best understood as a series of hills and valleys, with many favourable instances of east and south facing slopes, rather than as a single uninterrupted valley between the mountain ranges.  Soils are a mix of clay and loams, often with a reddish tinge from iron content.  Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the champion grapes of the region, though there are plantings across a wide range of varieties including Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Trisaetum was founded in 2003 by Andrea and James Frey and takes its name from their two children, Tristen and Tatum. Their initial vineyard in the sub-appellation Yamhill-Carlton District AVA  was planted in 2005 with Pinot Noir and Riesling by the couple on the site of a former cattle ranch, and has a volcanic component of basalt.  Their second vineyard was planted a few years later, within the Ribbon Ridge AVA, also with Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Their winery was purpose-built at the Ribbon Ridge site, and features a mix of traditional and modern facilities.  It has its own cold room for initially chilling grapes prior to destemming, an extensive fruit sorting facility which allows hand selection of not just bunches but individual berries, and multilevel winemaking which allows the barrel cellar to be gravity fed from the tanks above, reducing the amount of pumping required.  The winery also contains a gallery featuring the work of James Frey, which ranges from abstract painting and photography to sculpture, and features on the labels of some Pinot Noir bottlings.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium minus ruby colour.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet herbs, black cherries and dark chocolate.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus intensity, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body and medium plus length.  There are notes of black cherries, dark chocolate, black pepper, and savoury herbs.

This is a very good wine.  It has intensity throughout though is still well balanced.  It has some complexity, though I would expect more with an additional year or two of cellaring.  It’s certainly a New World style – very approachable at three years old and the cherry flavours have a fruit sweetness (not residual sugar) – but with the right amount of herbaceousness.  I must admit that it was consumed under favourable circumstances – sharing a fine meal with good friends – but given a choice that’s how I would prefer to drink most wines.

Eggcentric Winemaking

There was some buzz last month when Champagne Drappier announced it would be the first house in the region to produce wine in an egg-shaped oak fermenter from Taransaud costing roughly €30,000.  Wine can be fermented in many different types of vessels, from tanks, barrels and amphora to vats of wood, concrete or plastic, with a multitude of other options in between.  The decision as to which vessel can be down to the style of the wine being made, budget, or even just materials at hand.  In some cases the choice is evident in the finished wine.  Barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc is a very different beast from the same variety tank fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel.

So what would motivate a producer to use an expensive, egg-shaped fermenter?  According to Michel Drappier, “The ‘egg’ proportions represent the Golden Number,” referring to a mathematical ratio evident in a regular pentagon which can be aesthetically pleasing in design but which is thought by some to have deeper, mystical significance.  (There’s a nice animation of this from Nomblot who came up with one of the earliest egg wine vessels, made of concrete.)  Taransaud apparently feel the same, and they mount their oak egg-shaped fermenter on a pentagonal platform to emphasize the connection between its shape and the golden ratio.

What numerology has to do with fermenting wine is less clear, so perhaps we should turn our attention to what science has to say about why eggs are egg-shaped.  Not all eggs are asymmetric tapered ovals which may or may not have come before the chicken. Eggs are often round, as is the case for many reptiles and fish, because a sphere is geometrically the strongest shape for a structure.  A variation on the sphere, bird eggs are tapered for a several reasons.  The more oval an egg, the less distance it will roll, and birds who nest on cliffs where rolling eggs are the most at risk have the most tapered eggs.  A clutch of such eggs also fits snugly in a nest, allowing them to share warmth, and a tapered shape is more easily pushed through a cloaca by a laying hen.

If we apply what science tells us about egg shapes to winemaking, it’s clear that there are some advantages.  If, for instance, the cellarhands at Drappier are especially clumsy, an egg-shaped fermenter has a better chance than most of not breaking when they drop it.  Furthermore, if the pentagonal platform proves especially confounding for a forklift driver, the fermenter shouldn’t roll too far when it gets knocked over.  Unfortunately the platform frustrates the notion of tightly packing multiple fermenters for warmth – a hexagon, as found in honeycombs, would have been ideal – and I don’t think it’s worth considering how the mechanics of egg laying might be utilized in wine production.

Does that mean egg-shaped fermenters have no advantage beyond insurance against clumsiness?  There’s actually a middle ground which I think is very well explained by Darryl Brooker, the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery, whose Ehrenfelser I covered last week.  He’s recently invested somewhere between €3000 and €5000 in a concrete version from Nomblot and as he puts it, “it’s a really cool shape and people just love to see it, but more importantly it makes really great wine.”

The fact that it’s a cool shape needs no explanation but he does say a bit more about winemaking.  As wine ferments, there is natural circulation of the liquid, and to a lesser extent any solids (lees), as carbon dioxide rises to the surface.  The continuously curved interior of the egg-shape allows the contents to flow freely, keeping lees in suspension (as opposed to settling on a flat bottom), giving the finished wine greater texture and mouthfeel.

While certainly a desirable quality in some wines, it must be said that lees stirring (bâtonage, if you prefer the French term) has been practised for centuries to achieve similar results.  So if you factor out the numerology, you are left with a cool shape, some automatic lees stirring, and protection against clumsy cellarhands.  Hardly the greatest innovation in winemaking this century, but absolutely the most entertaining when painted at Easter.