Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

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Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011

A local wine bar sometimes pours a bottle or two of special wine by the glass on Sunday evenings.  While I missed this particular Sunday session, there was still some available when I next visited, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to taste this wine, the Bainbridge and Cathcart Cuvée Rouge aux Lèvres 2011.

So yes, it’s a new grape, pushing me that little bit closer to a Century of Wines.  Today’s variety is Grolleau Noir, a dark grape of the Loire Valley, found in the rosé and sparkling wines of Anjou, Touraine and Saumur.  It buds early and ripens midway through vintage, just after Gamay Noir.  It is known for high yields and is made into light bodied wine with high acidity.  While at one time it was widely planted, there was a significant decrease in the area under vine in the second half of the 20th century, though that trend seems to have slowed of late.  I can’t find any indication of this variety being planted outside of France, or indeed even outside of the Loire.  Curiously though, Wine Grapes says that it is known as Bourdalès in Madiran, quite some ways from the Loire, but doesn’t mention it being planted there.

Apologies for the especially poor quality of the photo, including the semi-detached nature of the label, but there is some detail that I hope you can make out.  This wine is neither rosé nor sparkling.  Grolleau Noir is not a permitted grape in red wines under the appellation rules of the Loire Valley, which should explain another detail visible in the photo, that this is a Vin de France.  When I was initially learning about the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system within France, I thought it was too restrictive in terms of not allowing for innovation or experimentation.  Since then I like to think that my opinion has become somewhat more nuanced.  Producers within France are in fact innovating and experimenting, some within classic wine producing regions.  However, in doing so they often have to give up the right to claim themselves as part of a particular appellation, and instead can only describe themselves as Vin de Pays or Vin de France.  Given that many French appellations have long established reputations, I think it’s a reasonable trade-off in terms of allowing winemakers to do what they want, while protecting the brands of appellations.

So what we have here is a grape that’s increasingly rare where it originates and unknown elsewhere, made into a varietal wine contrary to the appellation rules, sent to the far side of the world and into the glass of someone on a quest to taste 100 different varietal wines. I hope you can see why I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to taste it.  To top it off, one of the local names for the variety, Groslot, translates to jackpot.  It’s as though they made this wine just for me.

This wine is the work of Toby and Julie Bainbridge.  Toby, originally from England, and Julie, a native of Oklahoma, have been in France for 11 years, and have been working with Domain Mosse for most of it.  In 2007, with the help of Ali and Rob Cathcart, they branched out to make their own wines on the side.  They have 4.2HA of vines spread between Faye D’Anjou and Chavagnes les Eaux, roughly 18km south by south east of Angers in the Anjou and Saumur region of the Loire Valley, and I believe as of last year they’ve been able to give up their day jobs to focus on their own label.

It appears their vines are staked, or at the very least not trained on wires.  There is some tilling by tractor, and they acquired a sprayer last year, but I would bet that most of the work in the vineyard is done by hand.  They hand pick their grapes into buckets and small tubs, and use a traditional basket press.  They grow Groslot (Grolleau Noir), Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and make varietal wines of each.  They also apparently have an unfiltered, rosé, sparkling project, La Danseuse, from the 2012 vintage that was in riddling racks as of a few months ago, but I haven’t been able to dig up any further details.

Bainbridge and Cathcart don’t have a website as such, which is why there is no link in the first paragraph, but they do have a Facebook page with some photos and information in which they describe themselves as a natural winery.  I’ve written on the topic of natural wine before, so I don’t need to get into it again here.  Regardless of what I think of the term “natural”, I wholeheartedly support experimentation and innovation, which is clearly happening at Bainbridge and Cathcart.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any details as to their winemaking, so there’s some speculation in this paragraph.  They put their wine under crown cap in clear bottles typically used for sparkling wine, and there is some CO2 in the bottle that one of their distributors describes as “a preservative”.  The COcould in fact be added but I would think it’s more likely from being bottled unfiltered before fermentation is complete.  The label also indicates sulfites, but some are naturally occurring during fermentation, so I can’t say if they add sulphur at bottling.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity, and peppery notes as well as brambles, plums, and red currants.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus mouth coating tannins, medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of plum – some red and some green – as well as pepper, and a bit of stem, but the fruit is very fresh.  There are also some violet notes on the finish.

I rate this wine as very good.  It has a fair amount of concentration, and the combination of the tannins and acidity make me think of the bite of unsweetened cranberry juice (which is not to say that it tastes of cranberries, if that makes sense).  The complexity of flavours is good as far as not just fruit but some lively spice as well.  I can’t really speak to its typicity as this is my first encounter with Grolleau Noir.  It reminds me a bit of Cabernet Franc, largely because of the stem notes, but it’s clearly a different variety.  I enjoyed this wine slightly chilled on a warm day and it absolutely hit the spot.

Pin in the map is only accurate to the town/postcode level.

Approaching a Wine Century

Wine Century Essential - De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Chart

Wine Century Essential – De Long’s Wine Grape Varietal Chart

I’m creeping up towards my goal of 100 varietal wines from 100 different varieties, and it’s worth a post on its own, largely because I never really explained it in the first place.  So to start, what is this Wine Century that I keep going on about?

Wine is made from grapes, and while the vast majority of quality wine is made from one species called Vitis vinifera, within that species there are varieties such as Syrah and Chardonnay that have their own unique properties.  It’s a bit like breeds of dogs – most domesticated dogs are Canis lupus familiaris but within that species (sub-species to be more accurate) we have Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters and hundreds of other breeds.  So roughly speaking, varieties are to grapes as breeds are to dogs.

If you drink wine, you quickly become familiar with the names of the more popular varieties, particularly if you drink New World wine where the grapes are commonly found prominently displayed on the front label.  If you study wine, you get to know even more varieties as you learn about increasingly obscure regions and grapes.

In 2005, Deborah and Steve De Long came up with an idea to promote lesser known grape varieties, and what resulted is The Wine Century Club.  You can apply for membership by listing 100 grapes you’ve tasted, along with the wines in which they were found.  There are subsequent levels of membership if you taste 200, 300, and so on.  It’s free, and is essentially bragging rights for wine geeks.  The De Longs are also responsible for the Wine Grape Varietal Table which I love, as well as some excellent maps.

So I’m attempting to join that club and I am finding it an interesting challenge.  On the one hand, it should be easy, given that Wine Grapes profiles 1,368 different grapes being used in commercial wine production.  In Australia alone, Vinodiversity lists over 100, so in theory I wouldn’t even have to leave the country.  Easy, right?

First off, there are a small number of varieties that dominate wine production.  If I head to my local wine merchant here in Adelaide, there’s no end of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, but if I want a bottle of Carignan, I have to dig substantially deeper.  Second, it’s not always clear which grapes are in a wine.  Most European wines don’t list grape varieties on the label, requiring some online research (or the type of expert knowledge you get while studying for the WSET Diploma).  Finally, most grapes are known by more than one name, so you can’t list both Frontignac and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains because they’re the same grape.  Still, if you drink enough wine and keep track, it shouldn’t be too difficult to eventually hit a century, right?

If you just want to tick boxes, sure.  Last year I enjoyed a Prosecco which I had assumed was made exclusively of that grape.  It turns out it also contained small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bianchetta, Perera and Verdiso, which means in one bottle I picked up six grapes.  Between that bottle, a classic red Bordeaux blend, and a bottle of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape which can contain up to 18 grapes, I could be up to 30 grapes tasted in three bottles.  While only a handful are commonly used, scores of grapes are permitted in Port.  There’s even a wine from Mario Giribaldi called Cento Uve which contains over 150 different grapes, and so in theory you could do a century and a half with a single sip (were it not explicitly forbidden).

However, this site is about wine education, primarily my self education as I document my drinking.  In this context, listing a grape as part of a century should mean that I’ve tasted it, I’ve researched it, and that I know more about it than I did before I encountered it.  However, I’m not comfortable describing how a grape tastes if I’ve only had it in a blend.  Despite it having been a component of the Prosecco from last year, I couldn’t give you a tasting note for Verdiso, or really tell you anything about it.  So for my first Wine Century, I am only going to list varietal wines.  That makes it more difficult, but not impossible.  Does that make it better than doing a normal Wine Century?  No, just different, and if I go for 200 I’ll certainly start to count grapes tasted in blends.  For now though, there are two main complications with this extra level of challenge.

First, wines which one might think are varietal can actually be blends.  Labelling laws vary widely across the world, but in many places even when a variety is displayed prominently, it is permitted that some percentage of the wine may be made from other grapes.  I’ve encountered that several times, including a “Gamay” which actually contained some Pinot Noir and a “Carignan” which contained Carmenère and Malbec.  They weren’t labelled that way to mislead, and the websites for the producers had full details, but if you’re looking to stick to varietal wines, it can be frustrating.

Second, there are some grape varieties which, while common in blends, are less frequently found as varietal wines.  Pinot Meunier is a classic example, in that it’s very often found in Champagne, but typically alongside Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir.  Also, since it’s not considered as noble as those two grapes, if a Champagne producer made a varietal Pinot Meunier, they might be hesitant to draw attention to that fact..

So that’s what I’m trying to do now – a Century of Wines, all varietal.  I haven’t quite hit 80, and I have every confidence I’ll finish 100 before the year is half through.  I had been planning on a second part to this post regarding the practicalities of tracking 100 grapes, but really it’s down to keeping good records as to what you’ve been drinking, researching the wine in question to verify which grapes are in it, and being adventurous as to what wines you drink.  You may find you have to go out of your way once you get past 50 or 60 varieties, but making use of things like the Wine Grapes Varietal Table and Vinodiversity are great for finding less common grapes.  Finally, forming a tasting group with other people interested in doing the same thing can make it not only easier, but more sociable and entertaining.

Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

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Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012

The only rules for this site are the ones I set, and they’re to do with the wines featured.  I pick the wines, I pay for them, and I drink them.   The Czar from was given to me by The Vinsomniac, but in truth it was a fair swap for what I thought was an interesting bottle that I sent his way.  I was not obligated to do so, but I decided to write about it because it was interesting.  Today’s wine is the result of another swap, whereby I passed along a bottle of a favourite South African wine and was more than repaid with some extremely interesting wine from a local producer.  And again, while I’m under no obligation to write about this wine, I can’t help myself because it is so interesting.  With that, I give you this Hahndorf Hill Winery Zsa Zsa Zweigelt Rosé 2012.

Hahndorf Hill Winery is based in the Adelaide Hills and has made a name for itself with some alternative varieties, as well as quality wines from more conventional grapes.  There were Blaufränkisch vines growing when Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson took over the property, and they embraced the Austrian theme by planting Grüner Veltliner.  For more details, see the write-up of their Shiraz 2007 from last year.  The rule on this site is that I only write about a given producer once in a year, but I’m pleased that with the New Year I can now revisit some of my favourites.

I wrote a bit about Zweigelt last January and I’m pleased to have another look at the grape.  Even with varieties I’ve tasted before, I’ve recently had a bit more to say about them with the release of Wine Grapes.  Rare varieties are of particular interest to me, and as I’ve looked up grapes such as Ondenc and Petit Meslier, invariably in the entry will be listed the one or two producers in Australia.  As of right now, the entry for Zweigelt needs to be updated, as this wine is the first vintage of the first Zweigelt vines in Australia.

Zweigelt is primarily associated with Austria, where it is the most widely planted red grape.  It is a German crossing, which I wrote about with respect to the CedarCreek Ehrenfelser.  It originated in 1922, the offspring of Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent.  In addition to the plantings I mentioned previously in Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan, it’s also found in eastern Europe and British Columbia.  One of its synonyms is Rotburger, but it shouldn’t be confused with Rotberger, another German crossing but unrelated.

First vintages are tricky, as it’s difficult to know what to expect.  Zweigelt is typically used in Austria in the production of robust reds.  However, given the uncertain nature of first vintages, making a rosé instead may have been a canny move rather than ending up with a red wine that didn’t live up to varietal expectations.  The grapes for this wine were grown on Shiraz vines that were grafted over with Zweigelt, though with clippings now available there’s potential for fresh plantings as well.  I hope they will produce a red wine in the future.

The Adelaide Hills region is well known to readers of this blog, and now having covered the grape and producer, it’s time to take a look at the wine in the glass.

This wine is clear and bright, with a medium pink colour and a fairly viscous film inside the glass when swirled, but it didn’t really break into legs.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of red cherries, plums, red currants, a little white pepper, and a hint of beeswax.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus intensity, no noticeable tannins, and a medium plus length.  There are notes of black cherries, a little lemon, strawberries, and some white pepper on the finish.

This is a very good wine.  It’s young and fruity, but it’s not sweet and there are some notes of zest and spice.  It’s nicely balanced in terms of acidity, intensity and alcohol, with a fairly high level of concentration.  It seems slightly warmer than the 13% ABV on the label, but there is some leeway allowed.  There’s good typicity in terms of the fruit profile, and it’s light on the palate as befits a young rosé.  Finally, while it’s certainly good to observe a wine’s colour, it isn’t usually something that I care about one way or the other, but it has to be said that it is an especially pleasing shade of pink.

Finally, the disclaimers:  First, I did receive this wine as part of a swap, but I came out ahead by at least a bottle.  That said, it’s not a sample – more that I encountered generosity that would have been rude to refuse.  Second, Larry Jacobs and Marc Dobson are two charming gentlemen I hold in high regard.  While I won’t write about wines from my employer or my wife’s employer, it would be silly not to write about a wine just because I know and like the people who made it.  To sum it up, I’m writing about a bottle which came into my possession under very favourable terms and was produced by people I like.  However, I’m writing about this wine under no obligation, and my assessment of the wine is based on what’s in the glass, not my relationship with the producers.

Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

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Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

Wines by KT Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011

If you have a look through the list of grapes I’ve encountered on this blog, I’ve managed to find most of them as varietal wines.  It’s not that I don’t like blends – many of the great wines of the world are made up of more than one grape, and within the Old World most regions are dominated by blends.  However, this site has an emphasis on wine education, and I think the best way appreciate how a grape contributes to a blend is to first be able to identify it on its own.  More on that topic in the coming week or two, but for now we have before us Wines by KT’s Tinta by KT Tempranillo 2011.

This is the fourth Tempranillo to grace these pages, but only the first time it’s appeared as a varietal wine.  That might seem a bit strange, since it’s a well known variety, and in fact the classic red grape of Spain.  The reason is that within Spain it is commonly found as part of a blend.  For instance, within red wines of Rioja it is typically the major component with smaller portions of Grenache, Carignan and/or Graciano.

It is planted widely throughout Spain, under many synonyms.  There are considerable plantings in Portugal, under the name Tinta Roriz, where it is used in table wine as well as Port.  There are a small number of plantings in the south of France, largely in the Languedoc.  Officially within Italy there are no plantings, but DNA profiling has shown that some vines called Malvasia Nera are in fact identical to Tempranillo.  There are plantings in North America from a few vines in British Columbia, Canada down through the West Coast of the USA, as well as Texas and Mexico.  Considerable plantings exist in Argentina, though there is very little of it in Chile.  Its popularity is on the rise in Australia, though in New Zealand it’s unclear if the grape will take off from its small start.

Tempranillo itself is a fairly productive vine, producing darkly coloured berries with thick skin, in medium to large sized, though compact, bunches.  It buds and ripens early, and does better in dry climates than most.  As with many varieties, lower cropping levels result in higher quality colour and flavour, as well as acidity.  It can have relatively low alcohol, particularly with respect to it’s traditional Spanish blending partners.

Wines by KT is the label of Kerri Thompson, who graduated from Roseworthy in 1993.  Since then she has worked as a winemaker in Tuscany and Beaujolais, as well as in South Australia, most notably leading at Leasingham.  She and viticulturalist Steve Farrugia partnered on a label, KT and the Falcon, with a number of wines out of the Clare Valley.  While only her name is on the current label, she has worked closely with viticulturalist Bunny Peglidis who tends Riesling vines in Watervale.  In addition to producing her own wines, she is the winemaker at Crabtree.  At present she makes four Rieslings, two of named vineyards.  She also produces varietal Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and this Tempranillo, as well as a Shiraz / Grenache / Tempranillo / Mataro red blend, and a Tempranillo / Monastrell rosé.

Normally I try to say a word or two about the wine’s region, but this wine does not explicitly list an origin other than Australia.  Wines by KT is based in Clare, and while their website appears to be under construction, it’s a fair guess that most or all of the grapes came from there.  I’ve written about the Clare Valley before, so for more information it’s worth looking at the write up of Pikes Clare Riesling.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium plus purple colour – not deep purple but “grape juice of my youth” purple.  It shows thick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and just starting to show some development, with medium minus intensity, and notes of dried red fruit, cranberries, potpourri, and a bit of dust.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium alcohol, medium mouth coating tannins, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of cranberry, dried simple red fruit, pomegranate, and a bit of cola.

This is a good wine, very much made in a young style.  When I tastes wines made from Tempranillo, the main note I tend to pick up is that the fruit always comes across as a bit dried.  I don’t know if anyone else gets that as a rule, but for me it’s the tell if I’m tasting blind that there might be a Tempranillo in front of me.  In that regard, this wine has good varietal typicity, at least for my palate.  While the alcohol was medium, I think some more of it might have given the wine a bit more body, but for having worked the 2011 vintage in South Australia, I think this one turned out pretty well.  There wasn’t a huge amount of complexity, but at least as much as you would expect from such a young wine.  And most of all, I’m pleased to add another variety to the century list.

Birthday Wines!

So hey, it’s my birthday!  My age is something of a private matter, but let’s just say that even though it wasn’t declared vintage, Port from the year of my birth is drinking nicely right about now.  It was a great year in Champagne and Burgundy, but the Bordeaux vintage was ruined by rain during the harvest.  Given that I’d take a good Pinot Noir or Chardonnay over a Bordeaux blend most days, I’m fine with that.

For some people, birthdays are about looking back over the years, taking stock and being grateful.  For the less mature, such as myself, it’s about getting presents, and I’m especially pleased the gifts from my wife.  Thanks to her, I am now in possession of varietal wines of Ondenc, Petit Meslier, Pinot Meunier, and Clairette.  I’ll give you all the details when we open them up and I write about them, but I haven’t had such a haul since I found a half dozen new varietal wines in Vancouver in September.  I also have Vinodiversity and Wine Grapes to thank, as these wines all feature in both, and I look forward to telling you all about them.

Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

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Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Some friends who run a local wine bar have been in South Africa on holiday over the last few weeks.  While I’m jealous, I’m also glad they took the trip because I have high hopes they’ll bring back with them tales of interesting wines and with any luck they will have arranged for some to feature in their establishment.  So while I was in Adelaide over the holidays, I was thinking of South Africa and drinking this Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006.

As much as I would love to cover a new grape and a new region with every post, my access to the world of wine is limited by what I can readily source.  For wines of South Australia, most everything just requires a trip to a bottle shop or a cellar door, but for the rest of the world I am limited by what is imported.  Those wines tend to be European and from the most sought after regions / producers, which means if I want a First Growth Bordeaux I just need to find the money, but if I want a Pinot Gris from Oregon I’m out of luck.  Fortunately I’ve been able to bring back a few bottles from my travels, though they only cover the areas I’ve visited.  This is just a roundabout way of saying that instead of some new grape variety and unexplored area of the world, it’s another Pinot Noir from Elgin, not so unlike the Ross Gower Cap Classique I wrote about this time last year.

Obviously this is not the same producer nor the same style of wine, but since it’s been a year some recap of Elgin probably wouldn’t go amiss.  It’s a region of the Western Cape roughly 70km east by south east from Cape Town, midway between the wine centres of Stellenbosch and Hermanus.  It’s among the coolest regions of South Africa, a plateau at 300m bordered by mountains.  The climate is cool, with both altitude and relative proximity to the ocean (approximately 20km to the west and south) being factors.  Winters are cold and harvests can be more than a month after warmer regions of the Cape.  I originally described the soil as shale, which does serve as a base for the region as a whole.  More specifically it’s often covered with a layer of sandstone gravel or clay, sometimes both.  And as I’ve said before, baboons are a hazard in the vineyard, particularly when grapes are ripe or nearly so.

As of this post, four out of the ten wines of South Africa I’ve covered have been made in whole or part of Pinot Noir, and so one could be forgiven for concluding that it’s a popular grape in the country.  However, while the plantings have almost doubled between 2000 and 2010 to nearly 1000HA, it’s still a relative drop in the bucket compared to the 18,000HA of Chenin Blanc, 12,000HA of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12,000HA of Colombar.  In fact, Pinot Noir ranks 13th in the league table of plantings, though its percentage growth over that period is rivalled only by Syrah which saw a near doubling of plantings from 5,600HA to just over 10,000HA.  So while Pinot Noir is an increasingly important grape for South Africa’s cooler regions, it is perhaps over-represented on these pages because of my personal preferences.

The Oak Valley Estate was founded in 1898 by Antonie Viljoen.  He was likely one of the descendants of François Villion, a French Huguenot, who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1671 and married Cornelia Campenaar of Middelburg, Holland.  Viljoen studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and was a medical officer in the Boer army, but was captured by the British and detained at Oak Valley for the duration of the Second Boer War.  He was subsequently knighted for his work at post-war reconciliation.  He oversaw the planting of the first commercial orchards in the region, the precursor of the apple industry which is now the foundation of the region’s economy.  He also started the first winery in 1908, though it was only in use through the 1940s.  The estate is now managed by Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen.

Oak Valley is unique among the producers we’ve covered in that wine is not their only business.  Wineries which also distil spirits, press olive oil, or sell branded merchandise are not uncommon, but Oak Valley as a business is at least as concerned with apple and pear orchards, greenhouse flowers and beef cattle as it is with wine.  The vineyards as they stand today date back only to 1985, and their first vintage was 2003.  The lion’s share of their plantings are Sauvignon Blanc, with much smaller amounts of Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and fewer still plantings of another half dozen varieties.  While grapes are estate grown, space is currently rented at a neighbouring winery for production.  Wines currently produced include varietal Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and this Pinot Noir, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend and a Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Blend.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright with medium minus garnet colour and quick, thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of sweet red cherries, pomegranate, dark chocolate and sweet spice, along with a little Pinot funk.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol and medium plus length.  There are notes of red cherries, cranberries, pomegranate, dark chocolate, a hint of iodine, and some saltiness or blood on the finish.  (Either that or my mouth is bleeding from something completely unrelated.)

This is an excellent wine.  I don’t break out the excellent rating often, despite trying to drink the best wines I can afford, but this one certainly earns it.  The flavour profile shines  - the fruit, while distinct and still fresh, does not constitute a bomb by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s fairly soft in its fruit intensity, allowing the chocolate to come through, rounded out with the interesting finish.  Everything is supremely well balanced.  What I find even more surprising, and which I didn’t know when I wrote my tasting note and quality assessment, is that this is a relatively recent venture.  Even though the estate has over a hundred years of agricultural history, I believe this is only the second Pinot Noir they produced, from vines that were only five years old at the time.  I can only hope that my friends managed to bring more Oak Valley wine back with them from their trip.

Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

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Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012

Today’s wine was a gift from a fellow wine writer, Stuart over at The Vinsomniac  It’s very much a curiosity, and while there are some things that can be determined from the bottle and the producer’s website, writing up this wine has left me with more questions than answers. If answers are found subsequently, I’ll certainly update this post.  And with that puzzling introduction, I give you Ridgemill Estate The Czar Saperavi 2012.

This wine is produced and bottled in Severnlea, which puts it in the Granite Belt wine region in Queensland, Australia.  For those not familiar with this country, Queensland is the state in the north east corner and is home to Brisbane, Cairns, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, and the Great Barrier Reef.  It’s the tourists’ image of Australia, with kangaroos hopping along the beach, and it’s not an image that lines up well with growing grapes for wine.

Obviously it’s much more than just that, and while there are certainly lovely beaches, it’s a big place.  To put it into perspective, it’s not just bigger than California – you can throw in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado and it’s still bigger.  Or if you prefer, it’s bigger than France, Spain, the UK, Ireland and Portugal combined.  Across the expanse of such a large area, there’s bound to be climate and soils appropriate for viticulture, which brings us to the Granite Belt.

Located in the south east of Queensland, centred on an area roughly 160km in from the coast, the Granite Belt has the coolest climate in the state, largely due to its elevation of 450m to 900m (with 810m being the average), though being nestled along the southern border helps as well.  It is the textbook definition of a continental climate with warm summers and cold winters.  Snow in the winter, while not common, is not unknown.

There are two main soil types – a brownish-grey speckled soil well suited to vines, and a sandy, granitic grey-black soil which is less so, both supported by deep clay.  Drainage is good, which is to say water retention is bad, and so irrigation is often essential.  Hazards include spring frosts and rain at vintage, though both can be mitigated with thoughtful site selection.

I started to write that the Granite Belt is a fairly young region, as James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia dates the first wine grapes as having been planted in 1965.  However,  Granite Belt Wine & Tourism claims vines were first cultivated by an Italian Catholic priest in the 19th century and cites vineyards and wineries dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.  As a region, it is known for small producers making boutique quality wines, though some of its appeal is certainly wine tourism with easy access from Brisbane.  It’s also home to a number of interesting grape varieties, which are highlighted through the Strange Bird Alternative Wine Trail, co-founded by the Ridgemill Estate winemaker.

I’ve written about Saperavi twice before, with the Hugh Hamiliton Oddball of McLaren Vale, Australia and the Taliani Valley of Napareuli, Georgia, so I think it’s time to move on to the producer.

What is now Ridgemill Estate got its start as vineyards under the name Emerald Hill in 1998 with plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay.  Tempranillo followed two years later, and in 2004 the property was purchased by the current owner, Martin Cooper who set about making some changes.  He hired Peter McGlashan as  winemaker and manager, rebranded the estate as Ridgemill, established cabins in the vineyards for wine tourism, and expanded plantings to include Saperavi, Verdelho and Viognier.  The current line up of wines includes varietal Chardonnay, Verdelho and Shiraz, blends of Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot, and Monastrell / Tempranillo, as well as a Merlot rosé.  They also produce a sweet white wine, two fortified wines and a traditional method sparkling wine.  Apparently they also have plantings of Jacquez, which is banned in France.  How cool is that?

None of that is exceptionally out of the ordinary (except for the Jacquez), so what has left me scratching my head so much?  Primarily that the back label of this wine says that 60 bottles were produced, unfined and unfiltered.  Sixty bottles, five cases, or 45 litres of wine.  It’s an impossibly small amount, and I say that having worked three vintages with a winery that is effectively a one man band.  Saperavi is a reasonably productive grape, and as the vines were planted in 2006 I have a difficult time imagining their harvest only came to 60 bottles.  Then again, since this was released the same year it was produced, perhaps there is a 2012 reserve that will be released after further maturation.  Or maybe they sold off a portion of the harvest to another winemaker.

If there is no reserve 2012, then there’s the question of how you go about making 60 bottles of a wine.  Of the equipment I’ve used in a small winery, most would be overkill for such a small batch.  It would take more time to clean a destemmer than it would to process the grapes, and that applies to the crusher as well.  I can well imagine a very small kvevri, possibly a repurposed earthenware planter, as a fermenter, and as for pressing, I have seen some pretty small basket presses, but still.  This wine is unlikely to have seen the inside of a barrel, because except for tiny barrels for storing fortified wine at home, such small volumes are not easy to accommodate – a standard barrique would only be 20% full with 45 litres.  Bottling and labelling would almost certainly have to have been done by hand as the overhead cost of getting a bottling line running would be prohibitive.

All of that is pure speculation based on the label, so perhaps it’s time to have a look at the wine itself.  In the glass it’s clear and bright with a medium minus purple colour and quick, thick legs.  Interesting colour – in my experience if a wine is purple, it’s also fairly dark.  This one, while certainly purple, is not so dark at all.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium plus intensity and notes of mulberry, some peppery character, blackberry, plums, a little soda pop and a hint of perfume.  On the palate it’s dry with medium body, medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium intensity, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  It started out quite candied with notes of cherry and bubble gum.  It developed somewhat in the glass, and other berries emerged, as did some chocolate and a bit of black pepper.  However, the fruit was still very candied – something from a sweets shop instead of a green grocer.

I don’t know what to make of this wine.  While I’m not an expert on Saperavi, I’ve had a few and this is nothing like those.  The colour, while purple, is not nearly as dark as I would have expected, particularly since Saperavi means “dye” in Georgian and is a teinturier, meaning its juice is coloured instead of clear.  The spectrum of berry flavours is fine, but the bubble gum and candied notes suggest carbonic maceration, which is certainly a possibility, particularly if whole bunches were used.  While I like a little of that in Gamay and some Point Noirs, I’m not sure how I feel about it in heavier reds like Saperavi.

Really though, I can’t properly assess the quality of this wine because it was a gift.  I generally don’t accept samples for review, and even though this wasn’t sent from the actual producer, I’ll keep my conclusion to myself.  However, I couldn’t resist the chance to write about a new (for me) wine region and a producer who is clearly innovating with interesting varieties.

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

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Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007

My modest collection of wine includes a dozen or so bottles of what I hope will prove to be excellent wines of Mendoza, largely Malbec varietal wines or Malbec dominated blends.  I had a look through my cellar again this week but since my wife won’t be drinking for another month at least, those wines will have to wait.  Instead I pulled out a wine I somehow managed to overlook previously, this Bodega Ruca Malén Yauquén Chardonnay 2007.

I think it’s fair to say that when most people think of Mendoza, Malbec is the first grape that comes to mind.  While that’s certainly fair, given the iconic nature of the grape with respect to Argentina, the area is much more diversely planted that one might expect.  There are vast tracks of Criolla Grande and Cereza, but they are used largely for cheap, bulk wine and grape concentrate, and as varieties unlikely to be named on a label of wine for export.  In terms of grapes for quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot perform well, both as a varietals and in blends with Malbec, and as we saw with the Aglianico from Familia Zuccardi, there are many lesser known red grapes on the rise.  Given the excellent red wines of the region, it’s easy to forget that white grapes are grown in Mendoza, and not just the Argentine favourite Torrontés.  Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and even Ugni Blanc are all cultivated.

As this is the 16th wine I’ve covered made up completely or in part of Chardonnay, I should by now have said all I can say about the grape.  However, with Wine Grapes close at hand, it’s worth another look.  First off, this, like the recently covered Auxerrois, Melon, Gamay Noir and Romorantin it is the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Pinot.  While I’ve written about Chardonnay grown in a half dozen different countries, Wine Grapes lists 42 countries, but concludes that it’s also grown “virtually everywhere else in the world that claims a wine industry.”

Another topic worth a quick word is that of clones.  We’ve discussed crossings as offspring of two different parent varieties and hybrids as offspring of two different species of grape (usually one Vitis vinifera).  Clones are vines of the same variety which have built up an accumulation of genetic differences over the course of generations being propagated through clippings.  There are 28 clones permitted in Burgundy, often known collectively as Dijon clones.  The most widely planted Chardonnay clone in Australia is believed to be I10V1, developed at UC Davis and imported into Australia in 1969.  It has tighter bunches than Dijon clones and can show more tropical fruit, but is waning somewhat in popularity as it is thought by some not to have the ability to age as well.

One clone that is growing in popularity is the Gin Gin (or sometimes Gingin) clone. It was brought into Western Australia by Houghton Wines in 1957 and named after a local town, though its origin prior to that is unclear.  The fact that outside of Western Australia is it more commonly known as the Mendoza clone has resulted in obvious speculation it came from Argentina, though it seems extremely unlikely that an Australian viticulturist would turn to South America, rather than Europe or California, for vines.  The OCW suggests, in the millerandage entry, that the Mendoza clone was developed at UC Davis and is also known as 1A but I can’t find any corroboration and it’s not mentioned in the more recent Wine Grapes.

While its genesis remains a mystery, at least to me, some winemakers prize its susceptibility to millerandage (hen and chicks), or a mix of berry sizes, which can reduce yields and provide greater concentration.  Also, the smaller “chick” berries have higher acidity and higher skin to juice ratios.  It remains popular in Western Australia, in the Margaret River in particular, and recently By Jingo! released an eponymous Mendoza Chardonnay out of Southern Fleurieu in South Australia.

Speaking of this wine, it is produced by Bodega Ruca Malén.  While the company’s name is based on a native legend, it was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud, formerly of the Argentinian branch of Moët et Chandon, and Jacques Louis de Montalembert of Burgundy. In this Yauquén range they also produce a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend of the two.  In their Ruca Malén line they produce varietal still wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay, as well as a sparkling Pinot Noir / Chardonnay blend.  Their Kinien line is made up of varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, as well as their flagship wine, the de Don Raúl, which is a Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petit Verdot blend.

This grapes for this Chardonnay from the Yauquén line are hand harvested, pass through bunch selection and then whole bunch pressing before temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks.  It has not undergone malolactic fermentation.  And while this wine is a Chardonnay from Mendoza, I don’t actually have details as to the clone(s) used, so it could be made from Dijon or UC Davis clones.  Given the French origin of the founders, my money would be on Burgundy, but my tasting skills are not so expert that I can tell by what’s in the glass.

Speaking of which, in the glass this wine is clear and bright, with medium lemon colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon curd, mushrooms, grapefruit, and hints of oak (though this wine was bottled without seeing the inside of a barrel).  The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus flavour intensity and medium length.  There are notes of grapefruit, quince, lemon, mushroom, and a hint of mint with a slightly candied lime finish.

This is a good wine.  While it’s still developing, I think I’ve left it too long.  Based on the steel treatment and lack of malolactic fermentation I suspect it would have been better fresh.  It hasn’t fallen apart, though, and it’s certainly picked up some complexity.  However, in doing so it’s lost some typicity and has drifted more toward the flavour profile I would expect from an older Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend.

WSET Diploma 2011-2012 Examiners’ Report

WSET Diploma Examiners' Report

WSET Diploma Examiners’ Report

In December the Examiners’ Report covering the 2011-2012 WSET Diploma Exams was published, and while I’m only getting to it now, it makes for interesting reading.  Anyone who will be taking a WSET Diploma exam this year needs to read it, and I mean the entire paper, so I’m not going to summarize the important points.  In terms of passing the exam, knowing what the Examiners want from your answers is as important as knowing the course material.  There are, however, a few things I want to discuss that have to do with neither.

First, the report, and the ones that preceded it, give the pass rates for each exam as a whole as well as for each question, and there are some interesting trends.  First, the good news is that generally pass rates for the Unit 3 exam are going up.  I won’t speculate as to the instruction getting better, the students studying more effectively or the exams getting easier.  It’s more true for the tasting component than the theory, but the overall upward trend is clear.

Overall Pass Rates

Overall Pass Rates

Second, students who take the exam in January have been somehow disadvantaged.  The difference is slight for the tasting, but pronounced for the theory exam.  Since the questions are different for each exam, there will always be variation, but I suspect it’s more to do with the January exam coming on the heels of seasonal festivities.  While many industries get busy over the holidays, those studying wine often work in hospitality (such as sommeliers) and so cannot devote as much time to the course in the weeks leading up to the January exam.  Also, while there are some students who sit the exam for the first time in January, many who fail on their first attempt in June resit the exam in the following January.  I have no data as to pass rates of those resitting an exam, so I can’t even speculate what that does to the January pass rate.

January vs. June Tasting Pass Rates

January vs. June Tasting Pass Rates

January vs. June Theory Pass Rates

January vs. June Theory Pass Rates

Thirdly, while January exams have had a lower pass rate historically for the theory component than the June exam, 2012 was the first year that that trend was reversed.  Since I sat the January exam, my natural reaction would be to take credit for this, but in fact it seems the June students suffered a somewhat harsh exam with a particularly tempting question proving to be deceptively difficult.  Still, January theory pass rates are trending upward at a faster pace then the June rates, so I am hopeful that the playing field will at some point be level regardless of when a student sits the exam.  And if you will be sitting a January exam for Unit 3 next year, keep in mind the extra challenge when making your study plan.

And finally, a very small word on some of the content of the report.  It typically contains selections of answers from student papers, sometimes provided as examples of what examiners expect, but at other times as public humiliation of especially poor efforts (though fortunately without the names of the students in question).  While I am grateful none of my work was so ridiculed, I am suffering a fate nearly as bad, for my wife had one of her essays reproduced as “one of the few better ones” from a question that few dared to attempt (51) and fewer still (13) managed to pass.  It was bad enough to be outperformed on the theory exam, but I fear I will be reminded of this triumph for many years to come.  And yes, I would do the same were our roles reversed.

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

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Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010

Closing in on a century of varietal wines, 76 with this post, it’s starting to be a bit more challenging.  Even though I’ve encountered 98 different grapes, over 20 of them have been only as components in blends.  There are a few that will be relatively easy to find as varietal wines, such as Prosecco and Tempranillo, but others such as Crouchen Blanc and Tibouren are rare enough in blends and nearly impossible to source as varietals.  Today’s wine is a grape that proved more difficult than I had anticipated to find as a varietal, despite it being a relatively common variety.  So I give you the surprisingly rare Morris of Rutherglen Cinsaut (Blue Imperial) 2010.

Whenever I think of Cinsaut I am reminded of the first time I heard it pronounced out loud, which was well after I was familiar with the word on paper.  Unfortunately I was unable to connect how it sounds with the spelling, and came across as something of an idiot as a winemaker told me all about a grape which I had tasted numerous times.  It didn’t help that it can also be spelled Cinsault, and in Australia it can also be known as Blue Imperial or even Black Prince (among many others).

Cinsaut is a red grape of southern France, though there are plantings in the south of Italy going back centuries as well.  It has proven popular in the vineyard for a number of reasons.  First, it does well in heat and under drought conditions, which while generally a good thing, can be an extremely attractive quality in countries or regions where irrigation is not permitted or practical, and goes some way to explain why it is also cultivated in North Africa and Lebanon.  Second, it can produce generous yields of both big bunches and big berries, though there is obviously a trade-off to be maintained between yields and quality.

Outside of the Mediterranean, Cinsault is best known to students of wine as a parent of Pinotage in South Africa, where it was known confusingly as Hermitage.  It was the most widely planted red grape there for decades, only dropping out of the top spot in the 1990s, but not widely appreciated.  There are some plantings of the grape in the USA, particularly on the West Coast in California and Washington, and while not wildly popular within Australia, it is a part of some well respected red blends from Barossa and McLaren Vale.

This is the first wine on this site from Rutherglen.  Being based in South Australia, there’s certainly a local bias against wines from interstate in terms of availability, but Rutherglen has an international reputation and featured prominently in the WSET Diploma, albeit within the section for fortified wine.  Rutherglen is in Victoria, north east of Melbourne, nestled against the border with New South Wales.  It’s a historic region, with a wine industry that dates back to the first half of the 19th century.  The climate is continental with hot summer days but cold nights.  Broadly speaking, there are two main soil types, with a stretch of loam across lower hill slopes being favoured for the production of fortified wines and more widespread sandy soils in which grapes for table wine are grown.  The fortified wines of Rutherglen deserve their own article, so I will save discussion of them for when I have one in front of me.  The table wines though are typically big and red, with Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon being most widely planted for table wines.  Muscat and Muscadelle are widely planted for fortified wines.

Morris Wines was established in 1859 by George Francis Morris and he grew it to over 200 acres by 1885, making it the largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere.  However, the region as a whole was hit hard by phylloxera near the turn of the century, resulting in a great downturn and in the sale of the business in 1917.  However, the family remains involved in the operation to this day and the fifth generation, though the company is currently owned by Pernod Ricard Australia.

The company is best known, as is typical of the region, for its fortified wines.  Morris produces over a dozen though I hesitate to list them all as they have names like Vintage Port, Fino, Amontillado and Tokay which are in a state of flux (it’s complicated) and will wait until I’m covering Rutherglen fortified wines.  However, they do produce table wines of the big three red grapes, Shiraz, Durif and Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to this Cinsaut, as well as a Chardonnay and a sparkling Shiraz / Durif blend.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium plus ruby colour and slow, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of black cherry, plums, cranberries, and some sweet spice.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity and a medium plus length.  There are notes of plum, cranberries, black cherries, and a hint of liquorice.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It had a strong fruit profile as befits a young red, and while it is fruit driven, it’s not just a bland collection of simple red fruit – the flavours are fairly distinct and complex.  It has more intensity on the palate than the nose, and the acidity keeps it fresh.  As this is my first varietal Cinsaut, I can’t say much about typicity, but it certainly hasn’t put me off the grape.  I’ll continue to be on the lookout for Cinsaut, even if I only find it in blends.