I like to think I learn something with each post I write. Most often it’s about a producer, because there are so many of them and I start from a pretty low base in terms of knowledge. Less often it’s the region that enlightens me, because while I don’t know everything, there are far fewer regions than producers. Grapes though are usually more a matter of collecting what I already know (or what I should know) into a paragraph or two and keeping it simple while covering the basics. Today I learned something new straight away with the Schild Estate Frontignac 2010.
Frontignac is a familiar grape in Australia, certainly in South Australia, and found commonly in Barossa. It’s a white grape and I usually associate it with wines that are sweet, fortified, or typically both, and as I generally stick to dry table wine I don’t taste it very often. However, you see it at cellar doors throughout the Barossa and you can’t help but trying it after you’ve been through the whites and reds.
So when I was enjoying this slightly sweet example with some spicy food, I got to thinking about the grape itself and how little I know about it. With most grapes, a first question is where does it originate, typically where in Europe? However, I couldn’t recall coming across it anywhere. It turns out it’s a grape that’s only known as Frontignac within Australia (much like Syrah is known as Shiraz here) and that in most other parts of the world it’s more commonly known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.
This will take a bit of unravelling, so hold on. The name originally comes from France, in the form of a small town called Frontignan in the Languedoc, which produced a once famous wine called Muscat de Frontignan, largely out of the grape Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. I believe this name changed to Frontignac in South Africa where it is used to describe similarly made sweet wines of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. I’m guessing the name travelled to Australia by way of the Cape, and it has been in use here ever since. In the meanwhile, the original Muscat de Frontignan, famously praised and enjoyed by Pliny the Younger, John Locke, Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, largely fell into obscurity for most of the 20th century. Fortunately though there has been some resurgence of late.
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is a grape that is grown across an incredibly large expanse of the Mediterranean as propigated by the Romans. It can be found in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, as well as in parts of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where it is made into a wide variety of wines, sweet and dry, sparkling and still, fortified and table. The most distinguished member of the Muscat family, it does have the small seeds and berries its name suggests, but it is not always a white grape. The colour can range from yellow to pink, brown, red and black, and in fact the same vine can produce different coloured grapes year to year.
I’ve written a number of times about Barossa, most recently with the Barossa Muster M so instead of rehashing that, a bit more about Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains in Australia. While it is known as Frontignac, there’s another name, Brown Muscat, which I believe refers to exactly the same grape, with Frontignac being the term for vines producing lighter skinned grapes and the latter for darker grapes. They are used most famously here, along with Muscadelle, in the production of the rich, sweet, fortified wines of Rutherglen. These wines had been known locally as Liqueur Muscat and Liqueur Tokay, though what was Tokay is now being changed to Topaque. Produced though a combination of raisined grapes, fermentation halted through the addition of spirit, and wood ageing under heat, these wines are a dessert style all their own.
Schild Estate is a family run winery in the Rowland Flat area of the Barossa Valley. The Schild family established a mixed farm in the early 1950s, but upon the death of the patriarch a few years later, his son Ed Schild took over, aged 16. He expanded the family holdings over time, which now comprise over 400 acres, including a patch of 160 year old Shiraz vines. Wines were made offsite until just recently, with the opening of the Valley of Hope Winery in July 2010 and then the first vintage being produced in 2011.
They produce a range of wines with locally sourced Reisling, Chardonnay, a Moscato style sparkler, this Frontignac, and Adelaide Hills sourced Chardonnay making up their whites and a combination of varietal Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Barossa, as well as a GSM blend, making up their reds. One of their Shiraz varietals is made from fruit exclusively off the ancient 160 year old vines.
This wine is clear and bright, and a lemon green colour in the glass. It produces a thin film along the side of the glass when swirled that doesn’t really resolve into legs. It’s clean on the nose, with notes of lime, tropical fruit, and a hint of blossom. I would describe it as youthful, and of medium intensity. On the palate, it’s off dry, with medium body, medium acidity, medium minus alcohol, and medium plus flavour intensity. It has notes of pineapple, lime, and mango. It’s very fruit driven, with a slightly sour fruit finish and medium plus length.
This is a good wine, but it’s really a style from another era. I wasn’t drinking in the 70s and 80s, but this style of off-dry, with tropical fruit takes me back. One thing it is not is grapey, which is usually the hint that identifies a grape from the Muscat family. However, it doesn’t have the acidity that would cause you to think it might be Riesling nor the aromatics to think it was Gewürztraminer. I admit, I did pick up this wine exclusively to tick another box on the road to 100 varietal wines, and I’m glad I did for those purposes, but it’s a stretch for me from what I would normally choose to drink. Still, you don’t have to be a fan of a particularly style to appreciate a wine of that style when it’s well made as this one certainly is.