Looking at the map, there’s been no shortage of Australian wines in this blog, but they’ve all been rather lazily from South Australia. (To be fair, I did write about a Hunter Semillon but the producer is based in South Australia.) While it’s true that South Australia does produce the most wine of Australian states, there’s plenty of great wine coming out of the rest of the country. Today we’ll try an interesting one from Victoria.
I’m having a look at the Sorrenberg Gamay 2009. They’re based just outside of Beechworth in Victoria, which is a bit over 200km to the northeast of Melbourne, pretty close to the New South Wales border.
Victoria has more than its share of fine wines and wine regions, with Bass Phillip of South Gippsland, Giaconda of Beechworth, and Mount Mary of Yarra Valley all featuring as “Exceptional” in the Langton’s Classification of 2005. The climate in general tends to be cooler than that of the regions I’ve covered in South Australia, and Beechworth is no exception. It’s a small and relatively new region, with modern viticulture only going back to the 1970s, and only merits a single line in the OCW. The climate is described as sub-alpine, that is, quite cool. The town of Beechworth itself is at an altitude of over 500m, with some of the surrounding vineyards being higher still. The soil is varied, with alluvial flats and less fertile but better drained slopes. Sorrenberg describes their particular patch as granitic.
So Gamay is actually one of my favourite grapes, which makes it strange that I haven’t properly written about one before. I’m still embarrassed I didn’t pick out the one we were served blind in the tasting section of the WSET Diploma Exam, but such is life. Gamay is a red, thin skinned grape, best known as being the heart and soul of Beaujolais. It has been all but cast out of the rest of Burgundy (though generally comprises the bulk of Bourgogne Passetoutgrains), but can certainly be found in the Loire and Savoie. Outside of France, there are smatterings of it to be found, with California, Canada and Australia have very small plantings, though it is found in Switzerland, frequently blended with Pinot Noir.
Gamay suffers from being unfashionable, for a number of different reasons. First off, it is a light red. Obviously there are fashionable light reds, with Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo springing to mind. However, generally the trend of late has been toward heavier, more full bodied reds.
The second problem is Pinot Noir. I love Pinot Noir, but Gamay will always be in its shadow. While they’re both Burgundian, they’re very different grapes, and are generally made into even more different wines, with Pinot Noir heading in the direction of finesse and sophistication capable of extended cellaring, while most Gamay is made into fruity, accessible wine meant to be consumed immediately. It’s not helped by the fact that the non-Beaujolais part of Burgundy looks down on Beaujolais. I have a map of the region that I picked up when I was staying in Nuits-St-Georges last year titled La Route Des Vins De Bourgogne. It stops at the bottom of Mâconnais, as though no one would want to go further south than that, though to be fair it does mention Mâconnais-Beaujolais wine route at the very bottom.
The third problem is Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine released the third Thursday of November, just scant weeks after vintage. It’s a pleasant enough wine, fruity, light, and aromatic, but not very serious. However, it was at one time hugely popular, and still makes up a large percentage of Beaujolais production, overshadowing other, more serious Beaujolais.
Despite all this, Gamay can be used to make very fine wine. Above the basic appellation is Beaujolais-Villages, with the grapes coming from the northern part of the region, and finally there are wines named after specific villages, such as Moulin-à-Vent and Brouilly. Instead of being rushed into the mouths of consumers at the first opportunity, these wines are made more gently (and expensively) and benefit from ageing. For their quality, they are typically very good value.
Someday, perhaps in a vintage or two, I would very much like to source a ton of Gamay and try my hand at making some. No one in my region (that I know of) makes it except for a rosé in McLaren Vale, and while I’ve been involved with a few different styles of winemaking, carbonic maceration would be a new one for me. I even have a pretty good idea as to how much work it would be and how much it would cost, but I think I’ll be better off waiting another vintage at least before I try.
Sorrenberg is a small producer that traces its family roots back through 500 years of winemaking in the Mosel region of Germany. They make a handful of premium wines – a red and a white Bordeaux blend, a Chardonnay and this Gamay. Being a fan of both Gamay and novelty, it is was drew me to them, and I have not as yet had an opportunity to try their other wines.
They apparently do their fermentation in barrel, which left me scratching my head for a few minutes. With white wines, that’s easy enough as you’re fermenting juice (which I’ve helped do) and you just put an S-shaped bubbler on top to let the CO2 out. With reds you’re typically fermenting crushed berries, or sometimes whole bunches. I was trying to imagine how you get berries or bunches efficiently into a barrel when I remembered that when you ferment reds in barrel, it’s typically a barrel turned on its end with the head taken out. I’ve only helped with red ferments in tanks or tubs, which is why it took me a minute to think that through.
Their website says they also grow Pinot Noir which in their most recently released vintage (2010) constituted 10% of their Gamay, sufficiently small so as not requiring a mention on the label. While I have had blends of Pinot Noir and Gamay before, I see that as something of a novelty. I think in general, certainly in Burgundy, Pinot Noir commands such a higher price than Gamay, it rarely makes economic sense to blend them. With Sorrenberg I would think it’s a matter of wanting to make the best Gamay they can, and that supplementing it with Pinot Noir is more about getting the character they want more than economics.
The wine itself is a treat. It’s much darker in the glass than I was expecting, though I spent last week working with 2011 Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir so I may just be expecting everything to be pale. The nose is fragrant – cherries and herbs. Not a trace of bubblegum or banana that can be evident on lesser Gamays. I haven’t had enough Gamays produced in this style to have been able to identify it blind – I would have guessed Pinot Noir I think. On the palate the fruit is very fresh, and the herbs of the nose give way to spice, slightly peppery. The body is just under medium, as you’d want from a Gamay, but the acidity has zing and the cherries carry through a long finish where they are joined with a bit of dark chocolate. This wine lives up to the intentions of the winemaker.
And a quick meta – I had this niggling notion that the titles on this blog weren’t quite right. It turns out they have been completely screwed up for probably quite some time. I think I did something wrong when I added a plug-in, but it’s fixed now. Here’s hoping the site gets re-indexed relatively quickly.
Also, I’ve enjoyed the most recent wines a great deal, and rated them highly. If it seems I haven’t had an ill word for a wine in the past week or two, keep in mind that I’m not tasting a random selection. Fortunately for me, I get to pick and choose what I’m having, and more often than not it’s drinking, not tasting, so I can get pretty picky. I try not to spend money on bad wine, and while sometimes I’m happy to throw the dice and take my chances, most of the recent entries seemed reasonably safe bets that all turned out well. I’m also somewhat insulated in that most of the recent wines were purchased from local wine merchants that likewise have little incentive to stock or recommend bad wine. If there are aspects of a wine that I think could be better, I’ll certainly point them out, but I’m just pleased to have had a recent string of good performers.