It used to be that I would keep my eyes open for interesting varieties, and be pleased when I happened to come across them. Recently though, I’ve moved to the next level and I’m actively seeking them out. Here is one I put on my list of wines I’d like for my birthday, the Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012.
So Clairette. The name, which can mean pale, clear or bright, is thought to originate with the light hairs found on the shoots and the undersides of mature leaves, rather than with the pale colour of the grapes. It is vigorous, even in poor soil, and grows unusually straight and strong vines, which do not require stakes even in areas of strong winds. It ripens late and can produce high levels of alcohol, though sometimes at the expense of acidity.
It is at home in southern France, and gives its name to three appellations there: Clairette de Bellegarde, Clairette du Languedoc, and Clairette de Die. The first two are still, varietal wines while Clairette de Die is sparkling and typically a blend dominated by Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. The same region produces Cremant de Die which is 100% Clairette. It’s also commonly found in regional Vin de Pays of southern France, and can be a component of a number of Southern Rhone wines, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As evidenced by this wine of Australia, it’s planted outside of France, with notable concentrations also found in Italy, Russia, South Africa and even Lebanon.
Even though this is the first pin in the region on the map, this is not the first wine we’ve encountered from the Hunter Valley. Unfortunately for cartographic accuracy, the Will Taylor Hunter Valley Semillon from last year ended up pinned in Adelaide where their offices are located, but the description of the region from that post is still viable. As I mentioned in that post, while the region is identified with Semillon, there are a wide range of varieties planted, including Chambourcin which is on my list to try.
Honeytree Estate is a small producer in the Hunter Valley region. It was planted in 1970 and now owned by Robyn and Henk Strengers. Henk is originally from the Netherlands, and despite their boutique levels of production, some wine is exported there. Their holdings consist of 23 acres of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Semillon as well as this Clairette. Plantings of Traminer were grafted over to Clairette after the very successful 1998 vintage. They’ve also produced something called Vindouce, and while the half bottle size, tasting note of luscious and low alcohol level suggest it is a dessert wine, I can’t find any firm details, though there is mention of ice wine on their Facebook page.
As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale, pale lemon green colour. I use “pale lemon green” quite a bit as these days it’s the industry standard white wine colour, but really, this wine is borderline water white. It shows very small legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity and bright notes of tropical fruit – passion fruit and rock melon – as well as grapefruit, some lime, and a little vanilla.
On the palate it’s dry, though there’s enough fruit that I had to taste it a few times to decided if there was any residual sugar. I don’t think there is. It has medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus alcohol, and a medium length with a clean finish. The palate matches the nose, with the grapefruit notes being somewhat more pronounced, but still with the tropical fruit – melon and passionfruit – as well as a hint of coconut.
This is a good wine – well made, youthful, and while it’s nearly all fruit, all the flavours are crisp and distinct. While I hate myself for saying so because it’s such a cliché, it’s a perfect summer quaffer. There is nothing present in the glass that doesn’t please. If you’re looking for a serious wine with layers of complexity and great ageing potential, this is unlikely to satisfy, but if you want something to drink while the sun is shining, you can do much worse.
This is my first varietal Clairette, and my first Australian Clairette, so clearly I am not an expert on the topic, particularly when it comes to tasting. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say for the record that my first thought when I tasted it was that it was uncannily similar to a South Australian Colombard that I’ve recently enjoyed. So while Wine Grapes doesn’t list any connection between Colombard and Clairette, it does make me wonder if it’s possible that some Colombard vines in South Australia are actually Clairette, or if some Clairette vines in the Hunter Valley might actually be Colombard.