Spook Hill Petty Criminal Petit Verdot 2010

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Spook Hill Petit Verdot 2010

Spook Hill Petit Verdot 2010

Today is another bottle I picked up at the Adelaide Cellar Door Festival a few weeks back, and again it’s a varietal that is slightly unusual.  I wouldn’t exactly call it alternative as a variety, but as a varietal perhaps.  It’s the Spook Hill Petty Criminal Petit Verdot 2010.

What’s unusual about this is not so much Petit Verdot the grape, but the fact that it’s bottled in this instance on it’s own.  It’s a classic Bordeaux grape, and while somewhat out of favour and constituting only a small portion of plantings, it’s a grape that every beginning wine student knows as a component of the red Bordeaux blend and slightly more advanced students should know that it ripens late relative to Cabernet Sauvignon, has thick skins, and gives tannins and colour to blends.  The late ripening quality is likely a contributing factor in its decline, as there are certainly years in Bordeaux where it does not ripen fully.

Fortunately, there are places where Petit Verdot has found a home outside of Bordeaux and can consistently ripen, in particular Napa and Sonoma in California where it is used in their version of the Bordeaux blend called Meritage, and in the Riverlands of South Australia, which coincidentally is where this wine is from.

I spoke a bit about the Riverland when I described the 919 Petit Manseng a little while back, and the Spook Hill website doesn’t go into much detail regarding their particular terroir, but I can tell you a bit about the company.  They were started in 1999 by a group of grape growers and red wine enthusiasts.  I don’t have any figures, but guessing from their production methods, I would say their operation is fairly small.  They hand pick, use open fermenters, and a hand operated basket press.  They also seem to be enthusiasts for American oak, with each wine being given at least 18 months in barrel.  All of that suggests either huge costs, small production, or both.  In their case, their most expensive wine is just over $100/half case (that is, less than $20/bottle) so it has to be a fairly small operation.  They produce only red wine (with one being fortified) with the three usual suspects of Shiraz, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also a Tempranillo and this wine, all as varietals.

This wine was a deep ruby, almost purple in the glass, with a developing nose of medium intensity.  It had aromas of plum and red black currants.  On the palate there was immediately some alcohol, though I found it warming rather than jarring.  It was dry, fairly tannic, and with a weightier than average body.  I didn’t make a note about the acidity, so it wasn’t remarkable either way.  The flavour had solid intensity, and the profile was more about the oak than the fruit, with vanilla and sweet spice being the main flavours, though there certainly was fruit as well in the form of more plums.  There was a touch of chocolate that may have been a hint as to what to expect from this after a few years.  The finish was neither long nor short – somewhere in the middle.

I liked this wine and thought it was well made, but in the things I enjoyed I can see what others might not.  It’s a big wine, particularly as far as tannins and alcohol go, but also the vanilla and spice from the American oak is strong.  I don’t mind that – while American oak is somewhat out of fashion, I think it certain has its place.  It doesn’t always jump out at me with Red Rioja wines, and sadly I don’t get to drink very much wine from the USA in American oak, but if I had more money than I know what to do with I’d sit down with a case of Grange and become reacquainted with it.  So I will give this wine a thumbs up, but with the qualification that I’m not sure I would go so far as to recommend it, given that I know it will not be to the liking of most people.  But if you’re after a style that’s somewhat uncommon, with a grape that’s likewise, you can certainly do a lot worse.

And hey, for those keeping track, this is my 100th post.  The numbers will likely get jostled around if/when I go back and clean up my early student posts and break them into posts about studying and posts about particular bottles, but hey, 100 posts isn’t bad for a blog that started at the very end of November 2011.  Thanks for reading.

Map location approximate, based on their P.O. Box, as they don’t seem to have a cellar door, just a funky bus.

919 Wines Petit Manseng 2010

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919 Riverland Petit Manseng 2010

919 Riverland Petit Manseng 2010

There’s a small restaurant right around the corner that often has interesting wines by the glass, and I first came across Petit Manseng there.  It was in a French wine, possibly a blend with Gros Manseng, but alas I have neither the name of the producer nor the tasting note.  I do remember having to look up the region as well as the grape, both being completely new to me.

While that does still happen now and again, it does so less frequently, which is why I was so excited yesterday about the Basque bubbles.  For this part of the world, I’m come across most of the low hanging fruit (so to speak) and so while if I were to move to Italy, Spain, or Greece I’m sure I’d be confounded daily by new varietals, around here most of the international varieties and even the first tier regional grapes are not difficult to find.  However, it wasn’t until my visit to the Cellar Door Wine Fair the other day that I was aware of Australian producers of Petit Manseng.  In fact, there were at least two, and I’ll talk today about the one I liked the most, 919 Wines Petit Manseng 2011.

Petit Manseng is a French grape typically associated with the southwest of the country.  (If I use the expression “back to back Basques” you are free to shoot me.)  It’s permitted in a number of appellations, most notably Jurançon and the Pacherenc AOCs.  In the Jurançon AOC it is used in both dry and sweet wines, in conjunction with Gros Manseng and Courbu.  It is permitted in both Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Madiran’s counterpart dry and sweet/semi-sweet white wine AOCs respectively.  In dry wines, it and Courbu must make up between 60% and 80% of the blend, with the remainder being made up by Arrufiac, Gros Manseng and at most 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  It is also grown in the Languedoc.

The grape itself is known for small berries with this skin, often yielding very little juice.  It’s prized by makers of sweet wine for its ability to last on the vine well past conventional harvest, turning to raisins and concentrating its sugars without the need for botrytis.  It has a big brother grape, Gros Manseng, which is not considered as high a quality grape, though it does have higher yields and the two are often found together in blends.

919 Wines is based in the Riverland, an area of South Australia that is all but unknown to me.  That’s not strictly true – I could point to it on a map (which I in fact do, below) – but as someone who has not visited it, I had been happy with the broad generalization that it was an area of heavy irrigation used to produce huge quantities of grapes for use in bulk wines.  While there is almost certainly a fair amount of truth to that generalization, it does not tell the whole story.  The area represents half the grapes crushed in South Australia, and roughly a quarter of all production throughout the country.  A large percentage of that goes to large companies such as Constellation Wines, but there are a growing number of small producers who are making quality wine, including some that have been working biodynamically and/or with alternative varieties.

The climate is warm continental, in that it’s hot during the day in the growing season and cool in the evenings.  There’s little rain, though since the whole of the region is based around the river Murray, irrigation is the norm.  Soils vary, but I think I say that in almost every single post.  In this case, it’s sand over clay in river valley areas, and in higher elevation areas it’s sand over clay and limestone.

919 Wines is a small winery that has a focus on fortified wines, according to their website.  Maybe it’s just because I’m less interested in fortified wines at the moment, but when I visited their stand at the show, I was looking exclusively at their table wines, of which there are quite a few.  In addition to this Petit Manseng, they produce varietal wines of Savagnin, Vermentino, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Durif, and “Touriga”.  I put Touriga in quotes, because while they mean Touriga Nacional, there is at least one other Touriga, Touriga Franca.  It’s a bit like when people talk about their Cabernet, and I always have to ask “Sauvignon or Franc?”.  Yes, a pet peeve.  But since I love Touriga Nacional, I’ll give them a pass and try to pick up a bottle for a future post.

This wine is very pleasing.  It’s a pale straw colour in the glass.  On the nose it is a creamy pear, with some stone fruit.  On the palate, it has a very satisfying weight, a very good body for a white.  It’s a little sweet, but I can’t say if it’s residual sugar or just fruit sweet, coming from the peach and apricot.  It also has good acidity, with some lime carrying the lighter flavours.  It’s seen a couple of months of French oak according to the winemaker’s notes but I’m not enough of an expert to say that I can taste it.  It has good length, with a bit of lingering (but not cloying) sweetness.

This is a good wine.  It delivers some interesting flavours from a varietal that’s not especially well known in this part of the world.  It also has a very good texture, in that the combination of palate weight and hint of sweetness make your mouth take notice.  I didn’t buy any of their other wines, but my local wine merchant has a few and I’ll make a point of picking up one or two.