Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

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Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010

It’s been a tough week and a half so far working vintage.  Early starts and long days are par for the course, so I can’t complain about them.  Equipment issues are more of a pain, with a pair of pumps needing repairs so far.  The worst for me though is the physical exertion, in stark contrast to my otherwise fairly cushy life, and this year it’s been compounded by an accident (which was completely my fault) involving a forklift, a barrel rack and my head.  Three stitches and a tetanus shot later later I’m fine, albeit with a black eye, but enjoying this (unrelated) day off to do some writing instead of just resting.  And what better way to make the most of it than with this bottle of Best’s Great Western Old Vine Pinot Meunier 2010.

A grape familiar to any student who has covered Champagne, Pinot Meunier is something of a tough nut to crack for those of us interested in varietal wines.  First, within Champagne while it is the second most widely planted variety, it is not as highly regarded as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.  That means that while many houses use Pinot Meunier in their wines, few draw attention to that fact or produce varietal examples.  There are some exceptions, including Krug, though I have yet to sample one.  Second, as a grape it is not commonly found outside of Champagne.  It is permitted in the Loire, though not widely planted, and can be found in Lorraine near the border with Luxembourg and Germany.  Within Germany itself there are plantings but very few notable examples.  In the New World, there are fewer plantings still, and it’s typically used in blended sparkling wine with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  That makes this wine exceptional, as a still, varietal Pinot Meunier, before I even open the bottle.

As a Pinot, this variety is nearly identical at the genetic level to the other Pinots (Noir, Blanc, Gris, et al) except for the accumulation of mutations over the course of propagation through replanted clippings.  It differs from Pinot Noir in that it buds and ripens later, making it less susceptible to late frosts and therefore gives more reliable yields.  It also does well in clay soils, in addition to limestone, meaning it can be more widely planted throughout Champagne.  Furthermore, it can have higher acidity than Pinot Noir, though it isn’t thought to have as much ageing potential.  It’s easy to see why it would be a popular grape for growers, even if some houses prefer not to acknowledge their use of it.

Best’s Great Western was founded in the 1860s by Henry Best in the Great Western area of Victoria, roughly 180km west by northwest of Melbourne.  Best spent nearly 50 years building the business until his death in 1913.  Soon thereafter, it passed to William Thomson who had been running a neighbouring winery at Rhymney.  He and his family continued to expand the business, which is now in the hands of the fifth Thomson generation.

The company is best known for its Shiraz, with their Thomson Family Shiraz in their Icon Range featuring on the Langton’s Classification as Outstanding and their Bin No. 0 Shiraz as Distinguished.  This Pinot Meunier and a Pinot Noir round out that range, while their Concongella Collection and Great Western Range include more Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and a Dolcetto, in addition to a Champagne produced in a partnership with a small house in L’Aube.

The Great Western is a subregion of the Grampians in Victoria.  While there are a number of subregions described as pending approval or used informally, Great Western is one of only fourteen subregions in Australia officially recognized by the Geographical Indications Committee.  The region is moderate to cool, with a Mediterranean climate and some influence from the Southern Ocean and from altitude that ranges from 240-440m .  The soils are varied, but principally clays and loams with good water retention.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium minus garnet colour and very slight legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity and notes of black cherries, some Pinot Noir funk, some black pepper, and some forest floor/mushroom scents.  Later, there were additional notes of dark chocolate and coffee.  On the palate it’s dry with high acidity, medium minus body, medium intensity, medium minus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and a long length.  There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, cranberries, coffee, star anise, and black pepper.

This is a very interesting wine, and I think very good quality.  If served it blind, my first guess would have been Pinot Noir with punched up acidity.  I was expecting fruitiness but that was not exclusively the case.  Instead it also has a fair number of developed characters despite only being two years old.  I can’t vouch for varietal typicity, but it certainly has complexity and it does linger on the palate.  While I’m drinking it far to young, I’m fairly certain they made more than just this one bottle so I’ll have to secure another.  And also, having now tried my first varietal, still Pinot Meunier, I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t more widely planted.  Apparently it’s also being used for more than just sparkling wine in New Zealand, so I look forward to finding out more.

Alpha Box & Dice Changing Lanes 2005

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Changing Lanes 2005

Changing Lanes 2005

Jean Dubuffet, a French painter and sculptor, described the concept of Art Brut* as “pieces of work executed by people untouched by artistic culture, in which therefore mimicry, contrary to what happens in intellectuals, plays little or no part, so that their authors draw everything (subjects, choice of materials employed, means of transposition, rhythms, ways of writing, etc.) from their own depths and not from clichés of classical art or art that is fashionable.”  Art Brut, also known as raw art or outsider art, is essentially work done by someone outside the artistic community, without the restrictions of accepted norms.  Today’s wine is a bit of Art Brut in a bottle, the Alpha Box & Dice Changing Lanes 2005.

Alpha Box & Dice is the work of Justin Lane, founded 2008, and home to an alphabetic collection of wines.  Essentially set up as a garage enterprise, Lane sources grapes from a stable of local growers and makes wines based more on his personal tastes than on established conventions.  While his “Hercules” Shiraz, “Rebel Rebel” Montepulciano and “Tarot” Grenache varietals may sound conventional enough, his “Apostle” Shiraz/Durif, “Fog” Nebbiolo/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat and “Golden Mullet Fury” Muscadelle/Chardonnay wines give perhaps a slightly better idea as to his unconventional thinking when it comes to what varieties might sit well together in a blend.

Mark Lane and Justin Lane

Mark Lane and Justin Lane

This wine in particular is a good example of Lane’s willingness to try something out of the ordinary.  Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon are not typically found together in Spain or France, but in Australia they’re fair game as blending partners.  Similarly, this wine is a collaboration with another winemaker, Justin’s brother Mark Lane, which again isn’t so out of the ordinary.  Mark sourced some particularly good Tempranillo, vinified it, and sent some of the best barrels to Justin, who was doing the same with Cabernet Sauvignon.  What is unusual is that Mark Lane works in Western Australia, some 3000km from Justin Lane in McLaren Vale, South Australia.  That makes this wine one of the most geographically diverse I have ever encountered.  In terms of wine being an expression of the varietal characteristics of the grapes, the terroir and the intention of the winemaker, this has all three, times two.  And while it has no impact on what’s in the bottle, the label features a lenticular print of mugshots of both winemakers, with the image changing depending on the angle at which it is being viewed and it’s easily the most creative label I’ve ever seen.

While I don’t typically comment on branding, Alpha Box & Dice does it well.  The convention they’ve established of wine names with an alphabetic theme works well, though it remains to be seen what happens after Z.  Each label is uniquely designed, and while they have little in common with one another, they sit well together in a group.  Even the cellar door has a quirky, rustic feel to it, which flows nicely from the old garage in the country where the wine is made.  Should it ever grow into a $500/bottle ultra exclusive, mailing list only winery, I officially call dibs on the parody label Art Brut & Dubuffet.

While Dubuffet used his term Art Brut to refer to art produced by asylum inmates and children, I use it in the more general sense of self taught.  In many ways this applies to Lane, as he has no formal qualifications in winemaking, and his approach to what can make a good wine is uninhibited by tradition or fashion.  That said, he’s not strictly speaking quite so much the outsider.

Justin Lane grew up in the Hunter Valley, and while not from a wine family, he spent much of his time in vineyards and after an abandoned attempt at studying viticulture, worked with Hardy’s and Tatachilla wineries.  Those experiences opened the door for him to work vintages in France, Italy and even Moldova.  In Australia he helped run a cooperative in McLaren Vale called Redheads Studio, which provided him with the network of growers needed to found Alpha Box & Dice after his partner bought him out in 2007.  He’s recently co-founded an eating and drinking establishment in Adelaide called Cantina Sociale that sources barrels of wine direct from producers and pours them by the glass.  While I don’t do bar/restaurant reviews, I’m a fan.

How does all this come out in the wine?  In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a dark garnet colour and quick, stained legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with high intensity and notes of sweet spice, dried red fruit, persimmon, pomegranate and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry but with some fruit sweetness, medium acidity, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, high alcohol, medium minus fine tannins and a long length.  There are notes of chocolate, pomegranate, black pepper, as well as dried fruit, both red and black.

This is a very good quality wine.  It’s big in most respects.  It has much more fruit than tannin, and while some of it comes across as dried fruit, it’s much more fresh than I would expect 7 years after vintage.  It’s not for everyone – at 15.5% ABV it’s not a timid wine, but if you want a big fruit bomb that is showing itself to be capable of ageing, it’s a good bet.  So while Lane has no formal winemaking credentials, there is nothing about this wine that suggests he needs to go back to school.

* Art Brut also happens to be the band that played at my wedding.

Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2009

Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2009

Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2009

While I’ve been on something of a quest for new and interesting grapes, there’s certainly more to learning about wine than just grape varieties.  Today’s selection is about the place, because while this is made from a familiar variety, it’s from a region we have not visited before.  So we’re off to Sardinia with the  Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa 2009.

Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa, just south of the French island of Corsica.  It has a colourful history, having been run at different times by the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Aragónese, Spanish, Austrians, and the House of Savoy.  It joined what was to become Italy in 1861 and is run as an autonomous region.

In terms of wine, there isn’t as much history, colourful or otherwise.  There is historical evidence of viticulture pre-dating the Carthaginian rule, but other forms of agriculture dominated, particular cultivation of grain and grazing of livestock.  While vines, mainly of Spanish origin, were imported under the rule of Aragón, wine has not been as important culturally or economically on Sardinia as it has been in mainland Spain, Italy or France.  Plantings were encouraged and subsidized after World War II, resulting in a rapid expansion of vines and availability of low quality, high alcohol wines used for blending on mainland Italy.  However, funding was cut in the 1980s and such bulk wine production has dwindled greatly.

Though there are almost twenty Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regions and one Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) established on the island, production of quality wine is somewhat undermined by the expansiveness of some of the DOCs (including the entire island in several cases) and high limits on yields.  Vermentino, Cannonau (also known as Garnacha Tinta, or simply Grenache), Carignano (Carignan), Vernaccia and Malvasia are widely planted, as are some of the more common Italian and international varieties, but there is not a wealth of popular varieties unique to the island the way there is with Sicily.  I’ve seen references to Cannonau, Carignano and Bovaleddu as bring native Sardinian grapes, but for our purposes they are Grenache, Carignan, and Graciano respectively.  On the other hand, Monica Nera, Nasco and Nuragus are a red and two white grapes respectively that have yet to be identified as anything other than Sardinian.

As to Carignan, it is a grape that is familiar to long time readers of this site, but for a recap it is worth having another look at the Carignan (blend) I tried from De Martino last year.

Carignana del Sulcis is a DOC in the southwestern tip of the island, including two smaller islands, Sant’antioco and San Pietro.  A DOC since 1989, it is one of the few areas within Italy where Carignan is grown, and in addition to the standard varietal bottling, there are levels of quality defined as Riserva and Superiore which require additional ageing.   Rosé and Passito wines are also produced.  The climate, as with the island as a whole, is as Mediterranean as you can get, and soils vary with clay, sand and limestone, though the island as a whole is known for decomposed granite as well.

Cantina di Santadi is a large cooperative winery established in 1960.  It had its start producing vast quantities of bulk wine which was sold unbottled and unbranded.  Fortunately, a change of management in the 1970s resulted in a shift, and the coop has moved from being an anonymous supplier of cheap wine to being a rare example of a coop with a strong focus on quality wine production.

To that end, they’ve worked in close partnership with Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s most famous winemakers.  One of the driving forces behind the massive improvements within the Italian wine industry through the 1970s and 80s, he has been involved with Antinori and helped create the Super Tuscan Sassicaia.  He’s long had an interest in Sardinia, and in particular believes that Carignan, not widely loved or revered in the production of fine wine, is especially well suited to the climate and soils of southern Sardinia.

Today the company produces over a dozen different wines, DOC and IGT, red, white and rosé, as well as a grappa. Beyond Carignan, the company makes use of Cannonau (Grenache), Bovaleddu (Graciano), Vermentino, Monica Nera, Nasco, Nuragus, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Chardonnay in their wines.  In addition, they released a special edition 1960-2010 commemorative bottling comprised of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which could be called a Super Sardinian.

As to the wine in front of me, in the glass it’s clear and bright, with a dark ruby colour and quick, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of cherries, sweet spice, pomegranate, and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium body, medium minus tannins, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  There are notes of black cherries, liquorice, some red meat, dried red fruit, and small goods.

This is a good quality wine.  It was interesting for more than just its origin, but not overly complex.  Despite having good intensity, I felt myself reaching for descriptors as the fruit was somewhat indistinct.  However, it certainly suffered no faults and was pleasant to drink.

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

There are some topics that I find interesting which are made more so because I know there will be people who want to read about them.  Posts about Wine & Spirits Education Trust exams are popular because there’s a small group of people who care a great deal, and even if I’m not a huge authority on the subject, they’re often happy for whatever information or analysis I can provide.  Today’s topic, on the other hand, will be of interest to very few, if any, other people in the world.  Nevertheless, if obscure grapes are your thing, I hope you enjoy this post concerning the Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009.

When I was studying with the WSET, I often found it unusual that they devoted any time at all to wine production in the UK.  While there are some interesting wines being produced there, particularly sparkling wine from the south of England, the quantities and their impact on the global wine trade are so insignificant that it hardly seems worthwhile devoting pages to them in the syllabus.

That said, were it not for having to study wine production in England and Wales, I never would have heard of Madeleine Angevine.  Course materials from 2000 in the Advanced class describe it as “A variety that supports the British climate and gives a good yield.  It is perhaps best used for blending as it is low in acidity.”  At the Diploma level in a more recent study guide, the variety is relegated to the “Less Important” topic list.

The grape variety is of relatively modern origin, having first been cultivated in 1857 and released in 1863.  It ripens early, often ready for harvest by Sainte-Madeleine’s Day (22 July) from which it takes part of its name, while the city of Angers in the Loire Valley contributes the rest.  It is the offspring of two grapes not currently used in commercial wine production, Circé and Madeleine Royal, and has been used as a parent for other varieties, notably Siegerrebe and Madeleine X Angevine 7672.  It only has female flowers, which means it cannot self-pollinate, requiring other vines to be planted nearby.  It does well in cool climates, and while it has all but vanished in the Loire, it seems to be embarking on something of a second life in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada.  It is also used as a table grape within Krygyzstan.

You may have noticed that I didn’t list the UK among places it is planted, and there is a good reason for that.  Despite what I quoted from the out of date course materials, Madeleine Angevine as described above is not what was planted in the UK.  In fact, their vines are the Madeleine X Angevine 7672, cultivated originally in Germany as a self-pollinating offspring of Madeleine Angevine and an unknown father.  There are other plantings of one or the other (possibly both) in Sweden and Denmark, but I can’t determine which.

Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of the grape until I moved to Australia, some thousands of kilometres from the nearest planting, cursed to forever remember its name but with little prospect of ever tasting it.  That is, until a trip to Vancouver allowed me to stock up on obscure varieties bred for cold climates.

This one is from Larch Hill Winery, in the now familiar Okanagan Valley of British Columbia – read my post on the JoieFarm Chardonnay for more information if the Okanagan Valley is unfamiliar.  Owned and run by Jack and Hazel Manser, the vineyard and winery were conceived in 1987 and planted commercially after five years of experimental plantings.  The list of their vines reads like a Who’s Who list of cold climate crosses – Ortega, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, and Agria, as well as this Madeleine Angevine.  In addition to their own plantings, they source Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Merlot from neighbouring growers, and their site also lists Semillon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch).  Their wines are largely varietal bottlings of the above, with a few blends, and a trio of dessert wines.

A quick note on the spelling of the grape variety in this wine – the bottle says “Madeline” but their website has the extra “e” in “Madeleine” that is the more typical spelling.  I don’t understand why they’re using two spellings.  As with most things, I consider Wine Grapes to be the final word.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a few quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity and notes of pear, custard, lychee, and red apple.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose in terms of pear, red apple, and lychee, but also brings with it rosewater and a honeyed character.  It makes the wine taste slightly sweet, but not in a residual sugar sort of way.

This is a very good wine.  It has a rich flavour, with balanced intensity and length.  While it is fruit dominated, it’s a fairly complex collection of fruit, and the rosewater almost gives it an aromatic quality.  While I get very excited at the prospect of trying new varieties, I set my expectations low in terms of how they will taste when it comes to obscure crosses.  Generally speaking, if they produced exceptional wines, they would be more widely planted, right?  While that sounds pessimistic, it means the surprise is all the more pleasant when I come across something I thoroughly enjoy, like this wine or the Niche Wine Company Foch from back in December.

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

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Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

Honeytree Estate Hunter Valley Clairette 2012

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.

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.

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.

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.