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Wine

10 strange but true wine descriptors

What do cat’s pee, sea spray and horse hair have in common? They might sound like ingredients in a witchy potion, but they’re actually all aromas you could find wafting from your wine glass. Sounds strange, but it’s true and there’s more. Check out the top ten:

  1. Cat’s pee: Sauvignon Blanc lovers might be familiar with this one. It’s particularly apparent in cool climate examples and it’s not a negative description, so don’t let it put you off your next glass of Savvy.
  2. Kerosene: This can be found in aged Rieslings and comes from the compound 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihyronaphthalene (TDN). Whether it’s a desirable trait or not comes down to personal taste.
  3. Wet stone: Take a whiff of Semillon, Riesling or Chardonnay and you might pick up this character. It describes minerality and is a savoury term, so it means you’re sniffing a great food matching wine.
  4. Sea spray: If your Chardonnay is transporting your senses to the beach, you’ve scored yourself a complex, well-made expression of the variety.
  5. Baked bread: There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread, even if it is coming from your glass of Sparkling wine. It’s a sign of secondary fermentation so it’s desirable in Sparkling and Chardonnay, but watch out if you smell it in other wines because it could be a fault.
  6. Struck match: While sulphur dioxide is a common wine additive, if you can smell struck match, the sulphur dioxide has been poorly handled. This fault can also be described as burnt rubber or mothballs.
  7. Sweaty saddle: Brettanomyces, or Brett, is a type of yeast that can, when used at low levels, can add positive attributes to a wine. However, the perception of excessive levels is a fault.
  8. Horse hair: Continuing the horsy theme, this is another description of Brett.
  9. Tractor shed: More precisely, the oil on the dirt that’s leaked from a tractor – another Brett descriptor.
  10. Mousy: Another term to describe a fault, this time from bacteria, mousy is interesting because it’s an aroma that only certain people can pick up. So if you can pick up a scent of rodent, you’re one of the chosen few!

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Biodynamic – going beyond organic
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 5 Apr 2016
If someone told you that filling a cow’s horn with dung and planting it at a certain phase of the moon would help your vines to grow, you’d probably think they were bonkers. Far out it may indeed sound, but this is one of the central steps in biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture that’s being embraced by an increasing number of Australian wineries. While it might sound like a theory cooked up by modern hippies, biodynamics actually has its origins in Europe over 90 years ago. Let’s set the scene. It’s 1924 in Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland) and a group of farmers has gathered to hear a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The farmers are looking for an alternative to chemical fertilisers, which they believe have caused extensive damage to their soil and brought poor health to their livestock and crops. Steiner proves sympathetic as he reveals a system of agriculture that shuns chemicals and treats the farm as an individual, self-contained entity. Rather than focus on the health of individual plants, Steiner’s system teaches that good health requires that the entire eco-system in which the plant exists be thriving. This includes the other plants, the soil, the animals and even the humans who are working the land. The system he describes he calls biodynamics. By taking away all artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, Steiner presented one of the earliest models of organic farming. However, it’s the next steps that really separate biodynamics from organics (and it’s at this point that I imagine some of the listening farmers’ eyebrows began to rise). Steiner claims that for this environment to truly blossom, a series of field and compost preparations needs to be added. These preparations, nine in total, are man-made solutions, derived from nature, that are labelled 500 through to 508. To the conventional farmer, these preparations may appear somewhat far-fetched. For example, ‘500’ is made by filling cow horns with cow manure, which are then buried over winter to be recovered in spring. A teaspoon of the manure is then mixed with up to 60 litres of water, which is stirred for an hour, whirled in different directions every second minute. ‘501’ also requires a cow horn, this time filled with crushed quartz. It is buried over summer and dug up late in autumn, then mixed the same way as 500. Stretching his credibility even further in the eyes of the pragmatic farmer, Steiner brings a spirituality to his teachings by suggesting the growth cycles of the farm are influenced by astrological forces. Decisions such as when to spray the preparations, when to weed and when to pick should all be made according to a calendar that details the phases of the moon and stars. “Hocus-pocus!” you may very well cry. Not so, according to the ever-increasing number of wine producers in Australia and internationally who have embraced biodynamics. Choosing an environmentally sustainable approach to viticulture is obviously to be applauded in these times of climate crisis. However, talk to biodynamic producers and you’ll find that superior wine quality is the number one motivation for being biodynamic. At South Australia’s Cape Jaffa, the Hooper family has been using biodynamic principles for many years and their conviction in its effectiveness is complete. “We believe that cultivating the vines in this way is what allows them to achieve balance within their environment. Achieve balance, and the vines are able to fully express themselves – leading to a wine that bares a true and remarkable resemblance to its environment,” says Derek Hooper. The Buttery family of Gemtree in McLaren Vale are also converts. Since their biodynamic beginnings in 2007 they say they can now “see a noticeable difference in the health of our vineyard and quality of our fruit.” A fellow McLaren Vale winemaker, David Paxton of Paxton wines says, “Biodynamics is the most advanced form of organic farming. It uses natural preparations and composts to bring the soil and the vine into balance, resulting in exceptionally pure and expressive fruit.” The proof is in the tasting, however, so next time you’re looking for a new wine to try, why not put biodynamics to the test and see if you can taste the natural difference?
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Talking wine with Jancis Robinson
You are known for you comprehensive tomes such as the Oxford Companion to Wine, so this 112-page book is a very different offering from you. How did this come about? It started with our 24-year-old daughter, who was always being asked by her friends about wines... ‘How should I store this? Should I buy this wine? Your mother is a wine writer so you must know.’ So at one stage, she thought she would write a guide to wine for her friends. She got a whole load of them around and did a bit of a focus group to see what they wanted to know and what puzzled them. Then she got a great job and she gave up on that idea. But I thought it was a great idea, so I used her checklist and put together this book. So who is the book for? The 24-Hour Wine Expert is for people who drink wine, but aren’t too serious about it. They want to know the basics, the short cuts to the important things about the wine. What are the things that people want to know? I think they want to know the practicalities. They want to know how to taste, how to get the most out of every bottle. For instance, they want to know why you should only fill your wine glass half full. They want to know how to choose a bottle of wine off the shelf, they want to be able to look at a wine label and understand what it is telling them. They want to be able to choose wine from a wine list at a restaurant...People want to know what the heck that business of giving a taste of wine in restaurants is all about. Can someone become a wine expert in 24 hours? The book is written in a way that you could easily read it in 24 hours and after which you’d have all the essentials for understanding wine. Having said that, I have been writing about wine for 40 years and I am a Master of Wine, but I never call myself a wine expert because I don’t know it all. There was one short time in my life when I thought I knew everything about wine and that was when I came top of my wine education course. Then I wrote my first book and realised I didn’t know much about wine at all. The world of wine is constantly changing and I learn something every day. The title could also have another meaning, because you are the expert (despite what you’ve just said) and you probably think about wine 24/7. Are there times when you don’t think about wine? That’s a good question, because I have to admit my dreams are often about wine. I write about wine and my husband writes about restaurants and so we are pretty ‘wine and foodie’. But once the family comes into play, that takes over. Watch our exclusive video with Jancis below: 
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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