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Australian Rosé Awakening Member Tasting

Don’t call it a comeback. Rosé has been around for years, if you’ve known where to look. Unfortunately, many people think of Rosé as the sickly sweet style their auntie, or grandma likes to drink poolside at family gatherings. And, despite it being 2017, some men are still frightened of Rosé’s pink colour...perhaps someone in marketing could put a ‘B’ in front of it? But why pander? Let them miss out. There’ll be more for you and me! 

Rosé is one of the wine world’s greatest gifts. Versatile, it goes with just about any meal, at any time of day or night. Refreshing, a well-made Rosé has the ability to slake a thirst like no other wine. And, delicious – these days, Aussie winemakers are crafting Rosés that are a pure pleasure to drink. 

 

It's All in the Grape

Rosé can be made from just about any red wine grape variety there is. In Australia, the more common varietals used to make Rosé include ShirazPinot Noir, and Grenache. But also, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Provence, the historical home of Rosé, winemakers will blend grape varieties, such as Cinsault, Mourvédre, Syrah (Shiraz), and Carignan, to create gorgeous examples of this pale pink wine.

Just like red wine, Rosés pick up their colour from the skin of red wine grapes. The winemaker can determine the depth of colour in the wine by deciding how long to leave the juice in contact with the skins – the shorter the time, the lighter the colour. This can be done using a number of different techniques. The maceration method allows the crushed skins of the red wine grapes to ‘steep’, or macerate, in the juice for a short period of time, before the skins are removed and the entire tank is finished into a Rosé wine. 

Another method is called the Saignée (‘san-yay’), or the ‘bleed’ method. This involves ‘bleeding off’ a portion of the juice – while the remaining goes on to make red wine – into a separate vat to finish fermentation. This technique can result in some really lovely examples. Another way to make Rosé is by mixing white and red wine together, although, this rather crude method is generally frowned upon and doesn’t usually make for a very nice tasting wine. 

The colour of Rosé can range from the lightest shades of pale onion skin pink to salmon, coral, hot pink, and ruby red; generally speaking, the darker the colour, the more intense the wine. Primary fragrances and flavours of Rosé depend on the type of grape, or grapes, used, but will typically sit along the spectrum of red fruits and florals, melons and zesty citrus. Sometimes, you’ll find pleasant green characters, like rhubarb or strawberries with their leafy green tops still on. 

Summer Lovin' Rosé

American novelist, Jay McInerney once remarked of Rosé, “Anyone who starts analysing the taste of a Rosé in public should be thrown into the pool immediately.” Perhaps, because it is pink in colour and frivolous by nature – a wine destined to be drunk sooner than later – Rosé invites such mockery from wine ‘experts’ and pundits. Which is not to say that all Rosés won’t age. Some do, for a few years at least, but, like a hot summer romance, most just aren’t made to last. Indeed, Rosé is made to be drunk on warm days; outdoors, in the shade, with a lover, or with friends, some food and a gentle breeze. Fortunately for us, here at Selector we had all of these things (minus the pool) on hand when seven lucky Wine Selectors Members joined Wine Selectors Tasting Panellists Nicole Gow and Adam Walls, plus Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Duff from Tempus Two Wines, for lunch at Carrington Place in Newcastle, to taste and discover the colourful and refreshing state of play of Australian Rosé.

“Up until a few years ago, Australian winemakers made Rosé as an after thought,” Adam told the Members at the tasting lunch. “Whereas now, the wines are being made deliberately, with designated parcels of fruit that have been picked specifically to be turned into Rosé.” 

The Members, along with the Panellists, blind tasted through 16 Rosé wines, over four brackets, and recorded their tasting notes accordingly. The wines were selected from right across Australia, with examples from the Yarra ValleyAdelaide Hills, and Hunter Valley performing well. Winemaker Andrew Duff, whose 2016 Tempus Two Copper Series Rosé won the trophy for best Rosé at the most recent Hunter Valley Wine Show, was impressed by the diversity of Rosé wines in Australia now, and said that balance was the key.

“It was great to see the different regions, side by side, all contributing to the different styles of Rosé,” said Andrew. “There was a lot of balance in the examples we tasted. None were too sweet, many were dry, but still expressed lovely fruit forwardness with delicacy.”

Australian Rosé - Fresh Converts

After a bashful start, the Members soon took to the tasting like yeast cells to sugar, and started fermenting their own thoughts about Rosé.

“I haven’t always liked Rosé, because I’ve found it to be light and lacking flavour” said Luana Genua. “After today, however, having learnt a bit and tasted so many examples that were all so different, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been converted.”

The tasting was a chance for the Members to experience Rosé in a relaxed setting, with great food, and to speak to industry professionals, which led to more than a few new discoveries. 

“I love Rosés, especially when they’re crisp and dry, and not too sweet,” said Amy Bruniges. “I discovered today that Rosés are really good with all different types of food, and I loved how easy they were to drink.”

“I consider myself to be a red wine drinker, and I thought Rosés were always just sweet wines,” explained Todd Settle. “But I’ve been surprised by how many examples we tasted today that I found very drinkable and enjoyable.”

Tasting Highlights

A couple of firm favourites emerged across the whole Panel, which included Bird in Hand’s 2016 Pinot Rosé from the Adelaide Hills, the Yarra Valley’s Seville Estate The Barber Rosé 2016, and the trophy winning Tempus Two 2016 Copper Series Rosé from the Hunter.

With so much pleasure to be found in a glass of Rosé, it would be hard for anyone to attempt a serious analysis of such a fun-loving wine. To do so would surely strip it of its joyful and blushing vibrancy, and we’d all deserve to be thrown in the pool! Yet, to not conduct a tasting like this, with such an impressive line-up, paired to good food and great company, would be just as foolish, because, as everyone realised, you never know what you’re likely to discover!

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Chardonnay Members Tasting
Words by Patrick Haddock on 13 Nov 2017
Australian Chardonnay has undergone quite a transformation since the days of ‘sunshine in a bottle’, coming of age as a world-beating white. I partly blame Selector . For cementing my love affair with Chardonnay , I mean. Seven years ago, Selector hosted the most ambitious Chardonnay tasting ever staged in Australia. In attendance were some luminaries of the industry, including Iain Riggs and Tyson Stelzer and it was my first tasting en masse with a variety I’ve come to adore. It ignited a solid relationship with the many styles and regions in this vast land. Yet weirdly, my affair with Australian Chardonnay had commenced a decade or more before. It was the golden era for Chardonnay and I remember dinner tables being awash with names like Oxford Landing, Koonunga Hill and Rosemount as we slated our thirsts on cheap two-for-one deals in the bottle shops of London. It personified a new taste on the UK wine scene that found an unquenchable thirst. Looking back, it was risible that such overly fruity and highly oaked wines could have made such a splash, but Australia saw the opportunity and grabbed it. The New World invasion of the early 90s was pulled off with aplomb. As the saying went: “No wood? No good.” A Sunny Impression
The other insidious ruse that Australia employed was to label their wines with the variety – virtually unheard of in the Old World and it was a genius bit of marketing. When the English were drinking Burgundy, they may not have known it was actually Chardonnay. A classic example was my mum saying she hated Chardonnay, but loved Pouilly Fuisse – a small sub-region of Burgundy that makes Chardonnay. However, the French are far too proud to put the variety on their bottles, causing mass consumer confusion. UK consumers were also buying into the image of Aussie life, summed up by the phrase for Australian Chardonnay, “sunshine in a bottle.” The label was seen as just as important as what was inside. Australia made wines that were soft and easy to drink with obvious flavours. Australia proudly screamed Chardonnay on the label, most often from South East Australia. We had visions of beaches and sun-tanned sheilas picking the grapes; never mind that it actually came from a mass irrigated desert wasteland somewhere near the NSW border and was machine harvested before being relegated to industrial amounts of new oak or worse still, flavoured with oak chips. A Refining Moment
Yet for all the joy of a tidal wave of wood that Chardonnay brought, it all imploded. The bargain bins remained full as the obvious flavour hit of the New World came crashing down and the wines became increasingly like caricatures of Chardonnay. We had some soul searching to do. Was Australia happy to stand on the world stage offering nothing but bargain basement wines, or did we want to be taken seriously? A decade later, in the middle of the noughties, a seismic shift began. A new wave of Chardonnay producers were re-inventing the wheel, spearheaded by intelligent winemakers in regions like the Yarra Valley , Tasmania and Margaret River . Chardonnay went from being Dolly Parton (buxom and generous) to Kate Moss (skeletal and lithe), although the best example of Chardonnay for mine is the Cindy Crawford – curvy and ample, but still chiselled and toned. Earlier picking, less oak, natural acid and throwing away the process of malolactic fermentation saw the rulebook re-written. It was time for Chardonnay to grow up and make an impression. Then in 2010, one of the UK’s most outspoken commentators, the erudite Andrew Jefford, opined that Australian Chardonnay can “compete effortlessly with the greatest wines of Burgundy.” He went on to exclaim: “There is no variety that responds better to craft than Chardonnay, and the greatest Australian examples are perfect syntheses of grape, place and intellectual understanding.” What a renaissance occurred. And the world took notice. Since then, any Chardonnay producer worth their salt has worked hard to improve the breed. Contemporary Style
Which brings us to today and as Hunter Valley winemaker and Chardonnay craftsman, Usher Tinkler describes, “Australian Chardonnay is in the best shape ever.” While winemakers and wine critics are well aware of Chardonnay’s contemporary appeal, has the everyday wine-lover caught on? To find out, we invited some Wine Selectors members and guests along to The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney for a dinner matched with a selection of modern Australian Chardonnays. As I chatted with the guests before the wines started flowing, a common theme arose. The reputation of Chardonnay was stuck in the past. As member Kirsty Bryant described:

“Although the Chardonnays that come in my regular selections have always been nice, I still have a mental association where drinking Chardonnay equals drinking a tree.”

- Krysty Bryant, Wine Selectors Member
Guest, Lisa Currie was of a similar mind, saying, “Chardonnay has always been a variety that means an intense oakey, woody flavour, very buttery and heavy, which just isn’t to my taste.” To help bring our doubting guests around to the charm of Chardonnay, we were fortunate to be joined by Usher, who offered some insights and, as luck would have it, his Reserve Chardonnay 2016 – a unanimous crowd favourite. To explain why Usher personally loves Chardonnay, he offered a succinct analogy:

“If Shiraz and Cabernet are like Kings, then Chardonnay is the Queen – like the chess piece, it can do anything from anywhere! It’s the most interesting variety to make and to drink.”

- Usher Tinkler, Hunter Valley Winemaker
It’s also extremely food friendly, depending on the style – Chardonnay can be versatile and extremely easy to pair with a variety of dishes. You only need to think of crystalline Chablis with oysters, a generously oaked Chardonnay with roast pork or chicken, and something in between for scallops and lobster. Don’t forget that Chardonnay is also excellent with soft cheeses. It certainly added an extra dimension to the tasting having food to accompany the wines. This was particularly true of the second bracket, which all had high levels of acidity, and so illustrated how food can really enhance the wine experience. The fusilli with crab, chilli and herbs helped soften the acidity, making for a harmonious matching. So Many Regions to Love It
Chardonnay is planted in virtually every region in Australia, but the ones that have excelled include Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills. Bubbling under for quality there’s Orange, Mudgee and Tumbarumba, Mornington Peninsula and Macedon Ranges, Beechworth and Coonawarra. On the night, it was the Hunter Valley and the Adelaide Hills that got the most nods with support also going to Mudgee, Coonawarra and Margaret River. The styles were varying among the different regions, but showed clearly the development of Chardonnay and the multitude of ways that winemakers are manipulating the variety in their favour to create the best expressions. And for those dubious guests, the tasting certainly had the desired effect. As Lisa described, “I found the flavour nuances really interesting, most were very balanced, yet complex.” Kirsty agreed, saying, “I was delighted to find that when it’s a good Chardonnay, even the more wooded ones don’t taste like trees. They have very inviting flavours.” For member, Robert Vukasinovic, who was already a fan, he found his “love for Chardonnay has grown stronger after the tasting because there are so many new styles available compared to the past bias towards heavily oaked styles.” What it certainly showed is there’s no doubting we’ve come of age and the new dawn of Australian Chardonnay has emerged victorious.
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