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Wine

Bringing back the shine

During the late 1980’s and through to the mid-1990’s Chardonnay established its credentials as the white wine of long lunches. But the wine world was changing. Chardonnay was caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and it was about as agile as a Goodyear blimp, and the fall was as quick as the rise. Chardonnay was on the nose big time; the oak was too much, they were too buttery, too rich and too sickly.

Some makers reacted with seemingly fleet-footed skill and thrust their finest unoaked Chardonnay wines into play. These fragile virginal beauties had no oak, and little winemaking technique; everything was stripped bare. Trouble was, when you took out all the work and winemaking, there was nothing left but the bottle.

And then it happened. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand stumbled into stores at that exact time. It had very little winemaking, but the loud fruits were a hundred times more fun than personality-less Chardonnay. The rest is, as they say, history.

The Long Road Back

It was back to the drawing board for Australian Chardonnay makers and that meant starting again from scratch. They swallowed a large slice of humble pie, looked long and hard at the great Chardonnay wines of the world and figured out that the model needed to be cooler climate.

This saw the classic regions of Victoria like the Yarra Valley and Macedon Ranges find favour, the emerging excitement in Tasmania’s ultra-cool areas started bubbling over and the Adelaide Hills found success at the hands of makers both small and large.

Margaret River, being so far from everywhere, was really the only place that stayed its course of making age defying, bold and powerful Chardonnay, a position it still holds successfully today.

From the New South Wales perspective, Tumbarumba managed to ascend quickly to prominence as a place to watch, contributing parcels to some of the glamour Chardonnay labels of large companies, whilst also holding favour with smaller producers. Orange is the other region that has made a convincing play into the new phase of Chardonnay and there’s plenty of potential in both Orange and Tumbarumba for great Chardonnay.

The Hunter Valley is the New South Wales region that has the most historic involvement, although it’s an unlikely hero for Chardonnay in terms of climate. But ever since Murray Tyrrell hopped the vineyard fence at Penfolds’ Wybong Park property in the 1960s and took cuttings of what was then referred to as Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay has been closely associated with the Hunter.

The first Tyrrell’s Chardonnay wine was released in 1968, it was planted at Rothbury in 1969 and the Tyrrell’s Vat 47 Pinot-Chardonnay made reference to the old name, Pinot Blanc, and the new identity, Chardonnay. Tyrrell’s eventually dropped the ‘Pinot’ and have continued to make a Vat 47 that plays in the contemporary Australian Chardonnay space and yet remains decidedly Hunter Valley in character. Still wins trophies, too.

Others in the Hunter have created Chardonnay wines that flex plenty of skill and winemaking know-how, developing refined and complex wines from restrained, delicate fruit. They borrow inspiration from the best contemporary winemaking and execute technique with precision. Clever bunch those Hunter Valley winemakers.

Following fashion

Historically, the Hunter’s desire to play in the Chardonnay space was a natural product of its place of prominence in the Australian wine landscape. As Chardonnay came into fashion, they planted plenty of it in the Hunter and they’ve closely followed the market preference in terms of style.

They started off pursuing a restrained, leaner model, a model that was really informed by their approach to Semillon. They blended Chardonnay and sometimes Verdelho into Semillon to create the Hunter White Burgundy style wines and these proved themselves as both young and old wines.

Then, along with the rest of the country, they went for riper styles and picked later, threw plenty at them and grew big and fleshy. But they reeled bigger styles with higher alcohol back in and have since then adhered to the old logic of early picking, getting back to their Semillon-informed roots.

Twelve to 12-and-a-half percent alcohol is the right zone for Hunter Chardonnay. Bottling time is another factor and the Hunter winemakers bottle their Chardonnays early to lock in tension, freshness and composure.

Hunter Chardonnay still wins trophies, too – as recently as the 2015 Brisbane Wine Show where Liz Jackson’s 2014 First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay aced the best Chardonnay, best white and best wine of show awards in a clean sweep. It’s a ringing endorsement of how well the best Hunter makers understand their terroir, also a nod to the forgiving nature of the Chardonnay grape.

The results of this tasting

In terms of the results of this tasting, the Hunter has performed very well, with a lot of entries and a good strike rate. The other outstanding region of note is Tumbarumba. Known as the ‘Tasmania of the mainland’, its cool climate prowess is proven again here with six wines in the final selections, many of which are aligned with Hunter wineries using Tumbarumba as a preferred cooler-climate fruit source. Orange with four wines in the mix remains a wealth of potential and there is sure to be many more impressive wines coming from that elevated and unique region of New South Wales in the future.

The pendulum of Chardonnay style has swung less dramatically in New South Wales than in most other Australian regions and the wines, although less fanned along by fashion, are developing steadily with a keen eye on fruit purity and subtle complexity.

The best New South Wales Chardonnay wines are those that make appealing sense to white wine drinkers and they are wines that rely equally on the DNA of their origins and the hands of their makers to succeed. And therein lies the essence of every great Chardonnay – no matter where in the world it is grown, purity and balance are key.

The Top 24 NSW Chardonnay

Patina Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Orange) – $45

Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley) – $70

Coppabella of Tumbarumba Sirius Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 – $60

De Iuliis Limited Release Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $35

Swinging Bridge Wines Mrs Payten Chardonnay 2014 (Orange) – $32

Crush House Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $22

Tyrrell’s Wines Belford Chardonnay 2012 – $38

Lisa McGuigan Wines Chardonnay 2014 – $30

McGuigan Personal Reserve Blackberry Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 – $28

Crush House Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $22

Eden Road The Long Road Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $28

Jackson’s Hill Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $26

Oakvale Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) $22

Hart & Hunter Six Rows Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $40

Leogate Estate Wines Creel Bed Reserve Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $38

Travertine Wines Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $20

David Hook Pothana Vineyard Belford Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley) – $30

Draytons Family Wines Chardonnay 2013 (Hunter Valley) – $18

Hungerford Hill Chardonnay 2013 (Tumbarumba) – $33

Printhie Wines Super Duper Chardonnay 2012 (Orange) – $85

Rowlee Wines Chardonnay 2013 (Orange) – $35

Cumulus Block 50 Chardonnay 2014 (Central Ranges) – $12

First Creek Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley) – $25

McWilliam’s Appellation Series Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba) – $25

Check out Wine Selectors' great range of NSW Chardonnay today.

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Better than Burgundy?
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
Thank you, Bill Downie, I now respect Australian Pinot . Bill said something to me about Pinot Noir that triggered an understanding and ultimately made me want to seek out a great Australian Pinot and savour its every drop. I am hoping by the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll feel the same way. As winemakers go, Bill is a bit of a legend in the Pinot world, but an anomaly in the wine universe. You see, he only makes Pinot. That’s it. His entire focus is Pinot Noir. He is an unashamed Pinotphile. Bill admits he has always been enraptured by Pinot’s romantic charm, but he really fell in love with the varietal when he was sent by his then employers, De Bortoli , to spend some time in Burgundy learning about Pinot. Five vintages later his love had become a marriage, a blessed union between a winemaker and a grape. He came back all smitten and doe-eyed and intent on making great Australian Pinot. Victoria is where he focused his attention, and in addition to his own vineyard in Gippsland, Bill now makes Pinot from vineyards in the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula . As Bill, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy Wines and I were getting ready to sip, swirl and spit our way through a bunch Pinot Noirs, Bill was regaling me with his adventures in Burgundy and he said something that resonated deep within my wine scribe soul, as well as my tastebuds. “My time in Burgundy taught me to have a true and meaningful respect for the place you are in, wherever that might be,” he said, before nonchalantly adding, “Before I went to Burgundy I was in Australia trying to make wine that tasted like Red Burgundy. But after I had been there I no longer wanted to do that, I wanted to come home and make wine that tasted like the place I was, be it Gippsland, the Yarra or Mornington Peninsula". All of a Suddent it Made Sense When I first entered into this wonderful world of wine, I had bought into all the hype and hoopla about how amazing this Pinot Noir varietal was. But I had tasted enough bad home-grown Pinot that it had sullied my respect for the varietal, and as I had explored more with Old World wines, the Australian Pinots I consumed seemed too big and boisterous compared to the elegant Red Burgundy I’d savoured. But Bill’s words had made me see the error of my ways. I had tasted Aussie Pinot wanting it to be the best of Burgundy, when I should have been rating it for what it was – Australian Pinot. Bill explained to me that we would never make a Pinot Noir that tasted exactly like Red Burgundy; however with the right ingredients we can make top quality Pinot that is uniquely Australian and far more expressive. So what are those magical ingredients needed to make great Pinot Noir? The most important are climate, site and vineyard management, not to mention the gentle caress of the knowledgeable winemaker. Climate Pinot Noir prefers cool conditions but not those with a major temperature drop at night. It simply detests the heat so it seems pointless to grow Pinot anywhere that is warm, such as places like the Hunter or Barossa. Maybe as a component of sparkling wine, or as a Rosé, yes. But even if you are the world’s best winemaker, don’t try to make a straight-out Pinot Noir in a warm region. You just can’t do it. Many have tried and failed. Even the revered wine critic and Burgundian lover, James Halliday, toiled fruitlessly to make Pinot in the Hunter. Perfect cool climate environments for Pinot exist in Australia in just a few regions, notably in Victoria’s Yarra Valley with its cool, crisp slopes and average humidity, and the Mornington Peninsula with its maritime cooling nights. But perhaps the region that is causing the most excitement is Tasmania . The Apple Isle is already earning a reputation as a producer of world-class Sparkling wine, so Pinot Noir, a key component of Champagne, along with its Burgundian sister Chardonnay, has been planted here for some time. It makes up half of all the vines in Tasmania and 95 per cent of red wine. More recently, straight Pinot is starting to find its feet here. Jeremy Dineen, who is also regarded as a maker of great Pinot after 10 years working with it at Josef Chromy in Northern Tasmania, says that climate is key to attaining the elegance for which great Pinot is renowned. “You are talking about a wine that has very fine tannins, where texture is one of the most important things, so if you can get a balance of ripe but fine tannins and fresh natural acidity, with those bright fruit flavours, it is the perfect Pinot and that is only going to come in the cooler climates,” he says. “If you look at the flavours you can only get that same perfume, subtleties, complexities and balance of natural acidity from cool climates and that is a really important part of Pinot.”
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Natural Wine
Words by Nick Ryan on 9 Aug 2016
Natural wine is the hottest thing in the world of wine right now, the boozy buzzword from Brooklyn to Bondi and all licensed points in between. The term ‘natural’ wine is problematic, more on that later, but in essence we’re talking about a winemaking movement that seeks to produce wines with the bare minimum of human intervention. That means no additions, no adjustments, no filtration or fining. Basically we’re talking about removing human intervention in the winemaking process from everything that happens between the picking of the fruit from the vine and crushing it to get the juice through to getting the resultant wine into the bottle. The juice begins to ferment not through the addition of commercially packaged yeast, but rather through the naturally occurring yeasts floating around in the vineyard and winery. The various options winemakers have to fill the gaps that the vagaries of vintage can create are also shunned, which means no added acid, enzyme, nutrient or tannin. Manic organics Any discussion of ‘natural’ wine will invariably touch on organic and bio-dynamic practices and while they’re intertwined, they’re not indivisibly so. When we talk about organic or bio-dynamic wines, we’re referring primarily to the farming practices in the vineyard, while most of the requirements for classifying a wine as ‘natural’ occur, or more accurately, don’t occur, within the winery. So any ‘natural’ wine worthy of the name will come from organic or bio-dynamic vineyards, but there will be wines produced from similarly certified vineyards that can’t be considered ‘natural’ because the winemakers responsible for them choose to be a little more ‘hands on’ when it comes to helping them along the journey from grape to glass. That’s just part of the difficulty with such absolutist terminology. Also tied up in this milieu are the wines that proclaim themselves ‘Orange’, not because they come from the central New South Wales wine region, but rather because they range in colour from the bruised umber of a hobo’s urine to a turbid tangerine akin to flat Fanta. Thrill or spill In essence, Orange wines are white wines made as if they were reds, meaning the juice is kept in contact with skins, often in oxidative environments, to allow the extraction of tannin, phenolic compounds and colour. This can make for some intriguing wines, but anyone expecting them to behave like conventional white wines might be seriously weirded out by the step up in texture and weight. Advocates for natural wine will say that the removal of winemaking fingerprints from these wines allows for the purest expression of terroir, a wine’s ability to express the true nature of the place from which it comes. In theory, this should be right, but experience tells me that’s not always the case. I’ve had natural wines that have thrilled me utterly and I’ve had natural wines that have made me wonder if I should rip my tongue from my mouth and wipe my arse with it rather than subject it to another drop. That’s part of the pleasure, and part of the problem, too. A natural division There is a political statement inherent in the whole ‘natural’ wine movement that makes me a little uncomfortable, an unfair juxtaposition that banishes all other wines that don’t fit the criteria into a bin implied to be ‘unnatural.’ I prefer the term ‘ low-fi’ that some of the best exponents use. It also has to be accepted that a more open-minded attitude to winemaking faults is required to enjoy a lot of these wines and I’m cool with that. There is beauty in the flawed as well as the perfect. But there is a worrying trend amongst the loudest advocates of natural wine to treat any criticism as simply the old-fashioned windbaggery of an old guard who just don’t get it and I think that’s wrong. A natural wine isn’t good just because it’s been made in line with the philosophies and methods that define the movement. A natural wine is good, just as any wine is, when it’s simply a delicious liquid you want to put in your mouth. The world of natural wine is one well worth exploring and some real thrills await those who seek them. Just remember, the best guide is always your own palate and a wine with nothing but a philosophy to commend it will always leave a bad taste in your mouth.
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For the love of Riesling
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
Why don’t people go crazy for Riesling ? I mean, every new vintage wine critics across the country bombard us with rave reviews for Aussie Riesling with the underlying message that this once mighty varietal is making a comeback – if only the drinking public would embrace it. But that is where it seems to fall down. Fifty years ago Riesling was the dominant white wine in this country, but it lost its lustre in the 1970s when Chardonnay started to boom. In more recent decades, Riesling has remained stagnant at about 2.2 per cent of total grape production in Australia while being surpassed in popularity by Sauvignon Blanc , Semillion and even Pinot Gris/Grigio . Our wine scribes aren’t alone in their infatuation with Riesling. Ask a winemaker and they will get slightly frothy at the mouth as they rabidly equate the art of making Riesling as akin to a religious experience. This is mainly due to the fact that, of all the white grape varietals, it is the one that truly reflects the place it was grown, while at the same time maintaining its varietal characteristics. It is the purist expression of grape in the bottle. What’s more, winemakers and critics sing in unison that we have never been better at making it than today. So what gives here? Why isn’t Riesling more popular? My theory is three-fold – marketing, a fashion crisis and multiple personality syndrome. Let me explain. Marketing Most companies these days have a marketing department and like many of us, I don’t know exactly what they do. So I looked it up. It seems the definition of marketing is not just about advertising and promoting the business; it is about identifying and understanding your customer and giving them what they want. But if the statistics in wine trends are to be believed, Riesling is not what the public wants, so why would marketers waste their time and effort coming up with campaigns to sell it? One solid fact of marketing is that it works best on the younger end of the scale – the ‘Gen Y’ drinkers of the wine industry. Marketers are too busy trying to get that newly lean ol’ cougar Chardonnay back up on her pedestal and aggressively pitching ideas to swank up their Sav Blanc. Or they’re creating a buzz around Pinot Grigio with a viral campaign where antipasto platters served by suave Mediterranean men are bid upon by nubile young women using wine as currency. Could you imagine dear old nanna Riesling being part of promotion like this? And that leads into the next problem...Riesling is not sexy. And as any marketer worth her witty campaign briefs will tell you – sex sells. Fashion What is your perception of Riesling? Truly? I just described her as a nanna and I will confess that before this tasting that is what I thought of her. Sweet, juicy, occasionally bitter with an overbearing aromatic floral perfume – just like my dear old nan Ruby (except for the bitter part, she was always laughing despite constantly losing her false teeth, God rest her soul). In my marketing plan, every bottle of Riesling could have been sold with a handkerchief embroidered with edelweiss or maybe a set of matching doilies. It would have been the perfect wine to sip while listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack. Those of us in the Gen X generation, or old enough to remember the lunar landing, would have also had their Riesling memories tainted by the cask wine revolution, when copious amounts of Riesling were pumped into a silver bladder stuffed inside a cardboard box. Maybe I am taking things a bit too far, but add to the equation the fact that Riesling has its own bottle shape. What is that about? Sure, other varietals have their own look. Champagne is the most obvious, but it works perfectly for sparkling – slot your thumb up that punt, pop that cork and the party starts. But most people could not distinguish a Chardonnay from a Sav Blanc from a Semillon in a silhouette-only line-up. However, that tall thin bottle of Riesling stands out like the dog’s proverbials. And, just like those canine gonads, I reckon that distinctive bottle shape deters the occasional drinker. So in the end they won’t bother to pick it up to read the tasting notes or buy it because of a pretty label or accidentally purchase it thinking it was another style of wine. It’s bottle racism, excuse the pun... it’s a glass war. Multiple Personality Syndrome Let’s just say you are above the marketing tactics, that you were old enough and wise enough to avoid wine casks, and/or that you had enough education in the viticultural realm to accept that those sleek green glass tombs harbour a wonderful vineous offering. If so, you’d be well aware that the style of Australian Riesling these days is not sweet and florally, but is instead dry and citrussy. The fact that it is so versatile and can be made in these different styles is one of Riesling’s great assets, however, at the same time, one of its great frailties. Without going into too many winemaker technicalities, a number of factors including canopy management, timing of picking, contact with skins, time on lees, etc., can determine the style of Riesling, be it sweet, dry or everything in between. To help educate (and market Riesling better), Riesling comes with its own scale on its label – the International Riesling Foundation Sugar Guidelines. This scale takes into account the sugar and acid levels in Riesling to give a rating of either; Dry (sugar to acid ratio less than 1), Medium Dry (ratio between 1 and 2), Medium Sweet (ratio between 2 and 4) and Sweet (ratio above 4). Are you still with me? It is a lot to take in and let’s not get started on late-picked Riesling, which produces a dessert-style wine, as that is a whole other kettle of fish. I will, however, inform you of another reason why Riesling has laboured under a cloud of confusion. Because Riesling was established in Australia very early, newer plantings of grapes have often been labelled as Riesling, when in fact they weren’t. Most famously, Hunter Valley Semillon was known as Hunter Riesling for many years. This oversight, and many more like it, was only corrected in the 1970s. Needless to say, if you’ve had a bottle of Riesling in the last 50 years, you may have had one that was not to your liking and it could have turned you into an anti-Rieslingist for no good reason. An Australian icon In my view, Australian Riesling deserves better, after all, it owns a truly unique place in our wine industry. Firstly, Riesling is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, varietal planted when Australia was colonised. In 1791, Governor Arthur Phillip had a vineyard established in what is now the Sydney CBD, as well as three acres of vineyard on a property at Parramatta. It is thought Riesling was among these vines. John Macarthur established a vineyard with these cuttings on his ‘Elizabeth Farm’ at Camden in 1794. When these varietals were officially identified in the 1840s they included Riesling. Whatever the exact timing of Riesling coming to Australia, there is little doubt it one of our oldest varietals. Secondly, it stands out from the majority of our traditional grape varieties due to the fact that it is a German varietal, from the Rhineland to be exact, while most of our other major grape varietals, e.g., Shiraz , Chardonnay , Cabernet Sauvignon , Pinot Noir , Sauvignon Blanc , etc. are of French descent. Then there is the sense of serendipity around where Riesling excels in this country – the Clare and Eden Valleys of South Australia. These are the same regions where the displaced Lutherans of German descent came to settle, live and eventually make wine in the late 19th century. Sure, there might have been some inherited knowledge on how to grow Riesling by these new Australians, but in all honesty, the reason for Riesling’s success in these regions is due to terroir – the soils, the terrain, the prevailing weather conditions – the land itself. Now I don’t know if you are a big believer in fate, but I find this fact truly remarkable and proof that Riesling was destined to thrive here in Australia. Finally, Riesling was the varietal that led our screwcap revolution. You see, another remarkable quality of Riesling is that it is practically the only white varietal that ages gracefully. Zesty and citrussy young, it can develop in the bottle to show gorgeous honey, toast characters after a number of years (which is probably why Hunter Semillon was confused with it). As was discovered in these instances, cork is an inferior closure to the Stelvin cap and so, in 2001, the Riesling growers in the Clare Valley united as one and bottled the entire Riesling vintage under screwcap. The take home message is this - good Riesling is all about purity. It is really about preserving the pristine purity of the grape. At the same time, there are different styles. You just have to do some detective work. Get to know the style you like, get to those producers who make that style and follow them – you will be rewarded. And, after all, Riesling deserves some love, don’t you think? Click here to shop our great range of Riesling.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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