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Castagna Wines - Cult Wines & Legends

If you are an Australian wine lover and haven’t heard of Castagna, don’t be surprised.

Julian Castagna and his family, located just outside the Victorian Alps town of Beechworth, produce a small range of high quality, biodynamic wines that fly well below the radar.

They aren’t in any of the chains and to find them you will have to visit one of the handful of independent wine shops scattered around the country or be sitting in a restaurant looking at one of the few special wine lists that carry them.

There is no cellar door that you can ‘just visit’, you have to make an appointment. And, if you are not on his mailing list or buy directly from his site that often has ‘sold out’ next to his products, you will struggle to find them.

It’s no accident that these wines are not easy to find. A filmmaker earlier on in his life, Julian understands the value of having to dig to search something out, get to understand and eventually cherish it.

The Genesis range, like all the Castagna wines we tasted, presented somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! 

Julian’s Path

Like most Australians full of youth and wanderlust, Julian ventured to Europe, searching for his path. After a stint in Spain, he found himself in London, working in film and advertising, and hanging out with people who were into the wine scene.

“I got absorbed,” explained Julian at a recent tasting of his wines at his kitchen table. “They didn’t know very much but pretended to know a lot.

“So I started reading, going to tastings and the guy that I worked for who had a lot of money, said “buy me wine” so I did.

“So when I went anywhere to taste, I was treated very well, and got to taste a lot of wine because I spent a lot of money…that’s where it all started.”

Julian eventually made his way back to Australia to make a film that didn’t get off the ground, so he continued with advertising in Sydney and began buying, travelling and exploring the wines of Australia.

After a while he became disenchanted with the advertising world and began asking himself questions about his and his family’s future.

“I was sitting in boardrooms and they were paying me so much money that it was a sin,” Julian explained. “But they weren’t listening…research and numbers were becoming more important than experience and creativity and I knew that was the precursor to ‘not’ working.

“So I asked myself, ‘What do I know? I know two things. I know wine and film, so if I’m not going to do film maybe I’ll do wine?

As he explored, he discovered a lot that he didn’t like, but a chance meeting with a glass of Giaconda Cabernet piqued his interest and led to him forming a relationship with Giaconda’s Rick Kinzbrunner and Beechworth.

“I kept coming back to two places; Margaret River and Beechworth, he explained. “I really didn’t want to come back to Victoria having grown up here, but I was wrong.”

Putting down roots

In 1996 Julian and his wife purchased land just outside Beechworth, planted vines and built a house.

“The intention was to make something really great, but I didn’t know what type of wine I wanted to make,” remarked Julian. “For me the wine that I wanted to make came from the land.

“I came here, looked at the land and it seemed to me the wine that would work here would be Sangiovese and Shiraz.”

Driven to make wines that were taken seriously, one of the many decisions Julian took to was biodynamics. “I believed and still do, that wine with character comes from the vineyard, not the winery,” he explained. “Biodynamics as a complete way of farming made so much sense.”

Julian is not evangelical about the methodology or its underlying principles. He simply sees it as common sense. It’s a refreshing attitude, given the fervent advocacy behind the current perception of biodynamics and its connection to the natural wine trend.

The Castagna website says it best. “The land is farmed biodynamicaly using Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles. We believe this is the best way to achieve optimum fruit quality that best expresses its terroir. Our intention is to make, as simply as possible, wine which is an expression of the place where it is grown.”

The Wines

On a cold, wet and foggy Beechworth morning, Wine Selectors Head of Product, Matt White, and I were treated to a spread of wines that showed just how special Castagna is in our wine industry.

The 2002 Allegro Shiraz Rosé was first and it was, quite simply, a revelation! Most Rosés fall over after about five years, but this wine, with 15 years under its belt, was aging incredibly. It had some developed aromatics and a little colour development, but it was still showing primary fruit with a fresh vibrant mouthfeel.

The wine had the kind of flavours and complexity that you get in vintage Rosé Champagnes and a palate length that went on and on. When asked how this was actually possible, Julian grinned, shrugged his shoulders and remarked, “It’s the vineyard,” and left it at that.

Next was the 2010 Ingénue, a 100% Viognier that had some delicate and pretty blossom florals, preserved lemon and beeswax aromatics that you see in only a select few Australian Viogniers. On the palate, the wine was all structure and complexity, with tight but flowing lines of grapefruits, rock melons, ginger and almonds. Again, the youth of this wine defied its age.

Two vintages of Julian’s Un Segreto Sangiovese Shiraz came next and the seven year span seemed hardly noticeable. The Sangiovese is weighted in the majority with 60% and the savoury, mid-weighted mouthfeel was a signature for both wines. The aromatics were sweet and perfumed with dusty red fruits, cassis, sour cherries and white pepper spice. In the mouth, both were fine yet complex with mocha, cocoa tinted red fruits, both stunning wines that again showed youth, despite their age, with class to match.

Next were two examples of Julian’s La Chiave Sangiovese. Generally, Sangio is not taken too seriously in Australia and is known mostly as a fleshy, ‘drink now’ food wine. But, like the age potential of Castagna wines previously sampled, these wines defied normality. They had the juicy, tar and cherries hallmark of Sangiovese, but there was a density to the mouthfeel that was juxtaposed with restrained, earthy flavours. These were delicious wines that could have you thinking you were sipping Brunello.

Biblical proportions

Three examples of Genesis followed and if there was going to be red wine that showed you what was possible with Shiraz from Beechworth, these wines would have to be at the top of the list. Julian’s intention is clear with Genesis in that he wanted to emulate the best Shiraz in the world and for him, these are the great wines of France’s Rhône valley.

Like the medium weighted, fine and perfumed wines of Côte Rôtie, Genesis has a small amount of Viognier co-fermented with the Shiraz, but the wines show characters from other great Rhône regions. The 2005 had the gnarly grunt and structure and spice reminiscent of Cornas, the 2004 had the earthy complexity and slippery mouthfeel of Hermitage, and the 2010 had the dried herbal aromatics and tight, complex black fruited layers and youth that had not decided whether it was Côte Rôtie, Cornas or Hermitage.

We rounded out the tasting with Castagna 2009 Sparkling Genesis. This is the same wine as the still Genesis, but it has spent two years on its lees and has been treated with a nicely balanced dosage that keeps the acid in check and the tannins slippery. Quite possibly the best in the country, this wine has complexity and depth in spades and the savoury, medium-bodied fruit makes for a compelling and delicious mouthful of bubbly Shiraz.

The Genesis range, like all of the Castagna wines we tasted, presents somewhat of a conundrum. Old wine that tastes young?! Australian Shiraz that tastes like France?! Beautifully crafted, insightful wines using weird farming practices from someone with no training? And from a place that is not considered a major region?

It’s a beautiful, inspiring story made sweeter by the wine that underpins it.

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Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
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If you enjoy wine enough to purchase through Wine Selectors, you know enough about wine to broaden your horizons. Have an open mind, ignore the name, even set up a blind tasting with friends, and just take the wine for what it is – it’s much easier to remember Saperavi or Bianco d’Alessano when you’ve had a great experience with them.

What makes the Riverland region so suited to growing Mediterranean-style and alternative varieties? Riverland and Mildura regions are equally suited to alternative varietal wines. If you’ve travelled to Spain or Italy during summer months, you’ll know the climates in Mildura and Renmark are very similar. The regions are hot and dry, with low disease pressure and there is so much sun. These varieties love sun and heat with Montepulciano ripening among the latest of all – late April for vintage 2017. Many of these wines, Graciano and Tempranillo , are as boozy in Spain as they are here. That said, the whites are produced with moderate alcohol to retain their fresh, distinctive flavours. Can you recall the first wine you tried? My parents always drank wine – from a cask. We had sips of wine here and there, but the best memory of my first wine was following work selling pies at the footy – the MCG. 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Debortoli Dream Vertical – Taste of Yarra
Words by Paul Diamond on 4 Dec 2017
Leanne De Bortoli and Steve Webber put on a tasting that reflects 30 years of Yarra Valley history. It’s almost 30 years since newly wedded Leanne De Bortoli and Steve Webber headed to the Yarra Valley to take up the family dream of building a cool climate addition to De Bortoli’s wine portfolio . Much has happened in those decades and the De Bortoli offering is, like the family itself, getting better with age. To reflect this, Selector headed to the Yarra, where Steve and Leanne dug out some old bottles and dusted off the stories that came with them. Where it all began
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Meet Anthony Woollan of Nocton Vineyards
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In 2003, the incomparable pairing of Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell wrote – “Apparently, it is now a federal Australian law that Pinot can only be served with duck. Crap!”. Sometimes though, clichés do ring true. The trick with Pinot is first to match it with fat; then to flavour intensity. Salmon is fatty, rump steak is fatty and duck is fatty. However, for this wine, I think slow roasted pork belly, cooled and fried with Chinese five-spice. Matched Recipe: Plank Salmon How is vintage 2018 looking? The best ever! Aren’t they all? What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? So many…some repeatable; some not! The first time I drove through the Côte d’Or seeing names on signposts that I’d only ever seen on expensive bottles of Burgundy was special. So was waking up on the first morning to a view of my own vines. I think the most satisfaction I get is from being in a restaurant somewhere a long way from Tasmania and watching a complete stranger drinking and enjoying my wine on the next table. Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? The next one. That is not as glib or facetious as it first sounds. I know that if I don’t think the next bottle I open is going to be the best wine I’ve ever tasted, then I’m in the wrong job. What is your ultimate food and wine match? How long have you got? Sancerre and rabbit; blanc de blanc Champagne and pork rillettes; Chianti Riserva and spit-roasted woodcock; young red Burgundy and suckling pig; Tassie bubbles with Tassie oysters: eat and drink whatever is on the local menu and it will work, but great company is still the best ingredient. What do you do to relax away from the winery? Eat and drink, and spend time with my awesome daughters. Your must-do for visitors to the Coal River Valley? Start at one end and work your way to the other, tasting as many things as possible. What is your favourite… Book? Anything by Terry Pratchett. Movie? Four Weddings and a Funeral. I went to see it after my first Tasmanian vintage in 1994. I was a long way from home at the time and it made me laugh, cry and everything in between. It still does. TV show? Mash. Apparently, it went on for four times as long as the Korean war. It just goes to show that good things can come even from something as terrible as war. Restaurant? Tetsuya , Fat Duck; Espai Sucre in Barcelona (such theatre,) and so many others. However, there is a little place on a terrace halfway up Mt Ventoux in the Southern Rhône: no menu, no wine list, no choice, (no advertising:) you sit down, eat, drink and leave. It is always fabulous – the wine is local and good, and complements the food, and in some inexplicable way, it’s perfect. Not the only one either…a fish restaurant in Agios Nikolaos in Crete, the old seafood shack on the beach at Sanlúcar da Barrameda in Portugal (long gone, unfortunately) or Betjeman’s in Smithfield, London, that used to serve cheap bottles of Claret with the best steak sandwich in the world. Breakfast? Truffled scrambled duck eggs – there has to be some decadence. Lunch? Curried scallop pie – it is the national dish of Tasmania. Dinner? Surprise me! (Okay, it’s a quote from Ratatouille). Time of day/night? Dawn. I see a lot of them and they are always full of promise. Sporting team? The Wallabies Beer? Yes.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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