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Meet Ninth Island Winemaker Luke Whittle

To celebrate the Ninth Island Pinot Grigio 2016 from the Tamar Valley being the November Wine of the Month, we caught up with winemaker Luke Whittle to talk Tasmania, cool climate wines, and Pinot G.

You are originally from New Zealand where you started your winemaking career, plus you’ve done vintages in Canada, Germany and Central Victoria –  what drew you to Tasmania?

Ultimately, my passion to get back to cool climate wines, and Tasmania’s reputation for amazing wines and produce. I see a huge amount of potential for the Tasmanian wine industry as the region continues to produce world-class Sparkling and table wines and grow its reputation both domestically and abroad. I think the next decade will be a very exciting time for the industry here and I want to be a part of that future.

What makes the Tamar Valley such a special region?

The unique maritime climate, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds resulting in consistency of ripening.  We’re situated on a beautiful big sweeping bend of the Tamar, which is not only an amazing place for grapes, but a beautiful setting for a vineyard with vine covered slopes rolling down to the water. It’s like a scene from an old-world region in Europe with a distinctly Tasmanian twist.

Our Wine of the Month is the Ninth Island 2016 Pinot Grigio – what is it about cool climate wines that you like so much?

In a word: elegance ­–  the way they are so fresh and expressive yet full of finesse.

In our food and wine matching calendar, we’ve paired it with a quick chicken cassoulet with preserved lemon – what’s your choice of food partner?

Coming from the coast of NZ, I’m really drawn to the amazing bounty of seafood here in Tasmania, and I love freediving. So combining those passions, I’d pair it with fresh barbeque crayfish and wasabi aioli, especially with the opening of the crayfish season just around the corner.

What makes cool climate wines like Pinot G so food-friendly?

The cool climate acidity lends itself to so many possibilities, especially when combined with the Pinot Grigios texture and delicate but expressive aromatics.

What’s your favourite wine memory?

The next one…

Other than your own wine, what wine do you like to drink at home?

I like to mix it up. Recently it’s been Riesling, especially some of the dryer style Rieslings out of Germany, something I fell in love with over my time working in the Mosel and the Pfalz.

What are your three top recommendations for a first-time visitor to the area?

  • Hit the incredible Tasmanian coastline! I’d suggest to go up to the top end of the east coast, where you’ll find no crowds, and amazingly beautiful beaches.
  • The Tamar Valley Wine Route, which we are a part of – the perfect way to sample a number of delicious Tassie wines.  
  • Head into Launceston to Stillwater Restaurant. The menu features Tasmanian produce and they’re known for an incredible wine list highlighting Tasmanian wine.

What’s your favourite …

Way to spend time off? In the ocean.

Holiday destination? Whangamata, my hometown, for a dose of NZ summer.

Wine and food match? Pinot and duck… it just needs to happen

Sporting team? All Blacks (of course)

Movie?  Anchorman – one of the classics

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Wine
Meet Alex Russell of Alejandro Wines
More and more alternative wine varietals are being grown and produced here in Australia. We catch-up with Alex Russell to chat about his passion for these delicious drops and his exciting alejandro range. Your alejandro label focuses on a diverse selection of alternative varieties of European origin including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Arneis – why these varieties? Shortly after starting work for Angove in Renmark, the then chief winemaker Warrick Billings, introduced me to Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC). RVIC at the time was an importer of new varieties and they would propagate the vines and produce trial wine from them. I agreed to produce trial wine for them on a voluntary basis. I bottled their 2008 vintage and started making wine for them in 2009, in addition to my role at Angove. Before long, we were crushing far more than anticipated and the facility was filled with small winemaking equipment I had been accumulating since the early 2000s. As far as choosing different varieties, I’ve never accepted the status quo. In 2011, Fiano , Vermentino and Montepulciano were bullet-proof during the worst vintage we had had in 30 years and the latter two went on to win Gold medals at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. From there I led RVIC into their own label, Cirami Estate. It was a little too entrepreneurial for RVIC and we parted ways after vintage 2014 at which point alejandro was born. I didn’t choose these varieties, they chose me. These varieties are perfectly suited to being grown in the Riverland and Mildura and produce textured, flavoursome and distinctly varietal wines. What would you say to our Members to encourage them to try more of these varieties?

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. I was 14 or 15 years old and I had made my first wine by this stage, but I remember this fondly because it involved getting wine from the super boxes of the old northern stand. The foil capsule had been removed from these reds and were therefore unsalable. I took the bottles home with quite a number of Four’n’Twenty pies and my father and I sat on the couch and we ate pies and drank red wine together. Making it more memorable for me was how hot and red in the face I became having bumped consumption from a few sips to a couple of glasses. When did you fall in love with wine? I think I fell in love with making booze before I fell in love with wine. I was always close with my dad, he’s gone now, but he loved his beer. I used my pie selling income to buy a home brew kit from Kmart and produced Coopers Lager – though this was after I’d made my first mash beer using 4.5L demijohns and every item of stainless in the kitchen. Do you remember that moment? What happened? After the first mash came, Coopers, ginger beer, apple cider, elderberry wine and in Year 10, I made my first Shiraz, ironically from Shiraz juice concentrate out of a can from the Riverland ’s Berri. Another memorable moment was vintage 2002 in Mildura, working for Littore Family Wines. At the time they had a Merlot block in Gol Gol with 2000m long rows. I found a rogue vine in row 57 from the north end, 16 panels to the south. It was an off-white variety, I picked the fruit and soon realized it was Gewürztraminer. My housemates and I drank that wine before it had finished fermenting. Do you have an all-time favourite wine to make? Why is it this wine? That’s like asking who your favourite child is – all wines are different and there’s an occasion for each. I do like making Montepulciano, but mainly drink Tempranillo and Durif. Now with a vineyard in Tasmania, I also produce Pinot Noir which is a very interesting wine. There’s a wine for every occasion and every appetite. There are some 15 wines in my range – gives me a lot of choice! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I like to compare competitors’ wines, like varieties and other obscure varieties, but the quaffers I like are Rosé wines. I’m not a fan of Cabernet Rosé or ‘drain off’ Rosé but give me a purpose produced Rosé with four days cold soak and I’m all over it. What is your ultimate food and wine match? My first experience with such food was at the 2012 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show where Stephano di Pierre cooked and we had Vermentino with freshly shucked oysters with lemon and fresh oregano. Tempura Sardines are great with Bianco d’Alessano. In Tasmania we grow Wiltshire Horn sheep for meat. They mow the vineyard down in winter and keep hard to slash areas clean during the growing season. The meat is rich, tender and moist – Lagrein is a good match for this lamb. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? My wife and I lived in China for 12 months, near the North Korean border. I used to cook a lot more but now my wife cooks anything and everything, she has a knack for it. When I cook I go Chinese and cook the dongbei cai from the north east of China, Dalian and Pulandian. These are better suited to Tsingtao and Mi Jiu and although considered qiung ren cai (poor man’s food) they are simple and delicious: Ban san ding is chopped cucumber and red onion with fresh roasted peanuts (skin on) with fish sauce and sesame oil dressing (and a dash of MSG). Tu dou zi is shredded potato with carrot, green chilli and garlic, stir fried for about 30 seconds with fish sauce and sesame oil. Xie hong shi chao ji dan is stir fried egg and tomato, again with fish and sesame, and don’t forget the garlic. It’s simple and really quick to prepare. What do you think is special about your wine region? Tasmania is now home and we are expanding our vineyard. Pinot is a great variety to grow and produce and the whites are excellent – although most visitors are left a little wanting for a big red. Riverland and Mildura (and Riverina) are the work engines for Australian wine and where I gained all my experience. They are quickly snubbed by many but do produce good wine. My greatest criticism of South Australia and the Riverland is that even many Riverland businesses dismiss their own wines when tourists ask for something local, offering Clare or Barossa instead. Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? Spain. Fly into Barcelona and jump in a rental car and head up to Ainsa, Mont Serrat. We have a winemaker friend named Ara there who I worked at Zilzie with in 2008. She came back to Australia for vintage 2012 in the Riverland and might have helped a little with alejandro in 2016 when she was here on holiday. Ara lives in Hellin and produces wine from Murcia region. Spanish food, wine and beer – ahhh! What is your favourite… Movie? Gladiator. I’m a wanna be Maximus, and the sound track I used to play when I slept – my housemates were worried at the time. TV show? Dexter, everyone loves it when a baddie gets it. Big Bang Theory because I was one of those nerds – a cross between Howard and Leonard. Sport/Sporting Team? Cricket…. Beer? My taste constantly changes depending on the day or the menu, but I love hoppy beers and stouts and pilsners with saaz and hallertau hops.
Wine
Simply Savvy
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Dec 2016
It is fair to say that Sauvignon Blanc is the most recognisable wine ever, but Australian producers are doing their best to create a host of appealing new identities. We find out who is doing what to make drinkers swipe right. I’ll come right out and say it. I quite like Sauvignon Blanc. That statement will probably earn me the ire of a few wine critics that I know, but I reckon it is a sassy and wondrous wine, and deserving of far more than the limited adulation we give it. I’d be as bold as to say it has been unfairly heaped with harsh criticism. There are a few reasons as to why Sauvignon Blanc is the kid the rest of the class picks on. Firstly, Sauvignon Blanc is seen as a pretty simple wine – it really is a case of WYSIWYG – What You ‘Smell’ Is What You Get and Sauv Blanc has an unmistakable tropical aroma. No matter where it is grown, it will always smell like Sauv Blanc, and this leads to the second reason why it is ridiculed. Because it is so recognisable, it is the first wine that drinkers new to the game can accurately identify. And for the well-heeled wine critic, that is just so ho-hum. Thirdly, it is popular, and we all know Australians hate anything that is popular. It is so well-liked for the two reasons given above. It is appealing for the novice wine drinker, particularly young women, as its simple tropical and punchy profile is not too dissimilar to the flavour of juices and fruit punches we enjoy drinking as teenagers. And it is popular because the novice wine drinker can identify it. Not only does that give them a sense of assurance that the wine experience they are about to have is going to be an enjoyable one, but it also gives them a sense of pride about their burgeoning wine knowledge. And finally, it is because New Zealand has had phenomenal success with the varietal and Aussies just can’t put that Trans Tasman rivalry to bed. It is a wonder we are still playing rugby given the dominance the All Blacks have had over us this millennium, and for the foreseeable future.   ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Having said all of that, Australian winemakers are a hardy bunch (even more so than the Wallaby scrum) and they have been busy creating a unique identity for Aussie Sauv Blanc that will have a point of difference from Kiwi SB and be just as popular, or even more popular. “I think Australian Sauvignon Blanc tends to be leaner than NZ wines, lower in alcohol with less residual sugar,” says McWilliam’s winemaker Adrian Sparks, whose High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc from the Orange wine region topped our State of Play tasting. “It is a crisper, more refreshing style of wine. This is what we try to achieve, but you want the wine to say where it is from. “I would hate to see wines from Margaret River , Adelaide Hills and Orange all looking the same. Regional differences are important.” Dan Berrigan, winemaker at Berrigan Wines and avid Sauv Blanc lover agrees. “As an Aussie winemaker, I try to understand what makes the NZ Sauv Blanc so popular, and emulate those characters in my wine,” he explains. “I then weave in the regional Mt Benson personality, which is usually in the form of more fruit weight on the palate, and I feel that it’s this combination that drinkers really appreciate, and are drawn to as a point of difference.”   BETTER WITH AGE Shane Harris, chief winemaker at Wines by Geoff Hardy in the Adelaide Hills makes another good point – we have only been growing and making Sauvignon Blanc for the last decade or two. After a slow start, we are growing better fruit and getting better at making good wine out of it. “When the Sauv Blanc train came to town, lots of the industry was fixated on turning the volume up to 11 on the varietal character, but somewhere along the line, the focus on site was lost and replaced with maximising varietal character with picking times and yeast selection based on volume of varietal character more than reflection of site,” says Shane. “More and more Australian winemakers are learning how to get the best out of the fruit sources they have available to them. Sauv Blanc has a great ability to show the site it comes from if you let it.” “I love Australian wine due to the vast differences in climate and styles. We are so fortunate in that fact and more so than any other country,” adds Adrian. “The altitude of Orange is the key, with its warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining wonderful acidity and not tending to have full blown tropical fruit, rather a lovely combination of citrus, herbs and exotic notes.”   TINKERING THE TECHNIQUE So what are some of the techniques winemakers are using and what result does it have on the wine? Overall, the answer seems to be to bring Sauv Blanc some complexity. “Winemaking begins in the vineyard,” says Dan. “With the Berrigan Sauvignon Blanc this means managing the canopy to achieve fruit with a balance of tropical and grassy flavours. “In the winery, you then need to extend the skin contact time of the must to ensure that those flavours you’ve worked hard for in the vineyard are extracted from the skins and into the juice. From there, it’s all about minimising the extraction of phenolics, while maximising flavour retention and balance in your wine without oak maturation, lees stirring or fining.” “Oak with the right fruit works very well,” says Adrian conversely. “Lees contact providing texture and depth and some wild fermentation all are providing layers of complexity.” “Sauv Blanc responds to as little to as much winemaking as you wish to give it. Whether that response is appropriate depends on the site and the intended style,” explains Shane. “This doesn’t mean that just because you can do something that you should! A level of restraint is required to bring the subtle characters from your little patch of earth. “For our site I find that some skin contact time, leaving the juice slightly cloudy, and yeast selection are the most important areas of my input. Some post primary fermentation lees contact also helps, but this varies vintage to vintage. “The ability to change and adapt to vintage variation and change your approach is required to get the best out of the variety. Following what you did last year isn’t good enough if you want to get the best out of it this year.”   THE FUTURE While critics predict the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc cannot last, our winemakers seem to believe it will be here for quite some time to come. “The wine style is just so strong in its personality, and with the majority of Australians living in warm, sunny coastal regions, the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc will always have its place amongst our lifestyles,” says Dan. It will always be popular as it’s such an easy drink and suited to Australia’s summer climate,” agrees Adrian. “I hope as an industry we can move with the ebb and flow of consumer preferences and make moves to deliver a style that is relevant and current,” says Shane. “We have to learn to not flog the horse too hard and kill the market and burn the variety, we need to be more sensitive to changes in consumer preferences and move with it, not fight against it. “Keep it fresh, keep it relevant.” Top 20 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 McWilliam’s Wines High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange) Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong)  Henschke & Co Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Berrigan Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson)  Taylors Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Blue Pyrenees Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Pyrenees)  Redgate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Oak Matured) 2014 (Margaret River) Silkwood Wines The Walcott Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton)  Tamar Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Tamar Valley) Dominique Portet Fontaine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Yarra Valley) Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River) Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Frankland River) Dandelion Vineyards Wishing Clock Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Wangolina Station Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson) Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Cherubino Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton) Eden Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Canberra District) d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Lambrook Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Nannup Ridge Firetower Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Blackwood River)
Wine
World's Best Rieslings
Words by Trent Mannell on 14 Feb 2017
Wine Selectors tasting Panelist Trent Mannell was asked to be judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, and he liked what he saw. Someone recently asked me what I thought the big trends in wine will be in 2017. And while I believe alternative varietals will continue to gain momentum I feel that an old favourite, Riesling   , will rise again to become one of the most popular wines on the market. I’ve come to this conclusion after a stint as Panel Chair judge at the 17th Canberra International Riesling Challenge, where I was blown away by the quality, variety and consistency of Rieslings from around the world, and equally by the Australian examples, which are right there in the top echelon. Given the fact that most international wine tastings of this nature are held in Europe, the UK or America, it is a coup that we have a tasting of this kind in our own backyard. Nearly all of the credit for this has to go to winemaker Ken Helm from Helm Wines in the  Canberra District  . Ken is about as knowledgeable and passionate about Riesling as anyone I know and we’ve had many a long conversation about the many nuances of this wonderful varietal while sipping some wonderful examples from Ken’s winery in Murrumbatmen. The thing about Riesling is it is so versatile – by controlling when it is picked and how much sugar is in the grape, it can be made in almost any style from dry and citrusy to sweet and syrupy. All have their place and appeal and all were on show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. JUDGING RIESLING ROYALTY The 2017 event featured an outstanding collection of wines from eight countries with record numbers. Record entries (512) as well as the hughest participation from Austria and Australia and the largest number of entries from Germany and the USA since 2009, and in a strong sign of the quality on show, a record number of medals awarded. There were 85 Gold Medals, 112 Silver Medals and 168 Bronze Medals – a medal strike rate of 72%; this is up from 65% in 2015. Gold Medals represented 17% of entries - a record for the Challenge, clearly a reflection of the outstanding 2015 and 2016 vintages in the Southern Hemisphere and some fine winegrowing and winemaking skills. “It is indeed an exciting time for Riesling across the world,” Ken said at the Challenge. Like me, he reckons that there is an increased appetite for Riesling and once these award-winning wines hit the market they’ll be greeted with much joy. For the record Austrailan wines excelled. The Best Wine of the 2016 Challenge was Ferngrove Wines from the Frankland River region in WA for their Ferngrove Off-Dry Riesling Limited Release 2016 . The best dry Riesling went to  Adelaide Hills  winery Bird in Hand for their Bird in Hand Riesling 2016 , made from pristine  Clare Valley  fruit, while the Best Museum Riesling was awarded to the Robert Stein Riesling 2009 from Mudgee. A VERSATILE VARIETY The fact that three different regions around Australia is tip of the hat to the versatility of the varietal to shine in different conditions and a testament to the heightened professionalism and attention to detail by winemakers and viticulturists. Germany’s Weingut Georg Müller Stiftung - 2015 Hattenheimer Hassel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese picked up two awards – the Best Sweet Riesling and the Best European Riesling, while the Mount Majura Vineyard Riesling 2016, scored for Best Riesling from the Canberra District. For all the results visit www.rieslingchallenge.com And can I give me thanks and gratitude to Ken, who is stepping down as Chair of the CIRC after 17 years at the helm. If it were not for his tireless work in instigating and perpetuating this Challenge we wouldn’t be talking about these Rieslings now, and you wouldn’t be ready to taste them. Cheers Ken, here’s to our next glass of off-dry and our chat on your creaky verandah.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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