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Wine

Natural Wine

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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Wine
Be cool. Cool climate Shiraz
Words by Mark Hughes on 12 Aug 2015
My father-in-law, Neville, is your typical knock-about Aussie bloke. A former brickie, he used to drive his Holden Kingswood ute to work and cruise the weekends in his white Torana LJ Sedan. He loves fishing, hunting and knocking back a couple of Tooheys New while charring some animal flesh on the barbecue. But since his retirement a few years ago things have changed. He mostly spends his time drawing the jack rather than mixing the mortar, he has a flashy new Korean-built SUV to tow his caravan and he’s pretty much swapped the beers for red wine. When he started drinking vino his preferred drop was the big fruit-driven reds from South Australia: juicy, plummy, peppery and pretty big on the alcohol – perfect for his medium rare steak and snags. Recently though, his palate seems to have matured and he asked me for a red with more elegance. I gave him a gorgeous Yarra Valley Pinot , but it wasn’t for him. “Tastes a bit posh,” he said. “A bit too watery.” Maybe I had aimed a bit high. What really caught his attention was a medium-bodied Shiraz from the Canberra Distric t. “Now this is pretty good,” he said, while putting on his glasses to read the label – always a positive sign. I didn’t get to have any more of that wine after he had poured another one for himself and his wife, and my wife, and one more for himself. Now, I’ve never really thought of Nev as a trend-setter. He’s happiest in t-shirt, shorts and those sandals with Velcro tabs, but apparently when it comes to Shiraz, he’s in fashion! Neville is part of a shift in the drinking public that is looking for more restraint and elegance in Australia’s most iconic red wine. If the drinking public was thinking it, the critics confirmed it when in 2009, the judges at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show awarded the Jimmy Watson Trophy for the best young red wine in the country to a wine from the Canberra District: the Eden Road Wines ‘Long Road’ Hilltops Shiraz 2008. It made the wine world sit up and take notice. Just to confirm this trend, this year’s Jimmy Watson winner was the Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz 2010 from Tasmania. A Shiraz from Tasmania? It was unfathomable. The Jimmy Watson is an award that has almost exclusively gone to the Barossa or McLaren Vale or maybe the Hunter, but not the Canberra District and certainly not Tasmania! Apparently it is not just a trend that is happening here in Australia. At the 2011 International Wine Challenge in London, Adelaide Hills winery Bird in Hand was awarded the trophy for the Best Australian Red Wine and the Best Australian Shiraz. What is cool? The common thread between all these award-winning wines is that they come from cool climate regions. There was something here that definitely needed investigating, so we thought we should do a State of Play tasting on cool climate Shiraz. First of all we had to define what a cool climate is as it is a phrase that is bandied about with almost gay abandon with little regard for the official meaning. Perhaps the strongest definition comes from the International Cool Climate Wine Show. This annual event began in the Mornington Peninsula and has been running since the year 2000, so it has some pedigree. It defines cool climate wines as: Wines made from grapes grown either: south of latitude 37.5 degrees south, or north of latitude 37.5 degrees north or from a property in the Southern or Northern hemisphere which has an average January/July (whichever is applicable) temperature below 19ºCelsius, as confirmed by the nearest Bureau of Meterology site, or vineyard site above 800m in altitude. Therefore Australian wine regions that automatically qualify as cool climate are: Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Western Australia’s Great Southern region. Then there are a few grey areas. According to these criteria, the Adelaide Hills does not qualify as cool climate. Its elevation and latitude are well off and its average temperature in January is 19.1. However, most would agree that it is cool climate, and for the sake of point one of a degree, one must admit that this really does qualify as cool climate. Likewise the Canberra region and Orange in New South Wales should also be considered cool climate. There are some vineyards in these regions above 800 metres, but their average January temperature is around the 20 degree mark. But I challenge anyone to stand out in a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Canobolas in the middle of winter and dispute whether it is a cool climate. Therefore some of the parameters, especially in Australia, still need to be defined. A recent cool climate wine show in Tasmania had the elevations at 500 metres, which seems more logical and perhaps we need to look at a combination of average temperatures across the whole year. However the upshot is: regions where Australian Shiraz has an outstanding pedigree, i.e., Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley, are not cool climate regions. All that jazz It is perhaps the amazing success of Shiraz from these warmer regions that has hampered the progress of cool climate Shiraz. Winemakers in cool climates convinced themselves it would be pointless to pursue Shiraz as the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Hunter were already delivering outstanding wines custom-made for the tastes of the drinking public. Scott McCarthy, winemaker at Helen’s Hill in the Yarra Valley, echoed these sentiments when he joined our Tasting Panel for this tasting, but added that things have changed. “In the past, for us, the focus has been on Pinot and Chardonnay and looking for the best places to plant those,” he said. “Shiraz has always been there as a good workhorse to produce good wines, but no-one has really given it the same attention as they have some of the other varieties. “But now we are looking at clones and root stocks and looking at actually planting it in the best part of the vineyard, not just the part that is left over from Pinot and Chardonnay.” Scott is well credentialed to be the spokesperson for cool climate winemakers. He grew up in a vineyard and spent his first 10 years as a winemaker in the Barossa before experiencing vintages in the Napa and France (Loire Valley and Languedoc). During a four-vintage stint in Marlborough, New Zealand, Scott fell in love with cool climate winemaking and he continued that affair by settling back in Australia in the Yarra, where he makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz. While winemakers like Scott are convinced of the future of cool climate Shiraz, critics have traditionally been sceptical. The purveying perception of Shiraz from these regions was of a wine that was green, stalky and under-ripe. That may have been somewhat true a decade ago, but as Scott explains, a better understanding of Shiraz in the vineyard, and in the winery, has allowed cool climate Shiraz to be far more expressive. “My experience in the Yarra is that Shiraz is one variety that is made in the vineyard and probably the biggest decision that has to be made that influences the outcome of the wine is the day that you pick it. “I believe there is only a day or two between really getting out of that green phase and when it is starting to get over-ripe. You have to work with the vineyards and taste the fruit over a period of time to know how each block is going to react, how quickly they ripen and when is the best time to pick each block,” Scott says, while also stressing the attention to detail that must be given to micro-climates, even in the same vineyard. “Instead of testing the whole vineyard as one block of Shiraz we have isolated different aspects. We know the cool, low-lying areas are going to ripen a little bit later and we make sure that we test them independently." “You used to go out and pick your whole vineyard. Now it is literally one side of the hill to the other and we are talking a distance of just 50 metres and we will pick a week, two weeks later in some cases, just because the aspects are quite different. “We want to get it through that green spectrum – so we are looking for that tomato leaf character to go out of the juice and to get a ripe spectrum with those nice blueberry characters.” The tasting The Panel sat down to 40-odd wines from across a dozen cool climate regions. The results were outstanding. Nearly all the wines medalled and the overall scoring was very high. Importantly, the tasting confirmed that these wines had busted the perception of having ‘green and stalky characters’. The key descriptors that came forth were of punchy red fruits and blueberry flavours, some spiciness and pepperiness as well as minerality and earthiness. Furthermore there was a noticeable shift to a more graceful style of Shiraz. While most were medium-bodied, some were full-bodied and fruit-driven, but with an elegant core, great balance and an alcohol content of around 14 per cent. “Some of the traditional descriptors you look for in Shiraz – those big ripe plummy characters, strong tannins and big vanillin oak – they were not in the wines we looked at today,” commented Scott. “We were using descriptors like oyster shell, cassis and minerality; descriptors that lend themselves to be able to match to food.” Wine Selectors Tasting Panelist Christian Gaffey was equally impressed with the elegance displayed across these wines in the tasting. “There was one wine today that was described as ‘Burgundy-like’, which for Shiraz is somewhat unheard of,” he said. “Not that Burgundy is the be all and end all, but for it to be compared to a wine of finesse like a Pinot Noir versus your classic 15 per cent Shiraz, means a lot, especially if you want to match it to food.” Regionality and diversity The top 20 scoring wines contained a great spread of wines from different regions. Five were from the Yarra, four from Adelaide Hills, three each from the Canberra District and Mornington Peninsula, two from West Australia’s Great Southern region, one each from Great Western, the Grampians and Tasmania. Within those wines there was an amazing diversity. While wines from certain regions had similar benchmark characters, each wine had its own life and there were amazing differences between wines from the same region, from vineyards within a stone’s throw from each other. “It really is a celebration of the differences you can get with cool climate Shiraz,” remarked Scott. “I think the biggest thing with cool climate Shiraz is the ability to show the terroir – the sense of place with the wines, which you don’t always see in some of the warmer climates.” Combined with a sense of grace and elegance, it is this diversity in the wines that suggests that cool climate Shiraz is a great food-matching wine. The Shiraz from the Yarra versus Mornington and Pyrenees are all very different so they should lend themselves to a greater variety of food than classic Aussie Shiraz matched with steak. Aging potential and the future Perhaps the most surprising result to come out of this tasting was the superb natural acid balance these wines displayed. This acid lends itself to the minerality character displayed in these wines and, more importantly, suggests superb aging potential. This was confirmed by the fact that towards the end of the tasting the Panel was giving very high marks to all the wines that had a bit of age to them. If that is any indication of what is going to happen over time, then in 10 years time we are going to have some sensational back stocks of cool climate Shiraz. Furthermore, the wine that had the most acid was from Tasmania, which suggests the cooler the climate, the better. “Tassie is going to be a tough place to grow Shiraz consistently,” remarked Christian. “But we have known through the years that sometimes it is the inconsistent places that produce the best wines in the good years.” Finally, as cool climate Shiraz is a fairly recent endeavour, most of the wines are from vines with an average age of 15 years or younger. We know that generally the older Shiraz vines get, the better the fruit they produce. These vines are still in their teenage years, so as they mature we can expect to see some world-beating examples of cool climate Australian Shiraz. I can hear Neville firing up the barbie now. Check out  Wine Selectors great range of Shiraz today .
Wine
Cabernet: Custom-made for a change
Words by Mark Hughes on 15 May 2016
In Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered King of wines. In Australia it seems to sit in the shadow of Shiraz . But a greater understanding of the varietal by producers and key changes in the weather signal an exciting future for this regal wine. Of all the great wine regions in the world, it is Bordeaux that commands the most respect. Home to esteemed names such as Château Montrose, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, the wines of Bordeaux have a sense of royalty about them. It is here where Cabernet reigns supreme – dark and brooding with flavours ranging from chocolate, cigar box and tobacco, its broad tannin structure allows it to age far more than any other wine. It is the stuff legend. In Australia, the thick-skinned grape varietal has been planted in virtually every wine region across Australia, however, it doesn’t always produce the goods. It struggles when it’s too cold and gets too jammy when it is too hot. Naturally, regions whose climes resemble the maritime climate of Bordeaux, with its warm days and cool nights, produce our best. Traditionally, that has been Coonawarra in South Australia and, more recently, the Western Australian wine regions of Margaret River and Great Southern . Certainly, these were the regions that shone in our Cabernet tasting with more than half the wines in the Top 30 produced in these three regions. “The potential to make world class Cabernet from Margaret River and the Great Southern is amazing and it’s only just getting started,” says Richard Burch from Howard Park, whose Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 topped the tasting. “Western Australia is a relatively young wine region with vines only planted in the 1970s. But when you put together the benign weather and growing conditions, the gradual accumulation of vine age, and the continuing discovery of the best individual sites for Cabernet in Western Australia, the future looks exciting.” The Bordeaux of South Australia Before Western Australia came onto the wine scene, it was Coonawarra that held the mantle as Australia’s premier Cabernet region. For many, it still is. Remarkably similar to Bordeaux in its maritime climate, the region’s famous terra rossa soils were thought to be a hindrance to producing great Cabernet, but as Paul Gordon, senior winemaker at Leconfield points out, it has imparted Cabernet from this region with a unique flavour profile and the climate allows for consistently good vintages. “That strip of terra rossa soil that sits thinly over limestone. The red soil, high in clay content, provides moisture-holding capacity to sustain the vines over the dry summer months while the porous limestone allows access to high quality water several metres below the surface, says Paul. “The cold Antarctic waters unique to South East South Australia cool the night summer breezes, ameliorating the warmth of the day to produce a long growing season. In cooler years, the conditions allow for ripening through April and early May and produce fine, elegant styles of great longevity. In warmer seasons, harvest may occur in mid to late March and fuller styles result – but always the emphasis is on patience to allow the flavours and tannins to ripen.” Care for the canopy As this tasting shows, Coonawarra is not the only South Australia region to produce quality Cabernet. McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek , Eden Valley , Barossa Valley and Clare Valley can produce wines with strong varietal characters. “There is very strong potential to make great Cabernet in Clare,” says Sevenhill winemaker Liz Heidenreich. “Cabernet vines thrive on the cool nights and warm days we see in the Clare ripening period. The best wines come from years when the crop level is not too high, the canopies are full and healthy, allowing grapes to ripen for longer into the season, and when we have long, even summers. Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, also believes canopy management is paramount in the production of great Cabernet, while also highlighting the importance of winemaking nous. “The vine canopy has to provide dappled light to the fruit, the window of picking for beautiful fragrant Cabernet is short, while handling through ferment and oak selection will expose some winemakers,” says Paul. While experience has shown Paul that canopy management is important in producing great Cabernet, science is backing up the theory. One of the primary characters of Cabernet Sauvignon is the presence of herbaceous green flavours, particularly when the wine is young. Researchers have found the presence of methoxypyrazine (more commonly called pyrazine) is responsible. It is the compound that gives Cabernet aromas of capsicum, eucalypt and mint. It has been discovered that pyrazine can be altered through attentive vineyard management. By careful pruning of the leafy part of the vines, viticulturists can manage what sort of aromas result in the wine. While work in the vineyard is becoming increasingly important, winemakers have softened the somewhat off-putting green, stalky flavours of Cabernet simply by allowing the wine to mature. Most of the wines in this tasting have some age, with some of the stars being from vintages such as 2010 and 2012. A Key Change One of the surprising findings from this tasting was that cooler wine regions such as the Yarra Valley , Adelaide Hills and even the Hilltops have been able to produce top shelf Cabernet. “The Yarra Valley has a proven track record of producing high quality Cabernet, lets not forget names like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg,” says Ben Portet from Dominque Portet Wines in the Yarra Valley. “In saying that, the potential to make even greater, and more importantly, more consistent Cabernet is strong, especially with the increase in our growing season average temperature and in turn our drier climatic conditions.” Vic Peos from Peos Estate in the cool climate region of Manjimup of Western Australia also agrees that climate change has had a positive effect on the potential for cooler regions such as his to produce great Cabernet. “The last decade the weather has really changed, the last six years, apart from 2010, have been spectacular for producing Cabernet,” says Vic. “We still have the cold nights and early rainfall in late winter and early spring, so the canopy is lush and the berry is great. But during the summer, it is not as wet anymore, so we can really hang our Cabernet a lot longer on the vines, and we can get skin and tannin ripeness. We are thinking that Cabernet can be one of our real stars. The future is exciting.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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