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Wine

Pretty in Pink

Moscato is in fashion these days. Bottles of the stuff are flying off the shelves at cellar doors around the country. It is easy to understand why. Refreshing, spritzy and sweet, Moscato is a favourite among the Gen Y set, where it is seen as the ideal ‘entry wine’ for those young drinkers who are just beginning to walk the refined path into the wonderful world of vino after weening themselves off those sickly alcopops, or who grew up drinking juices or soft drinks.

Here is the reason. Moscato is generally low in alcohol, at around 5-6%, so it is easy to enjoy without getting too tipsy, it has a divinely sweet musk aroma and it is versatile. Serve it chilled as the perfect wine to sip on a steamy summer afternoon, or as an aperitif to lunch, or enjoy it with your meal as a cool match with a fruit salad or dessert – lychees and ice-cream with a Moscato D’Asti anyone?

Another reason is the fact Moscato is cheap! Most bottles of the stuff are in the $12–$20 range, so it fits the budget, especially of young fashion conscious ladies who have forked out most of their hard-earned on a designer dress with matching accessories, handbag and shoes. Add to that the fact that Moscato is in fashion. It is the ultimate ‘drink accessory’ if you will, the fashionable tipple to be seen drinking. Rap stars like Kanye West sing about ‘sipping on Moscato’, this in turn has created an unprecedented demand for the wine in the United States and set off a Moscato-planting frenzy in Californian vineyards.

So with all these factors going for it, you can understand why every winemaker and his dog is jumping on the Moscato bandwagon – the result of such action is mixed. Because when that happens, you get a range of the good, the great and the downright ugly.

So what separates a good Moscato from a bad one? To answer that, you have to know what qualities you should be looking for in Moscato. Simple question, but quite tricky to answer.

History of the grape

Before we delve into what qualities to look for in a Moscato, it is worthwhile learning a bit about the heart of Moscato – humble Muscat grape, yep, the same grape that makes many Fortified wines! Muscat is one of (if not the) oldest grape varieties in the world. The name Muscat is believed to been derived from the Latin Muscus, and relates to the perfumed aroma of musk (originally sourced from the male musk deer). An interesting fact is Muscat is one of the only grapes whose aroma on the vine matches that in the glass.

It is thought that the Muscat grape originated in Greece or the Middle East and was transported to Italy and France during Roman times. It consequently spread all over the world including Europe, Africa and the Americas.

It made its way to Australia as part of Busby’s collection in 1832, but it has been noted that other cuttings have since come from other sources including Italy and South Africa.

Accordingly, with so much history and being so widely dispersed, the Muscat grape has undergone many mutations and these days there are over 200 different varieties, which is an amazing amount and exponentially more than any other grape varietal. This diversity is an important factor in this story, because it accounts for the subtle differences in Moscato wine made in different countries and regions.

Some of the most common types of Muscat grape are: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also called Moscato Bianco or Muscat de Frontignan or Frontignac), Muscat Rouge à Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria (also known as Muscatel, Gordo Blanco or Muscat Gordo), Moscato Giallo, Orange Muscat and Moscato Rosa.

The Italian Asti

Traditionally, the home of Moscato is in Asti in Italy’s Piedmont region where it has been made since the early 13th century. Like most things back in that time, the wine style developed due to a natural phenomena occurring in the region. Winemakers would pick the grapes in late autumn and start fermentation, but this process was halted as temperatures dropped as the seasons moved toward winter. This resulted in a wine that was sweet, low in alcohol and lightly carbonated. They would bottle it and keep it cold to keep the fermentation process from resuming, otherwise bottles would explode when fermentation resumed.

The region has since developed two styles of Moscato, Asti Spumante (simply referred to as Asti) a sweet sparkling wine and a Moscato D’Asti, a sweet semi-sparkling wine, which is lightly carbonated naturally – the Italian term being frizzante.

With such history, the Moscatos of Asti were one of the first to have Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), rules and regulations governing the making of the wines. These rules stipulate that winemakers in the region must make Moscato from the Moscato Bianco varietal and vineyards must be on sunny hilltops or slopes whose soil is either calcareous or marly (calcareous clays).

There are also regulations about sugar levels of the grapes. Asti must have sugar levels sufficient to produce 9% alcohol, Moscato D’Asti 10% alcohol. Of course the wines never achieve those levels of total alcohol content because the winemaker chills the wine to interrupt fermentation process. Exploding bottles have been eliminated as winemakers now stop any further fermentation by filtering the wine to remove the yeasts.

Moscato in Australia

In contrast to Piedmont, it has been virtually open slather producing Moscato in Australia. Winemakers were able to make it from any type of Muscat grape. While we have some Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) as they do in Italy, many producers use Muscat of Alexandria (Gordo Blanco), which is also used in Australia to make table grapes and even raisins, we use Brown Muscat or Muscat Giallo and some winemakers are adding a dash of other varietals in an attempt to create an interesting twist on the wine.

Crittenden Estate winemaker Rollo Crittenden reveals that they use a blend of three varietals for their Moscato.

“It is predominantly Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Bianco, but there is a dash of Gewürztraminer (about 10%) which gives the wine added lift and aromatics,” Rollo says. “We are certainly very proud of it and feel that it closely resembles a true Moscato from the Asti region in Italy.”

Gary Reed, chief winemaker at Petersons in the Hunter Valley, and special guest for this State or Play tasting, reveals they source the grapes for their Moscatos from the Granite Belt. “We tend to use the Muscatel (Muscat of Alexandria) grape,” says Gary. “We soak overnight and freeze it after fermentation and keep knocking it back.” According to Gary there is nowhere for the winemaker to hide in making Moscato, it is all about fruit from the vineyard.

“Any imbalance is really accentuated,” he says. “A good Moscato should have that long length, good balance and acidity. It should not have any coarseness or hardness and should not be cloying on the palate.

“There can be a rainbow of colours, anything from light straw through to dark pinks, even reds. The aroma is generally musky, but it can be a bit dusty as well, with a range of sweetness from slightly dry to fully sweet and from still, to frizzante to bubbly – and all are valid examples of the variety.”

The rush

Consumer demand for Moscato has a rush to get it on the market. “Ten years ago there were only a couple around, but it has really emerged in the last four years,” says Gary. “We are doing upwards of 40 tonnes of it – I can’t think of another varietal that has gone from zero to 40 tonnes in four years.”

This has resulted in vary types of Moscato and varying levels of quality. While some producers have been able to source Muscat grapes from established areas, a lot of Moscato is being made from very young, immature vines. But because there isn’t the same level of scrutiny as there would be for something like a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, producers have been able to get away with putting out sub-standard Moscato without the market knowing any better.

That being said, there are some producers who are taking the time and effort to produce quality Moscato in this country and those sourcing from older vines, and predominantly using the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or the Muscat Rouge à Petits Grains are rising to the top.

Producers like T’Gallant and Innocent Bystander source their grapes from 30-year-old Muscat Rouge à Petits Grains vines in the Swan Hill region, while Gary said his wine is made from established vineyards in the Granite Belt, originally planted for use as table grapes.

“The older vine material gives you a richness and intensity of flavour,’ says Gary. “Really fruity and quite intense.”

The Future

With Moscato being made as a style in Australia rather than the reflection of the Muscat grape, the industry’s governing body, Wine Australia, has stepped in recently and set some rules and regulations for making Moscato.

From the next vintage, Moscato can only be made using any of 13 different Muscat grapes. The list is headed by Muscat à Petits Grains (Blanc and Rouge) and Muscat of Alexandria, but also includes Gewürztraminer, which falls under the banner of Muscat grape as a close cousin and is sometimes called Traminer Musque. Overall, this ruling should result in some consistency and quality control in Australian Moscato.

Quality Moscato will also eventuate from recently planted vines getting some age and maturity and via winemakers working out what blend of Muscat grape (and possibly Gewürz) works best for their region.

Sure, our Moscato may never be as refined and delicate as their Italian cousins, but they will always be an easy to drink, aromatic wine with low alcohol, and a good introduction for younger people wanting to develop their wine palate. I guess then it only depends on what is in fashion – after all, the rap stars of the next generation could sing about sipping on a ‘Chardy’!

Check out Wine Selectors great range of Moscato today.

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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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Australia’s Italian dream: An alternative future
Words by Adam Walls on 1 Sep 2016
The state of play tasting for this issue took an Italian turn as the Panel looked at four of Australia’s hottest new alternative varieties. When you think about cutting edge, alternative destinations in Australia, does Mildura spring to mind? If you’re a wine-lover, it should, because this small Victorian city is home to the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS). Held every November, the AAVWS celebrates outstanding ‘alternative’ wine styles during a week of educational and celebratory events. I had the honour of being selected as the 2015 AAVWS Fellowship winner and experienced firsthand the diversity and fun it promotes. But before I go on, let’s define ‘alternative varieties’. Firstly, they’re varieties that general wine drinkers have little knowledge and/or awareness of, and secondly, they’re relative newcomers to the Australian wine drinking scene. 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Who makes my wine?
Words by Tyson Stelzer on 28 Apr 2016
Walk the aisles of your local Dan Murphy’s or First Choice store and you won’t find a wine labelled “Dan Murphy’s Select” or “First Choice Home Brand”. But lurking on those shelves are more than 100 brands owned by the supermarket chains with no disclosure on the label. In an age in which we are more interested than ever in the origins of our products, how can we distinguish a small family estate from a supermarket brand? The growth in supermarket “Buyer’s Own Brand” wines in Australia has been substantial, estimated to have mushroomed from five percent a decade ago to between 16 and 25 percent of the market today. The wine industry is concerned that this growing category of major retailers could mislead consumers. In February 2016, a Senate Inquiry report into the Australian Wine Industry put forward a proposal from the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia (WFA) “that the Government amend labelling requirements so wine labels must declare whether wine is produced by an entity owned or controlled by a major retailer.” “What we would like to see is that home brands are identified so consumers can make their choice,” WFA Chief Executive Paul Evans told the Inquiry. The enquiry’s report is not binding, but the government is expected to respond within six months. It can choose to accept or reject the recommendations. Not so simple The question of whether it should be the government’s place to legislate on this issue has been widely debated, but even if it is, the dilemma of how it could be defined and regulated is perhaps more pertinent. Buyer’s Own Brand wines have a fully valid and important place in the market, and the major retail chains own perfectly legitimate wineries under which some of their labels are branded. Some retailers’ own brands are even made by small, private estates. Further, many high profile winemakers, including Giaconda, Clonakilla, Oakridge and St Hallett, make exclusive labels for particular retailers under the winemaker’s own brands. Such relationships are of value for all levels of the wine industry. And if retailers are required to declare brand ownership, what of companies like Treasury Wine Estates, Accolade Wines and Pernod Ricard, who together own many more brands and a much greater market share than the supermarket groups? And, for that matter, what of the hundreds of private little “virtual” wine brands who own no vineyards, buy fruit and have it contract made in someone else’s facility? The big issue behind this discussion is the market dominance of Woolworths (who owns BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Cellarmasters and Langton’s) and Wesfarmers (Liquorland, First Choice and Vintage Cellars) and the increasing presence of Metcash (Cellarbrations, IGA Liquor and Bottle-O), Costco, and ALDI stores in the wine market. It is estimated that Woolworths and Wesfarmers together share just under 60 percent of the domestic wine retail market, with some estimates putting this at 70 percent. There is a bigger picture at play here, of which wine is just one small category. Controversy surrounds the supermarket duopoly and its increasing dominance across many categories. Legislative change for wine would not only be fraught with complications surrounding definitions and implementation, but such a precedent would have enormous ramifications for groceries, fuel, hardware, office supplies, insurance, etc.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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