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Wine

Cabernet: Custom-made for a change

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.”

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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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Pretty in Pink
Words by Mark Hughes on 12 Aug 2015
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. 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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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Bringing back the shine
Words by Nick Stock on 14 Sep 2015
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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