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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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Wine
The panache for Pinot
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 2 Jul 2015
Have you ever been stuck next to someone at a dinner party who loves Pinot Noir ? You know the type. They can wax lyrical about this grape for what seems like hours while you stare into your half glass of Shiraz wishing it was full. As you take a sip, it fills your mouth with its full, plush flavours and you wonder how the bloke next to you is possibly getting the same pleasure from his thin-bodied red. That’s how Wine Selectors member Joel Goodsir has always felt. He’s a man who looks askance at the Pinot section of the wine list; going straight for the big, bold reds that he knows guarantee a flavour punch. Even if you don’t identify with Joel, plenty do. It just fails to meet the expectations of many a red lover; they feel let down by its lack of oomph. This is a fact of great disappointment to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel who will all readily admit to being that person at the dinner party regaling guests with the finer points of this Burgundian red. Arguably the greatest Pinotphile of them all is Christian Gaffey, who says, “Pinot Noir is a melange of many subtle nuances, each more attractive than the last. Anyone can taste a bold Shiraz and be blown away by its obvious nature, however, Pinot Noir plays hard to get; it makes you work for your rewards. It is like no other variety; it can be expressive, elegant and bold all at the same time.” Sounds like it was time for a Members Pinot Noir tasting. A place for Pinot But first, a bit of background on why Pinot is seen as challenging. Firstly, region is everything. So much so that in Pinot’s birthplace of Burgundy where it’s been grown for hundreds of years, the French have invested just about all those years in isolating the perfect spots. In fact, as world renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson points out, “The Burgundians themselves refute the allegation that they produce Pinot Noir; they merely use Pinot Noir as the vehicle for communicating local geography, the characteristics of the individual site on which it was produced.” Not surprisingly, region and site selection are equally as important in Australia. The last time the Panel sat down for an in-depth Pinot tasting (Autumn 2012), they were joined by winemakers Jeremy Dineen of Tasmania’s Josef Chromy and Bill Downie of Gippsland’s William Downie Wines. Broadly speaking, Jeremy pointed out, Australian Pinot Noir needs a cool climate. Some of the best regions have proved to be Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula , WA’s Great Southern , Manjimup and Albany, SA’s Adelaide Hills and Tasmania . However, like Burgundy, individual sites can make all the difference. As Jeremy explained, “People are finding the best little sub-regions, and sub-sites in sub-regions so there is great diversity of flavours, textures and styles.” Having said that, you can have the best spot in the world, but if you don’t know how to look after your Pinot, you might as well be planting in the desert. Thankfully, Australian producers have greatly improved the other two areas essential to its success – vineyard management and winemaking. As Jeremy explained, “People understand more about soil, irrigation, about utilising lyre trellises and canopy management.” What’s more, Bill pointed out, winemakers have come a long way in understanding the skills necessary to master Pinot including, “Must pumping by gravity, handling ferments much more gently and less pump-overs.” So if Australian winemakers are mastering the art of this fickle grape, the last remaining hurdle is the drinker. The tasting For the tasting, we invited along two red wine-lovers with a penchant for Pinot. Richard Spillane has been a Regional Series member since 2000 and Deborah Best since 2006. Both have recently supplemented their regular deliveries with Pinot specific selections. Richard says of Pinot, “It may not be the red you’re used to drinking, but it’s one you can drink all year”, confessing that he even enjoys it slightly chilled. Deborah agreed, adding, “Pinot Noir is an ‘any time’ wine. You can enjoy it with a casual meal of pizza or something more high end.” Rounding out the trio was Joel, sceptical but open to persuasion. The line-up of wines reflected Australia’s best regions for Pinot, as mentioned above, starting with three from WA. While it’s the most recent state to dabble in Pinot, which means its vines are very young, Christian is of the opinion that WA is making some great examples. The Peos Estate Four Kings Single Vineyard 2014 was unanimously voted favourite of the three and admired for being delicate and savoury with forest floor characters and supple tannins. Next up was the Adelaide Hills. The most surprising thing for Deborah about this bracket was how much Pinot Noir changes in the glass. Christian agreed, saying that on first taste of the Dandelion Vineyards Heirloom 2013 he thought it was a bit lacking, but was amazed how much it changed for the better in the glass and his eventual description was of a “soft, supple palate.” The Yarra Tassie trail The Yarra Valley turned out to be the favourite region of the tasting with all three wines praised for their balanced acidity and firm tannins, ensuring great ageing potential. Included in this bracket was the Rochford 2013, one of the bolder Pinots and therefore, not surprisingly, a favourite of Joel’s. Last but by no means least were four wines from Tasmania. With the Apple Isle being a leading producer of Sparkling wine, it’s no surprise that Pinot Noir is widely planted, making up 95 per cent of the state’s red wines. In recent years, this has also resulted in many fine Pinot Noirs. The overall standout was the Josef Chromy 2013, which was loved for being rich and ripe with plenty of concentration and a fine acid finish. At the end of the day, it came as no surprise that Deborah’s and Richard’s love for Pinot Noir was thoroughly confirmed. But what of Joel? “Well”, he summed up, “Once I understood the goal was smoothness and seamlessness and stopped making the comparison with bigger, bolder wines, I got more enjoyment out of the tasting. However, I’m still troubled by the mildness.” Despite the hint of remaining doubt, the most important result was that a former disbeliever is coming around to the Pinot creed. So next time you’re stuck next to a devotee at a dinner party, proffer your glass for a splash of Pinot and remember you’re swapping a punch in the face for a smooth, seamless palate caress. Click here to shop our great range of Pinot Noir.
Wine
Into the wild: Grenache
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 4 Mar 2016
On top of a small hill in a small town in the south of France sits a ruined medieval castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it was built for Pope John XXII. The name of this town is Chateauneuf du Pape. Get it? But the papacy wasn’t just responsible for the castle, they also planted vineyards in the area, presumably to fill the sacramental goblets, and the town is now a world famous wine destination. The high quality Chateauneuf du Pape red wines are some of the most expensive in the world and while there are up to nine red wine varieties officially allowed to be used in Chateauneuf du Pape, the most common is Grenache . One of the reasons for the prevalence of Grenache in this southern French region is the climate. Grenache loves the heat and in Chateauneuf du Pape, the stones that are common in the vineyard soils heat up during the day, then at night-time the heat slowly disperses, preventing the vines from getting too cold. The vines are also virtually free from pesticides as the prevailing Mistral wind prevents rot and fungal attack. While the history of Grenache in Australia is a few hundred years shorter, we can put our success with the variety down to weather and a lack of bugs too. You’ll find most of our plantings in the McLaren Vale and Barossa regions where the Mediterranean-style climate of warm summers and mild winters helps Grenache feel at home. “It’s also a variety that responds well to vine age,” explains Giles Cooke MW, winemaker and founder of Thistledown Wines. “As the vine ages, it is able to produce grapes that are fully ripe at lower potential alcohol levels than younger vines that tend to push a lot of energy into sugar production.” “But what’s that got to do with bugs?” I hear you ask. Giles has the answer: “Australia has some of the best old vine resources in the world due to the lack of phylloxera (an aphid-like insect that’s wreaked havoc in vineyards throughout the world).” Its lovely old gnarly look is part of what makes Grenache vines recognisable, but also have another distinct feature. While most grape varieties need a trellis to keep them off the ground, Grenache tends to grow upright and therefore it’s ideally suited to being grown as a bush vine. So it’s old, gnarly and wild. While bush vines are more labour intensive in that they have to be hand pruned, they have certain advantages, especially in Australia. These untamed beasts are drought resistant and can control their yield so that in a dry year they’ll produce fewer grapes than in a wet year. What’s more, their roots penetrate deep into the earth where they find water and rich nutrients. So if Grenache is so perfectly suited to Australia’s Mediterranean-style regions and we have some of the world’s oldest vines, why haven’t you heard more about it? Giles again: “Outside of Rhone and certain parts of Spain (Catalunya) it has been a workhorse variety capable of producing large quantities of highly alcoholic reds and Rosés. In Australia, its potential to make highly alcoholic wines lent it to fortification and so it was often anonymous.” Justin Ardill, winemaker at Reillys Wines also adds, “Historically, wines were labelled as per their style, rather than the grape varietal and since Grenache was used to create Australian Burgundy, the market is more familiar with the term ‘Burgundy’ than ‘Grenache.’” The tasting It’s possible then, if you’re of a certain vintage, that you’ve tried Grenache without even knowing it. But if you’ve never tried Grenache or would like to learn more about it, the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel has taken the legwork out of finding the best examples with the latest State of Play tasting. In the top 30 wines, you’ll find the majority come from McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley . There are a couple of Clare Valley wines, a McLaren Vale/Hunter/Orange blend, one from Nagambie Lakes and even one from WA’s Ferguson Valley. Another thing to note is that there are more blends than straight varieties. Grenache is commonly blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre (Mataro) to make GSM, but you’ll also find it with Merlot , Malbec and even the Portuguese variety, Touriga.   The predominance of blends was also the case when the Panel last did a Grenache tasting back in 2009 and Christian Gaffey had this explanation, “Blends are often more complete wines, more thought goes into the blend or perhaps the varieties are more complementary.” Winemaker Damian Hutton, whose Iron Cloud Purple Patch GSM is in the top 30, agrees on the point of the complementary appeal. “Grenache adds beautiful characteristics to the wines it’s blended with. In the Purple Patch GSM, Grenache contributes its classic bright, cherry and raspberry flavours. Shiraz provides structure, spice, and plum flavours. The addition of Mourvedre completes the blend with added structure and depth.” Straight talking There are staunch advocates for keeping Grenache straight, though. Ben Riggs, whose Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache was a highlight of the tasting, says, “Our personal philosophy is to express pure Grenache. As a single varietal wine it expresses much more sense of place.” On this point, winemaker Troy Kalleske agrees. “I think Grenache is extremely expressive of time and place. Grenache character can vary a lot from year to year depending on season and it expresses differently in different soils. So you never really know what you’re are going to get, and that’s enjoyable!” What you are guaranteed to get is an extremely food-friendly red. As Ben explains, “Grenache pairs beautifully rather than overpowers, it amplifies the flavours of the food, rather than being overbearing with its own flavours.” Damian and Troy add that the soft tannins contribute to its food-matching potential and they both recommend it with duck with bok choy. Justin agrees that Asian-style dishes work, but adds, “Grenache is also fantastic with barbecued meats, particularly charred meats as found in Greek souvlaki, yiros and roasted lamb. For Giles, “When chilled, a young Grenache is great with fish.” It makes me wonder if Pope John had a favourite food match for his Chateauneuf du Pape. I am guessing it was divine. Top 30 Grenache and Grenache blends (March 2016) Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40) S.C. Pannell Grenache Shiraz Touriga 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Teusner Joshua Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2015 (Barossa, $35) Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27) St John’s Road Motley Bunch Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2013 (Barossa, $22) Henschke Johann’s Garden Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $51) Z Wines Roman Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $25) Turkey Flat Vineyards Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $30) Gomersal Wines Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $17) IronCloud Rock of Solitude Purple Patch GSM 2014 (Ferguson Valley, $32) Reillys Wines Old Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (Clare Valley, $25) Two Hands Brave Faces Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2014 (Barossa, $27) Vinrock Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $30) Alternatus Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $25) Landhaus Grenache 2012 (Barossa, $27) Tim Smith Wines Grenache 2014 (Barossa, $36) Serafino Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $28) Doc Adams Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $20) Handcrafted by Geoff Hardy Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (McLaren Vale, $30) Hemera Estate Single Vineyard Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 (Barossa, $35) Yalumba The Strapper Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2012 (Barossa, $22) Kalleske Clarry’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $21) Château Tanunda 1858 Field Blend 150 year old vines Grenache Mourvedre Malbec 2013 (Eden Valley, $250) Barossa Valley Estate Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2014 (Barossa, $26.99) First Creek Grenache Shiraz Merlot 2014 (McLaren Vale/Hunter Valley/Orange, $25) Running With Bulls Garnacha 2015 (Barossa, $20.95) Stone Bridge Wines Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2014 (Clare Valley, $26) Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Nagambie Lakes, $27.95) Richard Hamilton Colton’s Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (McLaren Vale, $21) Charles Melton La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 2013 (Barossa, $22.90)
Wine
Biodynamic – going beyond organic
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 5 Apr 2016
If someone told you that filling a cow’s horn with dung and planting it at a certain phase of the moon would help your vines to grow, you’d probably think they were bonkers. Far out it may indeed sound, but this is one of the central steps in biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture that’s being embraced by an increasing number of Australian wineries. While it might sound like a theory cooked up by modern hippies, biodynamics actually has its origins in Europe over 90 years ago. Let’s set the scene. It’s 1924 in Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland) and a group of farmers has gathered to hear a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The farmers are looking for an alternative to chemical fertilisers, which they believe have caused extensive damage to their soil and brought poor health to their livestock and crops. Steiner proves sympathetic as he reveals a system of agriculture that shuns chemicals and treats the farm as an individual, self-contained entity. Rather than focus on the health of individual plants, Steiner’s system teaches that good health requires that the entire eco-system in which the plant exists be thriving. This includes the other plants, the soil, the animals and even the humans who are working the land. The system he describes he calls biodynamics. By taking away all artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, Steiner presented one of the earliest models of organic farming. However, it’s the next steps that really separate biodynamics from organics (and it’s at this point that I imagine some of the listening farmers’ eyebrows began to rise). Steiner claims that for this environment to truly blossom, a series of field and compost preparations needs to be added. These preparations, nine in total, are man-made solutions, derived from nature, that are labelled 500 through to 508. To the conventional farmer, these preparations may appear somewhat far-fetched. For example, ‘500’ is made by filling cow horns with cow manure, which are then buried over winter to be recovered in spring. A teaspoon of the manure is then mixed with up to 60 litres of water, which is stirred for an hour, whirled in different directions every second minute. ‘501’ also requires a cow horn, this time filled with crushed quartz. It is buried over summer and dug up late in autumn, then mixed the same way as 500. Stretching his credibility even further in the eyes of the pragmatic farmer, Steiner brings a spirituality to his teachings by suggesting the growth cycles of the farm are influenced by astrological forces. Decisions such as when to spray the preparations, when to weed and when to pick should all be made according to a calendar that details the phases of the moon and stars. “Hocus-pocus!” you may very well cry. Not so, according to the ever-increasing number of wine producers in Australia and internationally who have embraced biodynamics. Choosing an environmentally sustainable approach to viticulture is obviously to be applauded in these times of climate crisis. However, talk to biodynamic producers and you’ll find that superior wine quality is the number one motivation for being biodynamic. At South Australia’s Cape Jaffa, the Hooper family has been using biodynamic principles for many years and their conviction in its effectiveness is complete. “We believe that cultivating the vines in this way is what allows them to achieve balance within their environment. Achieve balance, and the vines are able to fully express themselves – leading to a wine that bares a true and remarkable resemblance to its environment,” says Derek Hooper. The Buttery family of Gemtree in McLaren Vale are also converts. Since their biodynamic beginnings in 2007 they say they can now “see a noticeable difference in the health of our vineyard and quality of our fruit.” A fellow McLaren Vale winemaker, David Paxton of Paxton wines says, “Biodynamics is the most advanced form of organic farming. It uses natural preparations and composts to bring the soil and the vine into balance, resulting in exceptionally pure and expressive fruit.” The proof is in the tasting, however, so next time you’re looking for a new wine to try, why not put biodynamics to the test and see if you can taste the natural difference?
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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