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Wine

Who makes my wine?

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.

HOW TO FIND WHO MAKES YOUR WINE

Without a mandate for transparency in labelling, what hope do you have of knowing who made your wine? This was the question that perplexed Murrumbateman winemaker Sarah Collingwood, who responded by creating “Who makes my wine”, a website listing all the brands owned by Woolworths and Wesfarmers.

When Sarah ultimately discontinued her site, wine writer Huon Hooke offered to host it. Some 280 brands are listed at therealreview.com, more than 100 of which are currently listed in Woolworths and Wesfarmers stores.

The Senate Inquiry into supermarket own brands has perhaps raised more questions than it has answered, and there is much for the wine industry to consider regarding achieving greater transparency in wine labelling.

THE DEBATE RAGES

“At the core of this debate is the accusation that Coles, Woolies and other retailers with ‘own brands’ have no investment in the wine industry, but are opportunists who buy ready-made wine and put their own label on it,” says Huon Hooke. “Of course, there are many so-called wine producers that do the same thing: they own no vineyards nor wineries, but act like negociants,” 

Larry Lockshin, Professor of Wine Marketing and Head of the School of Marketing, University of South Australia, agrees.

“There is no doubt that Buyer’s Own Brands, however they are labelled, take shelf space from branded wineries. But Buyer’s Own Brands are also made from Australian grapes, by Australian winemakers, in Australian facilities. Small growers have sold their wines (and later their grapes) to larger entities for hundreds of years. These entities: negociants, shippers, wholesalers and retailers have always created wine brands. The difference is that none of these historically has had the market power that a few retail companies in Australia currently enjoy.”

The issue of transparency is very different in the UK, James Tilbrook of Tilbrook Estate explains, “In the UK, supermarkets proudly display their brand and what the wine is called, e.g. Sainsbury’s Champagne. If it is good enough for them, why do Aussie supermarkets want to hide behind fake brands?”

Winemaker John Cassegrain also feels strongly about being honest with wine-lovers.

“The expectation from consumers is that they are buying hand-crafted wine from a vineyard estate, but the labelling of ‘home brands’ by the supermarkets is, in effect, cheating. They are not hand-crafted wines, in actual fact, they are manufactured wines, so to me it reeks of misrepresentation.”

“I think wine consumers need to understand what they are buying and where these are made,” agrees Leigh Dryden of Decante This. “There are so many ‘own brands’ out there it has become increasingly hard to tell the authentic from the bogus. Retailers, makers and distributors have nothing to fear of the truth.”

Even more vehement about the issue is Mornington Peninsula winemaker, Garry Crittenden.

“Speaking as someone with first hand experience of the way the major supermarkets treat their relations with wine suppliers, I can honestly say it beggars belief that, in the face of continuing opprobrium, they still treat the industry and their customers with an indifference bordering on contempt. But maybe it’s not so surprising when it’s simply part of the embedded culture surrounding supplier relations,” says Garry.

“Is it asking too much of them that they disclose a particular house wine is just that and the brand is owned by them? I can only hope that in his 2nd term as head of ACCC Mr Sims can dismantle some of the disingenuousness we see from these people.”

However, Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Leembruggen,  believes the producers need to act themselves.

“I think wine businesses should adopt a labelling code of practice that has words or statements producers could use like ‘estate made and bottled’ or ‘estate made’.”

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Wine
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. 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.
Wine
Top 50 wines of 2015
Words by Mark Hughes on 16 Jan 2016
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines! Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years. As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list. More than meets the eye Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz. What is very promising is the fact that there are a number of alternative varietals on the list: Roussanne, Malbec, Grenache , Tempranillo and even a Gewürztraminer! This bodes extremely well for the wide variety available to the Australian wine drinker. There were also two Semillons (but only one from the Hunter), two Fortifieds, but perhaps disappointingly, only one Sparkling and a lone Riesling . Regions It appears that the last few vintages have been pretty good for winemakers in the Hunter Valley , Margaret River and the emerging giant, Great Southern , who each topped the pile with six wines represented. Adelaide Hills (5), Barossa (4), McLaren Vale (4) and Coonawarra (3 – but only one of them Cab Sauv) also performed well. Regions that surprised many included: Heathcote , Goulburn Valley and Great Western, while Rutherglen proved that it is still producing world-class Fortifieds, including the top scoring wine from All Saints Estate. Speaking of producers, there were only two who had multiple entries in the Top 50 – Howard Park with their Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay; and Brown Brothers with a Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir. So hats off to those guys, they are obviously getting their sites and winemaking spot-on. Overall, this Top 50 list is great news for wine lovers. The results show that we can rely on wines we have admired for decades, some faithful styles are being produced better than ever before, while at the same time, there is a rich range of top quality emerging varietals on the market. Top 50 Wines of 2015 1. All Saints Estate Grand Rutherglen Muscat (Rutherglen, $72) 2. Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Coonawarra, $35) 3. Driftwood Estate The Collection Shiraz Cabernet 2012 (Margaret River, $21) 4. Best’s Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2013 (Great Western, $75) 5. Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2014 (Mount Barker, $50) 6. Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2013 (Heathcote, $20) 7. Ballabourneen ‘The Three Amigos’ Cabernet Petit Verdot Merlot 2013 (McLaren Vale/Orange/Hunter Valley, $35) 8. Thistledown The Vagabond Grenache 2014 (McLaren Vale, $40) 9. Murray Street Vineyards Black Label Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $25) 10. Rymill gt Gewürztraminer 2015 (Coonawarra, $20) 11. Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Frankland River, $38) 12. Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 47 Chardonnay 2011 (Hunter Valley, $70) 13. Howard Park Western Australia Chardonnay 2014 (Great Southern/Marg River, $54) 14. Shaw & Smith Incognito Chardonnay 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $19) 15. Innocent Bystander Mea Culpa Chardonnay 2013 (Yarra Valley, $60) 16. Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Tempranillo 2013 (Victoria, $19) 17. Rutherglen Estates Classic Muscat NV (Rutherglen, $15) 18. Mr Riggs Generation Series The Magnet Grenache 2013 (McLaren Vale, $27) 19. X by Xabregas Figtree Riesling 2014 (Mount Barker, $40) 20. Château Tanunda Terroirs of the Barossa Lyndoch Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $49.50) 21. Ferngrove ‘Dragon’ Shiraz 2012 (Frankland River, $32) 22. Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2014 (Tamar River Tasmania, $25) 23. Henry’s Drive Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Padthaway, $35) 24. Jansz Single Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 (Pipers River Tasmania, $64.95) 25. First Creek Semillon 2013 (Hunter Valley, $25) 26. Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley, $40) 27. Serafino ‘Sharktooth’ Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, $70) 28. De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley, $40) 29. Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $20) 30. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $36) 31. Tomich ‘T’ Woodside Vineyard 1777 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $30) 32. Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley, $55) 33. Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005 (Frankland River, $35) 34. Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20) 35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28) 36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18) 37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35) 38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28) 39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20) 40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25) 41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38) 42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50) 43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45) 44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33) 45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38) 46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90) 47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22) 48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65) 49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,   $19.90) 50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26) Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016
Wine
Change of Tempo with Tempranillo
Words by Jeni Port on 2 Jul 2015
In 2006 Melbourne academic, Professor Snow Barlow, offered some important advice to the Australian wine industry. As one of the leading agricultural scientists investigating the impact of climate change on viticulture in this country, he was succinct: adapt or else. Open your eyes, he implored, to the changes that increased levels of greenhouse gases and a warmer, drier climate are having on vines with earlier budburst, shorter winters, compressed vintages and extreme weather events. Learn to adjust. And then he returned to his vineyard, Baddaginnie Run, in the Strathbogie Ranges in Central Victoria and did just that. Out went his Merlot vines and in came Tempranillo. Merlot had worked well in the early days, but a combination of hot vintages with runs of 40+C days and drier conditions, were stressing the normally cool-mannered Bordeaux grape. Mediterranean-born Tempranillo was a better fit, he said. It lapped up the heat. It’s hard to say whether Prof. Barlow’s words and personal actions spurred Aussie wine growers and makers into action, but Tempranillo plantings did indeed take off. Exploded in fact. From 209 hectares in 2004, plantings ballooned to 712 hectares by 2012. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the warmer regions that took to it with the greatest gusto: Barossa Valley (20% of plantings), Murray Darling (19%), Riverina (15%), McLaren Vale (11%) and the Riverland (10%). The Riverina district was encouraged, no doubt, by Melbourne University projections showing it will be among the wine areas hardest hit by climate change. By 2030, research suggests rising temperatures could reduce grape quality in the region by up to 52 per cent. Growers in warm areas laud Tempranillo for its tolerance under hot conditions, its generosity of black fruits, its spice, its tannin structure. But, sadly, not its acidity. Professor Barlow had omitted the fact that the grape is naturally shy in acidity, a rather important piece of information to keep in mind when planting in a warm area. “It’s a bit of a sook actually,” says Peter Leske, a fellow scientist-winemaker behind the specialist Tempranillo maker, La Linea, in the Adelaide Hills. However, Leske maintains the grape’s good points still far outweigh its negatives. “It retains perfume and flavour, flesh and spice, so it makes a wine high in deliciousness despite warm and dry conditions,” he says. Deliciousness, it seems, wins out. Great in the heat, even better in the cool Warm climate Tempranillo is one thing. Cool climate Tempranillo is quite another. It is just possible that in the future the most exciting examples will come from winemakers who venture high up into the wilds, to places where Pinot Noir might also be suited, where the heat is less and the rainfall is more. A little like the 500-metre high nosebleed parts of Spain where it thrives: Rioja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bright red fruits are to the fore in Tempranillo grown in cooler climes, the spice appears edgier, the structure is definitely firmer and more apparent. As the full impact of climate change is felt, it could be these areas that will ultimately be better suited to Tempranillo. Time will tell. In the meantime, Australian winemakers consider the newcomer amongst them. “We still have a lot to learn about Tempranillo,” admits Peter Leske. There are things we already know about the grape, like the little matter of pronunciation. If you know Spanish you know, Tempranillo is pronounced with the two lls silent: tem-pra-neee-o. That’s how it should be. It’s not too difficult. Many Aussie enthusiasts have already shortened it to ‘temp’ – clearly a display of endearment. We know that at first, quite a few Australian winemakers mistook Tempranillo for a grape just like Shiraz and made it like Shiraz, emasculating its vibrant Spanish passion into just another Aussie dry red. No identity. No excitement. Tempranillo is not Shiraz. It might act like it sometimes, taste like it occasionally, but its DNA – while not completely known – suggests one immediate relative is most likely Albillo Mayor, a grape from Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain. No Shiraz in sight. The tempraneo gang Some of the greatest advances in understanding the grape come from a group of six Aussie winemakers who got together in 2010, calling themselves ‘TempraNeo’. Each maker comes from a different region, covering most of the viticultural bases: Mayford in the Alpine Valleys, La Linea in the Adelaide Hills, Mount Majura in Canberra, Tar and Roses in Heathcote, Yalumba’s Running With Bulls in the Barossa and Gemtree in McLaren Vale. A number of winemaking bases, too, are explored. No two producers follow the same methods. Eleana Anderson at Mayford brings some basic Pinot Noir winemaking techniques to her Tempranillo including whole bunch fermentation with stalks for added tannin (now that’s simply not done in Spain) and extended time on skins to extract colour and flavour. Her take on Tempranillo is definitely fragrant, elegantly poised. Frank Van De Loo at Mount Majura introduces the notion of savouriness into his Tempranillo. He favours wild ferments, which by definition can be a bit feral and uncontrolled. At La Linea, Peter Leske and David Le Mire, MW, are seeing just what multiple site selections can do for Tempranillo. They source grapes from six vineyards in the Adelaide Hills from Kersbrook to the north (the warmest) through to Birdwood (the coolest location). Blending the blocks together is already producing some attractive characters: fragrance, structure, mouth feel, vibrant fruit, abundant spice. Mike Brown at Gemtree Vineyards, is a biodynamic grower who prefers a hands-off winemaking approach. Winemaker Sam Wigan at Running With Bulls is giving his Tempranillo time in Hungarian oak. “I’m using five to 10 per cent new Hungarian oak because it integrates well with the grape’s tannins,” he says, adding Hungarian oak doesn’t impart vanilla notes common to French oak, so it’s about looking to something out of the ordinary. At Heathcote in Central Victoria, a notable red wine producing region, winemakers Don Lewis and Narelle King at Tar & Roses are studying Tempranillo’s finickety acid profile, amongst other things. In 2014 they did a trial on a half tonne batch of Tempranillo, adding no acid. It didn’t work out well. “I don’t see it as a way forward,” says Don. When it comes to the fuller wine style of the Tar & Roses Tempranillo, he is now certain that it is essential to add acid. However, the grape does have other useful qualities he can employ to deliver structure, namely tannin. “If you taste the grape in the vineyard it’s not very juicy, it’s quite fleshy and it has a chalky tannin that no other variety has,” says Don. “Those two things – fleshiness and chalky tannins - are the epitome of Tempranillo to me. It was what I was used to seeing in La Mancha (Spain) when I was making wine there.” The TempraNeo group is also monitoring the growing number of Tempranillo clones (plant material) now available in Australia. The main sources are Spain, France and Portugal where the grape goes under the name of Tinta Roriz or Aragones. Some clones deliver fruit high in perfume, others show pronounced savouriness. Ten years of trials at Australian nurseries have revealed significant taste and aroma differences between the dozen clones available here. Importantly, Australian winemakers need to know where their clonal material hails from, because it is becoming clear that place of origin can dictate the clone’s performance in a foreign land. A clone taken from a vineyard in Rioja performs better in Rioja then in Valdepenas and vice versa. Comparing the region of origin with their own site’s climate, soil and topography could be a way forward for Australian producers. Tempranillo’s time As we head into a warmer, unpredictable future the role of Tempranillo in Australia is destined to loom large. Much larger. Despite its tendency to turn ‘sook’ and drop acid while on the vine, it has shown in a relatively short time that it is entirely well suited to parts of this country, both warm and cool. In warmer climes its generosity of black fruits, spice and sunny disposition is welcoming. What the grape lacks in sophistication it makes up for in pleasant drinkability. In cooler climes, where Tempranillo grapes are in top demand, each vintage with a price to match (averaging $1448 a tonne in 2012), we see a grape in the throes of reinvention, moulded by some of this country’s most forward-thinking winemakers. Here, the flavours are finer, more subtle, red and black fruits, spice and herbs and because these wines aren’t carrying a heavy weight, Tempranillo’s meagre acid backbone isn’t taxed quite as much. Sometimes savoury nuance surfaces, sometimes a textural loveliness. Exciting times indeed. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is early days still.
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