McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache – Masterclass (Part 1)

It’s always a great opportunity and pleasure to learn directly from the experts, getting their forensic insight as to the finer details of a wine.  As part of last weeks Australia Day tasting I attended the ‘McLaren Vale’s Great Grenache’ masterclass led by Australia and Portugal wine specialist Sarah Ahmed.

adt-guide

Being more familiar with Grenache from a France/Spain perspective this was a good way for me to become more acquainted with it when produced in a warm climate (nearby Adelaide is the driest of Australia’s capital cities) and, knowing that Sarah would choose wines specifically to run the gamut of what McLaren Vale Grenache has to offer, I looked forward to being able to understand and appreciate how the various flavour components are driven specifically by terroir.

As something of a hangover from the old days of fortified wine, McLaren Vale has 1/3rd of Australia’s plantings of Grenache.  The geology of the region is incredibly diverse with something like 40 different soil/rock types but, in a nutshell, the sandier and lower lying south gives way to more complex and rockier soil in the north as the altitude ascends in to the inland mountain ranges.  It was likened to looking north as if “reaching for the spice rack”.

If there was any kind of mission statement for the session it was to highlight that “Grenache delivers what Pinot Noir promises” and, with the use of Burgundian techniques such as whole bunch pressing (and malolactic fermentation) to drive the softer fruits and the use of well-seasoned French oak, it is possible to craft well-structured/balanced wines as opposed to simply warm climate Grenache fruit-bombs.

The wines on show clearly proved that this was the case and there were some wonderfully fragrant, well-judged blends where you would be hard pressed to say that you were drinking 15% abv.  You can read much more about the scene setting and lead-up to the tasting here.

The flight of 8 wines ran from the most recent vintage backwards and presented many wines that were not available to try in the wider tasting event.  In this first part of two pieces on the masterclass I will go through my notes on the first 3 wines tasted, with the remaining 5 wines covered in the 2nd part.

grenache3

Wirra Wirra ‘The Absconder’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2015, 14.5% (£40)

From towards the southern central part of McLaren Vale with a blend of southern sand and the stone and schist soils of the north, this wine was also on show at the main event and I was keen to see if my notes differed when casting a more critical eye on it.  What came across more in the masterclass was the crunchiness of the fruit and the spice and leathery notes.  Sarah pointed out that the wine spends 9 months in seasoned oak and, perhaps being made aware of this, I became more attuned to those qualities.

Other than that I recorded a lightness of touch on the palate in terms of delicate aromatics and a fresh and fruity quality.  Cherry and plum fruits abound and a light grippy tannin is evident.

Serafino Wine ‘Serafino Reserve’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 14.5% (£25, not currently imported)

Sarah described how the sandy soils really come through on to the wine in the shape of the sandpaper tannins, as well as the lighter soil type highlighting the lighter notes and aromatics.  Indeed this wine was full of fragrance and contained mouth-wateringly fresh cherry and kirsch flavour.

The juicy fruit was matched with a well-pitched acidity, with only the slightly raw tannins off balance.  Nevertheless this wine was the epitome of the reason that I placed myself in the masterclass, to see how the landscape makes it’s presence felt in the end product.

Bekkers Wine ‘Bekkars’ McLaren Vale Grenache 2014, 15% (£50)

Up to the north of McLaren Vale now where the soils comprise sand, ironstone, loam and clay, and another good example of how the darker denser make-up brings out the darker denser notes of the Grenache.

We had clearly hit a different level of richness and concentration with this wine, but again it was so well balanced against the medium acidity.  With hints of both black and red fruits, invigorated and lifted through 20% whole bunch pressing, the 18 months spent maturing in seasoned French oak drew out the spicier notes which rounded out the whole.

To keep reading about the next 5 wines in the flight and the conclusion of the masterclass, please click here.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

Australia Day 2017 Wine Tasting London

adt2

This week saw the best of the Australian wine scene hit London to celebrate Australia Day with a spectacular and expansive tasting event. In a new venue for the biggest show ever, many producers flew in exclusively to show off around 1100 wines from 230 wineries in what is the largest trade tasting of Australian wine outside of Australia.

As well as the winemaker talent, circulating the tasting tables were some of the most prominent figures from the world of wine including Steven Spurrier, Victoria Moore, Oz Clarke, Matthew Jukes, Olly Smith, Joe Fattorini, as well as a double-digit number of MW’s.  Their attendance further drew you to the conclusion that this was entirely the place to be on a cold Tuesday in January.

adt-guide

With such quality on offer the show catalogue was as thick as a novel and I can honestly say that after several hours of tasting my arm ached from holding it.  With it clearly impossible to taste anywhere near all of the wines my strategy was to seek out my favourite producers and use the opportunity to taste higher up their ranges, or their exclusive bottles only available through specific merchants.  The event truly ran the gamut of what Australia has on offer, with the cheapest wine on show retailing for £3.50 and the most expensive for £200 (The ‘Vanya’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Cullen, which sadly I didn’t get around to trying).

What follows is a brief rundown of my top producers of the day in no particular order:

Peter Lehmann

The Chardonnay on offer here was a particular standout, and perhaps even the best in show for me.  The ‘Wildcard’ Riverland 2016 Chardonnay was so pure and expressive it was hard to believe it could deliver such quality at just £8.99 a bottle.  Soft and creamy as I like my Chardonnay, it just pipped the slightly more expensive (£14) ‘Hill & Valley’ Eden Valley Chardonnay 2016, which was almost equally as lusciously rounded and vibrant.

Wakefield

Majestic stock two bottles of the entry level range from Wakefield and they are constantly on my recommend list.  Tasting up, the single vineyard ‘St Andrews’ Clare Valley Chardonnay 2015 (£25) delivered intense blossomed fragrance and cream and white pepper spice.  Both the ‘Visionary’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and the ‘Pioneer’ Clare Valley Shiraz 2012 were extremely limited bottlings (especially shipped for the event, we were trying the very low bottle numbers of 11 and 19).  My notes contain descriptors such as concentrated black fruit, damson, stewed fruit, smoke, confection and spice.

Jim Barry

Whilst not the most expensive wine of theirs on show (£143), I noted the 2016 Assyrtiko making its debut at the show.  This Greek variety, championed by Peter Barry since he first tasted the variety back in 2006, makes an appearance ten years later and marks a unique departure for the ‘Riesling heavy’ Clare Valley wine scene.  A good medium acid carries the lemon and fleshy green apple fruit through to a smooth and creamy finish.

Apparently Assyrtiko is a labour intensive grape to farm and will remain something of a Jim Barry curio as opposed to the next big thing in Clare Valley.  Only a limited number of cases of the 2016 are being released making this a real treat to try.

Tahbilk

The iconic Tahbilk winery boasts the largest plantings of Marsanne anywhere in the world and the two examples on display (£11-14) were finely fragranced and delivered an almost melt in the mouth quality.  The ESP Shiraz from Nagambie Lakes (£35) which I simply listed as ‘beautiful’ was crammed full of vanilla, black cherry, pepper spice and a medium grainy tannin.  Their flagship ‘1860 Vines’ Shiraz 2006 (£73, also Nagambie Lakes), whilst garnet in colour, was still fresh and vibrant with the fruit more towards prune and raisin and the tannins still grainy yet softened by time.

d’Arenberg

With the famous red stripe across their labelling, d’Arenberg are well known for their oddly named wines.  Their ‘The Coppermine Road’ McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, exuded beautiful fragrance and distinct liquorice tones, but was still very austere with very evident tannins and needs a while to mellow down.  ‘The Dead Arm’ Shiraz 2012 (£29.50) carried on in the same vein.

athazagoraphobic-cat

With possibly the best wine label I have ever seen (and one of the most bizarre names) ‘The Athazagoraphobic Cat’ Sagrantino Cinsault 2011 (£65) was full of tertiary character and rich chocolate mocha flavours.  The name of the wine refers to a fear of being forgotten and, as such, when twisting the wine bottle, the cat appears to follow the pair of legs around.  Awesome and delicious.

Honourable mention should also go to:

Ten Minutes by Tractor Featured recently in ITV1’s The Wine Show, I tasted through a good selection of their Pinot Noir (£34-42), all showing a lighter character whilst keeping brambled redcurrant and cherry fruit to the fore.

Leeuwin Its always a pleasure to taste through the Leeuwin range, especially their Art Series wines.  The Margaret River 2012 Chardonnay had waxy citrus on the nose and rich, creamy smoky green apple flesh on the palate.  With the addition of pepper spice to the end palate, this was well blended and very good indeed.  The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£47) and 2012 (£50) both contained grippy tannins, concentrated and crunchy fruit.  The definition of intensity whilst retaining elegant silky composure.

adt1

Yalumba A seriously good display of over 20 wines from this well-known producer, I took time to re-acquaint myself with their excellent ‘The Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2013 (£38), which is rich, spicy and meaty like a good broth, and their ‘The Octavius’ Barossa Shiraz 2009 (£68) which was still wonderfully youthful and fresh whilst retaining the power to stand up to a strong meaty meal.

Wirra Wirra I reviewed the entry level Scrubby Rise Chardonnay back in 2015 so was interested to taste upwards.  Things really started getting interesting at around the £40 mark, with their ‘Absconder’ 2014 Grenache delivering silky cherry fruit whilst remaining lighter in body at 14.5% alcohol, and the ‘RSW’ Shiraz 2013 giving a candied confectionate parma violet florality with the body that could stand up to serious food.

With thanks to Wine Australia for providing the ticket to this fascinating masterclass

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!

Chilean Cabernet 2015 vs. Chilean Cabernet 2015

I very nearly did it.

I very nearly day-dreamed my way through a wine purchase at a supermarket by simply half-looking at the label and assuming that I knew what I was picking up.

Nestled right next door to the Chilean stalwart Casillero del Diablo was Camino del Angel, a new offering from Sainsbury’s whose label bears more than a little passing resemblance to the former.

camino

Filtering out the generics of a plain white label with a black band below and a circular motif, the main font for the brand name is blatantly emulated and the sub-conscious mind sees the capitalised C and lower case d.

Of course it’s not the first time that a particular wine from a particular country has slipped in to a ‘house’ style across brands and retailers.  A clear example is the number of line drawings of mountain ranges that can be found on Argentinian Malbec.

malbec-mountains

Both Camino and Casillero are from the Central Valley in Chile, both are from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and the 2015 harvest.  Both are 13.5% in alcohol and both are similarly labelled so, will they be similar in taste?

I awoke from my daydream, knowingly purchased them both, and decided to put them through the taste test.

Camino del Angel Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £7

The nose of this wine was clean and full of ripe fruits.  I could detect intense blackcurrants, plums and damson blue fruit, mixed in with a whiff of cake and pepper spice and touches of vanilla florality.  The overall impression of this wine, even before tasting it, was rich with the tertiary characters of both liquorice and meat.

On the palate the overall sensation continued with a somewhat beefy rich texture.  Even though there was a fairly high acid to match this out, the combination of the stewed dark fruit and almost chewy grainy tannins meant this was a tough taste.  Alongside the sour fruit, touches of ash and bitterness added further to this austerity, and the stalky raw finish is what you have left in your mouth on the end palate.

On day 1 I didn’t get the feeling of a particular blend or style and it did feel mass produced.  In the spirit of fairness, on day 2, the blend did feel a little more structured, but nonetheless fairly forgettable.

casillero

Casillero del Diabo Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 , Valle Central, Chile, 13.5%, £6.50 (on offer, usually £7.50)

On the nose this wine was no less full of activity and flavour, but this time was of a silky/velvet quality.  We still have the blackcurrant fruit, but this time we also see the addition of some red cherry.  This slightly deeper complexity is matched by a subtle vanilla florality, and the whole is both bright and uplifting.

On the palate there is a good medium mouth weight, light grippy tannins with a medium matching acidity.  Black cherry is the predominant fruit alongside blackcurrant and pepper spices.  Overall the mouth sensation is dark and brooding, more given over to bitter chocolate and mocha.

These tertiary characters are testament to the blending, with the damson and blue fruits taking a backseat in this wine.  There’s still a touch of raw quality (green and stalky characters), but the overall sensation feels more complete.

Summary: One interesting aside from the tasting was looking at the bottles once they were empty.  As you can see from the picture below the Camino bottle is significantly lighter in colour.

empty-chile-bottles

Whilst there are environmental benefits from this (with a weight of 421 grams as opposed to 520 for the Casillero) including travel expenses and glass wastage, it is well known that the darker the glass, the less light penetration there is.  With light being one of the enemies of wine storage, this ability to repel will contribute to a wines ageing potential.

In summary, consumers should keep their eyes open and be aware of what they purchase.  Whilst the labels on these bottles may be similar, it is interesting to debate whether the extra 50p for the Casillero has gone on the increased cost of the glass used.

If it has, would you happily trade up on taste at a small cost per bottle to the environment?

Enjoyed this article?  Please take a moment to ‘Like’ and share using the buttons below. Keep looking around my site for more of the same.  Cheers!