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Márcio Lopes, Loureiro vineyard

Following on from my 5th March over-view post about Simplesmente Vinho – its aims and trends – this post reports on the highlights from my visits in the days leading up to the two-day wine fair in Oporto.  I explore how the trends I flagged are playing out in the glass and take a peek into the future with some work in progress wines.  

Márcio Lopes – Pequenos Rebentos, Vinho Verde

Visting Vinho Verde, it was good to spend time with Márcio Lopes, whose Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde and Douro wines were one of last year’s exciting discoveries. Having worked for Anselmo Mendes, his Vinho Verdes are, for me, the stand out of his range; they are now being imported into the UK by Indigo Wines.  We kicked off with my introduction to the 2017 vintage which, he reckons, made the region’s producers very happy.  As I noticed during November’s visit to the Dão, despite the drought and heat, whites have great fruit intensity and juiciness – with ripe but abundant acidity.   Pequenos Rebentos Loureiro Escolha 2017  is a lovely example of the variety with nice concentration and interest, elevating it above the floral/soapy and short examples which point to all too common high yields.  Visiting two Loureiro vineyards, Lopes impressed on me the importance of finding low vigour vines, even within a single vineyard where a selection massale plantings yields different results.

At last year’s fair I enjoyed his Pequenos Rebentos Alvarinho “À Moda Antiga” (Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde) which is foot trodden and aged in old oak. A barrel sample from 2017 was powerfully intense, complex and spicy with a ripe but (attractively) bitter citrus note and saltiness, which I reckon is accentuated by skin contact.  Great potential.  As for the regular Pequenos Rebentos Alvarinho, an oversight resulted in the 2017 undergoing a particularly cool ferment, so it teeters into ripe NZ Sauvignon territory, with lashings of pink grapefruit, guava and passionfruit.  Not Lopes’ usual style, but it is a great example of that style and has sold out!  A vertical showed off the variety’s/Monção e Melgaço sub-region’s more classic honeysuckle, citrus and stone fruits – the 2015 and 2011 were very good indeed.

Vinha de enforcado – Azal

Every year, Lopes likes to try new things and two of this year’s innovations – both cask samples – snagged my attention. Pequenos Rebentos 2017 Vinhas Velhas Loureiro (12%) is a selection from older, lower vigour vines which he made without temperature control or racking and with a little skin contact, in old “very soft wood” barrels he bought from Puligny Montrachet.  It has great citrus (ripe) limey drive and minerality with snappy, animating acidity and a touch of talc on a long, long finish.  Pequenos Rebentos Selvagem [meaning wild] 2017 comes from a 92 year old vinha de enforcado (high trained vineyard, pictured) planted to Azal, a grape which Lopes describes as “very rustic.”  Picked by ladder, this is the oldest style of ‘trellising’ in the region, which you can still find around the edge of fields (it allowed farmers to grow corn/graze livestock in the field).   It’s a vigorous, quantity-focused system, so Lopes removed lots of leaves and bunches to improve ripening and concentration.  Even when picked, the grapes were green.  He de-stemmed by hand to avoid glycation and green tannins, before fermenting the wine on skins for 30 days.  It was then pressed, spent 90 days in amphora and completed its elevage in old French barrel. Thanks to ageing in oak, it has a certain poise – depth and focus – which I like very much, so this Azal is not so rustic!  Vanillin oak nuances deftly balance the trace of bitterness, which I suspect is a function of skin contact; detecting a slight ashiness to the finish, I was reminded of Kerri Thomson’s comments about Riesling and skin contact.   At its core is a lovely clarity, profundity even, of the green applely fruit I associate with this variety, albeit my experience of 100% Azal is limited.  So the palate has weight and flesh – holds it ‘ground’ – but a sappy freshness too.  With complexing apple blossom and a subtle earthiness, it is very promising!

Harvesting a vinha ramada field blend of Cainho, Alvarelhão and Pedral

When I visited Galicia in 2016 and 2017, I was struck by how much more finesse the Spanish are coaxing out of their red grapes for light but intense, aromatic reds.  Lopes is working on it and Pequenos Rebentos Tinto 2017 shows promise.  It’s a vinha ramada (pergola-trained, pictured) field blend of Cainho, Alvarelhão and Pedral.  This traditional training system was also focused around quantity, not quality, but Lopes has produced a pale but aromatic (rose petals) and intense, creamy even, red which just spent one day fermenting on skins (Cainho and Pedral have lots of colour in skins).  It completed the fermentation in old barrels.  Slowly but surely (doubtless the lightness of being shift helps), Vinho Verde/Minho is starting to simmer when it comes to interesting reds.

Tiago Sampaio – Folias de Baco, Douro

Tiago Sampaio with aged field blend vineyards – the source of Uivo Renegado

The next day I met with Tiago Sampaio of Folias de Baco, who established Douro label, Olho no Pe, in 2007 following completion of his phd in Oregon (latest wines go under the Uivo brand).  Sampaio fell in love with Pinot Noir in Oregon, planting a multi-clonal selection in the Douro in 2001.  His enjoyment of its acidity and delicacy have surely influenced how he approaches Douro harvest dates and vinification (very gentle extraction).  An approach which makes sense given his vineyards are located at around 500m in Favaois (the traditional home of Moscatel).  The open-minded vigneron, who started agricultural school at aged 13, has taken both vineyards and wines in directions which his grandparents would have found unimaginable. Since the local co-operative was established in the 1960s, they had sold it their grapes.

Younger plantings

In the cellar 2017, Sampaio gave us a sneak peek at the 2017 vintage – his earliest to date.  It started on 8 August!  The whites – a Rabigato (a very much on trend single varietal white), Alvarinho and Moscatel Galego are super-fresh and vividly etched.  The Rabigato is very characterful, with a salty, earthy note and firm grapefruit and greengage skin bite.  Like Jorge Moreira’s Poeira White, Sampaio’s Alvarinho is leaner and meaner than anything from Vinho Verde – taut and mineral with pretty nectarine skin aromatics. The Moscatel is dry with defined aromatics (so very not blousy), a cool hint of peppermint and some of the earth/bloom gentle phenolics I found in the Rabigato.  Dusky pink Uivo Renegado Tinto 2017 (50:50 red and white field blend grapes, 12% abv) is a little cloudy in 2017 with a touch of glycerol, which softens it a little around the edges, though it’s mineral to the core, with steely, grapefruity acidity and a touch of earthiness (mineral, nothing unclean here).  The 2017 Pinot Noir looks very promising, with lacy, fine tannins, lifted spice and juicy cherry and berry fruit, while an old field blend red is beautifully fresh, floral and taut with minerals.

Like Lopes, Sampaio loves to experiment.  We tasted wines aged in chesnut barrels as well as oak (currently showing blockier tannins, I thought) and a couple of crazy whites to excite.  A Jura-like 2012 comes from a 500l tank from a harder press which had developed flor.  Sampaio thought about selling it in bulk, but then decided to let the flor grow (he has never topped up the tank).  Yellow in hue it has an aldehydic nose and palate, with fresh cut apples and satin brown, nutty apple pips.  Quite fino-sherry-like.   Another accident has produced a wine which is heavily reminiscent of a Dry White Port, but drier and without the alcohol (spirit).  This accident occured in 2009 – a hot vintage. Sampaio simply forgot about a barrel which was very high in alcohol (16%).  It is golden yellow and spicy with those satin brown, nutty apple pip notes on a bone dry palate, a touch aldehydic.  Sampaio is thinking to blend it with the flor barrel.  I look forward to tasting the results.

Last, Sampaio has made his first Vintage Port (indeed, Port) for commercial release in 2017.  True to his style and, I should add, his terroir, it is very juicy and fresh (with succulent black berry and cherry) and relatively dry.  It was fermented on 100% stems and, with just 50g/l residual sugar, it is markedly drier than typical vintage Port (where the residual is double that, plus).  It put me more in mind of, say, Filipa Pato’s fortified Baga, which is all about freshness (though there Atlantic influence holds the key).  Sampaio progressively added the brandy for progressive extraction and integration of spirit.  Promising and very different.

Over a busy lunch service at Cêpa Torta in Alijó, the restaurant where acclaimed chef Rui Paula kicked off his career, I caught up with Sampaio’s current releases.   Uivo Vinhas Velhas Branco 2016 has an unexpected roundness and ripeness following on from the barrel tastings.  But it is textural and mineral, sitting in the mouth, it has a pleasing presence like a pebble – round but cool and self-possessed.

The view from Saimpo’s younger vineyard – the inspiration for Univo’s label

Uivo Pinot Noir Reserva 2014 has an inescapable Douro-ness about it which shines through over cepage.  It has a granitic earthy (rain on stone) minerality which I like.  Not as fine as the 2017 which is more variety over region.  The 2014 spent three years in barrel and, in future, the winemaker intends to reduce it to 18-20 months.  I think that’s a good move to rachet up the ‘Pinosity’ without eroding its sense of place, which is important for Sampaio.  Uivo Tinta Francisca 2016 from 7-8 year old vines is a deep hue but really juicy and succulent with plum and plum skin fruit. Four barrels were produced, one new.  It has lovely freshness and fruit both, with cool granitic and graphite minerality.  Lovely. 12.5%

The Roseira family – Quinta do Infantado, Douro

Quinta do Infantado are also gunning for a drier style of Port.  I cannot recall ever having seen the phrase Meio Seco (meaning medium dry) on a Ruby Port before.  Or encountering an unfiltered Ruby – even if it is a Reserva!  Quinta do Infantado Meio Seco Ruby Reserva Port is a true Christmas cracker – or make that any time of year, for this is a slim Jim!  It has just 50g/l residual sugar and, like Saimpo’s Vintage Port, was progressively fortified (as opposed to the brandy spirit being added at a single point in time, which is typical).  It reveals eucalypt-edged juicy blackberry, black currant and plum fruit with liquorice and anise spice.  It has flesh and is fresh with impressive substance and nuance for this category  As João Roseira points out, if you make a drier Port you add less brandy, so it is a lighter style as well as drier style. One which, he adds “makes Port easier to put at the table.”  I’m all for it based on this evidence!

As for Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port, the 2014 and 2015 tasted during the visit (and a magnum of 1997 enjoyed at Simplesmente Vinho’s welcome dinner) shared an elegance, showing notable fruit purity, freshness and litheness. Expanding on his earlier comments, Roseira explained, “we believe in less sugar, we add wine brandy several times; 20-25% early on in the ferment so it integrates.”  The Ports end up at 19% abv.  The 2014 was snatched from the jaw’s of hell in a year which Roseira described as “a total disaster for us, the worst since 1993.”  And he does not exaggerate.  It rained, he said, on the first and last day of harvest and they threw away 20t of grapes and sold every drop of wine they did in bulk. Right there’s a commitment to quality.  The super-duper-selection (5,000l) which went into the Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 2014 produced a dark, inky but accessible, elegant Port with floral and bergamot perfume, fine tannins and juicy, rolling acidity to its animated blackberry and cherry fruit.  Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 2015 is, as I expect of this vintage, floral – richer, plusher florals here – think heady, thick, damask rose petals.  The palate is fresh and precise if a little bit closed now, with fine, papery tannins and a eucalypt edge to its blackberry fruit.

The impressive Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 1997 was still choc-ful of blackberry and plum fruit but, with good juice and flow and ripe but fine supporting tannins, it retained elegance.  Lovely.  (Incidentally, when Álvaro Martinho Lopes picked me up the next day from the Gontelho valley where Infantado are based, the viticulturist described the Gontelho as one of three valleys which produce the creme de la creme of Port, together with the Torto and Roncão valleys.  Why? Because with low, hot and dry vineyards with very friable schist, roots can go down 10-15m, producing grapes rich in sugar, nutrients, tannins and density and vines which are very long-lived).

The 2012 (Reserva) and 2015 (Tinto) vintages produced my pick of Quinta do Infantado’s Douro Reds, the latter also tasted at UK importers Liberty Wines’ January portfolio tasting.  Both fresh and mineral with fine tannins, bright-as-button black berry and currant fruit, a lick of cedar and fruit spice (coriander seed and bay leaf).  Lovely persistence both, the ’15 with a touch more concentration.  In other wines, I found the acidity a little ‘spearing.’  Commenting on Quinta do Infantado Organic Tinto 2012, João Roseira commented, “you can’t think acid is the biggest enemy.”  This wine (whose green label signifies fruit comes from the more shaded organic vineyard he planted further up the Gontelho valley in 1998) was picked in October, he said, because “we believe in phenolic maturity and pick when the seeds are ripe, which means we need to acidify a bit.”  

Pedro Garcias – Mapa, Douro

Most Portuguese will know Pedro Garcias for his work as a journalist at the national daily newspaper Publico.  Latterly as a wine writer but, he told me, covering everything over his 20 year career.  Through Mapa, his wine, he has navigated a course back to..

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I was mighty impressed with Powell & Son’s wines when I first tasted them with Dave Powell in 2016.  So it was good to catch up with the latest releases, which included some new-to-me wines.  Also to meet Powell’s son Callum, with whom I’d only previously exchanged emails.  There is a tender regard between father and son – a mutual respect.  For Powell senior, who was content to sit back and let Callum lead the tasting, this is about building a legacy; he is clearly delighted to be joined by his son on a full-time basis now Callum has graduated.

My 2016 post here provides an insight into Powell & Son’s background and approach, together with my tasting notes for the 2014 reds and 2015 Riesling.  In that post, I shared my email exchange with Callum about his vision for the range, which was inspired by a “very influential few months” in Hermitage in 2013 with acclaimed Rhone producer Jean-Louis Chave.  Since he began his oenology degree at Adelaide in 2014, he has not done another vintage in Europe.  Rather, he focused on other Shiraz hot spots closer to home, doing a vintage at Tyrrells in the Hunter Valley and spending time in Heathcote at Wild Duck Creek and with Emily Laughton at Jasper Hill, “because I wanted to learn about biodynamics.” 

All the vineyards which Powell & Son are managing are now run organically, though not certified. “We want to keep the right to spray if a vintage like 2011 comes along,” said Callum. The fruit they buy from Marcus Schulz (which makes the only single vineyard wine from a vineyard not managed by the Powells) is biodynamic.

Layering vines at Steinert – “seeing what’s now living with the vines. Definitely gives me a lot of motivation!” (Callum Powell on working organically)

In the winery, all reds are 100% de-stemmed and kept approximately 80% whole berry, fermented in open top concrete fermenters with low maceration. The different parcels are then basket pressed and go through malo in barrel.  Elevage is with minimal racking and wines are bottled with no fining or filtration.  All the regional wines (Riverside, Barossa Valley Shiraz, GSM and Barossa & Eden Shiraz) are aged in 4,500l and 2,500l French oak foudrés. The single vineyard wines are aged in French oak barriques. Confirming his dad’s sentiments, Callum took a long term view on removing the roof from 1880 ironstone winery to crane in the foudrés – “pain in the ass but they’re intended to be there for a century, so the next generations will be thankful.” 

Callum observed that 2016 will be the first vintage when Powell & Son have released all of the wines they set out to make. When we met in early February, the 2016 GSM and Barossa & Eden Shiraz had just been bottled and the Kraehe (Marananga Shiraz) was being bottled this month, so I did not taste these wines.  However, the entire range is being imported into the UK by leading importer, Raeburn Fine Wine, who have supplied indicative single bottle retail prices.  Stockists of Powell & Son wines include Fine+Rare Wines, Bordeaux Index, Chelsea Vintners, Berry Bros. & Rudd, Hedonism & The Good Wine Shop.

As for this vintage, which is currently in full swing, here’s the low down from Powell & Son: “Dad is comparing this vintage so far to 2009 (which is one of his favourites over the last thirty years), although early days yet. It’s fantastic for colour and intensity of flavour – we shall see! But looks like a stonker. We’ve had a very dry, cool-ish ripening period with lots of sunshine so great flavours with no disease pressure and low shrivelling. Crops are down a touch from a heatwave approx 2 months ago but it’s led to very intense flavours. It’ll be a very flamboyant, generous year the way it’s going so far – couldn’t be happier!”

Powell & Son Riesling 2017 (Eden Valley)
This hails from the five acres of Steinert vines that are 90 years old. The soils are heavy in quartz and grey loam. Given vine age, lean soils and being dry grown and rod and spur pruned, the vines are shy yielders with low canopies. Callum added, “we generally get a bit of sunburn and drop some fruit at harvest (we also had a bit of botrytis this year which is not common, so more fruit dropped), but it’s a necessary compromise to get the concentration of flavour.” Producing just 1t/acre and with the press cut at 400l/t, they made only 300 dozen.   It was quite a cool year and the 2017 is very floral on the nose, with nice depth of flavour.  Lovely intensity of florals and subtly textural chalky talc with a backdrop of lime.  A little tauter, more energetic, than the 2015 which appeals to me.  Very good. This vintage was made at Irvine Wines but, from this year, the Riesling will be made at Powell & Sons because they have just bought a membrane press.  12.5% From £25.50/bottle.
Powell & Son Roussanne/Marsanne 2017 (Barossa Valley)
The 2017 Roussanne Marsanne (60/40) – “Callum’s baby,” said Dave – is from Marcus Schulz’s biodynamically cultivated vineyard at Koonunga Hill. Callum admits “I was tempted to put Viognier in, but in Barossa, it’s a bit hotter than the Rhone; I like Marsanne for texture and phenolics….” As for the Roussanne, Powell wants sun exposure, because “I’m looking for russet on the grape skins for texture.”  Emphasising his approach, Powell jnr continues, “lots are making wines from these grapes in a classic Australian white style built on acid, but we want texture – we’re not building on acid, it’s not about the acid, it’s about the phenolics.”  The conversation reminded me of chatting with Caroline Mooney, whose terrific Bird on a Wire Marsanne is also very much about phenolics.   The approach follows through in the winemaking.  All the Marsanne and a quarter of the Roussanne is fermented and matured on lees (turbid juice) in French barriques (20% new), with regular batonnage for eight months. The balance of the Roussanne is kept in stainless, fermented cold and malo is inhibited to maintain acidity. The two components are blended and bottled under cork (because it’s made to age, observed Powell snr, with a nod to a blinding bottle of Chaves 1951 Hermitage Blanc – lucky him!)  As one would expect from the stated approach, this is a ripe but structured, textural Roussanne/Marsanne, a little pithy with heady hints of fresh ginger to its silky core of white peach and honey inflected waxy apricots on the finish.  Well balanced with the substance to age into the mid-term; 400 cases were produced in 2017.  14%  From £42.75/bottle.
Powell & Son Riverside GMS 2016 (Barossa Valley)
This 70/20/10 blend of Grenache Mataro Shiraz is predominantly sourced from 20 year old vines which Powell snr planted at the Riverside vineyard in Lyndoch. It’s not Powell’s usual hunting ground – he’s a big fan of the north western ridge, whose red clays, ironstone and calcareous subsoils produce among the Barossa Valley’s most powerful wines.  Lyndoch’s cooler southern location and Riverside’s deep grey sands and red clay produce a more perfumed, red-fruited wine which, of course, suits Grenache very well.   More plushness on the palate, adds Callum.  It’s a judicious blend, the Mataro’s (a.k.a. Mourvedre’s) spicy, meaty undertones and dried herbs providing the savoury foil to the Grenache’s expressive turkish delight florals and touch confected red cherry boiled sweet notes.  The Shiraz, meanwhile reliably brings the plusher fruit core – here, creamy/tangy yoghurty fruits of forest with Powell’s trademark suppleness.  Still, there’s a firmess with, perhaps on account of its southern sourcing, more acidity than one might expect.  It makes for decent persistence; I particularly liked the florals and spice inter-twined finish. Riverside GMS was fermented in 4000l concrete with lots of whole berries (and no whole bunch).  It matured for 15 months in 2,300 litre French oak foudres prior to blending and bottling.  3,000 cases were made in 2016.  From £18.50/bottle.
Powell & Son Brennecke Grenache 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Calcrete at Seppeltsfield

The Brennecke Vineyard is located on the North Western corner in the Seppeltsfield district of the Barossa Valley.  Sourced from 2 acres of dry grown bush vines in Seppeltsfield planted in 1901 on a steep South-Easterly slope, Dave describes it as “a beautiful beautiful vineyard.” It benefits from having a late 19th century small berried/thick skinned clone and a “huge amount of limestone under the [red clay] soils…big slabs of calcrete.”  Expanding on the latter, he added “the soils are alkaline so you get lots of natural acidity, so you can leave the grapes for a long time [hang time].”  My personal preference is for earlier picked, lighter aromatic styles of Grenache from sandy soils which, with their filigree tannins, are typically aged in seasoned oak, whilst this sees 100% new oak.  ‘Warm climate Pinot Noir’ it is not.  Nor ‘blue collar Pinot Noir’ at around £200 a pop!  Rather it is a bold vision of Grenache, with a density and weight to the palate, great concentration of black cherry and kirsch fruit and the supporting structure to hold it.  Mopping up the oak with ease, it is a baby.  Not for broaching now.  Which is just what the Powells want.  It will be interesting to see how it develops. Its power is plain enough and it is bold but balanced, ripe but not overly sweet.  I hope to get the chance to re-taste it some years down the track when it develops more nuance.  14.5% Just 150 cases made.  From £216.35/bottle.

Powell & Son Kleinig Greenock Mataro 2016 (Barossa Valley)

Kleinig is sourced from 50 year old vines in neighbouring Greenock to the north of Seppeltsfield, this vineyard on a higher ridge with more ironstone. It is named after the growers from whose Mataro vines the Greenock cuttings were taken and who gave their name to the so-called Kleinig clone.  According to the Powells, it is a superior clone and, apparently, the original Mataro clone (which was brought over from Europe two centuries ago).  It certainly packs a punch in this dry, sinewy, leathery red with pronounced iodine and prettier lavender notes – all the traits that I like to see in this grape, but which often mean it’s used as a seasoning rather than being allowed to fly solo.  Though firmer and more gravelly than another top Barossa Mataro – Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre – with its brooding dark fruit profile and long, long, tapering palate, it has the balance to strut its stuff without help from G or S thanks very much.  It brought a huge smile to my face.  Like the Grenache, it was aged in 100% new oak – tight grain, medium toast Troncais, which this intense Mataro absorbs effortlessly.   Wow!  Just two barrels/50 cases were made.  14.5%  From £224.75/bottle.

Powell & Son Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 (Barossa Valley)

This Shiraz is sourced from four vineyards, around 20 years old.  From the north west, Marananga (Kraehe vineyard) is the principal player with elements from Seppeltsfield and Greenock and, from the south, a bit of Lyndoch for aromatics.  It’s a really heady but dark Shiraz, perfumed/lifted with more savoury, smoky, leathery undertows and textured tafetta tannins.  While the Powell’s top drops are beyond reach of most, the GSM and this Shiraz in particular offer more than a sprinkle of stardust – plenty of bang for buck here – this Barossa Valley Shiraz is priced from £28.35/bottle. 2,000 cases made. 14.5%

Powell & Son Schultz Barossa Valley 2016 (Barossa Valley)
The Schulz is from two plots on Marcus Schulz’s biodynamic vineyard in Koonunga Hill – a mix of old and young (c. 8 years old) vines.  Callum reckons the younger, high density vines have the better clone and rates them highly.  Indeed, father and son have taken cuttings.  The Schulz vineyard is located near the north-western boundary of the Barossa Valley on body-building rich red-yellow clays with a veneer of perfume-inducing white sand topsoil.  This is the only wine in the range where the oak felt it had yet to integrate.  It gave my first impression of the wine on the nose and clasped the finish.  Still, there’s a vibrant core of red fruits to be mined with time – cherry and currant, pomegranate even. I liked its freshness and energy going through.  Despite that clasp of oak to the finish, I found a vibrancy to the back palate – lots of red fruit resonance, with mocha oak hints.  14.5%  75 cases made.  From £101.95/bottle.
Powell & Son Loechel Shiraz Eden Valley 2016 (Eden Valley)

I keenly anticipated tasting the 2016 vintages of Powell & Son’s Eden Valley single vineyards Shirazes.  I was blown away by the 2014s.  The Loechel vineyard is at the southern tip of the Eden Valley township, on a steep, east-facing slope of dark schist loams with granite sub-soils. The nose is very Eden valley, tight but perfumed, with subtle riffs of pine needle/eucalpytus.  On the palate, it seems drier in profile, firmer – less earthy, more mineral – compared with the highly sensual 2014.  Iodine/sooty, powdery but punctuating, dynamic tannins deliciously make make their presence felt.  The fruit – fresh blackcurrant – has great purity and line.  A tensile, firm, mineral, black-fruited Shiraz –  très classique.  It put me in mind of Cornas, though it has a clear Australian/Eden Vally thumbprint.  Terrific.  400 cases made in 2016.  14.5%  From £98.55/bottle.

Powell & Son Steinert Shiraz Eden Valley 2016 (Eden Valley)

Steinert vineyard’s aged vines

Well, it’s not often Enya’s Orinico Flow springs to mind, but this is very much a sail away, sail away, sail away wine.  In a word, transporting.  Sublime white truffle notes seduce from the off.  Talcy, lavender riffs chime in on a perfumed, textural palate with a vivid seam of jewel-bright redcurrant.  Chiselled, mineral tannins – faceted and dimensional – seem to take their cue from the quarzitic vineyard, now just under 130 years old.  With seemingly more ruffled, tafetta-like tannins which build in the mouth, it remains tight, very poised, thanks to classy oak, which steers a long, long cedar-kissed, deliberative finish.   Where the 2014 tended towards the sensual, like the Loechel, in 2016 Steinert puts the emphasis on elegance.   Located at 480m, the Steinert vineyard is situated in Flaxman’s Valley, with an East to North-Easterly exposure and mean soils.  Its dark gravelly loam over clay sub-soils yielded just four tons of Shiraz from five acres in 2016, producing just 200 cases.  14.5% From £520/bottle.

The post Meeting Powell & Son: top flight Barossa appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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Bottled in amber glass flutes, Mateus Nicolau de Almeida hints at a Riesling-like soil focus with his single parcel Rabigatos.

I am not long back from the Douro Superior.  It is a sub-region which continues to fascinate.  Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha – the first Douro wine of note – underlined the Douro Superior’s world class red wine potential, but what of whites? 

Being theoretically the hottest and driest of the three sub-regions might suggest white wines are a no go area.  But as you may have picked up from previous posts, the Douro Superior makes whites to excite (and which can age magnificently – check out this 1994-2014 vertical of Duas Quintas).

This sub-region is full of surprises and, in this post, I take a look at a distinguished but highly contrasting pair of reds and three whites made by the same winemaker from the same grape – hot-to-trot Rabigato from different parcels.

Casa Ferreirinha Quinta do Leda 2015 (Douro Superior)

Quinta do Leda is the principal source of Barca Velha, so the pedigree of its terroir for accomplished red winemaking is beyond question (check out my notes on a 1997-2014 vertical here); 2015 is a vintage which I like very much, so what’s not to like?  As always, Quinta do Leda is a very polished, well structured wine, which gives it an air of restraint, even though it is concentrated and ripe.  The intensity and control of the fruit is impressive.  The fruit for Quinta do Leda 2015 – a blend of 50% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinto Cão, 15% Tinta Roriz – was de-stemmed and gently crushed prior to being fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks and granite lagares.  It was matured in French oak barrels (50% new and 50% used) for a period of around 18 months, which lend cedar spice and subtle clove notes to Leda’s well groomed palate.  The vintage is readily apparent in its deep set damask rose perfume (to nose and palate) and concentrated fruit – black and red currant and cherry and, with air, sweeter raspberry, with hints of blueberry. Savoury layers add nuance and a sense of place – chesnut, esteva, incipient leather and linseed – all notes which I associate with Leda. A ripe but refined chassis of tannins imparts length and an underpinning which I am sure will allow this wine to cellar well.  Indeed, on day two, it is a little more subdued – quite brooding and introspective.  13.5%  Casa Ferreirinha are imported by Liberty Wines.

Quinta do Monte Xisto 2015 (Douro Superior)

This wine is made by the winemaker son and grandsons of Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, Barca Velha’s creator.  Having pioneered Ramos Pinto’s Duas Quintas range,  João Nicolao de Almeida together with his sons Mateus and João junior planted 10ha of vines at Quinta do Monte Xisto, their 40ha estate in 2005-2006.  Located at 200-300m on a schistous outcrop overlooking the river, with north and south-facing slopes, it is cultivated organically.  In 2015, it is a blend of Touriga Nacional (60%), Touriga Franca (35%) and Sousão (5%).  Ageing for 18 months in 600l barrels results in a finely honed wine of marked freshness and elegance.  On day two, it really hits its stride, showing delicate floral riffs and esteva hints to its fresh, very fluid red currant/berry, blackcurrant and fleshier plum fruit.  A rail of fine but plentiful, well-integrated mineral tannins lends a guiding hand, gently but purposefully maintaining line and length.  While Quinta do Leda is the darker, more savoury of the two – very much of the earth, Monte Xisto seems to be of the air.  Most elegant for a Douro red, especially a Douro Superior red, where it is not so easy to take the weight out.  It seems entirely right that this wine comes in a Burgundy bottle, while Quinta do Leda favours a Bordeaux bottle.  13.5% Monte do Xisto is shipped “Fossil Fuel Free” from Porto into the UK by Xisto Wines of Bristol.

Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Eremitas Antão do Deserto Rabigato 2016 (Douro Superior)

Nicolau de Almeida calls this collection of old vine unoaked single parcel Rabigatos his “soil wines.” For him, in the Douro Superior, “where it was born, where it is better adapted and most planted,” this old Portuguese variety “is the variety that better expresses our telluric [soil] information.”  Going further, he makes the bold claim that it is “the only Douro grape (red or white) that can make a complete and high quality wine.” Known as Estreito in Foz Côa (where his fruit comes from) due to the thin shape of the bunch, this thick skinned, very old Portuguese variety has a very high skin to juice ratio.  Just as well where, Nicolau de Almeida points out, most of the oldest vineyards of Rabigato (which would have been planted to make white Port) were planted facing south. The thick skins help it withstand heat well and the high skin to juice ratio results in wines which, he observes, have “lots of acidity, aroma and, most important for me, lots of body. Great mouthfeel.”  Antão do Deserto has subtle citrus drive and a long, crystalline palate.  Which might make it sound slight, but it has lovely presence and persistence.  12.5%  Mateus Nicolau de Almeida’s wines are shipped “Fossil Fuel Free” from Porto into the UK by Xisto Wines of Bristol.

Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Eremitas Paulo de Tebas Rabigato 2016 (Douro Superior)

Not as clear-eyed as Antão do Deserto or as aromatic as Amon de Kelia, but the trade off is it is much more textural, with woolly apple – more mouthfeel – and a slate-like minerality.  12%

Mateus Nicolau de Almeida Eremitas Amon de Kelia Rabigato 2016 (Douro Superior)

Lovely aromatic lift, but with a sense of the dry, warm region in both the profile of the aromatics – pretty dried lavender and orange peel – and its mouthfeel.  Not as textural as Paulo de Tebas, but it has more breadth on the palate than the linear Antão do Deserto.  A fascinating threesome, really interesting to taste together.  12%

You can taste Quinta do Monte Xisto 2015 and Mateus Nicolau de Almeida’s Eremitas Antão do Deserto & Amon de Kelia Rabigatos at an ‘in conversation’ wine dinner I’m hosting with Churchill’s Johnny Graham and Quinta do Monte Xisto’s João Nicolao de Almeida on 27 March at Bar Douro – the first in a series of talks (please contact Bar Douro for details on info@bardouro.co.uk or 020 73780524).

João’s daughter Malfalda will also be there to talk about her Douro Valley wine tours, including her  May Miles Away’s tour (led by me), which will visit Quinta do Monte Xisto, her brother Mateus’ winery and Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha among others.

Wines from all three producers will be available to taste on the specials board at Bar Douro, so do swing by to explore them for yourself!

The post Diverse Douro Superior: Q do Monte Xisto & Q do Leda 2015 reds, plus single parcel Rabigatos appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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Kate Goodman, Goodman Wines (l), Caroline Mooney, Bird on a Wire (r)

In honour of International Women’s Day, I give you portraits of two ladies – Yarra Valley Wine Women, Caroline Mooney and Kate Goodman.  You might say they’re laid back, but the truth is this pair are just damned efficient!  Over dinner the previous evening, another winemaker’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when Goodman said she downs tools at 6.30pm.  During vintage.  With a distinctly collaborative vibe, there’s no last man standing routine here….

No, this was a refreshingly relaxed tasting.  ‘Tea’s in the pot,’ not ‘beer’s in the fridge’ is just as likely to be the catchcry at Goodman’s and Mooney’s shared winery.  Of course, I was there to taste wines and you’ll find my highlights below, punctuated with opinion about alternative varieties, picking dates and the Yarra’s place in the world of wine.

Goodman’s eponymous wines (and Nikkal range) will appear in Oddbins this summer (who, incidentally, currently sell a women winemakers’ mixed case of six).  I first met Mooney in London in 2014 and was super impressed with her accomplished Bird on a Wire range (my notes here).  Her wines are now being imported into the UK by Wood Winters, alongside fellow Yarra Valley Wine Women member Sandra de Pury’s excellent Yeringberg range.

Whilst on the topic of women in wine, I learned of a new Portuguese group of women in wine today – United Wine Women.  I’ll be hosting an ‘in conversation’ wine dinner at Bar Douro later this year with two of their number who, like Goodman and Mooney – like to collaborate.  They are Susana Esteban & Sandra Tavares da Silva who, in addition to their own labels, make Crochet together.  Details to follow.

Nikkal Wines Chardonnay 2017 (Yarra Valley)

The Nikkal label is for Goodman’s entry level wines, made for upfront drinking.  Which is not to say that they are unsophisticated.  Indeed, one senses a beady eye on the fruit sourcing, wed to style.  Nikkal  Chardonnay 2017 comes from 12-15 year old Davis clone vines planted near Yarra Glen on alluvial, clay-based soils.  They deliver a crisp and fresh, Chardonnay with well-defined white peach fruit, a limey undertow of acidity and a touch of leesy texture.  Very well done with good flavour and palate weight at 12.5%.

Goodman Wines Vermentino 2016 (Heathcote)

Goodman makes wine in two classic regions (she is also Chief Winemaker at Penley Estate), but continues to explore alternative varieties which she believes “have their place in the landscape.”  For Mooney, it makes sense “because we are far more informed/aware about our soils and sites and taste more widely.”  On another note, she observes that the market is very saturated, “so there is a drive to create points of difference.”  Picking up where Mooney left off, Goodman observes that the Yarra has “done a huge amount of servicing UK supermarkets with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to price point,” so she sees the new varieties and clones which have come in the wake of the Yarra’s phylloxera outbreaks as a positive.  Goodman sources her Vermentino from the Chalmers Family vineyard in Heathcote, but makes the wine in the Yarra.  It’s a complex, textural example – a touch earthy/bosky to nose and palate – with roast lime and a saline finish.  Forty percent of the wine was barrel-fermented and Goodman presses it hard “to get chalky phenolics – a skeleton from which to hang the flavours.”   It lends shape and (going nutty) direction.  Very good, characterful example.   12.5%

Bird on a Wire Chardonnay 2015 (Yarra Valley)

I was not unhappy to see this wine again.  Far from it.  It was one of my January Wines of the Month.  Mooney confirms, “2015’s fruit was amazing.” It comes from original vine rows (c. 40 year old, clone P58) at the cool, elevated (300m) Willowlake Vineyard in Gladysdale, the Upper Yarra.   With amazing fruit and an amazing vineyard manager “it’s a fight to keep that,” she adds – a not infrequent comment about top notch Upper Yarra Chardonnay.  On this showing, it builds steadily in the mouth, revealing lemon curd, nougat, lime shred and lemon verbena notes.  Terrific depth and persistence.  Thoroughly delicious and with time on its side.

Goodman Wines Chardonnay 2015 (Yarra Valley)

And guess who else is in the Willowlake bun fight.  Goodman’s Chardonnay is sourced from a different (Davis) clonal material and slightly younger vines.  It’s a tauter, more restrained Chardonnay – as much, perhaps, about Goodman’s approach – “I like to see acidity…juicy drive.”  This wine was gently whole-bunch pressed and the juice racked with light lees to French oak
for natural fermentation.  It has a touch of oystershell, with bosc pear (and pearl skin – a lightly textural note) and firmer grapefruit/grapefruity drive, making for a nervier finish.  Fascinating to see the difference.  The common ground is the natural acid structure – a veritable support beam/RSJ and flavour where, said Goodman, “we both love Chardonnay that has flavour and you don’t get it at 10 baume…you get lean, green acidity.”  12.5%

Bird On A Wire Marsanne 2013 (Yarra Valley)

I first tasted this wine – the very same vintage – in 2014 with Mooney.  She reckons it has really settled into itself though I must say I’ve really enjoyed it on both occasions and gather it went down very well at last year’s Wine Australia Women of Wine tasting.   You can see my earlier note here, which reports on Mooney’s approach to this Rhone variety and her fruit sourcing.  It is holding remarkably well for a wine of this girth.  Mooney confided, “the trick is to get the phenolics in balance, which pull it back in.”  Which entails a bit of skin contact via pressing out the grapes and spinning the press lots.  The nose remains enticingly exotic with honey and stem ginger which notes follow through on a nutty, creamy (incipient brown butter) palate, with lifted lemon pith and a suggestion of lemon curd.

Nikkal Wines Pinot Noir 2017 (Yarra Valley)

This deliciously bouncy, aromatic Pinot Noir is sourced from Lower Yarra Valley vineyards in Christmas Hill Creek and Yarra Glen, which makes for plenty of flavour too.    Peonies to the nose lead the way, followed by enticing Aperol notes of orange peel, rhubarb and dried herbs/spice to its smooth melange of red summery berry and cherry fruit.  In a word, yum!  Goodman ferments small whole berry parcels with a bit of whole bunch in open vats; around 70% of the wine is matured in barrel for a short period.  13%

Bird on a Wire Pinot Noir 2016 (Yarra Valley)

Although this Pinot underwent a 100% whole bunch ferment, Mooney is categorical – “I don’t want a dominant stalky note to override the fruit.”  Consequently, this wine spends only around 80 hours on skins with a warm ferment to break down and extract tannins.  Pressing off at around six baume into old barrels, this short extraction period means that the stalks don’t break down and impart greeness or bitterness to the wine.  The proof is in the pudding and, sure enough, whilst this is a savoury (“I always love savoury,” says Mooney), pithy Pinot, it is not green (rather it is spicy, with liquorice and anise).  What’s more, though flavoursome, with its pomegranate and firm red cherry fruit, it has a levity about it.  Great line too.  Still youthfully tight, it has a tapering finish.  Promising and distinctive.

Goodman Wines Pinot Noir 2015 (Yarra Valley)

Goodman’s Pinot Noir comes from our old friend, Willowlake Vineyard, which has among the Yarra’s oldest (MV6) Pinot vines.  This wine saw around 30% whole bunch, which was fermented separately so the winemaker could exert control over the contribution of stems to the final blend.  It was pressed after 14 days on skins and matured in French oak barrels (20% new).  It is a more delicate Pinot than Mooney’s, already very expressive with lifted floral and spice notes, a hint of mushroom/sous bois and Campari dried herbs to its silky red cherry and berry fruit.  As you would expect from the vineyard, it has a fine rasp of tannins and fresh, persistent acidity, which anchor the flavours nicely going through.

Bird on a Wire Syrah 2014 (Yarra Valley)

Perhaps unsurprisingly given both grapes’ Rhône origins, the Syrah comes from the same Yarra Glen vineyard as the Marsanne.  A vineyard which, says Mooney, is very good at producing seasoned stalks (she typically uses 35-50% whole bunch).  In 2014 – a really long ripening season – the stalks ripened nicely and this Syrah has delicious white pepper lift on the nose, which resonates even more deliciously on the palate.  Striated tannins lend order and interest to its succulent, fleshy plum fruit, while the oak lends a hint of charcuterie.  The finish is long and sinewy.  Lovely.

Bird on a Wire Nebbiolo 2015 (Yarra Valley)

The fruit is sourced from De Bortoli’s Dixon’s Creek vineyard (3 clones). It’s Nebbiolo alright, pale, with sandpapery tannins, a hint of mushroom, rose petals and Camapari-like orange peel and dried herb riffs on a tight knit red currant/berry-fruited palate.  Dry, firm and focused, with a purity to its fruit core.  It’s young and only just starts unfurling in the glass before I have to leave…Mooney thought about putting it under cork for this reason.  I’ll be interested to come back to it but it looks promising.  The fruit was hand picked, de-stemmed and crushed; during the ferment (inoculated) it was handled to minimise sweet fruit influences and maximise the savoury extraction from the skins with a regime of plunging, rack and return and pumping over (which apparently allowed Mooney to pull out seeds).

Click here for my Yarra Valley Wine Women report on this year’s visit with Maryann Egan of Wantirna Estate

The post Yarra Valley Wine Women: a visit with Bird on a Wire & Goodman Wines appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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This Oporto alternative wine fair remains one of my very favourite fixtures of the year.  And the happiest of hunting grounds for exciting new wines – from players established and new.  In 2018, Casa do Cais Novo – a beautiful old Port wine warehouse – played host to Simplesmente Vinho once again.  Now in its 6th year, it is a measure of this fair’s success that it was packed to the gunnels for the trade/press sessions (a new and welcome development) as well as the consumer sessions.  With 101 producers (18 Spanish, one French), it was packed on both ‘sides of the table’ too (though, at Simplesmente Vinho, a friendlier barrel dispenses with the ‘divide’ between producers and tasters).  

Hot spot for latest trends – Filipa Pato on film

Held on 23 and 24 February, I spent four days before the fair in the Minho and Douro visiting with producers, including Quinta do Infantado, which is the family estate of Simplesmente Vinho’s  energetic co-founder and chief of operations João Roseira.  I thought it was about time, having not previously visited Infantado, plus it was good to catch up with Roseira before the fair consumed him!  We chatted about the evolution of Simplesmente Vinho, which started off with 16 producers.  While Roseira told me there could easily have been another 30 producers, he reckons 101 is the right number to stop and press pause for now.

Operation Simplesmente Vinho – a family affair with João Roseira (foreground) & his children Gustavo and Sara

It’s quite an eclectic bunch of producers which, for me, is a strength.  At its broadest, Simplesmente Vinho celebrates the small players and, while the majority are artisans and/or practice low intervention viticulture/winemaking, this is not true of everyone.  Roseira explained that the aim is to give a platform to producers who are just starting out and to open up a dialogue between producers to encourage creativity, including spurring on the more technologically-inclined to explore another way.

Quinta do Portal’s Paulo Coutinho with, fresh from the toy’s room, Portal Unlocked

Established, larger players like Niepoort showcase small production, vigneron and out-of-the-box projects at Simplesmente Vinho, like Nat’cool wines.  This year, the original Douro wild child was joined by fellow Port and Douro wine producer, Quinta do Portal. Describing Quinta do Portal’s recently launched limited production range – Portal Unlocked – as “wines from the toy room,” Paulo Coutinho was clearly enjoying the creative vibe.  As well he might, surrounded by the work of six Portuguese artists and music from two Porto bands.

Paulo Ramunni

Bigger picture Portugal and Oporto are buzzing at the moment.  Thanks to tourism, Roseira told me that, “for the first time in many years, a business running a restaurant in Oporto beyond the obvious has an audience who are willing to pay.”  Which is good news for wine too.  With two major (simultaneous) wine fairs to its name in Simplesmente Vinho and Essência do Vinho, Roseira proudly told me about Time Out magazine christening Oporto ‘essentiellement vinho’ – one might say Portugal’s capital city of wine.  Nice work!

Sara Dionísio with a tank sample of Casa de Mouraz’s 2017 unsulphured white

In upcoming posts, you’ll find my highlights from the tasting (including my visits), my focus 100% Portuguese.  First a word on overall themes.  This is the place to discover Portugal’s emerging natural wine scene, by which I mean wines with no added/very low sulphur and skin contact/orange wines.

Talha and amphora wines continue to make their presence felt and interesting dry rosés are on the up, more often than not made the traditional way by blending red and white grapes (which may or may not be from field blend vineyards).  These so-called Palhete or Clarete wines could easily pass as lighter reds – another trend, this one global and  applicable to white wines too.

Pulling off taut & mineral with aplomb, António & Marina Madeira

Different grapes (for example, Rufete, Touriga Fêmea for reds), cooler sites and earlier picking are the building blocks of this ‘lightness of being’ development.  Much as I love fresh, mineral wines, somewhat reminiscent of the early stages of Australia’s Chardonnay revolution, I’m finding whites, in particular, too austere – lacking in flavour intensity – perhaps picked a little too early?  When compensatory flavour and body-building tactics like reduction and lees-ageing/stirring come into play, it can lead to a somewhat homogenous style, which I suspect is not what the (terroirist) winemaker intended.  Doubtless the pendulum will swing back (or maybe some wines will come into their own with bottle age?)

Slava Izmailovs of Fio de Terra – small parcels from a range of regions

During the fair, I make a bee-line for new names/wines.  Of the new-to-me players, this year’s most exciting were Fio de Terra (Slava Izmailovs wine from Douro, Dão, Bairrada) and Romano Cunha (Trás-os-Montes), which wines are made by Mário Romano Cunha in collaboration with Raúl Perez.  Watch this space for more details about my many vinous highlights.

The post Simplesmente Vinho 2018: exploring a sixth successful year appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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I am going single varietal this month.  It’s not unusual with Australia – especially having just been at at Riesling Downunder, where I tasted a huge diversity of superlative Rieslings, recommending over 50. But Portugal is, without question, another country (metaphorically speaking).  With a few noble exceptions, I incline towards blends for which there is a long-standing tradition, great feel and skill.  However, at last month’s Portuguese Wine School at Taberna do Mercado, a Touriga Nacional had everyone clutching for superlatives. 

Here are my notes on these terrific single varietal wines:

Vickery Watervale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Industry legend John Vickery with fellow winemaker Phil Lehmann of Vickery Wines

Discussions at Riesling Downunder circled around how to bring balance to the consumer.  Of course, the answer to this question depends on the source grapes/terroir and the particular consumer in mind.  That said, if I was to single out an Australian Riesling which I’d defy anyone to find other than delicious, hypnotically so, it would be this example from Watervale, in which Australia’s godfather of Riesling has a hand.  Indeed, lends his name.  With a super-experienced hand on the tiller (making his name at Leo Buring, John Vickery has made Riesling for over 60 years), it’s a really flavoursome example, with good fruit and, for aficionados, classic Warevale aromatics.  Very perfumed with kaffir lime, lime blossom and flavoursome and succulent lime and lychee to the palate.  Lovely fruit depth and ripeness with brightness – a generous Watervale Riesling with, I’m told, a little bit of pressings for flavour (the press cut is 500-575l/ton).  Long with a salty note to the finish.  2.5g/l residual sugar.  Delicious. 13%  Hennings list the 2016 vintage (which I haven’t tasted) at £15.95.

Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2015 (Dão)

Readers will know how impressed I’ve been by Douro 2015s.  Terrific aromatics and fruit with a freshness which makes for beguiling wines, tempering their power.  Well, this Touriga Nacional shows what a great vintage it was for the Dão too.  One capable of showing Touriga Nacional – a generous, not infrequently de trop grape – to elegant advantage.  It is intensely perfumed, with inky florals and a hint of bergamot as it opens up, which notes lace the palate, finding balance with the fruit.  Dark but animated, elegant but juicy  black and red berry fruit is delicately spliced with tannins, which bring line and length.  Firming up on a poised, very persistent finish, they give this wine the structure to age for a decade, most likely two.  Whilst it will undoubtedly benefit from time in bottle, the palate retains perfume and lift – a buoyancy and fluidity of scented berry fruit, with gentle spice and incipient pine needle riffs (a cool hint of green) which enchant already (if you crack open a bottle, do decant it).  I was pretty chuffed with my selection of wines for the Dão masterclass, but this was the one on everyone’s lips in both senses of the word!  The 2015 vintage has just arrived in the UK and is imported by Portuguese specialist Raymond Reynolds.  The 2012 is £36.99 at Harrogate Fine Wine Company.

The post March Wines of the Month: an Australian Riesling & Dão Touriga Nacional appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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Following on from my report of January’s Margaret River Chardonnay 50th Anniversary Masterclasses, today I reflect on the Cabernet Sauvignons/Cabernet blends, which I presented at Edinburgh and Dublin Australia Day Tastings on the Margaret River Wine Association’s behalf.  Like the Chardonnays, these were confident, classy wines, which embraced the elegant properties of Western Australia’s dominant Cabernet Sauvignon clone – the Houghton clone.  Or, I should say, Houghton selection, since there is no single Houghton clone.

An evolution

Virginia Willcock – Vasse Felix vertical tasting & launch of Tom Cullity

Virginia Willcock highlighted this trend last year at the London launch of Vasse Felix Tom Cullity, lifting it off the page with a vertical tasting which took us through the evolution in Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking at this Margaret River pioneer.  A familiar, let’s call it ‘extractive to elegance,’ journey shared by a good many peers (in Margaret River and beyond).  Medium-bodied Cabernet/Cabernet blends are alive and kicking ass in Australia!  Among my audiences, there was appreciation for the accessibly medium-bodied, elegant profile – specifically the line up’s perfume, freshness, tannin management and balanced use of oak.

Prior to the masterclasses, I solicited producers’ views on the Houghton selection – so-called because, explained Willcock, in the 1930s, Western Australia’s pioneering winemaker, Jack Mann, took cuttings from bush vines, planting a five hectare plot at Houghton winery in Swan Valley.  His son, Dorham Mann, took a selection of cuttings taken from the 21 best performing vines, which were then distributed to Margaret River and beyond.

Referring to its “fine and long graphite-like mineral” tannin profile (“key to its DNA”) and “endless aromatic profile,” Tim Lovett, Leeuwin Estate’s Chief Winemaker, pithily summarised what makes the Houghton selection so special.  Unsurprising then that, for Willcock, it is better suited to producing lighter-bodied wines than the later wave of, she observed, more productive South Australian clonal plantings (clones SA 125 & 126).

Cullen vineyard. Wilyabrup

The pioneers did not record precisely which Houghton selection clone they planted. At Cullen, where eight Houghton selection clones were planted in 1971, Vanya Cullen told me “it’s a Masala blend – we don’t know which is which.”  These days, Voyager Estate’s Steve James told me, “[T]here is more understanding of the different selections of Houghton clone and, definitely more focus on the source of planting material than there was in the past. We are also working on our own in-house selections of Cabernet Sauvignon which will be interesting to observe any quality benefits in time.”

As for other clones, in Glenn Goodall’s experience at Xanadu’s Wallcliffe, southern Margaret River vineyard (he caveats, individual site matters), South Australian clone 126’s tannins tend to be more angular, with blackcurrant and plums and it “usually needs to get a bit riper [than the Houghton selection] to lose herbaceous characters and can have elements of leafiness/Mediterranean herbs/bay leaf even when quite ripe.”

Aiming high – Voyager Estate Winemaker Travis Lemm & Steve James, Manager of Winemaking & Viticulture

James planted SA125 in 2007, which now goes into Voyager Estate’s top wine.  He describes it as producing “a more red fruit spectrum, with lifted perfume and elegance” and reckons “with another 10 to 15 years of vine age, it may become our best block of Cabernet!”  Entav clone 337 is a more recently trialled clone which, James observes, “ripens early with lower sugars…I’m hoping it will work really well with our style.”  So, while the rump of Margaret River Cabernet plantings (and the oldest plantings) comprise the Houghton selection, other Cabernet clones are contributing to the diversity and evolution of the region’s reds.  As for the bit part Bordeaux players in Cabernet blends, I touch on their role in my tasting notes below.

Inevitably, at the Chardonnay Masterclass, this most malleable of white grapes reflected winemaker inputs (especially the use of solids) as well as clone and origin, with discernible differences between north versus south Margaret River.  Winemaker inputs (including different blending partners and extraction techniques) did not produce such striking stylistic differences among the Cabernets. They were pretty classic.  I was most struck by the impact of the north/south divide, with perfume and acid line generally being more pronounced in the south.

Whilst winemakers from the cooler south have bolstered their Cabernet with northern Margaret River Cabernet (more often than not from Wilyabrup in this tasting), a combination of the swing towards elegance, earlier vintages and greater maturity (for vines and vis a vis viticultural techniques) has seen southern-grown fruit increasingly walk tall.   Whilst noting “viticulture and vine age is a key factor,” Stella Bella’s winemaker, Luke Jolliffe, contends “it’s not a challenge to ripen Cabernet in Southern Margs. Pyrazines are what need to be managed, which can be done through fruit exposure and site selection”.  Although Stella Bella’s top tier 2014 Luminosa was the only 100% southern Cabernet Sauvignon in the line-up, James told me that subsequent vintages of Voyager Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon (after 2012) have relied exclusively on southern estate fruit.

Meanwhile, other southern producers are reducing the amount of northern fruit.  Thanks to a program of vineyard improvements instigated at Leeuwin Estate in 2002, joint CEO Simone Furlong (founders Denis and Tricia Horgan’s daughter) confirmed, “the component of Estate grown fruit has increased in our Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon, with a subsequent reduction in the amount of Wilyabrup fruit.”  Now “firmly based” on 43 years old non-irrigated Blocks 8,9,10, she explains that improvements have included “the opening up of the canopy to allow more sunlight into the fruit zone and maintaining a low and balanced yield to ensure optimum physiological tannin ripeness.”

Planted in 2009, the Cabernet Sauvignon at Stuart Pym’s Flowstone vineyard in Forest Grove is considerably younger, hence Flowstone Queen of the Earth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – the vintage shown – was 100% Wilyabrup-sourced.  However, subsequent vintages have incorporated 25% of his own estate’s fruit.  A percentage which, looking ahead, he can only see increasing.  Still, given Pym’s generally accepted observation that “Wilyabrup gives more volume and richness,” it’s not uncommon for southern producers (including Stella Bella) to blend northern Margaret River fruit with southern fruit at the value-driven end of the price point spectrum. Another case in point with 30% ‘friendlier’ Wilyabrup fruit, is Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (tasting notes below), which was shown at the masterclass. Xanadu’s top tier, finely-honed Stevens Road Cabernet, on the other hand (the 2014 vintage reviewed here), is from a single southern (Wallcliffe) vineyard which, according to assistant winemaker Brendan Carr, “comes in with pretty perfect numbers every year.”  X, as they say, marks the spot.

Pioneering doctors and francophiles Dr John Lagan of Xanadu & Dr Tom Cullity of Vasse Felix

From a broader perspective it is worth noting that Margaret River’s most famous area for Cabernet Sauvignon, Wilyabrup, has applied for official sub-regional (GI) status.  Inevitable, one might say, in a region which thanks to Dr John Gladstone’s climate and soil reports, was terroir-focused from the off.  In this ‘Cabernet History’ video, Mann junior and other pioneers reflect on Gladstone’s role and how the west was won over to Cabernet Sauvignon as the red grape of choice.  It’s a fascinating insight into the triumphs and tribulations of establishing it in Margaret River, which Pete Forrestal’s and Ray Jordan’s book ‘The way it was’ fleshes out with lively anecdotes about the pioneering doctors’ mend-and-make-do use of (retired one hopes) pumps from a hospital heart/lung machine and modelling of a fermentation vat airlock on an intravenous drip.  The follow up ‘Cabernet Present’ video explores the variety’s evolution 50 years on.

Below you’ll find my tasting notes on the Cabernets.  Follow this link –  Dublin Edinburgh Tasting Booklet – for helpful vital statistics about this long, skinny 100km x 27km region, a map, producer profiles and vintage/winemaking details for each wine.  You might also find my reports of leading Margaret River pioneers’ vertical Cabernet tastings insightful:

The tasting Cullen Wines Diana Madeline 2015 (Wilyabrup, Margaret River)

While this wine’s single vineyard wine’s pedigree is positively blue-blooded, Vanya Cullen has continued her mother’s pioneering work.  For her, “quality of tannins make a great Cabernet great,” hence her introduction of Scott Henry trellising, organic and biodynamic viticulture, Mistral® apparatus to separate out leaf material and infertile berries and part fermenting/macerating in amphora (not this vintage). In consequence, she achieves her aim to “get ripe tannins and the fruit ripening naturally every year to complete physiological ripeness,” whilst simultaneously producing the earliest-picked wine of the line up with the lowest alcohol by volume (13%) and the driest flavour profile.   Quite an achievement.  It makes for a finely honed, terroir-translucent wine, with this estate’s hallmark lifted rose petals and violets, bitter chocolate, a dance of tobacco and gravelly minerality.  The fruit – well-defined red and black berry and currant – is fresh and intense, yet un-pushed (no adds).  Rather, the delivery is delicate and nuanced, with tip-toe levity.  Whilst accessible on account of its elegance, it is also very young with fine but plentiful, powdery tannins.  The best is most definitely yet to come.  This inspirational wine is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon (mostly Houghton selection with a bit of SA126), 11% Merlot, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.   In Cullen’s words, “Cabernet Sauvignon is king, Merlot adds the length and mulberry mid-palate, Cabernet Franc raspberry and perfume and Malbec the power.”  Delightful.  13%  £75 at Laithwaites, £84.90 at Hedonism 

Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Margaret River)

From top to bottom of the range, Glenn Goodall’s Cabernets deliver plenty of perfume and juiciness as well as as savoury undertones, thanks to thoughtful fruit-sourcing and winemaking. This artful blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon 5% Malbec 4% Petit Verdot is sourced from two northern Margaret River regions (Wilyabrup and Treeton) and from estate fruit (30%) in Wallcliffe, the latter being Cabernet Sauvignon clone SA126 (blackcurranty), while the northern Cabernet Sauvignon (more blue-fruited) is sourced from dry-grown Houghton selection clones.  For Goodall, the Wilyabrup Cabernet delivers “power and aromatics,” the Treeton Cabernet (from further inland) plusher tannins, while the home grown southern fruit has a “leafy freshness and fine-boned tannins.” The Petit Verdot (from Wilyabrup) contributes “lovely floral aromatics and oodles of tannin if we want/need it,” while estate-grown Malbec shows “inky blue/black fruits and a lovely spice, sometimes quite white peppery.”   Put it all together and this is what I got – lovely lift with perfumed blueberry, violets, a hint of mint and more savoury balsamic notes (the latter I suspect, down to the extended maceration component), with a juicy core of blueberry and cassis fruit.  A hint of black olive, spice and chocolate in Dublin on a root day – definitely a little more savoury than on Edinburgh’s fruit day.  Juicy fruit and fine tannins make for nice persistence.  A very appetising, expressive, medium-bodied Cabernet.  14% UK RRP £19.49, 2011 vintage £15.95 at Just in Cases

Stella Bella Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Forest Grove/Wallcliffe Margaret River)

True to Stella Bella’s philosophy, the focus is on southern Margaret River fruit with, says winemaker Luke Joliffe, the aim of making a wine that is “nuanced and complex, combining finesse, elegance, purity and depth of flavour with remarkable persistence.”  Doubtless being made from 100% Houghton clonal selection plays into that style too.  I really enjoyed Luminosa’s fine frame, focus, minerality (gravelly tannins) and (rose petal) perfume.  Like the Cullen, it is at the drier end of the spectrum with a terroir translucency, lovely line and length.  Expanding on its provenance, for Joliffe, the Forest Grove vineyard (planted 1998) is “the most structural component,” while the Wallcliffe component (a 1997 vineyard) brings the ‘flesh’ such as it is – “red and blue berries.”  Amplifying my ‘such as it is’ comment, the winemaker confirmed that picking dates have moved forward at Stella Bella, “chasing fresh, perky fruit flavours,” which he then seeks to preserve (together with perfume) with minimal racking and restrained oak.  It may not have the extract of some of its peers but, given the age of the vines, I think its a terrific representation of southern Margaret River.  14.1% UK RRP £39.99, 2009 vintage £39.99 at The Vinorium 

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2014 (Wilyabrup, Margaret River)

This is the second release of Vasse Felix’s flagship red.  Named after the estate’s founder, it made its debut last year in honour of Vasse Felix’s 50th anniversary.  You can read more about the evolution of this wine here in my report of the London launch of the 2013.  Suffice to say for now that Cullity planted both Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from the off (Petit Verdot came much later) and this wine honours those varieties and is exclusively estate-sourced from the Home Vineyard (which includes Cullity’s first 1967 plantings).  In this year, the blend comprises 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot – a touch less Malbec because, said Willcock,  “our old blocks of Malbec are very small and we had slightly lower yields in 2014.”  Fortunately, she added, “2014 was a super stunning year for Cabernet Sauvignon.”  Willcock likes the “plumpness and juiciness of fruit” which Malbec brings to the blend and, for me, while this vintage has less Malbec than the 2013, it seemed more prominent in the wine at this early stage. I found the 2014 strikingly chocolatey on both occasions, with quite slick, supple black fruits – a dark profile.  Perhaps a function of tasting it at a relatively younger age than the 2013 before the Cabernet really stirs?    Like the Cullen it is a baby, but a richer, broader-shouldered one, with more overt fruit power/plumpness and an intriguing, ruffled textural quality.  In Edinburgh – a leaf/fruit day – it showed a few more ‘colour’ pops, with violets and some enticing sage notes. And in Dublin, a balsamic note (which I associate with extended skin contact/open vat fermentation).  I’m looking forward to seeing this wine coming together down the track.  There’s no hurry.  Abundant, fine powdery tannins build in the mouth, steadily stealing up on the fruit. I have no doubt it will age very well, just as its maker intended.  Slow is good.  Willcock practises cold soaking and wild fermenting whole berries because she believes it produces the “slowest, most harmonious result.” Providing me with a technical insight into why, she explained, “better access to oxygen during fermentation (because yeast numbers are lower [with a slower ferment]) & more oxygen means more resolved tannins, less reductive ferment, less racking required [which preserves fruit], so more time on yeast lees building body.”   Post-fermentation, extended maceration (up to 35 days) helps “stabilise these fine tannins for the long haul.” 14.5%  UK RRP £99.99, 2013 £98.00 at Harrods

Flowstone Queen of the Earth Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Wilyabrup, Margaret River)

From a single dry grown, vineyard in Wilyabrup, planted in the late 70’s, most probably to Houghton selection clones.  As with Flowstone Chardonnay, Pym embraces oak and his wine shows a more open knit mid-palate, less overt fruit/acid drive and more savoury tannins.   Conscious of Margaret River’s tannin levels (the highest in Australia, he believes), this wine spent three years in 100% new French oak thin stave barriques to increase the oxygen exchange to help manage the tannins.  The wine was bottle-aged for a further 15 months prior to release last year.  A barrel regime which, he told me, was inspired by tasting the Guigal ‘La la’s’ in 1998.  The long time in oak, he adds, “is very important with the high percentage of new oak to allow it to become integrated into, and a part of, the wine.”  Which indeed it is.  The tannins are fine and savoury with vanillin and cedar, earth, dried herbs and eucalypt riffs, which complex its fleshy, juicily persistent plum fruit and blackberry fruit.   More substantial than my description sounds, whilst it’s ready to go, there’s gas in the tank.  £41.95 at The Vinorium

Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Margaret River)

The 2012 is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot.  There was no Cabernet SA125 clone in the 2012, rather the Cabernet material is 100% Houghton clonal selection.  It shows the most pronounced cassis/blackcurrant character of the line up.  Intense, polished fruit is supported by sinewy tannins and a fine but firm acid line, pointing to its largely southerly, estate (Wallcliffe) origins.  In Edinburgh, I picked up violet top notes, but in Dublin, whilst it showed fresh acidity, savoury meat pan juices emerged on the finish. Pretty classic Cab. Sav descriptions.  One third of the Cabernet comes from Wilyabrup – the last vintage to feature grower fruit which, says viticulturist James, contributes mulberry fruit and fine tannins.  As for the estate-grown interlopers, Merlot brings mid-palate flesh and sweetness and the Petit Verdot “a beautiful violet aromatic note.” Going forward, James reckons that the 2013 vintage made from 100% estate fruit is “clearly more reflective of our site and shows more of the darker cassis fruit spectrum with dark chocolate notes and a slightly more structured tannin profile.”   13.5% UK RRP £40.00, 2010 £28.95 at Wine Direct

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Margaret River)

Wallcliffe-based Leeuwin Estate’s aged dry grown Houghton clone(s?) have low vigour, small berries and low yields.  The resulting wine has a certain classical rectitude, even though it was the latest picked wine of the line up (between 25 March & 13 April in 2012, one of the region’s warmest summers and earliest vintages).  “Focussing on achieving optimum physiologically ripe tannins,” Lovett explains “we are tending to hold fruit on the vine a touch later to..

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Granite rocks in the Dão – elegant terroir

I head off to Portugal on Monday for a week of visits with Simplesmente Vinho producers and, of course, the fair itself.  With last November’s trip to the Dão, I shall be well primed for my next Portuguese Wine School at Taberna do Mercado the following Monday, 26 February.

As always, my line up at Taberna do Mercado will explore a diverse range of classic and cutting-edge examples from this famous, granite-boulder-studded region via favourite whites, reds and an orange wine (yes, Terras da Tavares Rufia Orange 2016!)  And, I hope, lift off the page some of the personalities behind the wines, though my pictures should give you a clue.

Orange, Red, all go at Terras da Tavares

November’s visit reinforced why so many sommeliers whom I have introduced to the region compare Dão’s Encruzado whites with Burgundy, albeit at a relatively bargain-basement price.  A good number will feature in my upcoming Decanter Expert’s Choice on Portuguese Whites and I’ll show some of them at Portuguese Wine School on 26 February.

Antonio Madeira – framed by the Serra d’Estrela, the highest mountain on Portugal’s mainland

It also underscored how, going back to basics, new artisanal players are producing among its most terroir-translucent wines.  With a striking shift away from Douro-alike (fuller-bodied, oakier) reds, António Madeira, Nuno Mira do Ó of Druida and Niepoort (Quinta de Lomba) are producing fragrant, mineral reds which make my heart sing.  They can make your hair curl too – check out these barrels at Quinta de Lomba which highlight Dirk Niepoort’s favourite works in progress!

Happy face – Dirk Niepoort – a favourite barrel

Don’t shoot face – Dirk Niepoort

Below is a peek at the confirmed line up thus far – won-Dão-ful, as you can see.  Tickets for the Dão masterclass, which kicks off at 6.30pm on Monday,  26 February are still available – email wineschool@tabernamercado.co.uk to reserve your place.  Tickets cost £65 including supper.

Quinta das Maias Branco 2017 – great bang for buck and certified organic to boot!

Niepoort Conciso Branco 2015  – the 2014 debut of this centenarian Encruzado blend from biodynamically cultivated wines was a former Wine of the Month

Partners in wine, Druida winemaker Nuno Mira do Ó & grower Nuno Matos at Quinta da Turquide

Druida Encruzado Reserva 2016 – cool, markedly mineral, fine framed Encruzado – I snap it up when I can.

Terras da Tavares Rufia Orange 2016 – a thrilling skin contact field blend, including a not so usual Dão suspect – 50% Jampal

António Madeira Colheita Tinto 2015 – the elevated Serra d’Estrela sub-region at its most winsome – star mountain, star wine.

Casa de Mouraz husband and wife team António Lopes Ribeiro and Sara Dionísio

Casa de Mouraz Elfa 2013 – although Touriga Nacional, Portugal’s most famous red wine grape, is said to originate from the Dão, I’m reliably informed that it is not amongst the 30+ varieties in this field blend made from 80 years old vines.  But if you ever wondered what a blend of Baga, Jaen, Tinta-Pinheira, Alvarelhão, Alfrocheiro, Bastardo, Camarate, Cornifesto and others taste like, this unoaked, organic red provides the perfect opportunity.

Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2015 –  of course you should taste a Touriga Nacional, since it is said to originate from the Dão; at any rate, the Dão produces Portugal’s most eloquent expressions of this variety.

Luis Lourenco of Quinta dos Roques/Quinta das Maias

Quinta das Maias Jaen 2012 – Jaen – a stalwart of Dão blends – is the very same as Spain’s Mencia grape; Maias are one of the handful of producers making a single varietal example.

Alvaro Castro ‘Pape’ 2011 – a powerhouse year for this pioneering Dão boutique winemaker’s famous blend of Touriga Nacional, with Baga and old field blend grapes.

Snow-capped Serra d’Estrela from Alvaro Castro’s vineyard

Fingers crossed, we’ll also show Casa da Passarella Villa d’Oliveira Encruzado 2015 (a very structured, highly complex, textural mineral Encruzado, the first vintage to feature a curtimenta/fermented on skins component) and Quinta dos Carvalhais Branco Especial NV 3rd edition (the idiosyncratic, mind-blowing non-vintage – 2005, 06, 09 – varietal blend from this leading Sogrape-owned estate – another former Wine of the Month).

The post Won-Dão-ful: Dão Masterclass 26 February at Portuguese Wine School at Taberna do Mercado appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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I hadn’t appreciated quite how lucky I was to visit Wantirna Estate until (a) I saw the tiny barrel cellar and (b) dropping me off at Yarra Yering, winemaker Maryann Egan was warmly greeted by top Melbourne restaurant Vue du Monde’s sommelier; his annual allocation is one mixed case!  I gather most of the wines are sold direct to private mail list customers who, on two Saturdays in October, are invited to the winery to pick up their wines and have a sneak preview of the new releases. 

Wantirna Estate’s loyal customers know what’s what.  These are distinguished wines from one of the Yarra Valley’s pioneering modern era estates.  Planted in 1963 by lawyer Reg Egan and his wife Bertina, the improbable location – almost equidistant between Melbourne city centre and Mount Mary (the next closest Yarra Valley estate) – is partly down to logistics.  Reg, back then a full-time lawyer, told me the vineyard had to be near his practice in Melbourne’s Mount Waverley suburb.

Of course, it wasn’t the only rationale.  Having studied Dr A.C. Kelly’s and Francois de Castella’s vintage (as in old) viticultural tomes, the young lawyer knew he wanted to plant on eastern slopes to avoid the afternoon sun and was attracted to Wantirna’s thin top soil over clay.  Even today, the estate’s 12 acres of vines are mostly dry grown.   Though the soils are similar to to Lilydale, unlike Lilydale, Wantirna is in the Dandenong Creek, not Yarra River catchment area.  Vis a vis climate, Reg observed this means that Wantirna is a little more moderated by the ocean – perhaps 35 degrees during the daytime versus 37 degrees in the Yarra (as it was on the day of my visit); conversely, when it’s 12 degrees in the Yarra catchment area at night, it would be 15 at Wantirna.

Foreseeability is something of a preoccupation among lawyers.  Still, I wonder if Reg foresaw the re-zoning of his property and thousands of acres surrounding it as green belt.  “We’re the only ones left,” said Maryann, since Parks Victoria has progressively taken over the orchards which used to be all around.  As if to fit in with the spirit of things, with its billiard table-like turf, hedged beds and ornamental roses, the vineyard feels like an extension of the garden to the house Reg built in 1971.  In turn, the house segues into the pocket-sized winery, whose reception centre doubles as a garage.  Reg was much less keen that I photograph the pylons which stride through the vineyard.  They are a dissonant note to this small-scale, lovingly handcrafted operation, in which Reg (who jacked in law for wine in 1984) evidently retains a keen, green-fingered hand, though Maryann is very much at the helm.

As for Maryann, just like fellow Yarra Valley Wine Women’s Sandra de Pury of Yeringberg who enjoyed a career as a chef, then consultant before succeeding her father as winemaker, the last thing Egan wanted to do was work on the family vineyard, “living in the back of beyond.” But as wine lovers know all too well, wine gets in the blood in every sense.  Can it be any coincidence that, brought up on her father’s fine cellar of French classics, Maryann ended up in Paris and, finding herself penniless, asked for her father’s help finding vintage work?

She landed in Burgundy, working with Sophie Confuron at Domaine J. Confuron and, the very next year, signed up to study viticulture and oenology by correspondence at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.  Though she held out from returning home for several years, doing a vintage at Tyrrell’s, a short (“hated it”) stint in wine retail and working as an assistant winemaker at Domaine Chandon up the road, in 1996 she joined her father at Wantirna, following the birth of her first child.

Joking that they’ve always been on trend, Maryann confirmed all Wantirna’s wines are single vineyard,   the Cabernet Sauvignon is a field blend (the vineyard is interspersed with Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and they’ve always fermented in cement tanks. “We’re small enough to do it all” she added, “with total control.”  Following a barrel tasting of the intensely-fruited 2017s, here are my notes on the current releases, each of which is named after a granddaughter; labels are by the famous cartoonist, Michael Leunig:

Wantirna Estate Isabella 2016 (Yarra Valley)

This is an Australian classic, focused around delivering old vine (+40 year old) fruit intensity and purity with poise, thanks to well- judged use of oak and top notch fruit.  Grown on an east facing, gentle slope which sees early morning and late afternoon sunshine, the Chardonnay grapes are hand harvested early in the day, de-stemmed and then pressed in an air bag press. The juice is then chilled, settled and inoculated with yeast (“wild yeast makes me wild,” said Reg, with feeling), before being transferred to a cool underground cellar once fermentation starts in new, one and two year old French oak barrels (25% new).  A steel drum component helps keeps the fruit focus/brightness as does blocking the malo for all bar one barrel.  These days, production sits at around five barrels, which puts the wild yeast comment in perspective (plus Maryann doesn’t like the attenuated character of wild yeast ferments).  With vineyard regeneration underway (with massale cuttings and mulching and compost which has increased leaf cover, resulting in more brightness and better acid retention), the Egans hope to get back up to eight barrels (twelve were made at the vineyard’s peak of production). The wine is left to age on the yeast lees with batonnage, though Maryann says she is not doing so much these days because you lose the fruit and, with vine age and low crops, it’s not necessary. (The fruit weight which low yields and old vines naturally produce also explains why Maryann is doing less and less malo).  After around 11 months, the wine is fined and sent to bottle. You certainly pick up on the old vine fruit weight and intensity in the bottle.   This is a flavoursome yet poised Chardonnay with a cool, even delivery of stone fruits, some textural chew (the low yielding old vine berries are thick skinned, said Maryann), with an underlying crystalline mineralty and subtle oak spice.  Long, firm and young.  I tasted the 2011 over dinner the previous evening, which remained youthfully firm – leaner in that year.  Very good.  13.5%

Wantirna Estate Lily Pinot Noir 2016 (Yarra Valley)

Like the barrel sample, this is a strikingly perfumed wine with lingering, heady florals (violets for sure) and the sweet scent of ripe black cherry and fruits of the forest.  Notes which follow through on a subtly creamy palate (more tangy – fruits of the forest yoghurt?), animated with pippy bilberry and juicy blackberry.  A supportive underlay of gently mouthcoating, spicy tannins builds on the long finish which has a hint of dusty curry leaf.  Lovely.  The fruit for this wine is de-stemmed and gently crushed.  Maryann does not practice cold soaks but tries to keep the fruit as cool as possible for a controlled, inoculated ferment.  During ferment the wine is hand plunged three to four times per day. She does a degree of post-fermentation maceration on skins in most years, “for very fine fruit tannins.” The wine is aged in French oak (c. 30% new) for about 11 months.  13.5%

Wantirna Estate Amelia Cabernet Merlot 2015 (Yarra Valley)

Wantirna’s reputation was forged by this wine, its Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.   Sourced primarily from the original 1963 plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (Petit Verdot was planted in 1989), it is a deep hue, with a markedly pink rim.  The chutzpah for ageing signalled already.  It has a deep perfume of blackcurrant and dusty gravel with a hint of balsamic, which notes – the core of this wine –  are fleshed out by succulent blackberry and plum on the palate.    The juiciness of the fruit lends vivacity and length to this serious wine – a wink to its gravitas.  Plentiful but fine, powdery tannins point to a long future ahead, though it is very expressive, really beguiling, already.  With that gravelly resonance dialled up a notch, the 2009 tasted the previous evening over dinner is developing rather nicely, just starting to show a little tertiary, savoury interest.  13.5%

Wantirna Estate Hannah 2017 barrel sample (Yarra Valley)

Since 1999, Wantirna have produced a fourth wine – Hannah, a Cabernet Franc Merlot (55:45 in 2017) since Reg is a big fan of St Emilion’s Cabernet Franc-focused Cheval Blanc.  Only one barrel is made each year so, suffice to say, the current release was long accounted for!  I did, however, taste from the 2017 barrel (a new barrique from the Burgundian cooperage of Dargaud and Jaeglé).  It is very intense indeed, sharing the gravelly minerality of Amelia, but with spicier fruit and tobacco riffs.  Hannah 2017 has plentiful, mouthcoating tannins and, with lovely perfume and a strikingly pure core of fruit (a hallmark of all the wines), wears the oak well.  Most promising.

My visit at Wantirna Estate was the first of two days spent this month with Yarra Valley Wine Women.

The post Yarra Valley Wine Women: a visit with Wantirna Estate appeared first on The Wine Detective.

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The godfather of Australian Riesling, industry legend John Vickery with fellow winemaker and godson, Phil Lehmann of Vickery Wines

Riesling is notoriously beloved by the wine trade, but something of a hard sell among end consumers.  So it was reassuring to discover that the hordes attending Melbourne’s and Sydney’s Riesling Riot Tastings were a 50:50 trade/end consumer mix.  Over 1700 tickets were sold and, on the other side of the table, 102 producers from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Alsace and Washington presented their wares.  “Marvellous to see,” said Australian Riesling legend John Vickery.

Rolling out the red carpet for Riesling at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne Riesling Riot

Having spent the first part of last week at Riesling Downunder – an international Riesling symposium and tasting – I’ll be reflecting on the current state of play with Australian Riesling in an upcoming online article for Harpers.  However, a couple of things really struck me about the event.  First, the rise of German dry styles of Riesling – they dominated the international selection shown.  Second, as you’ll see from my photos from Riesling Riot Melbourne, the Riesling families’ social media savvy younger generation were out in force which, surprise, surprise, was reflected in the audience – younger than one might have expected and, I would add, highly engaged and information hungry.

Wrapping up proceedings, third generation – Sam Barry of Jim Barry, one of Riesling Downunder’s founders

Second generation – Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate, one of Riesling Downunder’s founders

Of the ‘Old World’ wines, I must admit that the ‘high wire tension’ dry styles blew me away with their purity and persistence.  A quality I admire in classic Australian bone dry Riesling.  Three standouts, to which my mind keeps returning, were F.X. Pichler Riesling Kellerberg Smaragd 2016 (Wachau, Austria), Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Gros Gewachs (Mosel, Germany) and Dönnhoff Riesling Hermannshöle Grosses Gewächs 2016 (Nahe, Germany), the latter of which made me jolly glad I have some 2007 in my cellar!

John Hughes, Rieslingfreak

As for the Australian Rieslings, since my fortnight’s focus on Riesling 10 years ago, different descriptors have entered my vocabulary thanks to the greater diversification of winemaking techniques, notably the use of solids/lees, skin contact, wild yeasts and oxidative handling, including barrel/foudre-ageing.  Residual sugar too.  Australian Riesling can be bone dry, arrow straight and pure as the driven snow or textural, more dimensional, in flavour/sweetness spectrum too.

Below you’ll find 54 Australian Riesling highlights from Melbourne’s Riesling Riot.   The Regent Theatre’s ballroom filled up fast, so my notes from this buzzy tasting are on the brief side.  Exciting new discoveries to watch out for included Vickery Wines and John Hugh’s Rieslingfreak.  Both producers source from Clare and Eden Valleys.  Giving his name to the brand (which is owned by WD Wines), 84 year old industry veteran John Vickery was the man who, from 1955, pioneered Australia’s classic dry, pure style of Riesling at Leo Buring’s Chateau Leonay.  It was an unexpected privilege to meet him and Phil Lehmann who, together, make the wines.  Bibendum are going to be importing Rieslingfreak, whilst Vickery’s Rieslings are imported by Jascots.

Watervale Clare Valley Vickery Watervale 2017

Phil Lehmann, winemaker for the WD Wine group

The fruit is sourced from three Watervale growers.  Very perfumed with kaffir lime, lime blossom and flavoursome and succulent lime and lychee to the palate.  Lovely fruit depth and ripeness with brightness – a generous Watervale Riesling with, I’m told, a little bit of pressings for flavour (the press cut is 500-575l/ton).  Long with a salty note to the finish.  2.5g/l residual sugar.  Delicious. It gets the green bottle (l) while the Eden valley Riesling reviewed below goes into an amber bottle (of which there seem to be more these days).  13%

Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2005 (Clare Valley)

Second generation sisters Hilary and Edwina Mitchell

It was nice to catch up again with Hilary Mitchell (left) who included this wine in a 2016 vertical tasting (my notes on the 2001 to 2015 here).  Loaded with lemon and lime with talc floral lift, this is an exceptionally youthful 13 year old Riesling with great drive and a mouthwatering finish with roasted lime.  13%

Mitchell Watervale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Expressively floral nose with hints of Turkish delight/roses petals and an open-textured, succulent palate with mouthfeel.  Very 2017.  13%

Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Mount Horrocks’ Stephanie Tooles with her son Alexander

I tasted this Riesling in London last month at Liberty’s tasting (my report here) and this second bite at the cherry confirmed its minerality.  Intensely grapefruity, with incipient grapefruit pith/oil, whetstone minerality (flavour and textural dry extract).  Firm, long, precise. 2.5g/l RS 12.5%

Wines by KT 5452 Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

I’ve not seen winemaker/owner Kerri Thomson for ages, though I’ve often borrowed her perfect description of Riesling – “a variety with a postcode.”  5452 is the postcode for Watervale, the Clare Valley sub-region from which she sources her Rieslings, working with two vineyards – Peglidis and Churinga.  Designed to be really juicy and drinkable, it’s her entry level Riesling.  An element of wild ferment, solids and 3g/l residual sugar make for a rounder, succulent style within the range.  Nicely done. 12.5%

Wines by KT Peglidis Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Planted in 1973, old vines produce a classic lime-sluiced palate with musky floral lift, subtly textural lime pith and a bony, mineral finish.  Lovely intensity. 12%

Wines by KT Churinga Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Whilst Peglidis features Watervale’s classic clay and limestone soils, Churinga has some blue slate too which makes for a punchier Riesling with more volume (a sense of dry extract) and resonance to the long, echoing lime and quinine finish.  12.5%

Wines by KT Pazza 2017 (Clare Valley)

This no added sulphur Riesling comes from the Peglidis vineyard.  The free run juice was wild fermented and aged for 12 months in stainless steel and seasoned French oak on solids.  The barrel element underwent malolactic fermentation.  It has an aldehydic hint to its creamy fruit salad palate with a glycerol-driven sweetness though, like the Peglidis, the finish is bony and tight.  12%

Wines by KT Aged Release Peglidis Riesling 2013 (Clare Valley)

A fan of bottle age, Thomson releases this wine after 4-5 years when the lime-fuelled palate becomes more textural, whilst losing none of its tension.  Long with plenty of drive and mineral back palate resonance.  The ferment starts naturally, but Thomson inoculates to ensure it goes through to dryness.

Clos Clare Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Produced by Tom and Sam Barry, I typically find this wine to have a very textural quality – a powderiness/sense of dry extract.  Still, it has a lightness of being with a quinine edge to its lychee fruit.  It comes from a 46-year-old dry grown vineyard adjoining the Jim Barry-owned historic ‘Florita’ vineyard.  Lovely.

Jim Barry Watervale Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Speak of the devil, Jim Barry are Australia’s number 1 Riesling producer and this is their biggest production example in the range.  It is sourced from the Florita vineyard and made in a fruit-driven style with lashings of juicy lime, good line and a mouth-watering finish.  11.8%

Jim Barry Florita 2017 (Clare Valley)

The fruit for Florita – a historic vineyard of note – is selected from rows where the terra rossa and loam barely cover the deep limestone below.  It is a favourite Watervale Riesling, with terrific drive, purity and perfume.  Lovely, floral nose with vivid lime with gin & tonic perfume and minerality to the palate.  Arrow straight, it has superb line, length and purity.  Super-tight.  12.5%

Shut the Gate For Love Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Striking bottles and wines from Richard Wood, co-founder Shut the Gate

New to me, Shut the Gate was established in 2010 and sources fruit from eight growers.  The wines are made in a classic protective style with free run fruit (400l/t press cut) and an inoculated ferment. For Love is bone dry but with a fresh puree/chalky softness to the fruit, lovely citrussy/orange peel aromatics and a saline finish.

Shut the Gate Rosie’s Patch Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

From a south-facing site, Rosie’s Patch shows ripe lime with floral lift;  more open knit than For Love.

Shut the Gate For Love Riesling 2012 (Clare Valley)

A cooler year so this is a little more evolved than I might have thought, but I like it for those classic tertiary limes on toast/Bick’s lime cordial given its good push of acidity.  Toasty finish.

Shut the Gate Blossom Riesling 2016 (Clare Valley)

From the same vineyard as For Love but this wine has 26g/l residual sugar.  It’s a pretty wine with a cool, clean feel to its grapefruit; the sugar softens the fruit around the edges but it is nicely balanced – very drinkable.

Rieslingfreak Sekt Riesling 2014 (Clare Valley)

This is a dry, firm, lemony sparkling Riesling with lemon verbena inflections, lime and a sucking stones quality to the finish.  Quite vinous and most definitely Riesling.  Touch of toast and dried honey to the finish. 2.5g/l dosage.

Grosset Alea Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Jeff Grosset with daughter Georgina

Inevitably, Grosset’s best known terroir-differentiated dry Rieslings, Polish Hill 2017 & Springvale 2017 were all but run out by the time I visited the table.  Good job I tasted them last month at Liberty Wine’s tasting – my review here.  As for Alea, Grosset has pulled back on the residual sugar in this off dry wine.  The 2017 comes in at 10g/l versus 15g/l in the original release. Grosset told me this makes for less sweet and sour – a more even, palate.  I’ve always thought this wine (albeit more fruit focused) has typical Grosset precision and, with lower residual it feels a tad more precise still.  Grosset observed that, because European wines of a similar analysis have botrytis, this delivers an extra level of complexity.  The trade off for Grosset (who doesn’t get botrytis) is fruit purity.

Polish Hill/River, Clare Valley Shut the Gate For Freedom Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

From an older vineyard than For Love which is organically cultivated.  As you would expect from this sub-region’s ‘hard rock’ soil profile, For Freedom is tighter than the Watervale (soft rock) For Love cuvee with grapefruity drive – lovely length – and emphatic slatey minerality.  A touch of salinity too.  Long.

Pikes The Merle Reserve Riesling 2016 (Clare Valley)

Neil Pike

Pikes are, with Frankland Estate and Jim Barry, co-founders of Riesling Downunder.   Lemony/lemon sherbetty, crisp and lively.  The finish, dry and firm, is lime-sluiced finish with surprisingly pretty talcy nuances.  Very long and pristine.  Impressive.

Rieslingfreak No 2 Polish Hill River 2017 (Clare Valley)

Whilst Jeff Grosset’s Polish Hill vineyard’s hungry soils produce very small berries, this vineyard was hand selected due to its ability to produce large vines, large bunches and large berries.  It is planted on grey brown loam, over sandy limestone and shale rock and planted 460m above sea level.  As you might expect given the different berry size, Hughs’ Riesling is more expressive/open textued than Grosset Polish Hill, with elderflower perfume, pure and perfumed lychee fruit with a talcy/chalky ‘edge’ and persistent acidity.  Pretty but very persistent, with a cool purity about it.

Rieslingfreak Polish Hill Schatzkammer Riesling No. 8 2017 (Clare Valley)

Picked 10 days before Riesling No. 2, No. 8 similarly has elderflower lift but the fruit profile is quite different, with crab apple/green apple bite as well as fleshier apple.  It has an interesting, complexing bloom (skin/blossom/yeast) note/subtly waxy textural character, with a mineral tang to the finish.  I would never have guessed it has 50g/l of residual sugar.  It seems too delicate/featherlight for that.  With just 7% abv, one could say this fits with Ernie Loosen’s grandfather’s comment about German Spatlese Riesling being wines “to drink yourself sober.” 

Clare Valley, White Hut Rieslingfreak No. 3 Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

I can’t recall the White Hut sub-region in northern Clare (just north of the township of Clare) coming up before, but encountered a couple of examples at Riesling Riot.  This one is from Hughs’ parents vineyard at an unusually elevated 500m on heavy loam over terra rossa.  True to his style, it has lovely purity.  With a touch of lolly/tropical fruit as well as classic lime, it is fruit driven, with a gentle roundness and chalkiness of texture.  Highly drinkable, but with the persistent undertow of acidity and fruit intensity to go the distance.

Rieslingfreak Riesling No. 5 2017 (Clare Valley)

Sourced from the same vineyard as No. 3 but harvested a week beforehand, this is an off-dry style.  It has a softness/rolling quality to the palate, but the balance and purity is beautiful.  Deftly handled, the residual sugar translates more as texture than sweetness.  I like Hugh’s textural approach, which differentiates his wines from the classic Clare school, whether dry or sweeter.  Whilst they are very persistent, it gives them a friendliness – a delicate mouthfeel (think about the lightness of a foam or feathers…).

Gaelic Cemetery Wines Celtic Farm Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

Gaelic Cemetry is a joint venture between Neil and Andrew Pike of Pikes Wines and Vigneron Grant Arnold.  Neil Pike told me that, with lots of rain over winter/spring, large berries meant you could press harder without picking up phenolics.  Still, this wine comes from gravel sub-soil so the vines have to work hard.  It is tightly wound with apple peel and core and just a touch of give (3.8g/l residual sugar) to the finish.  Very good.

Gaelic Cemetery Wines Premium Riesling 2017 (Clare Valley)

From the oldest block, this wine spent longer on lees.  It is more pebbly, with tight knit lime and a hint of greenness (herbality, attractive), which seems to be something of a Riesling lees’trait.  With nice thrust and grapefruit sorbet clarity, it finishes firm, long and dry.   Very classy.  11%/2.8g/l residual

Eden Valley Vickery Riesling 2017  (Eden Valley)

Only this wine and the Watervale Riesling are made under the Vickery label, the former bottled in a green flute, this wine in an amber flute.  Fruit is sourced from five growers.  It’s a completely different animal from the bounteous and expressive Watervale.  Quite shy, with bath salts and a chalkiness of texture.  Drier (1.9g/l) and more delicate.  Needs time to unfurl.

Rieslingfreak Riesling No. 4 2017 (Eden Valley)

My notes say that this wine is sourced from three vineyards, but the website mentions two.  One is situated approximately 3kms north-west of the Eden Valley township on shallow grey sandy loam over shale rock soil at 450m.  The other in Flaxman’s Valley at 500m on loam over light medium clay, with high quartz rock and gravel content. They produce a pretty, talcy Riesling with Hughs’ (or maybe Hughs’ in 2017?) signature softness vis a vis mouthfeel.  Rolling, insinuating acidity makes for great length and dance of talc, chalk, florals. Lovely delicacy.

Henschke Peggy’s Hill Riesling 2016 (Eden Valley)

Whilst Julius is 100% estate fruit this cuvee includes grower fruit from vineyards at around 500m, up to 50 years old.  It sees a touch of phenolics for texture, making for a less punchy wine than Julius, but it’s still long and tight – classic pure and dry with line. 12%

Adelaide Hills

Sixth generation family member Justine Henschke

Henschke Green Hills Riesling 2016 (Adelaide Hills)

From the elevated Lenswood sub-region at 550m and a biodynamically cultivated vineyard, Green Hills shows textural applely fruit with lively snappy acidity, fine acidity and a tangy, oxidative ironstone note to the finish. 12.5%

Tasmania Two Tonne Tasmania Ziggurat 2017 (Tamar Valley)

Two Tonne Tasmania’s Ricky Evans

I met Two Tonne Tasmania’s ambitious founder/winemaker, Ricky Evans, when I visited Tasmania in 2016 and he worked at Bay of Fires.  He has since left to concentrate..

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