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Elegant Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 11

Posts Filed Under elegant wines

Rare By Nature, Rare By Nurture (The Inside View Of Rutherglen Rare Topaque And Muscat)

Vinted on August 2, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review

Geographic isolation engenders resourcefulness. As well as entire rooms that smell like caramel and sultanas.

Let’s start with the resourcefulness.

When Scottish friends George Sutherland Smith and John Banks decided in the 1860s that they couldn’t wait for materials to be shipped in to them to build All Saints, a winemaking property on the bank of the Murray River in Rutherglen’s Wahgunyah, they did what any self-respecting Aussies would do; they did it al themselves. Smith and Banks went ahead and established their own brick kiln so they could make their materials; presumably in a hurry to finish, fingerprints can still be seen in the bricks where Chinese workers laid down the material that had just barely cooled.

The result of their ingenuity is a structure that was once believed to be the largest winery in the southern hemisphere, an imposing building modeled after the their home country’s Castle of Mey (All Saints Estate was purchased in 1992 by the Brown family of Milawa, and Brown descendants Eliza, Angela and Nicholas now run the show), and built “on the back of money made running paddle steamers up the Murray and selling dry goods to miners” according to their PR folks.

The surfeit of caramel and sultanas come to us by virtue of All Saints hosting a tasting of Rutherglen’s now most famous wine export: “stickies” in Aussie slang, fortified dessert wine to the rest of the wine world. For my visit, All Saints had poured, for a comparitive master-class tasting, glasses of nearly every Rutherglen producer’s Topaque offerings, from the simpler Rutherglen level all the way through to what are called “Rare” with good reason: they’re made in tiny quantities, and aged somewhere around thirty years in barrel.

It was the Rares in which I was most interested, because… well, because I’m not above that sort of thing but primarily to tell you what they taste like, even though the chances of finding them stateside are fairly… rare

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Bubbly At 150 (Schramsberg Recent Releases, And Why It’s Okay That California Is Not Champagne)

California sparkling wine has come a long way (baby) since German draft-dodger and later NYC barber Jacob Schram decided that the hot and sunny knolls of Calistoga in the 1860s looked like a suitable place to plant vines like those he’d left behind in his beloved Rhineland (after all, he’d seen hills far steeper – and a lot more difficult to farm – back in Germany).

Schram wasn’t making bubbly back then – that Calistoga climate barely managed the mostly German varietal still wines that he produced there, so much so that he hired Chinese laborers, fresh off work on the railway lines, to dig the site’s now-famous hillside caves in order to protect his wines from the heat (pickaxe marks are still clearly blazoned into the walls). So, Schram would probably be as surprised as anyone by the success that his namesake – Schramsberg – has had in the domestic sparklers department (though Schram was no slouch – by the time of his death due to complications from paralysis in 1905, his winemaking venture was quite successful, and he’d counted among his friends people like Robert Louis Stevenson).

Schram’s son Herman wasn’t so lucky; lacking his father’s passion for the business, he couldn’t overcome the double-fisted body-blows of phylloxera and Prohibition, and tax records form the time suggest that the winemaking family business stumbled mightily by the time it was sold in 1912.

That Schramsberg could again be firing on all winemaking cylinders 150 years later probably seemed just as unlikely in Shcram’s time as any California sparkling wine being able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best that Champagne has to offer in our time; yet (based on my recent visit this past June), both are clearly happening at this Calistoga hamlet

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On Planting A Vineyard By Hand, And Not Getting Your Wines Reviewed By U.S. Critics (Yarra’s Giant Steps)

Vinted on June 14, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines

“I can’t review your wines, they have too much acid.”

Those were words that a reviewer at one of the U.S. wine glossies told Aussie Yarra Valley producer’s Giant Steps head honcho Phil Sexton (according to Phil, anyway).

To which Phil’s reaction was, apparently, something to the effect of “but that’s the whole point!” Linear acidity, mineral liveliness, longevity – those are clearly what Yarra Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are all about, if you taste enough of the stuff to be able to formulate an educated opinion on them. So Phil’s response to that unnamed critic was certainly more… diplomatic than mine would have been.

Intrepid 1WD readers will know that Giant Steps Chardonnay has done very well on the virtual pages here, so when I traveled to the Yarra Valley to visit Giant Steps (also purveyors of Innocent Bystander wines and Little Creatures beer, as well as a bistro in the Yarra). So I was pretty keen to see how Phil’s single-vineyard wines were doing in the U.S. market.

“We’re likely to pull out of the U.S., actually,” Sexton told me over dinner. The running joke of the evening was that I might have helped to sell the other case of Giant Steps in the U.S. with my previous high praise for their Chard. That was small beer consolation, though, and I ‘m not talking Little Creatures; I was genuinely disheartened to hear that GS wines get little critical play, and few sales, in my home country, while the seemingly much (much) smarter Aussies are buying the hell out of them

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Roots, Reconnected (Tasting Inglenook’s 1960 Cabnernet)

Vinted on June 7, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Jeff Smith, of Hourglass wines (and who, incidentally, just took the rather bold move of parting ways with long-standing and celebrated consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade and Plumpjack alumnus Anthony “Tony” Biagi), knows his Napa Valley wine history.

Fortunately for me (more on that in a minute or two).

Smith’s roots are there, as grew up in the Napa wine scene, his family having now seen the whole kit-and-caboodle; from the bootstrapping farmers who, in his words, “picked up the scattered bones of an industry after Prohibition and phylloxera,” to the influx of outsiders flush with cash and dreams of world-class vanity projects on which they could invest (squander?) their fortunes.

In other words, Smith remembers when it was pronounced Mon-DAY-vee and not Mon-DAH-vee.

Napa’s is a winemaking history that many a wine lover has heard about, but few have really delved deeply into from a visceral standpoint, simply due to the fact that there isn’t much of the wine from those “old days” around to taste, most of it having been imbibed, or gone bad, a long time ago.

The really fortunate part for me was that when Jeff and I caught up over dinner at Press in St. Helena, he was in the mood to reconnect with the Valley’s roots, by way of directly sampling some of Napa’s history… from about the time when his former employer Robert Mondavi nearly single-handedly reinvented the Californian fine wine scene…

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