Posts Filed Under on the road
It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Beechworth, a rural (even by Aussie wine region standards) area in eastern Victoria that sits just south of Rutherglen. The region was made famous by Giaconda, whose premium Chardonnays are in such high demand that they’re now offered en primeur.
But I’m not here to see Giaconda (okay, that mostly had to do with the fact that it was closed when I visited). I’m across the street, where Keppell Smith has set up shop for his Savaterre brand – and at seventeen years running, he’s just gotten around to building a modern winemaking facility. This is the other side of Oz, where handfuls of tiny producers are setting up garage-style winemaking efforts, using natural cork, and otherwise eschewing the penchants of ginormous Aussie wine conglomerates’ for squeaky-clean, screw-capped, and what many wine geeks often criticize as characterless wines.
Smith comments on what he’s trying to avoid, and his words, I come to learn later, more-or-less sum up the approach of producers throughout Beechworth: “Fuck me dead! There’s nothing worse than a ‘so what’ wine!”
Ask Smith why he chose this spot to plant grapes, and his answer, similarly, will tell you everything; only this time, it’s everything about his approach to winemaking (and, I gathered, to life itself – Smith seems incapable of hiding his true feelings about anything… even by Aussie transparency standards).
“Because of this,” he says, picking up a handful of brownish, unforgiving, decomposed granite. “Because of this shitty, shitty, crappy, shitty soil!”…
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“I’m going to be honest with you, that smells like pure gasoline.”
We’re not talking about Sex Panther here, people – but we are talking about something that is quite pungent… in a good way…
Riesling. Specifically, a factor that many consider to mark some of the best aged Riesling wines on the planet: an aroma reminiscent of petrol, or vinyl, or rubber. It’s a marker that I’ve encountered in many a fine aged Riesling, including one that has come from arguably the best vintage of the 20th century from arguably world’s best producer of the stuff.
During my recent jaunt to Australia, the group of East Coast Sommeliers with whom I was traveling was treated to an in-vineyard pruning lesson followed by an in-office Clare Valley Riesling Masterclass, headed by Taylor Wines’ Chief Winemaker Adam Eggins. [ Editor’s note: if you enjoy the wines of Taylors (known as Wakefield in the U.S.), then you should silently hope that none of the grapes for future vintages hail from the vines that we mauled that day ]. Like most good Aussies, Eggins is quick-witted, opinionated, and not afraid to hide those opinions even when actually he’s trying to hide them. But even Eggins didn’t quite reveal his hand when he shared with us a French report on the Riesling/petrol phenomenon (shared below, emphasis mine):
“With time, Riesling wines tend to acquire a petrol note (goût petrol in French) which is sometimes described with associations to kerosene, lubricant or rubber. While an integral part of the aroma profile of mature Riesling and sought after by many experienced drinkers, it may be off-putting to those unaccustomed to it, and those who primarily seek young and fruity aromas in their wine. …the German Wine Institute has gone so far as to omit the mentioning of “petrol” as a possible aroma on their German-language Wine Aroma Wheel, which is supposed to be specially adapted to German wines, and despite the fact that professor Ann C. Noble had included petrol in her original version of the wheel.”
Another way of saying that, is that Riesling’s petrol aroma is a fault.
But is it, really?
The answer, I think, is an emphatic NO…
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The conclusion of the recent 2012 Drink Local Wine Conference in Denver was a “taste-off” competition of sorts in which twenty-plus Colorado wine producers each poured two of their offerings, with the media and attendees voting on which of those offerings were the “best” on hand (technically, one producer wasn’t pouring wine, in terms of grape wine, but showcased their Mead – Redstone Meadery, who took the “people’s choice” award for their intriguing Nectar Of The Hops).
As a competition, it was fun but given the levity and structure of the proceedings, it shouldn’t be taken as a be-all, end-all statement on CO wine hierarchy (we are talking about a competition with a quarter of the state’s producers, only pouring two wines each); but gems are gems no matter how or where you happen to uncover them.
I will get to my thoughts on the gems – the winners on the wine side of that taste-off – in just a minute (or three), but first I want to tell you about the clearest winner of the Taste-Off:
While I maintain my stance (firmly, I should add) that the region is a “nascent” producer in that Colorado has not fully cracked the code of what grapes to plant where to consistently produce world-class wines, and while the quality levels between (and even among the offerings within each of the) producers is still way too broad (there’s plenty of mediocre wine to be had), I can also tell you emphatically that there seems to be no ceiling for Colorado wine’s quality potential.
Colorado is already making world-class wines – it just happens to be in tiny quantities and can’t be made consistently enough (quite a bit of that being due to extreme vintage variation brought on by the intensity of its continental, high-elevation climate). And while you’re certainly likely to find some real clunkers in CO (its bad wines are epic in their terribleness), the best ones really are gems worth wading through the muck to unearth; in some cases – particularly in the case of one of the DLW Taste-Off winners – CO wine has already arrived…
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