At the table today I tasted through six new release Australian whites, all completely blind. No price exceeded $22, although that was not known either. The average quality was very good and as usual blind tasting leads to a few surprises. Interestingly, the two wines with gold medal stickers on them (the first and third) showed well in the bracket. Notes and observations follow.
d’Arenberg The Olive Grove Chardonnay McLaren Vale Adelaide Hills 2016 This wine has restrained aromas of lemon and stones. Dry on the palate, there’s some well handled oak, green apple characters, balance, medium length and some acid zing. A bargain at $15. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.4%. Price: $15. Source: Sample.
Heggies Vineyard Eden Valley Chardonnay 2016 This wine presents with very restrained aromas of stone and meal, and cedar characters suggesting mostly older oak has been used. The palate is dry and restrained in its expressions of lemon and stone, and medium length and also has some acid zing. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: 13.0%. Price: $22. Source: Sample.
Taylors Clare Valley Padthaway Chardonnay 2015 Restrained in impression, this wine opens to aromas of green apple and subtle oak use. Between medium and full bodied on the palate, with good length and a very balanced expression of a cooler climate style chardonnay. Another bargain, this time at $19. Rating: Good to Very Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $19. Source: Sample.
d’Arenberg The Money Spider Roussanne McLaren Vale 2017 This is a more aromatic wine than the previous three, with its expression of apricot and dried fruits. No oak on the palate, it is full bodied with a mealy, textured expression and is well made if singular. Rating: Good. Abv: 12.9%. Price: $20. Source: Sample.
d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc Adelaide Hills 2017
This is most evidently sauvignon blanc. Pale in colour, there are pronounced aromatics of gooseberry and very grassy notes. No oak is used, there’s fresh acid on the palate, and 4g/l of residual sugar softens the impression. Mid range length. Rating: Good. Abv: 12.5%. Price: $20. Source: Sample.
Angullong Pinot Grigio Orange Region 2017 Pale in colour with a slight pink hue. Typical pinot gris. A medium intensity aromas of pears on the nose. The palate is between medium and full bodied with no oak influence and a stoney, minerally expression of citrus fruits and pear and an acid zing on the tail. A good example of cool climate pinot grigio. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.0%. Price: $20. Source: Sample.
Rutherglen as a tourist destination provides a vision of a rural idyll surrounded by Victorian buildings, vineyards, sheep and intertwined family history. To borrow a concept from Bernard Salt, at around 300 kilometres from Melbourne and further still from Sydney, it is comfortably out of the orbit of the major capitals. Yet, scratch under the surface and the changes emerge. Serious food and wine offerings have sprung up, such as the superb new wine bar (Thousand Pound Wine Bar and Store), seemingly teleported direct from St Kilda. Out of town, both Jones Winery and the ambitious new Ripe restaurant at Buller Wines prove very good for lunch and well beyond simple country fare. The wine industry is changing too. Venerable family estate Morris has found a new home under Casella’s ownership, the opportunity seemingly embraced in view of its reported proposed closure in the hands of former owner Pernod Ricard. Buller wines is being visibly rejuvenated by new owners too, the Judd family, while Rutherglen Estates prospers under Chinese ownership and the thoughtful winemaking of Marc Scalzo.
Yes, well and good you say, but what about the wine? Isn’t Rutherglen a region for fortified wines which everyone agrees are wonderful, are an international benchmark wine style and quite scarce too, but remain in genteel decline for reasons unrelated to expert wine opinion? And what about durif, a grape that is prone to excess when the pendulum has swung to mid weight wine? Well, as always, the real position is more nuanced. The fortified muscat offerings remain utterly superb, and I attended a quite extraordinary classification tasting with Chris Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Wines that more or less proved it. The write up deserves its own post. And durif. Well, there’s nuance in durif too, with talk of clones, vineyards, terroir and a tasting where wines ranged in style and alcohols from 13.3% to 17%. I’ll write that up separately too. And then there’s the whites. White Rutherglen … who knew?
But before I talk about the wines, here are a few on the ground facts about the Rutherglen wine region deduced from a couple of days of informally walking and talking to producers. The region is classified as warm climate, and is broadly similar to the Barossa Valley in terms of temperature but proximity to the foothills of the Alps moderates night time temperatures. Unlike further north, vintage matters here: 2002-2010 were drought years, 2011 was terrible, 2014 was wiped out by significant frost and good wines were made in the other more recent vintages. Most producers irrigate, add acid and shade fruit to avoid sunburn. Springs can be wet, and the summers dry. The soils range from clays to sands, the latter being said to give wines a more floral character. Picking occurs in roughly February for whites, March for reds and April/May for red/brown muscat (muscat à petits grains) and white muscadelle (both of which are intentionally left on the vine to raisin). The region has seen compression in picking windows in some recent years (although not the current cooler vintage conditions, it would seem).
Rutherglen Estates vineyard.
As I suspect a rather deliberate eye opener, I commenced wine tasting with a bracket of alternative white varieties from Rutherglen. These included chardonnay, a riesling and a viognier, but I thought the most interesting wines had marsanne in them. My surprise at the freshness and balance in these wines was tempered by the slow realisation that Nagambie is not particularly far away as the crow flies, and Tahbilk has hectares of it growing there. A fiano proved rather interesting too. Here are my notes.
Valhalla Wines Marsanne 2014 Marsanne and Roussanne both survived the drought years in Rutherglen in style. The latter retains more natural acidity. Aromas of bread, hay, minerals and some cedar influence. The palate is fuller bodied with a touch of butter and mid range length.
Cofield Wines Roussanne Marsanne 2014 This wine has an apple streak running through its bread and floral aromatics. The palate is all apples, lemons and apricots.
Campbells Wines Marsanne Viognier 2016 I have been critical of viognier, but it works here in a blend. Floral, hay and apricot blossom aromatics. The palate is fuller bodied and citrus dominant, with phenolics evident. Well made.
Rutherglen Estates Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2015 Soft skinned viognier can be hard in the vineyard, but it is very well managed in this wine which proved to be the wine of the set. Kernel stones, cedar and smoke characters. The palate is full bodied with good length supplemented by ginger and apricot notes.
Jones Vineyard & Winery Fiano 2016 This wine sees no added acid and is grown on red clay with no irrigation. Overt floral aromatics with notes of peach, almost ice cream. The palate is medium bodied with a fresh style and floral overlay.
Note: I attended Rutherglen as a guest of Winemakers of Rutherglen
I enjoy southern Rhône style whites, and roussanne (and roussanne blends) deserve a longer hearing in an Australian context. This is a lovely fresh release from d’Arenberg and the 2016 vintage. In the glass, saline aromatics give way to a full bodied but fresh palate. The grapes were picked early and malolactic fermentation suppressed to achieve the style and I think these were the right calls. (Alc: 12.7%, Region: McLaren Vale, Rating: McLaren Vale, Would I buy it based on this tasting? Yes, Drink: now, Tasted: Feb, 2017, Source: Sample)
First, a confession: I really enjoy southern Rhône style whites. This wine is from Château d’Anglès from the La Clape appellation which is actually further south in the Languedoc, but the principle remains the same. It’s a blend of bourboulenc (50%), white grenache (30%), roussanne (10%) and marsanne (10%). Bourboulenc you say? Yes, it’s a Provençal variety that is late ripening and retains its acidity well. It can even be found here in Australia, although there’s less than one hectare of it! It is usually not dominant in white blends in southern France, except in La Clape, which is of course where this wine is from. In the glass, the 2010 vintage from Château d’Anglès has aromas of honey, straw and rock salt. The palate is full bodied with good length and refreshing acidity. This is a balanced and enjoyable white wine that will suit seafood.
Rating: Good to Very Good Abv: 14% Price: $32.50 ($29.25 in dozen) Source: sample Vendors and website: http://bordeauxandbeyond.com Tasted: 2016
I have grown quite partial to white Rhône blends, and happily, a few local versions have arrived on the doorstep over the past week or so providing quite impressive quality/value propositions. The grape varieties involved are marsanne, roussanne and viognier in varying styles and proportions, with each satisfying in their own way.
But first a brief note on the grape varieties themselves. Marsanne makes full bodied white wines and tends to higher yields, forming part of the blend in white St-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage in the northern Rhône and in white Côtes du Rhône more generally. It can tend to produce flabby wines, left to its own devices. In Australia, it finds homes in Nagambie and the Yarra Valley, as well as a smattering of other regions. Roussanne is also allowed in blends of white Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph, but suffers more from issues in the vineyard than marsanne (irregular yields, powdery mildew and rot, among others). It is aromatic and has some acidity, and adds these characters in blends with marsanne, which contributes the body. Its Australian footprint is small. Viognier tends to produce wines that are high in alcohol and colour, low in acidity and with powerful aromatics of apricots and stone fruits. Its finds its most famous homes in Condrieu and the tiny Chateau Grillet in the northern Rhône valley. In Australia, it is grown all over but appears to perform best in cool to temperate regions with great care applied in the vineyard and winery.
Here are a few local versions that impressed.
d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2014, McLaren Vale A blend of 74% viognier and 26% marsanne from McLaren Vale fruit. Golden in colour, with highly aromatic expressions of apricot and honey. The palate has nice length and balance, with mid range acidity, a full body and some spritz on the finish. Very drinkable, and great value at only $15. Good
Lark Hill Mr. V Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier 2014, Canberra District
A completely different style here. A blend of the 3 varieties with fruit from the Canberra District. Also golden in colour, it has aromatics of apricot, quince, fig and yellow apples. Towards full bodied, the palate has good length and balance. Partial fermentation on skins adds some texture and interest. Good wine. Good to Very Good Abv: 13%, Price: $35, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.larkhillwinery.com, Tasted: 2015
Lark Hill Viognier 2015, Canberra District Picking early is usually a risky thing to do, but it succeeds here. The result is a viognier with very delicate floral, stone and apricot aromatics. The palate is finely poised and mid weight, with a floral and apricot expression. A very enjoyable style of viognier at a low alcohol level that disappears quickly in the glass. Good