I quite like southern Rhône white styles. Viognier is a particular grape variety, typically full bodied and early drinking. This viognier from Arundel Farm Estate in the Sunbury region west of Melbourne has aromas of pear and ginger and presents correctly. The palate is full bodied, soft and ready to drink. A good value and well made viognier. Rating: Good. Price: $20. Abv: 14.5%. Website: http://arundelfarmestate.com.au/. Source: Sample.
They’ve nailed this one. A d’Arenberg staple, this is a potentially outstanding release of The Laughing Magpie shiraz viognier and may well be the best wine yet I have tasted under this label. A deeply coloured shiraz in the glass, it has attractive and brooding aromas of licorice, black fruits, cedar and leather. The palate is full bodied and ripe, with some tannic grip and moreish bitterness. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14.6%. Price: $29. Source: Sample.
I recently tasted through Yalumba’s new 2017 vintage of “Y Series” whites. All the wines are $15 and all five wines from different single varieties. As a group, these wines evidence the new modern Australian style – lower alcohol, more medium than full bodied and no discernible oak influence. The sauvignon blanc for example weighs in at only 11.5%. The search for restraint in warmer climates can lead to a loss of varietal character, but the viognier and riesling shone through as good examples. The chardonnay and pinot grigio were more neutral and dry whitish. Overall, this is a well made set with an evenness to the wines and provides sound drinking at a modest price.
Yalumba Y Series Sauvignon Blanc South Australia 2017
Mid range aromatics of florals, gooseberry and grass with air. Dry, some raspy sauvignon blanc acidity and fresh style. Rating: Good. Abv: 11.5%. Price: $15.
Yalumba Y Series Riesling Barossa 2017Attractive aromatics of stone and florals, with a slight savoury roundness. A floral, dry, medium bodied palate with not quite fully linear acidity and nice length. Rating: Good. Abv: 12%. Price: $15.
Yalumba Y Series Chardonnay South Australia 2017Muted aromatics of pear and quince. No discernible oak. Medium bodied, dry and mid range acidity. A little neutral and dry white in expression. Rating: Good. Abv: 13%. Price: $15.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier South Australia 2017Richly aromatic, all talc, ginger and apricots. The palate is towards full bodied, dry with a phenolic impression and good length. Recommended. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.5%. Price: $15.
Yalumba Y Series Pinot Grigio South Australia 2017Muted aromatics of stone. Nectarine and stone characters on the palate with a between medium to full bodied impression. Rating: Good. Abv: 12.5%. Price: $15.
This wine has good intensity of colour for a grenache. It opens to quite attractive smokey aromas. The palate is sweet fruited with dark plums, licorice and eucalyptus in the background. There is towards long length on the finish, firm tannins (for grenache) and a not unattractive bitter character. This is an interesting and complex wine that it is a very good example of McLaren Vale grenache. $29 is well spent on this wine. Rating: Very Good. Abv: 14.2%. Price: $29.
Here’s another good grenache, this time a GSM blend. Medium intensity of colour. The aromas of this wine are quite jammy, with plum and popcorn oak notes. But mostly of primary fruit. The palate is medium to full bodied with quite fine tannins and medium length. Rating: Good to Very Good. Alc 13%. Price: $29
Switching now to chardonnay. Lemon in colour. Pleasant aroma of lemons and florals. The palate is dry with a touch of oak influence. Mediumish body and acidity. Nice length and a very light spritz to freshen palate. A sound chardonnay. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.7%. Price: $25.
Very fragrant with mandarin, herbal, sauvignon like aromas and green apple suggestions. A smidgen of oak is there. The palate is dry, medium bodied with talc and almond notes and some spritz and gentle length on the finish. Hard to fault at $15. Rating: Good. Abv: 13.3%. Price: $15.
The Footbolt McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015
This is deeply coloured next to the grenache. There is an aroma of cedar, herbs and cedar. There some evidence of oak, some new. The palate reminds of olive and mint characters. Acids and tannins present firmly. Rating: Acceptable to Good. Abv: 14.5%. Price: $18
Pre-veraison it’s fairly hard to tell even very different grape varieties apart. Here are a couple of photos from the Yarra Valley of pinot noir and viognier grapes taken in December 2017. Which is which is not particularly obvious.
|Rutherglen vines in the morning mist.|
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
d’Arenberg’s Laughing Magpie shiraz viognier from the 2012 vintage is a good release. This year it’s 93% shiraz and 7% viognier (down from 10% in 2011). Its aromatics are brooding; all cassis and baked fruits. Its palate is full bodied, balanced and even in impression. Will please. (Alc: 14.4%, Region: McLaren Vale, Rating: Good, Drink: now to 2021+)
Other vintages reviewed:
d’Arenberg produce four different dessert wines and it was very interesting to taste them together. Well, not literally together of course, but sequentially. They are each $20 and from the 2015 vintage, and made respectively from riesling, chardonnay/semillon/viognier, semillon/sauvignon blanc and viognier/arneis. As appears customary for d’Arenberg, the naming pushes boundaries and here I will give particular credit to the naming of the semillon/sauvignon blanc blend.
The Noble Wrinkled Riesling 2015 has aromas of lemon and lime zest. The palate is intensely sweet and honeyed with a baked toffee character and proves too sweet ultimately for me. The fruit is from McLaren Vale. The Noble Prankster Chardonnay Semillon Viognier 2015 has unusual aromas of kiwi fruit and guava. The palate is sweet and reminds of green mango with a full bodied fatness from the chardonnay, which is less often seen as a dessert wine. The fruit is from McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. Of this group, the next two were the most classically proportioned wines and both come from the Adelaide Hills. The Noble Mud Pie Viognier Arneis 2015 is true to viognier type with kernel, apricot and honey aromatics, and a balanced, sweet palate reminding of apricots and is attractive. The Noble Botryotinia Fuckellana Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2015 challenges a few naming conventions, but is the best wine of the bunch. It has stone fruit, nectarine and orange peel aromatics. The palate is sweet, with brown sugar and orange peel overtones.
These wines did have me pondering a technical question. How is it that only particular parts of the vineyard can be infected (deliberately or naturally) with the botrytis cinerea fungus without infecting neighbouring vines? Your thoughts appreciated.
Read more at darenberg.com.au
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
Abv: 13.2%, Price: $15, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.darenberg.com.au, Tasted: 2015
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
Abv: 11.5%, Price: $25, Source: sample, Vendors and website: http://www.larkhillwinery.com, Tasted: 2015