Rose Kentish (pictured) of Ulithorne hosted a rare dinner for her mailing list customers in Sydney recently, and aired some interesting thoughts on wine aroma. It’s long been a fascination of mine: to what extent do grapes absorb aroma from the vineyard environment? Think of eucalyptus character in Australian wines, bushfire-smoke taint, garrigue herbs in Provence and wild thyme in Central Otago.
Rose makes wine in Corsica and Provence as well as her home-turf, McLaren Vale. She served her Corsican vermentino, 2012 Ulithorne Corsus Vermentinu (tasting), with a salad of orange-cured mackerel. The combination was a triumph.
I’d remarked on what a wonderful aroma and flavour this wine has. It’s a light, easy-drinking wine, and can appear straightforward at first taste, but the more you drink it, the more you notice those special herbal notes. They add an extra layer to the wine, a layer seldom seen in unwooded fruit-wines in Australia, where the simple grapiness and varietal character tends to dominate.
Rose had the answer.
According to her, the vineyard that supplies the grapes is on a slope, and the top of the slope grows different wild herbs from the flat part at the bottom, on account of the different soil type and micro-climate. She says these herbs impart special aromas to the grapes, reminding her of thyme and fennel. If the wine from the upper part of the vineyard is excluded from the blend, it doesn’t have the same character.
But wait: there’s more. Rose says the locals believe the characteristics of the wild herbs reach the grapes by way of the roots – not by air transmission directly to the bunches of grapes, as is often assumed with such aroma notes. She says the Corsicans reckon the small, fine roots of the vines communicate with the roots of the herbs, and it all takes place underground. Well, there’s no proof of this of course, but centuries of experience feeds into this sort of anecdotal wisdom, and we’d be foolish to discount the possibility that it’s true.
Rose is perhaps best known for her voluptuous McLaren Vale shiraz, Ulithorne Frux Frugis (tastings), but the other wine that really excites me is the rosé she makes in Provence. We were served the Ulithorne Epoch Rosé 2013 (tasting) as an aperitif, and with anchovy and tomato on toast. Again: sensational. This is more gluggable than just about any Australian rosé I could name. It’s a typical Provencal style, in that it’s pale, doesn’t have a strong purple tinge, and is delicate and harmonious with soft acidity and under-played fruit.
Rose Kentish has a feel for what tastes good and what goes with food. The big secret is that she is working on long-term projects which she hopes will lead to her making a Champagne in Champagne, and a pinot noir in Burgundy. As they say: watch this space.
Rose Kentish was one of our eight finalists in the 2014 Winemaker of the Year at Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine. Her wine dinner was held at Kitchen By Mike, in Rosebery. Chef Mike McEnearney has asked Rose to make him a wine for his future new restaurant in the Sydney CBD.