Aussie Rhône whites dazzle

Warramunda Estate vineyards in the Yarra Valley. (Photo: Warramunda Estate)

The Rhône Valley white varieties are so well-suited to Australian conditions, it’s surprising we don’t see more of them. That’s viognier, marsanne, roussanne, some more obscure varieties like grenache blanc, and blends thereof. I understand some people have difficulty pronouncing vee-ohn-yay, but the others are easy.

What Tallarook and Warramunda are doing seems more akin to the Rhône style. Let it all hang out!

I was knocked out by the 2017 Viognier By Farr, not the first time this wine has wowed me. Looking back over my notes on The Real Review, I see that of the nine vintages I’ve tasted since the 2005, all but two have scored a gold ribbon and three have scored 97. The two non-golds received silver scores. There would be few Condrieus – from the home of viognier in France – that would impress so consistently. These wines have a wonderful complexity of aroma and fine palate balance – neither too skinny or too fat. Think honey, nuts, flowers and restrained stone-fruits.

I also loved the Tallarook marsannes from just outside the Yarra Valley, and the Warramunda marsannes from the Yarra Valley’s Coldstream area. Tallarook’s roussannes are damn near as impressive. These are all rich, complex wines which offer great flavour without being overblown.

They are very different to the best-known Australian marsanne, which is Tahbilk. The Tahbilk style is light, lean, pure-fruited and refreshing, no oak and no complexing factors: a bright, fruit-driven style which is very pleasant but quite unlike the top wines of the Rhône – which are more about complexity, richness and texture.

I enjoy the Tahbilk style, which seems to be made in much the same way as, say, a Hunter semillon or a traditional South Aussie riesling. And it’s great value for money. But I wonder what Tahbilk could do if they let their hair down a bit and embraced the more feral Rhône methods.

Years ago I attended a tasting conducted by Alister Purbrick of Tahbilk and Michel Chapoutier of the eponymous Rhône company. Purbrick lined up several of his marsannes against Chapoutier’s Chante Alouette and De l’Orée Hermitage blancs, which are also made from marsanne. They were poles apart. The Chapoutiers were much more expensive, but also much more fascinating.

The Chapoutiers were biodynamically-farmed, picked fully ripe, fermented in barrels, allowed to have a malolactic, given some more time in oak on lees, and then bottled under cork.

Tahbilk is farmed conventionally, the grapes are picked early, fermented cold and anaerobically in stainless steel, no malo, no oak, bottled early and sealed with a screwcap.

I’d love to see Tahbilk putting a few tonnes of their best fruit into barrels and doing what they do in Hermitage.

What Tallarook and Warramunda are doing seems more akin to the Rhône style. Let it all hang out!

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