The Knappstein bunch

Knappstein Wines in the Clare Valley. (Photo: Knappstein Wines)

Whole-bunch fermentation is a technique more closely linked to cool-climate winemaking, especially pinot noir but also shiraz. Clonakilla uses it a lot in the Canberra District; many southern Victorian pinot and shiraz makers also use the technique. But warmer regions such as Clare Valley have been slower to embrace it. Knappstein winemaker Ben Marx has used 90% whole-bunch for his The Insider Shiraz Malbec 2017 (AUD $30). It’s a 50/50 blend of shiraz and malbec and is a new take on a traditional Clare blend.

“We need to ask why we’re doing whole-bunch fermentation. Is it because of fashion, or because it adds something to the wine?” – Ben Marx

There’s no doubt the technique, which includes the stalks in the ferment, adds extra complexity to a red wine, but the ashy, herbal, root-vegetable aromas can dominate the berry fruit if it’s overdone. Marx describes his as a barbecue wine, which probably underestimates it.

The plum and berry of the fruit are combined with pepper, spices and a hint of iodine from the stems. The tannins – which can be stern in Clare reds – are very soft and the texture renders it deliciously accessible at this tender age.

For a contrast, taste this alongside the 2016 Knappstein Clare Valley Shiraz (AUD $23), a more traditional regional style with only a ‘small percentage’ of whole-bunch, which is not obvious in the bouquet and flavour. Ripe plums, dried herbs, smoke, tar and oak char are some of its aromatics. It’s full-bodied, robust and well endowed with tannins.

“We need to ask why we’re doing whole-bunch fermentation,” says Marx. “Is it because of fashion, or because it adds something to the wine?”

In this case it’s certainly the latter. But maybe also a bit of the former, as Knappstein’s The Insider range seems to be aimed at the hipster market.

The Insider range includes a 2018 riesling which was also made in unconventional ways. Part of it was foot-crushed and then barrel-fermented in old oak, and part was given a carbonic maceration, with the intention of enhancing the texture and flavour profile. Wild yeasts and extended time on lees post-fermentation were also employed.

The bouquet has nutty complexities as a result of the barrel-ferment and there is some tannin that adds backbone, which would enable the wine to better partner flavoursome foods.

The Insider wines are a worthwhile addition to what is already an excellent portfolio.

I also tasted Knappstein’s 2015 Mayor’s Vineyard Shiraz (AUD $53), 2018 Clare Valley Riesling (AUD $20), 2017 Ackland Vineyard Riesling (AUD $37), 2018 KS Riesling (kabinett style, another new wine; AUD $37), 2016 Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (AUD $23) and 2016 Enterprise Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (AUD $53), and can recommend all of them.

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