Julian Alcorso is probably the first Winemaker of the Year finalist ever who doesn’t have a wine of his own. As head of the contract winemaking company Winemaking Tasmania, the 61-year-old son of the founder of Moorilla Estate, Claudio Alcorso, and his team make wine for ‘about 55’ clients. “I hate putting myself forward, that’s why I don’t put my name on any label. I get more than enough satisfaction from seeing the wines we make for other people do well in shows and in the market.”
I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard a send-up of the language used by wine tasters. The unenlightened delight in lampooning any suggestion that wine could smell or taste of fruit, vegetable, flower, herb or spice. Even a hero of mine, Michael Leunig, had a go. He once penned a cartoon of a wine-taster sniffing a glass and intoning: “Mintiness with peaches and strawberries, a chocolate smokeyness with leathery insinuations… hessian, apes and peacocks… and a faint, elusive yet startling aroma of wine!”
Peter Lehmann’s Stonewell Shiraz is one of the benchmarks among the full-throttle, rich, flagship red wines of South Australia’s warmer regions. There are many of these ‘pedestal wines’, but relatively few that I actually enjoy drinking. Distressingly common are wines made from overripe grapes, with their porty, raisiny aromas (‘dead fruit’ at its extreme), syrupy palates and excessive alcohol levels. Stonewell has never been that kind of shiraz. Indeed, Peter Lehmann the man and Andrew Wigan, the company’s chief winemaker, profess not to like those wines. Amen to that!
At a time when winemakers are vigorously diversifying into ‘alternative’ grape varieties, it can be disconcerting to find that a given winery’s shiraz, cabernet, tempranillo and sangiovese all have much the same flavour. Minced gumleaves! Eucalyptol is one of the most volatile and concentrated aromas found in wine. How it gets there has been a subject of argument. Is it gum trees near the vineyard? Does it carry on the wind? Is it in the soil? If the vines are on cleared land, did the gum trees leave a residue that gets into the wine?
‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … in the most delightful way.” So sang Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. And winemakers know it to be true, as low-level residual sugar is widely used these days to make ‘dry’ wines both white and red more palatable.
Dr John Gladstones is a bright-eyed, smiley imp of a man, small of stature but large of intellect. If anybody could claim to be the father of Margaret River as a wine region, he could. He probably wouldn’t, though, because he is a modest man. He was the one who first identified Margaret River as a place with strong potential for producing high-quality table wine. And he is the 2008 winner of the wine industry’s most distinguished accolade, the McWilliam’s Wines Maurice O’Shea Award.
‘Minerality’ is the latest buzz-word in wine-speak. It’s reached plague proportions, but only relatively recently in Australia, despite having been widely used in Europe for a long time. Writers and winemakers who never before uttered this word, now routinely describe wines as ‘minerally’, or possessed of some arcane quality known as ‘minerality’. But ask winemakers, sommeliers or spruikers what they mean by this word and they often flounder. We’re left feeling as though they themselves don’t know. In other words, it’s just another important-sounding word that wine-wankers sprinkle through their verbage to make it seem authoritative.
A lot has happened in Louisa Rose’s career since she was a second-time finalist in this award in 2005. She was promoted to chief winemaker of Yalumba in 2006, taking over responsibility for all winemaking. This year Yalumba released an innovative new riesling, called Prima, a lovely light bodied, early harvested riesling from the Pewsey Vale vineyard and bottled with low alcohol and some residual sweetness, making it a fine aperitif style. The first vintage, ’07, was a tentative 700 dozen and sold out quickly following a rave reception.
“Great cool-climate shiraz has a warm heart.” Maybe it’s the preacher in Tim Kirk: he has a way with words. What he means is that cool-climate shiraz may be spicy to the point of peppery, and even a touch vegetal, but somehow it has an inherent warmth in it. That’s if it’s any good: there’s plenty of cool-climate Aussie shiraz that is simply green and unripe, and his diagnosis holds true: that kind of wine has a coldness in its centre and a serious lack of palate appeal.
Don’t know about you, but when I’m heading off to a BYO Chinese restaurant (which I do often) I usually take a carry-bag containing a chilled bottle of either riesling or Hunter semillon, and a pinot noir. Between them, they cope with most of the flavours and textures encountered on the plate in a Cantonese, Beijinger, Shanghainese or Sichuan restaurant.