24-carat gold might not be so rare in jewellery, but on a bottle of Australian brandy, it’s a first. The stoppers and trims on two newly-released luxury St Agnes brandies make lavish use of gold. They are South Australian winemaker and distiller Angove’s tilt at the luxury spirits market, a market that has exploded in recent years.
Just how good are Australian and New Zealand wines made from the Burgundy grapes chardonnay and pinot noir compared to the real thing? This seemed to be the agenda at the recent Chardonnaypinotnoir15 international masterclass in the Yarra Valley. And it’s a timely question, a question people are constantly asking.
The Geelong wine region has just hosted its first Winter Shiraz Weekend. Err, surely that should be pinot noir, not shiraz? Do they make much shiraz of note down that way? Well, actually they do make a lot of excellent shiraz. These days.
The 1954 Tulloch Private Bin Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz was entered in both the “claret” and “burgundy” classes in the 1956 Sydney Royal Wine Show and won first prize in each. It was the big joke of the time: those who thought wine shows were bunkum used it as a prime example; those who supported wine shows no doubt said it showed consistency of judging. If nothing else, it served to illustrate what a fine line there was between claret (full-bodied, firm finish) and burgundy (medium-bodied, soft finish) style distinctions.
Wine is seldom a sufficiently interesting subject to devote an entire movie to it, and when it does happen, it’s often a disaster. Witness the witless A Walk In the Clouds, set in the Napa Valley, and Bottle Shock, also about Californian wine.
An eye-watering parade of expensive wines have been released recently, accompanied by launch functions and tastings aimed at giving retailers, sommeliers and the press a chance to taste them and hear from their producers. Among them were Henschke Hill of Grace ($700 a bottle) and Torbreck The Laird ($750), both from the Barossa/Eden Valley’s feted 2010 vintage; Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita 2012 from Spain’s Priorat region ($2,540), and another Spanish red, Descendientes de Jose Palacios Faraona Mencia 2012 from the Bierzo region ($1,925).
The world has never seen a revolution in wine taste like Marlborough sauvignon blanc. It turned the accepted benchmarks upside down. The old world classics were threatened. Sauvignon blanc had never tasted like this. So pungent; so fruity; so excitingly vibrant; almost shocking to the senses.
Melbourne-based wine importer Bibendum recently staged a tasting unlike any other. Entitled “Dots and Bubbles”, it was a mini-exhibition of Champagnes from six small houses including two of the rarest and most extraordinary, Jacques Selosse and Jerome Prevost – and the winemaker/proprietors themselves were there, pouring their wines. It has to be said that people like Anselme Selosse and Jerome Prevost are seldom seen, and for Bibendum to persuade them to travel to Australia and conduct exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne was extraordinary. The bad news is that it was for the trade only – although substantial numbers took advantage of the opportunity.
The rebirth of Chateau Tanunda is one of the most remarkable stories of the Australian wine industry. This iconic, massive stone and brick building was South Australia’s second-largest building when erected in 1890 (second to Elder Smith’s Port Adelaide wool store) and was part-funded by 200 Barossa Valley grapegrower shareholders. It’s hard to believe, but by 1998 it was unoccupied, unloved, unkempt, inhabited only by pigeons, and under threat of demolition.
Ask a mainland Aussie winemaker what other region of Australia he or she would like to make wine in, and the most common reply is Tasmania. Global warming is one key reason: at the southern extremity of Australia, Tasmania is least likely to be affected by rising temperatures – or at least it will be affected later than most other regions. Another reason is that Tasmania specialises in the grape varieties and winestyles that we are demanding more and more today: delicate dry and semi-dry whites, fine sparkling wines, and lighter-bodied low-tannin reds such as pinot noir.