Australian red wine is noted for often having minty aroma and flavour. This can express itself in many ways, from blatant crushed gumleaf smell to peppermint to garden mint and spearmint. Tasters in other countries, who don’t see our wines as often, notice the mint more keenly, suggesting it’s so common in our wines that we are de-sensitised to it. For many overseas wine professionals, mint is a distinguishing trait of Aussie red wines. Winemakers are divided over whether it’s desirable, and if not, how it can be minimized.
The 2011 vintage was a shocker: the year of the deluge. Unrelenting rain, not only at vintage but throughout summer, blasted the eastern half of the continent. Only Western Australia and the Hunter Valley were spared the downpour. But, as the wines appear in the market, 2011 is reminding us we shouldn’t rush to judgement. Those who burst into print writing off 2011 may have to eat their words.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide is the bible of restaurant-goers in New South Wales. Each year, as well as chef’s hat ratings and special awards to restaurants, chefs and restaurateurs, several wine-related awards are given. These go to the best restaurant wine list, the best small wine list and best regional restaurant wine list, as well as the sommelier of the year.
The 2013 edition was launched on September 3; as I’m one of the judges, as well as the Herald’s wine writer, I wrote about each of the awards for the Good Living section.
Penfolds has entered a period of fertile creativity that rivals that of the 1950s and ‘60s when Max Schubert was chief winemaker. A welter of great red wines were launched in that era, and the same thing is happening now – only they’re white as well as red.
You can hardly blame the winemakers of Coonawarra or Margaret River for talking up cabernet. It’s what both regions do best. If cabernet falls out of fashion for a while, as it’s done lately, producers in those regions aren’t about to rip it out and replace it with tempranillo or pinot gris in the hope of surfing a fashion wave. Chances are, by the time the vines are bearing fruit (usually three years) and the wine is ready for market, the fashion-makers have moved on to something else.
Having chaired the judging panel since the Boutique Wine Awards began, I never cease to be impressed by what the small end of the wine business can deliver. The 2012 competition produced trophy winners in all 14 categories, which doesn’t often happen… this year, for instance, the sparkling wine class was stronger than usual, yielding a gold-medal wine. Some trophies went to famous names; several went to producers I’d never heard of. Here are the stories behind a selection of them.
One glance at a list of Japanese sake names would be enough to induce panic in most restaurant-goers. Then there’s the labels: often beautiful to look at – works of art even – but incomprehensible without an English-language sticker on the back. Even then, the names can be baffling.
When a heatwave in early February wrecked her 2009 McLaren Vale vintage, Rose Kentish decided to take her family to France and make wine there. Not that unusual, you might think in this day and age, when winemakers flutter here and there making wine in various countries, seemingly on a whim. But Rose had four school-age children between six and 15, and an artist husband happily painting in his McLaren Vale studio. She proceeded to talk them into going to Provence and Corsica so she could make wine. It took some doing, but Rose Kentish is a determined woman.
“Zeus is being a grumpy old man today,” said Evangelos Gerovassiliou, as we lunched on his winery verandah in Epanomi, northern Greece. Black clouds were gathering over Mt Olympus, which dominates the horizon, and is said to be the home of Zeus – he of the thunderbolts and lightning. Sure enough, we’d scarcely finished our may-fish with olive-oil and lemon sauce, simple but delicious tomato/onion salad and eggplant with garlic. Down came the torrent, and we took the remnants of our assyrtiko white wine indoors. Greeks love to eat and drink, and as we know, neither bad weather (which is rare) nor bad economic news (less rare) are allowed to interfere.
Something was missing at the recent Saltram museum tasting. Here was a rare opportunity to taste Saltram Mamre Brook reds from the current vintage to the first one from 1963, and Stonyfell Metala from now to the first from 1959. Yet only one member of the younger generation of wine writers was present. Everyone else was grey-haired – or no-haired. And it’s not that younger guests weren’t invited. My regret was the chance to taste history and learn about the evolution of Australian wine was not shared by the up-and-coming generation.