Like many of my generation (BB, that is) I’m transfixed by the recent fashion for retro wines. This is my term for wines made in old-fashioned ways, and I’m not talking of Whitehill beater crushers, hand-cranked basket presses, old oak and forked stalks, à la Rockford winery. I’m talking seriously old: clay amphorae and ceramic eggs for fermenters, white grapes fermented on their skins, reds fermented on their stalks, minimal or zero additions (such as yeast, bacteria, acid, tannin, yeast nutrients, sulfites, etc.), and sustainable viticulture – especially organic or biodynamic.
At least 25 Australian wine regions regularly produce excellent shiraz. They vary in latitude from the Granite Belt in southern Queensland to Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. Top-line shiraz is also produced from the eastern to the western extremities: from the Hunter Valley to Western Australia’s Swan Valley. There is no other country that offers such a range of shiraz produced in such a variety of terroirs. Yet people still generalize about Australian shiraz as a blockbuster wine: unsubtle, superripe, high-alcohol and jammy. This is a mistake.
At least one-fifth of all the Aussie wines that comes through my tasting-room are shiraz, or blends based on shiraz. It’s not my choice: it’s just the way the Australian wine industry – and, happily, the market is. It would be a chore if there weren’t so many exciting
It’s been difficult to avoid drinking riesling this summer – not that you’d want to avoid it! This week (6-7 February) sees the Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting returning to Sydney, and there are several other riesling events: Summer of Riesling, Wrapped In Riesling and the Great Southern Riesling Tasting.
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards, said the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He might have been talking about wine vintages. It’s easy to know which are the great vintages in hindsight, but harder to accurately identify them as they happen.
The Yarra Valley is arguably Australia’s most creative wine region at present, a cauldron of inventiveness and much progress is being made despite the setbacks of heat-waves, bushfire smoke, droughts and frosts and this year’s deluge. Driven by such charismatic personalities as Steve Webber (of De Bortoli), the region is pushing the boundaries of the envelope with chardonnay, pinot noir and other varieties. One of the new catch-cries is stalks. Stalks in pinot noir and shiraz, principally. Other cool-climate winemakers have been experimenting with stalks too, such as Alex McKay (of Collector Wines) and others in the Canberra region, but in the Yarra, the ‘stalk dorks’ seem to be taking over. The chief proponents are Dave Bicknell of Oakridge, Bill Downie (William Downie), Luke Lambert, Gary Mills (Jamsheed), Rory Lane (The Story) and Webber. The pioneer of big-time stalk usage was Gary Farr of By Farr and previously of Bannockburn. He and his son Nick (Farr Rising) still probe the limits with stalks and are making what I think are wonderful pinot noirs this way. Back at Bannockburn, Michael Glover continues the stalk mania.