When Stephen Browett, owner of the prestigious UK wine merchant Farr Vintners, served four vintages of Kumeu River Chardonnay in a head-to-head blind tasting against 17 top French white burgundies (Chardonnay) he could hardly have expected such a seismic result. The wines were tasted in four flights divided into four different vintages. There was one Kumeu River Chardonnay in each flight.
Australia calls it “Shiraz”, producers in most other countries prefer to label it “Syrah”. It is the same grape variety. When James Busby first introduced it to Australia in 1832 it was known as “Scyras” but morphed into Shiraz at a later date. A popular legend has it that the variety came from Persia (now Iran) because the town of Shiraz was an important wine centre in 600 BC. The Australian spelling is more correct claim those (mostly Australians) who buy into that theory. That is a doubtful hypothesis according to the authoritative work “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.
The Hunter Valley gets its name from Captain John Hunter who was Governor of the British colony in New South Wales at the time (1797). The region had been occupied by Aboriginal tribes at least 30,000 years before European settlement. The sprawling valley extends from 120 km to 310 km north of Sydney. It’s an easy two hour drive from Sydney giving weekend access to Sydney-siders wishing to change the fast pace of city life for tranquil, verdant countryside. Coal mining, wine growing and tourism fuel the economic growth of the region.
I shocked a few friends recently by mixing two red wines together. One was a slightly-too-tough Cabernet Sauvignon and the other a slightly-too-soft Shiraz. The blend tasted better than either of the components. I was accused of adulteration which, in the view of my wine-enthusiast mates, is one of the seven deadly vinous sins.
Riesling lovers will be shattered to learn that Auburn, this country’s only Riesling specialist, is about to cease production. Founder, Max Marriott, has moved to Oregon to take up a new winemaking position.
Every wine region, country or category needs a hero. Penfolds Grange is Australia’s wine hero. Grange establishes a high price benchmark drawing others along in its wake. In this country the latest vintage of Grange costs around $750 for a single bottle. You’ll need to pay three times that price for a Bordeaux hero such as Chateau Lafite, and perhaps six times more for DRC La Tache from Burgundy.
I like Gewurztraminer. Many people find the wine too perfumed, too floral or perhaps too sweet. Most find it hard to pronounce (it’s “gay-vertz-tram-eener”). For those reasons Gewurztraminer ranks eighth in terms of production size. It’s difficult to grow, difficult to make and difficult to sell according to one winemaker who continues to make it simply because it produces terrific wine by international standards. The fact that he enjoys drinking it also helps.
I salute the judges at this year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards. They awarded three gold medals to the Rosé class. That’s the highest number of gold medals they’ve awarded to Rosé in a decade.
Which country was the world’s biggest wine producer in 2014?
The first signs of summer in my house are the increasing number of wine bottles in the top shelf of my fridge. When summer finally arrives in all its sweltering glory the shelf will be jam-packed with white, rosé and sparkling wine.