Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Australian Wines

Large Australian Wineries dominate our market with the top 10 wine brands creating the vast majority of Australian wine by producing over 50% of all the wine in Australia. 

At reasonable price points, reliable consistency and acceptable quality are promised each year.  Simple varietal labelling attracted many end consumers.  However, international competitiveness of Australian wines did not come without costs – Many consider Australian wines as cheerful, everyday-drinking wines. 

As wine connoisseurs already know, there are so much more to Australian wines. The fact cannot be ignored that so many of Australian wines are with anonymous characters, but others have recognitions as some of the worlds best wines with beautiful expression of terroir

In the old world, notion of terroir is defined by the availability of appropriate amount of water, heat (sunlight) and nutrients.  In Australia, some of those are replaced by advanced irrigation system, leaf canopy management & must adjustment to improve the quality of wines. 

Australia has considerable regional diversity and some of its soils are over 500 years old.  Moreover, huge effort to fight against Phylloxera in 1800’s, granted some parts of Australia, some of the world oldest vines (over 100years old), grown from original European rootstocks.

Huge number of migrants created diverse Asian influenced gastronomic culture in Australia.  This certainly influenced styles of Australian wines.  Australian wines are versatile in terms of their abilities to match with complex taste profiles of world-renowned fusion cuisine. 

Moreover, Many world standard wine producers had some of their ancestors fled into Australia from Europe and their histories have created unique styles and philosophies of winemaking.  On the other hand, Australia has been the frontier land for many who have created their so-called cult wines from scratch within their own generations.  Their wine life stories are just so inspiring and unbelievably heroic.     

Some of those producers are featured here – Their wines are all with great regional (zone) characters.  Some of them indeed produce their wines from some of the oldest vines in the world.  

First winery is more about their specific terroir producing the most suitable varieties rather than focusing on old vines because it is located in Victoria zone.   – Giaconda in Beechworth.  

Giaconda, Victoria

Victoria - Overview

Victoria was once quantitative driven wine production state until the end of 19th century. Having experienced Phylloxera disaster, it now produces less than half of South Australia (non Phylloxea affected state).  Most of vines are relatively young compared to less Phylloxera affected zones.  Victoria is the smallest and coolest state in main land of Australia with the most diverse vine-growing conditions.  It is divided into 4 different zones – Western, Central, North-East & Gippsland.   

The first winery, Giaconda, is situated in Beechworth of North-East Victoria Zone.  It is Californian-influenced winery producing outstanding Chardonnay, Roussanne and its reds.   

Giaconda is located at altitude of 400 meters.  The vineyard is on a south-facing slope so that it is relatively cool. It is also situated in the small valley, benefiting from cool breeze coming through: this keeps the temperature at ideal level & also useful in controlling disease. 

As far as their soil is concerned, it has clay rich soil, which functions well to retain water & releasing it to roots of the vines.  The soil is not overly rich helping the yield naturally low.  The maximum yield they would produce is about 2 tons per acre.  All grapes are handpicked during mid March to mid April, followed by Burgundian/Bordeaux vinifications according to the grape varieties. 

The man of Giaconda
The owner/wine maker is Rick Kinzbrunner.  He is the man who created Giaconda from scratch with his intuition. 

About 30years ago, Rick purchased a land he fell in love on the first sight.  At that time, he just returned from his world tour of a decade.  Working in various wineries around the world to fund his travel.  At the time of this impulse purchase, he was working at legendary Brown Brothers just about 20km away from Giaconda.  He took stones out of the land, clearing the trees. He designed the rows of vineyard by following the movement of the sun.       

First vines were planted in 1982 – Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc & a tiny amount of Pinot Noir.  More Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a little Roussanne followed this.  Total area of vineyard is 6ha in present. (Twice the original size)  The first harvest took place in 1985.

Rick produces only 2500 cases among Chardonnay, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon at present. The vineyard is in conversion from organic to biodynamic.  Drip illigation is used only when necessary.  Wines are made with natural yeast, pressed with gravity, unfined, unfiltered.  His top cuvees are produces only in the best vintages.  

Infinite passion and care went into production of Giaconda wines.  It is this human intuition & devotion with a real passion based on outstanding understanding of site-specific terroir, that makes Giaconda one of the best Australian wines.       

Aeolia Giaconda 2009
300cases produced, 100% Roussanne - Pale to medium straw in color, it gives wonderful aromas of spiced apricots, ripe pear, cinnamon-dusted apple slices plus pinches of coriander seed and freshly chopped ginger. The medium to full-bodied, concentrated, spicy palate has medium acid and commendable richness that grows in the mouth and lingers into the very long finish.

Chardonnay Giaconda 2008
The nose has typical Giaconda characters of hints of matchstick and minerals with overtones of toasty oak. The 2008 while slightly more refined and elegant (due to earlier picking in cooler conditions) combines all the best aspects of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages and still maintain the length and power on the finish which is a Giaconda hallmark. This could be the most refined Giaconda Chardonnay for years, but still embodies the usual drive and power.

Natua Les Deux Chardonnay/Roussanne Giaconda 2009
The only Chardonnay released from the 2009 vintage and includes the Estate Vineyard chardonnay. Complex nose, more concentration and depth than usual due to the Estate Chardonnay inclusion. All the usual Giaconda Chardonnay characters, meal with complex creamy textured palate, rich and long. Crisp finish with minerality, fine acidity and oak.

Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2008
Deep nose; violets and charcuterie in the now established style of 05 and 06; concentrated; intense; long and powerful. Lively with obvious firm tannins. This vineyard continues to impress with the depth and complexity of the fruit. http://www.vinography.com/archives/2010/04/giaconda_winery_beechworth_aus.html 

Now, lets move away from Victoria zone and I would like to introduce some wineries producing wines from some of the oldest vines in the world.  South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland are believed to be free of Phylloxera - Thanks to strict quarantine controls that were brought in as soon as the pest was first discovered in Australia. 

Henschke, Eden Valley, South Australia
Eden Valley  

Eden Valley is a cool climate region, situated at 400-600m in aititude in the Barossa Range.  It is very rocky and rugged with many granite hills.  Eden Valley is the nest for many boutique wine producers, who make relentless effort to produce wines, which reflect their regionality.  The total number of wine producers in Eden Valley is relatively small.  However, Many quality wine makers outside sauce their fruit from Eden Valley to produce premium wines.  Therefore, Eden Valley has quite considerable influence over Australian quality wine production. 

 Its sub-region in the south, High Eden, has the Pewsey Vale vineyard (pioneered by Joseph Gilbert) as the highest point in Eden Valley.  Its hilly terrain combined with sandy soil makes viticulture particularly difficult.  It is generally windy and accompanied with low rainfall in growing season.  The main grape varieties here are Riesling, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Gris.

Riesling is probably the most well regarded grape variety produced in Eden Valley.  However, at lower altitude, beautiful Shiraz is also produced.  Henschke is the best example.    

It is indeed Hill of Grace vineyard from Henschke to be considered here. 

The Henschke family has been making wine since 1862 after Johann Christian Henschke, one of many Silesian migrant of the time, planted the first vineyard. The wine was initially intended for consumption by family and friends.  This was followed by the first commercial release in 1868.  Now at the family’s fifth-generation, Stephen Henschke with his wife Prue, they continue to pioneer new styles and techniques.
Hill of Grace from Hill of Grace
Hill of Grace is a translation from the German word ‘Gnadenberg’, a region in Silesia, as well as the name of the lovely Lutheran Church in front of Hill of Grace vineyard. It is situated at an altitude of 400m.  It is a single vineyard & its size is 8ha. Its oldest record can be traced back as old as 1842.  In 1950s, the fourth generation Cyril Henschke created Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone then produced shiraz wines, which have gained outstanding reputation in the world.  

Hill of Grace now has 8 blocks of Shiraz at various ages, Mataro, then Semillon and Riesling. The soil consists of Alluvial, sandy loam over clay. The red-brown earth grading to deep silty loam has excellent moisture-holding capacity for these dry-grown vines.

Its oldest parcel of Shiraz is called Grandfathers, where vines are planted around 1860’s from pre-phylloxera European rootstocks.  Those massive vines are dry grown and yield very low.  Hill of Grace from Hill of Grace vineyard is produced 100% from Grandfathers.  First bottling took place in 1958.  Wine is matured in American and French oak, released only after 5years.  Its purity and graceful expression of fruits are outstanding characteristics of Hill of Grace to mention but a few.  It would be hard to mistake its outstandingly elegant balance & delicacy of smooth and velvety tannins of Hill of Grace for anything else.  It is simply stunning.     

The family history of Henschke evolved together with their vineyards.  Their amazing wines are the result of the destined union between Henschke family and the land with, I understand as, Henschke terroir.  Old and wiser Grandfathers on this special Henschke land produce one and only “Hill of Grace” of Henschke every year.      

Clarendon Hills, McLaren Vale, South Australia
McLaren Vale
It is positioned about 35km south of Adelaide in South Australia.  It started producing the wine as early as 1850 by Seaview and Hardy wineries.  The first planting of the vines took place in 1838 and still in production now at more than 100 years old of their age.  There are about 88 wineries in the region, majority are small scaled, boutique wineries.   

McLaren Vale has four seasons under Mediterranean climate – Warm summer and mild winter.  It is pretty much frost and drought free due to its close proximity to the sea.  It has the Sellicks Hill Range in South, Gulf St Vincent in West, Mount Bold Reservoir in East and Reynella in North. 

Shiraz is the most produced grape variety by about 50% of the total crush.  Due to its climate and geology, Shiraz produces intense flavored fruit with deep purple color.  Shiraz accounts for 3218 hectares under vine, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Grenache.

Soils in McLaren Vale contain many different types.  The vineyards exist on soils containing famous terra rossa.  Common characteristic among different parts is free draining – retains very little water.  This together with a very precise irrigation system results in premium quality of grapes.  In some parts, the soil encourages grapes to be dry grown (about 20% of total vine crops) It gives fruits of smaller size with more intense flavour.  The elevation of vineyards varies between 100m to around 320m above sea level, contributing farther distinctions between different terroirs. 

Here, I would like to introduce one of the most unique wineries from the zone, if not entire Australia – Clarendon Hills.        

Clarendon Hills 
The owner/ wine maker, self-thought Roman Bratasiuk, started making his own wine in 1980’s literarily with a bucket and a bottle on hand.  Made a friend by knocking the door of the farmer with his choice of grapes, Roman himself carried out all the processes by hand, from picking to bottling.  The first vintage was in 1990 & successful.  By 1994, Roman has become full-time winemaker by leaving his position of Australian governmental laboratory & this year, rebranded Clarendon Astralia (Stars – out of this world) was bone.       

Roman believes in the best wines in the world - Its traditional grape growing and wine making with respect to sense of place and pure, best expressions of classic grape varieties.  Hence, Roman only produces single vineyard wines. Clarendon Hills’s 13 vineyards are classified into Village, Premier, and Grand crus like old world. Fermentation is with wild yeast & wines are unfined and unfiltered.  

Cladendon Hill Classification of Vineyards
Some of vineyards are located as high as 320m above sea levels.  Those vineyards are situated around Kangarilla, Blewitt Springs and Clarendon region, where each region consists of very different soil types from each other under maritime climate.  Together with high elevation, it achieves slower ripening process, which is free from the frost & produce grapes with thicker skins.    

The best of 13 vineyards, Astralis vineyard is classified as Grand Cru of Clarendon Hill.  10km North East of McLaren Vale & 250m in altitude.  Vines here are pre-phylloxera vines (85yrs old) on 45 degree slope facing East with the topsoil of pebbles ridden clay and subsoil of pure ironstones.  Those vines are freestanding, producing 2tonnes per acre.  Unlike modified clones, they express more of specific climatic condition of where they grown & sensitive to the year condition, Roman believes.  He calls it “vine intelligence”.  Astralis has been treated in the same way as other vineyards but it produces wines of superior quality with outstanding purity, aroma & power.  Wine is matured 100% in new French Oak barriques.

Unlike long family history of Henschke, Clarendon Hill was created with pure desire and passion of only one individual.  Those wines are both 100% Shiraz with very different taste profiles.           

Barossa Valley

Now moving onto Barossa Valley in South Australia, situated 56km Northeast of the city Adelaide.  It is said to be the Australia’s oldest wine region.  Up until the mid 20th Century, Barossa was known for fortified wines made from over-ripe grapes due to its continental climate.  Together with the shift in wine demand to non-fortified quality wines in Australia, Barossa wines were regarded as just good enough for blending materials.  It was in the 1980s, Barossa Valley started to become well known due to the establishments of many boutique wine producers with old vines of Shiraz, producing full bodied, chocolaty and spicy wines.  Those Shiraz vines can be as old as 100-150 years of age in some places.  It was revolutional.  Due to this change in focus followed by international praises, Barossa Valley became one of the finest wine producing regions in Australia.  Shiraz from Barossa was considered to have their own distinctive terroir characteristics as many old world’s Syrah producing regions like Rhone Valley and California.  Other grape varieties in Barossa can be Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay and Semillon.   
Torbreck Vintner was established in 1994 by David Powell.  The name “Torbreck” came after the name of the forest David was once working as lumberjack in Scotland.  David from Adelaide in South Australia discovered his passion for wine during his university life.  After acquiring his understanding on Barossa Valley, David realized the real potential of Barossa Valley through his travel to famous European wine regions, particularly inspired by Rhone Valley in France.  Australian government sponsoring “Vine Pull” in 1990s made him to approach his local landowners of neglected properties with ignored old vines – David had a vision to produce Rhone style, exquisite wines from those old vines.  Carefully nursed nearly lifeless old vines revived and rewarded David with some dry grown fruits.  The quality of Wines made from those grapes proved its potential.  David secured best grape sauces by renovating old practice of contracted share farming practice in Barossa Valley with individual growers of revived vineyards.  David also believed in Rhone style White Wine production, which lead him to acquire the land in Marananga to plant Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier and Shiraz in 1994.  David Powell’s love for Barossa Valley and traditional wine making continued to purchase Hillside property in Lyndoch with some truly ancient vineyards to secure more premium fruit for Torbreck as well as preserving its wonderful eco system.      
Wines from Torbreck
Wine portfolio of Torbreck illustrates Barossa’s wine culture very well.  I would like to introduce especially the following wines.

First two reds are made with traditional blending practice between different vineyards.

The Steading is composed from the traditional Barossa cultivars of Grenache, Shiraz & Mataro. It has long been David Powell’s favourite wine within the Torbreck stable because of the old, gnarled ‘bush vines’ that produce its core.  David Powell explains as

‘On a highland farm the collection of barns, stables and outbuildings is known as a steading. The varieties Grenache, Mataro and Shiraz all stand in their own right. However, in blending, their strengths create a complex wine of solid earthy structure.’

The next, RunRig is made of 100% Shiraz from various vineyards & often draws comparison with the beautifully fragrant & tautly structured wines produced from the steep slopes of the Northern Rhône Valley’s Appellation of Côte Rôtie.  David Powell says

‘The Highland clans used a “RunRig” system to distribute land amongst their clansmen in a series of widely dispersed holdings. The emphasis not on any one farm, but rather the communal element of the whole.’

The third red wine shows David’s global grasp.   It is Les Amis made from 100% Grenache from Homes vineyard in Seppeltsfield in 1901.  Les Amis possesses outstanding purity, intensity and finess.  This wine was created for Singapore establishment of David’s friend.  This beautiful Les Amis has versatile food matching ability to Asian cuisines.        

The last but not least, is Steading Blanc.  It consists of 58% Marsanne 29% Roussanne 13% Viognier from Descendant Vineyard in Marananga planted in 1994.  Those grapes are not native to Barossa.  However it is an absolute beauty - rich, luscious & mineral scented dry whites.  Steading Blanc happily expresses itself as one of the best white wine in Australia. 

As Davip Powell puts ‘It came as no surprise to find that these non-traditional varieties to the Barossa, have adapted as well to their new home as their red counterparts have done over the last century or so.’ 

Just a small number of so many great Australian wine produces were talked about in this post.

There will be many more coming soon...........