Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Wind UP

A successful year indeed! A few photos to narrate my last year. These inspire me to look with anticipation to the new adventures which 2011 will bring. Wishing everyone a great year and thanking all those who were part of my 2010!

2010 Wind-up Slideshow: Berenice’s trip from Malta to 27 cities including Tuscany, London, Paris, Düsseldorf, Loire Valley, Verona, Dijon, Lausanne, La Rochelle, Barossa Valley, Goulburn, Adelaide Hills, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Mornington, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Jura (near Arbois, Franche-Comté, France), Yarra Valley (near Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), Chassagne-Montrachet (near Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy) and Aÿ (near Dizy, Champagne-Ardenne) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Italy slideshow. Create a free slideshow with music from your travel photos.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Yarra Valley Regional Overview by Phil Sexton

The great and important task of giving us a regional overview of the Yarra Valley was given to Phil Sexton. Co-founder of Australia's first microbrewery, Matilda Bay Brewery back in 1984, Phil moved to the Yarra to produce wine with a sense of place. In fact all of his wines under the Giant Steps label come from a single vineyard. Phil also created the Innocent Bystander label which has a trendier image with wines like Moscato, Pinot Gris and Viognier; aromatically making their way to the younger wine drinker. 

Phil built an image and name of his own in the little town of Healesville in the heart of the Yarra Valley. Anyone can enjoy a lovely brekkie or meal at his bistro and of course taste his range of wines. Listening to Phil talk was an experience of its own for me since this man has passion for wine, marketing vision and business acumen all rolled up in his sleeve.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

A New Wave of Wine Thinkers!

Around 2 months ago, just as I landed in Coonawarra, I came across an article by Huon Hooke (, where he stated how dormant the region of Coonawarra is and how it lacks innovation when compared to other wine regions in Australia. Being only at the start of my Australian wine experience I immediately critised this article and held a grudge against this wine writer thinking that if a wine region excels at producing a particular style of wine it should stick to that style and improve on it.

Yet once again I was wrong. Not in the fact that Coonawarra produces a great expression of Cabernet Sauvignon but I hadn’t yet experienced the wine regions of Yarra, McLaren Vale and the Barossa to make an unbiased judgement. Focusing for 2 days on the Yarra Valley during the James Busby tour made me realise how wine producers like Mac Forbes, Timo Mayers, Luke Lambert, Phil Saxton at Giant Steps and Stephen Webber at De Bortoli are becoming the point of reference in their region. Bringing a different and fresh approach to wine making which some might interpret as a weird nut case yet is surely appreciated by most.

What makes these producers stand out of the crowd is their wine making philosophy. Whole bunch fermentation, no or low % of new oak, only French oak used, site selection, total vineyard management, no fining and filtration, wild yeast; where all common statements made by these producers. But what is the reasoning behind such wine making practices?

Whole bunch fermentation is an “old” practise used mainly in Burgundy for the fermentation of Pinot Noir and Gamay. This reduces the amount of handling of the grapes thereby retaining great fruit flavours without imparting any harsh tannins which can imbalance wines made from Pinot Noir. This balance and freshness of fruit was easily identifiable in the Riorret The Abbey 2008 Pinot Noir by de Bortoli; light in colour with perfumed aromas of strawberries and rhubarb, delicate soft tannins with cherry flavoured mid-palate. The same freshness can be felt when tasting the Mayer Pinot Noir 2008 by the German Aussie Timo Mayer. This wine is 40% whole bunch fermented therefore tannins where slightly more grippy with savoury characteristics also showing on both nose and palate. Intense long finish ideal for the steak sanga served for lunch at Timo’s.

The careful use of oak was also a subject touched upon during various visits on our tour. American oak is seen as a curse whilst new French oak is now avoided for most wines in the Yarra. Steve Webber explained how at De Bortoli new oak is used for their lower end wines so that the oak tannin and flavour are not imprinted on their higher end wines were fruit expression is paramount. The Yarra Valley Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008 is a very enjoyable light weight Chardonnay with less oak characteristics “usually” found in Aussie Chards and more of the citrus flinty nuances coming through.

Apart from the diversified wine making practices, these wine makers chose to play around with different grape varities as well. Very interesting to taste was the RS 37 by Mac Forbes. A Riesling from the Strathbogie ranges with 37 grams residual sugar derived mainly by stopping fermentation with a drop in temperature of the wine to 1 degree then adding sulphur dioxide to stabilize the wine. The result is a very aromatic wine with lovely floral aromas. A good palate with acidity at 9grams/litre balancing out the sugar; lovely texture with no cloying feeling at the finish. Another interesting wine from Mac Forbes was the Hugh Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Again coming from strict site selection which Mac always supervises with great care, the fruit comes for the sub region of Gruyere in the Yarra. All varieties are fermented and matured separately using open vat fermentors which Mac explained as being vital for the tannins to integrate better; oxygen is needed both during fermentation and oak maturation for tannins to marry. Still a bit withdrawn on nose and palate this wine needs time to open up. Black berries, plums and hints of herbs on the nose. Great broad structure with chewy dusty tannins balancing the great fruit on the mid-palate.

Standing in the shadow of the more lively winemakers in the Yarra is Luke Lambert yet his wines are louder than a rock concert. Producing the king of wines and wines for kings (Barolo), Nebbiolo is a grape variety I am very much familiar with yet which I least expected to be tasting in Australia. Luke produces two Nebbiolos, one coming from the warm region of Heathcote and another coming from the cooler region of Yarra. Again these wines were a bit shy for starters but opened up nicely after some time in the glass. Typical perfumed nose with herbal aromas, “le spezie” which I find so prominent in the Italian Nebbiolo versions. Plump red fruit mid-palate with typical high acidity and dusty tannins. Great pureness of fruit in this wine which was also a feature I found in Luke’s Syrah. Delicate and supple with bright red fruit and a spicy smooth finish.

Different approaches to wine create different styles and a great variety to choose from. Like a 5 year old in a lolly shop its hard to pick my favourite wine out of the ones we tasted; maybe I can still convince my mummy to buy the lot! :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dating back to the 1860s

Our first introduction to the Tahbilk winery was a boat tour on the Wetlands which make part of the Tahbilk Wetlands & Wildlife Reserve. The Nagambie Lakes Region in Upper Goulburn is the only wine region in Australia where the meso-climate is influenced by inland water masses. The lakes keep the climate cooler thereby the ripening of the grapes is slower, retaining the aromatics in the grapes which are very much sought for in varieties like Marsanne.

The visit hosted by Alister Purbrick himself was a fruitful one giving insights on how tradition, history and family are common features that have shaped Australian wineries.

Being such an important variety for the Tahbilk winery Masanne was the first variety featuring in our tasting. Whilst the 2008 and 2009 both featured floral notes, the 2001 vintage produced from the 1927 vines had more complex and richer notes on the nose with ripe apricots, caramelised nuts and orange peel. The palate had a lovely lean acidity balanced off with great minerality.

The line up of Shiraz and Cabernet wines was just startling. The 1996 Shiraz from the ‘1860 Vines’ was one of my favourite; plum intermingling with earthy and savoury notes on the nose, silky tannins with lovely mid-palate fruit, intense but not concentrated. The Reserve Shiraz, 1999 was also surprisingly lifted and fresh; strawberry hints with Mon Chéri chocolate notes, velvety tannins and a long spiced finish. The Eric Stevens Purbrick Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 shows how elegance and harmony are found even at an early age. Ruby red in colour with a black fruit profile of blackcurrants and blackberries, tannins very present yet balanced with a long liquorish mocha finish.

Even if the Australian wine industry is young, drinking the 1996 Shiraz from ‘1860 vines’ made me realise how unique Australian old vines are and how lucky I am to be on this part of the world. A really great tasting and winery visit which brought forward the importance of heritage for Australian wineries.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Focusing on Mornington Peninsula

On to the bus again for the second day of the James Busby tour. The Mornington Peninsula was our next focus and the first host of the day was winemaker Sandro Mosele from Kooyong (where the wild ducks gather) winery, owners of Port Philip Estate. With over 1000 hectares of vineyards and around 60 cellar doors the Mornington Peninsula is one of the most well known regions in Australia for producing Pinot Noir. Surrounded by Port Philip Bay, Westernport Bay and Bass Strait, the Morning Peninsula has a unique maritime climate with different soils structures attributing to the different styles of wines produced.

The region is sub-divided into two regions; Up the hill and Down the hill. As the name suggests, Up the hill has cooler site climate due to elevation producing rounder wines with more minerality and savoury characteristics whilst Down the hill produces wines of a more robust, elegant and assertive structure. Sandro Mosele gave us a clear outlook of the region and then proceeded with a very interesting tour of the vineyards and the winery. The vineyards were planted after rigorous testing and mapping of the soil in order to save time and money experimenting with different vineyards for different sites. Sandro also explained the increasing effort to reduce berry size to around 0.7grms other than the average size of 1.2grms to add tannin and structure to his wines. The wine is given as much freedom as possible during fermentation with open vat fermentation, natural yeasts and no pumping over used. Cold extraction of around 7 to 8 days led up to a slow alcoholic fermentation. Around 18 months of barrel ageing for the reds always using the revered French oak. Remarkably both William Downie who we visited on day 1 and Sandro look down on American oak and quoting Sandro “it is only good for furniture” gives a clear cut statement on his view about American oak.

After visiting their new bottling line which was the latest investment together with the cellar door and restaurant we started our first tasting of the day. The tasting was held in their bistro which overlooks the stunning Kooyong vineyards. Starting off with a Pinot Gris 2009 which was more of Pinot Grigio in style with floral and almond notes on the nose; nice refreshing acidity on the palate. The Chardonnays followed; Port Philip Estate 2008 which had a very citrus character, broad yet elegant; the Farrago 2008 which had more apple and pear nose, fuller on palate with a lasting minerality; the Faultline 2008 which like the Farrago is a single vineyard wine featuring mostly stoned fruit and hints of butter on the nose, delicate and subtle and the lastly Kooyong Estate showing interesting expressions of butteriness and nuts on both nose and palate.

The reds all coming from Pinot Noir yet again showing different styles according to vineyard location and winemaking techniques used. The Meres 2008 was light, sappy and full of fragrance; the Haven 2008 had maraschino cherries on the nose with good depth on palate; the Haven 2009 had more lifted aromas with more structure and density on the palate; the Ferrous 2005 had complex earthy notes with good vibrant fruit still present on both nose and palate; the Kooyong Estate 2000 was my favourite introducing more liquorish fruit on nose, ageing gracefully.

After such an interesting overview of the region and an insight about the various styles of wines produced from the different sites we headed off to a smaller winery Ocean Eight. Unexpectedly we were greeted by oysters and sparkling wine; a Champagne sensation that all made us smile. For me this visit was exceptionally interesting since Mike Aylward took us through some barrel samples of the different Pinot Noir clonal selection he uses for his Pinot Noir. Immediately I felt challenged by the tasting since I am rather unfamiliar with both barrel samples and mostly barrel sampling of different clonal selection. Mike uses 3 clonal selections all contributing different aspects to Pinot Noir. Clone 115 had a very interesting perfumed violet nose with good structure on the palate. Clone MV6 (a Clos Vouguet pre- phylloxera clone) cropped at 1 tonnes per hectare had more structure and richness on the palate whilst clone 114 had more subtle red fruit texture coming through. These 2 clones give the right balance and depth in texture for the Aylward Pinot Noir Mike is seeking to produce. Tasting the Aylward 2007 you can then notice how all these characteristics come together as the jigsaw puzzle becomes more complete.

Like an artist a winemaker has different colours with which to paint his canvas; clones, soil texture, rootstock, French and American oak, screw caps and corks, sulphur, acidity levels and ph levels. Which to choose and how to make use of these tools is completely up to the winemaker as long as the final result reflects the grape variety and the distinct style of the region.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On the rolling hills of Gippsland

A great start to a weekend tasting wines during the Cabernet weekend in Coonawarra (of which I will write at a later stage), led off to my much anticipated 2 week James Busby tour. So, as soon as all the people were gathering in Penola for the Cabernet Celebrations and the canonisation of Mary MacKillop I was on my way out to start another 2 week wine adventure.

Meeting the group at the hotel in Melbourne brought together a simple definition of the profile of people living in UK; multi-cultural energy. It was slightly difficult to get my ears fine tuned to all the different accents and different name pronunciations. Yet as always in the wine industry brings together interesting people with different backgrounds and all on a different journey with the same purpose, discovering wine.

With a pretty full itinerary we hit the road early Monday morning to Gippsland. After a couple of hours drive we were all looking forward to taste some nice wines and enjoy our first Aussie bbq. As we stepped down from the bus we were greeted by the young winemaker William Downie and his wife Rachel. As soon as he started talking about his experience whilst working in Burgundy and the careful selection he goes through to buy his fruit I immediately knew that his Pinot Noirs will be remarkable. The first wine on tasting was Stool on a Stool (No Sulphur) Pinot Noir. Sulphur is quite a hot topic amongst winemakers and according to William added sulphur reduces the expression of the wine by 20%. So what to expect from a wine with no sulphur added and no filtration? Well, a very vibrant purple coloured wine filling the glass with lovely cherry and violet notes; sappy and lively on palate. A great way to start our lingering bbq lunch.

As starter we had a lovely seafood salad which matched perfectly the 2009 Petit Manseng from the King Valley. My experience with this grape variety is very limited. Floral notes with hints of pears and pineapples on the nose whilst the palate had a very broad texture with acidity giving it the right lift and a good long finish. With 50grms residual sugar you would expect a cloying heavy wine yet this had a refreshing acidity which gave it perfect balance and great definition.

The succulent bbq lamb was paired with 3 different Pinot Noirs (2008 vintage) showing the stylistic difference between the different areas of production William sourced his fruit from. The Yarra Valley brought forward the lively cherry aromas with slight developing earthy notes; medium light on palate. The Mornington Peninsula had the same red fruit profile yet with denser texture and more structure on palate. The Gippsland had a darker fruit aroma spectrum with a full palate and velvety tannins. All very interesting and all bringing forward different aspects of such an interesting grape variety. To wrap up the lunch we were delightfully served a selection of different cheeses and yes some more wine, 2004 and 2005 Pinot Noirs from Yarra Valley in magnum format. The 2004 had some garnet hues on the rim and developing aromas of mushrooms and earthiness yet with subtle cherry notes; all intermingling on the palate with its velvet tannins. The 2005 had a more structured palate with present tannins and lovely fruit on the mid-palate; interesting to taste within a couple of years.

I cannot but end up with a quote from the man of the day, William Downie “What I am trying to produce is an expression of Pinot Noir which can give a unique profile not a Burgundian one.” Whilst most producers are always on the constant search of replicating a French or an Italian style of wine this Aussie winemaker is producing a unique wine; many should follow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Frenchie Bubbles in Robe

After visiting Champagne and tasting some great wines at the Vins et Terres de Champagne, the least I expected is to end up at a great Champagne tasting in Australia. Yet I am a lucky girl and thanks to Peta, an ex-sparkling wine maker at Hardy’s I was in for a treat. The brand Champagne portrays finesse, elegance and high quality; this was exactly the result of the tasting I had the pleasure to attend last weekend.

I am not going to bore you with the same details on grape varieties, soils and methods of production; all that is found in books and of course is important to know before such a tasting. Yet what struck me most at this tasting was the variety of styles that can be very distinctive according to the house or brand behind the label. The tasting was split in 2 flights of 5 wines and from the first 5 I picked one of the least favourite by the other winos; Lanson Gold Label 1996. Composed of 57% Pinot Noir and 43% Chardonnay, this wine had a multi-layered nose with citrus and lemon rind as primary aromas and the brioche, toast and honey coming through more pronounced. The palate had more citrus fruit and a mouth puckering acidity which cuts right through the mid-palate; a long persistent mineral finish. I was one of the few who picked this wine as their favourite and the debate was most about the nose; has this wine got too much of a sherry aroma to it? Is it complex or is this wine lacking freshness? As for me, I could just sniff this wine for hours without getting tired and the fact that the palate had such refreshing mouth watering acidity (coming from the lack of malo-lactic fermentation whilst wine making) made the unexpected contrast more interesting for me. Of course the class and poise of the Dom Perignon 2000 couldn’t be unappreciated or undervalued. The lovely white flower intermingling butterscotch and hazelnut aromas; then the creamy fine bubbles and the long complex finish made this wine stand out from the bubbly crowd. :)

The next flight of wines were really tough to pull apart and choose your favourite; tough job yeah! :) Pressed to choose, I picked the Krug Grande Cuvee Multi-Vintage; MV actually meaning NV yet sounds classier, typical Champagne branding! :) Again this wine had a wide spectrum of intense aromas yet what I enjoyed most was the palate which had a lively acidic attack balanced out with citrus and savoury notes; sweet and sour as someone around the table described it. The 1998 Sir Winston Churchill by Pol Roger was also enjoyed by many. This Champagne had more of a female touch to it; more finesse than robustness. The nose had a particular floral lift which gave the wine more youthfulness and its racing acidity with ripe apple smoothness on the palate showed this wine will develop further in years to come.

Champagne, the same ingredients with a multitude of recipes, gives diverse styles which can please extensively on both nose and palate. Hopefully this tasting helped Peta get closer to her Champagne dream and win the Champagne trip in October organised by CIVC. For me it was another discovery and learning experience.. Bring them on! :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

McLaren UnValed

Stretching south of Adelaide into the undulating slopes dotted with massive old blue gums one finds the beautiful region of McLaren Vale, formerly known as The Southern Vales. Even if this region is just recently being acknowledge as an important wine region in Australia its suitability for vine cultivation dates back to 1838, when John Rynella planted his first vineyards in the area. Being close to the Gulf of St.Vincent this region has a reasonably temperate climate with grapes ripening at different periods according to their proximity to the sea or location more inland on the hills. Soils also vary considerably; in fact there is currently a new movement taking place in this region whereby winemakers are promoting their region and their wines according to their positioning on a recently issued geological map.

From the above McLaren Vale already sounds like an interesting region yet what makes it different from the many others? Why should a wine lover take the time to visit this region at least once? My answer would simply be diversity. Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting this wine region for the first time and taste its wines. Compared to the other important regions of South Australia, namely Barossa and Coonawarra, McLaren Vale is a region still searching for a style of wine which will raise the region’s reputation further and make it a distinctive wine region on the world wine map. Even if Shiraz has been the most important grape for this region most wine makers still experiment with a variety of grapes and wine styles. Given the geographical diversity of the region, viticulture practices can be adopted according to the grape varieties chosen. Grenache which is a heat loving variety can thrive in the warmer coastal zones whilst other varieties like the Italian Nebbiolo and Sangiovese which need good acidity to retain their balance are more suitable to the cooler hills of the Vale. Apart from the favourable geographical composition of the region, most of the families in the Vale have travelled across Europe and brought with them grapes suitable for the area; Verdelho, Fiano, Marsanne, Rousanne, Sagrantino are just a few of the grape varieties grown.

Apart from the diversity in grape variety and styles this region also thrives in diversifying itself on different levels. Two of the wineries I visited, Pertaringa and Paxton are both practising biodynamic viticulture. Even if many retain such styles of viticulture practices as marketing fiction, when visiting this wine region one can feel the move towards a greener environment even from the way cellar door staff talk about the region and the importance of its conservation. Another point of differentiation is the constant improvement on food and wine culture. Restaurants are budding across the region with most wineries having highly-rated restaurants next to their cellar doors; The Kitchen Door at Penny Hill Winery, d’Arry’s Verandah at d’Arenberg, the newly refurbished Salopian Inn just to name a few.

Being a European with surely more experience within the French and Italian wine borders, visiting McLaren Vale was truly a learning experience. Understanding the roots of a region goes beyond to tasting wines at the cellar; talking to winemakers and discussing marketing aspects with a number of people of the region (given my thesis research) has helped me appreciate the Aussie wine culture even more.

A few wines I enjoyed on my short trip:

Fiano, Coriole 2010

Distinctive lemons and limes on the nose. Racing acidity on the palate with a mouth-washing minerality on the finish. In need to try older vintages. :)

Vita Sangiovese, Coriole 2007

Jammy strawberries and cherries with cedar notes. Good balanced tannins with nice acidity and fruit. A very balanced Sangiovese; one of the few tasted so far.

AAA Shiraz/Grenache, Paxton 2009

Full on cherry nose with hints of vanilla. Nice soft tannins on the palate with balanced fruit and a liquorish finish.

Angel Gully Shiraz, Primo Estate 2004

Cooked raspberries with pepper and spice. Mon Cheri chocolate with savoury notes on palate. Nice supple tannins with good long finish.

Bonfire Block Semillon, Pertaringa 2008

Oak is predominant at first. Peaches, mango and lemon tart fill the glass as soon as the wine opens up. Lovely structure on palate.

Two Gentlemens Grenache, Pertaringa 2008

Bright ruby colour. Juicy strawberries and raspberries on the nose. Great balance on palate with ripe tannins and good balancing acidity. Honours its name.

The Derelict Grenache, d’Arenberg 2005

Just picked raspberries with hints of jammy strawberries and cranberries on the nose. Supple tannins; mouth-coating yet not overpowering the good acidity. Vibrant yet elegant.

The Dead Arm Shiraz, d’Arenberg 2007

Rich and intense on both nose and palate. Plums and black fruit notes with pepper and spice on nose. Palate is very dense with chewy tannins. A wine which needs laying down before being fully appreciated.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The art of branding

When it comes to wine I am really passionate and never really try to get out of my cocoon. Let me explain, throughout this last year during my wine business masters I have pushed myself further and tried to understand wine from a consumer point of view rather than from that of a wine lover. It’s really hard for someone who is so into the subject. Throughout the last 5 years of my life I have just travelled to wine regions in Europe just to discover new wine styles and acquire knowledge from different angles within this industry. Getting off tracked into what you like most other than what the consumer wants becomes natural.

I have been told this over and over again by my lecturers and even colleagues and I am just recently really distinguishing the difference. Well, today was a perfect lesson for me as a consumer in Australia. This insight into marketing actually dawned on me a couple of weeks ago on my first trip to the supermarket in my new home town Penola. There was I, ready to spend my first dollars yet I couldn’t get down to deciding what to get. I knew I needed vegetables and well those all “look” the same but when it came down to choosing toiletries it was a nightmare. No brand on the shelf that I could really recognise, nothing I could identify. Toothpaste.. yeah I found a brand I know.. Colgate.. mmm but I usually buy Aquafresh.. guess I have to do with Colgate down under.

Today is my first day in the city of Adelaide, the first city to visit in Australia. So, whilst Dru was tasting some “yummy” 2008 wines (“yummy” since most wines where from the Barossa and McLaren Vale and 2008 was unfortunately a hot vintage for them) I took the time to do some shopping in the city. Living in Penola doesn’t give you much options for shopping.. two ladies clothes shop is as good as it gets! So, I decided to hit the shopping centres in Adelaide for some good shopping. And well yeah.. It was a bit of a nightmare. First mall of choice was David Jones since the girls at the cellar door told me it holds all the big brands. Good!!! Well not so good.. the only few brands I could recognise were Armani, Gucci and Prada which is really like names of the first growths of Bordeaux which, lets face it, I cannot afford them even if they were sold en primeur. :)

Then I found a brand I know, Guess. Guess brand for clothing would be a medium to highish price range in most Europe similar to buying a nice Paleo from Le Macchiole or a Sito M
oresco from Gaia. I couldn’t find the Antinori, Bouchard, Rosemount range in any of the shops around; that is I couldn’t find Mango, Zara, Monsoon brands anywhere in Adelaide. Like most wine consumers I was lost; browsing through shops trying to make out what I want to buy but not really knowing if what I was buying was worth the money. Is this price related to quality? I couldn’t know cos I never tried it. And like most consumers I opted for the brands I know and bought a Guess bag which was a safe bet.

So really, if you are a wine maker how can you brand your wine? How will the consumer feel safe to make the right choice and pick your wine out of the rest? Price is always a good indicator.. I looked at the price continuously today (even if lost in Dollar/Euro conversion) since it gives me a quality indicator. Putting myself into a random wine consumers’ shoes, how do I really choose a wine? Most people just go with what they are familiar with; if it’s not the wine brand, then it’s the regional brand or the country brand. I know that what you just read above is just pure simple knowledge yet I think that branding plays an important part of our lives even if we think it doesn’t or we simply take it for granted. No matter how passionate I can be about wine and no matter how biased I am about big brands, they play the major role in the market: being different to be chosen is really key in a consumer world like ours.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Touched by an Angel

It’s already my third week working at Koonara in Coonawarra South Australia and the learning experience has only just begun. I find myself not only learning about my job and the tasks which I need to handle yet mostly about the region’s wines and how Australians look at the wine industry which I find is totally different from us Europeans. What strikes me mostly is that Australians are on the quest to make the most perfect wine possible; most importantly free from any faults. In Europe faults can be seen as an interesting aspect in wine, Brettanomyces (more commonly known as Brett) is encouraged in wines from the Rhone Valley. Found mostly in contaminated oak barrels in the cellar Brett, is known to add complexity in Europe yet to condemn wines in Australia. Another feature which I find rather different is wines on release which usually need to be as young as possible in Australia; blistering fruit and mouth coating tannins is the norm whilst in Europe most wines are held in cellar for a few years for flavours to mellow and integrate better with the fruit characteristics. Which is better? I still need to taste more and more wines to make up my mind on the answer.

Yet last Friday I was given a perfect opportunity to taste some aged red wines. Dru, my boss, decided to hold a vertical tasting of his Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon wines, named after the angel of communication, Ambriel’s Gift. Breaks!! Breaks!! Before I need to write about the range of Pinot Gris we had on blind tasting just before the Cabernet. Being new to the smaller wine regions in Australia like Wrattonbully, Langhorne Creek, Perricoota and many others, I usually feel more lost in translation than lost for words to describe a wine. Two out of the 5 Pinot Gris we tasted really caught my attention and both came from unfamiliar wine regions; the Barwang Pinot Gris and the Bridgewater Mill Pinot Grigio both 2008 vintage. The former from the cool climate sub-region of Tumbarumba in New South Wales, had flinty, mineral, oaky notes on the first sniff, yet opened up with a nice melon and peach bouquet. The second from the Adelaide sub-regions of Piccadilly and Lenswood, had rounder notes of melon and pears with hints of floral aromas. Both wines had a clean refreshing palate very crisp with good mouth-watering acidity.

Back to our angel; on the evening we had the pleasure to taste 8 vintages of the Ambriel’s Gift Cabernet Sauvignon, dating back to 1998. And yes, my favourite was the 1998 which was formely named as The Celestial Promise. Maybe I am more used to the blend of aromas of black fruit intermingling with cedar and tobacco nose. I find the developing character of a Cabernet Sauvignon more intriguing than young ones which are full of dark fruit, chocolate and vanilla aromas, even if I must admit that the 1998 had still some chocolate notes hidden up its sleeve. The 2003 was also a lovely wine. As I can recall from one of Dru’s wine lectures (which happen as frequently as every quarter of an hour throughout my working day and I am very pleased with that), 2003 was a very good vintage in Australia, quite the opposite for Europe. In fact, this wine had a lovely balance on the palate; chocolate, prunes and plums with nicely integrated tannins and a touch of liquorice on the finish. Simply Yummy! The 2004, the current vintage on sale and the current wine I am sipping happily at the moment whilst warming up next to the fireplace, is also a stunner. More chocolate mint and luscious aromas; smooth firm tannins on the palate. One to enjoy now or to age for a couple of more years.

So far really enjoying my stay in Coonawarra working for Koonara and learning more about wine each day. Next week we are off to Adelaide and the Barossa; surely some more wines to taste and more Aussie people to meet. Just can’t wait! :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First impressions of Coonawarra

So, after 10 months living and studying in Burgundy, here I am in Coonawarra; another exciting wine region to discover. Like Burgundy, Coonawarra isn’t the most popular of wine regions. It is surely overshadowed by the more famous region of Barossa like Burgundy is to Bordeaux. For me these regions strike more interest and excitement and I am not saying this because I just ended up in them but because you really have to dig deep into their roots to understand them fully.

Being a wine lover coming from the heart of the Mediterranean, I am obviously in love with Italian and French wines; this is why I looked for a New World wine region to conduct my 6 month internship ending my Masters qualifications. Having worked in Europe and travelled most of the wine regions in Italy and France I wanted to challenge myself further, push borders into the New World and understand first hand what’s happening down under. I was lucky enough to be picked up by a young, passionate, energetic wine producer and marketer from the region of Coonawara, Dru Reschke. I have only just arrived last Friday, yet Dru and his family immediately made me feel at home; not even a tornado could halt their warm welcome.

With Dru gone away on business for the week I was left in the capable hands of the girls at the Koonara Cellar Doors in Penola. All of them tried their best to make me feel welcome giving me tips on the best coffee shop, the best clothes shop which always comes handy and introduced me to most of Penola, which yes is not that big yet which I find surprisingly enticing. Laure, the French cellar door manager at Koonara went a step further to make me feel welcome and on Monday took me for a small tour in Coonawarra, visiting a few wineries and tasting some lovely wines.

Being more exposed to old world wines, I expected big fruity wines full of tannins and alcohol which would tire me after the first few sips. To my surprise, I found many interesting wines in all the wineries we visited. I have to say that Cabernet Sauvignon is my favourite grape of this region so far. Redman Cabernet 2004 and 2006 were simply lovely; cedar box, prunes and chocolate hints all came together wonderfully on the nose with a lovely velvety palate. Rymill’s Cabernet Sauvignon was also interesting with nice grippy tannins yet not overwhelming. It was their sparkling wine which really surprised me. Made in the traditional method and with the 3 glorious grapes used for Champagne; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this sparkling wine shows that Coonawarra really has a cool climate and great wine makers. With her French touch Sandrine Gimon managed to bring together a crisp and creamy wine way different from the sweet sparkling Aussies I tasted in the past. Unfortunately Majella didn’t have any back vintages on tasting which after Redman I was really hoping for, in fact I found the wines on tasting a bit too young to enjoy now. What I enjoyed was their 2009 Riesling with its lime, apple zesty flavours surely making it one to enjoy at the beach during a hot summers day.

Well my experience from my 4 day stay here in Coonawarra looks to be a promising one with loads of wine to taste, people to meet and oh yes work to do. Work.. I didn’t mention the exceptional wines of Koonara, well for that I will need an entire blog. So on to the next for Koonara wines!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meeting the Winos

Every time I visit Malta I try to meet as many of my friends as possible and surely one of the dinners I look forward too is the one I organise together with my wine friends and colleagues. In Malta most of the people involved in the wine industry work with importers who bring in loads of goodies to the island. Unfortunately most of these wines are not appreciated by many due to the avalanche of wines which sell at 2 Euros a bottle at super markets. Back to the dinner, it is usually made up of:

1. Great wines – the theme chosen for this dinner was Whites and Rosés, due to the heat which is hovering on the Maltese islands these last days.

2. Great company – handpicked wine friends who are not so easy to find yet the few that exist make exquisite company.

3. Good food and relaxed atmosphere – most food and wine dos are always so prim and proper, so this dinner we like to keep it as relaxed and easy as possible. This time we choose to have a light dinner at Munchies at Ghajn Tuffieha (Apple’s Eye ),one of the most beautiful bay’s in Malta.

After sending a few emails and reminders, all is set for a nice evening. Wines tasted throughout the evening range from Antinori’s bubbly Franciacorta to Trimbach’s racy Riesling to Scilio’s mineral Etna Rosato. My favourite wines from the evening were all of French origin. My first place goes to the rich and ripe Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001 by Hugel. This was the last wine we tasted during this evening yet even if we were all mellowed out with the lovely wine we drank before, for me, as I put my nose in the glass the captivating bouquet takes you to an exotic fruit heaven of mango, lychee and papaya; the palate opulent yet aromatic.

Another French which I enjoyed was the Pouilly Fume 2007 by Domaine Des Marinier. I am a great fan of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley since their expression is based more on the mineral rich notes rather than on the aggressive exotic fruits like most examples coming from the new world. This wine combined lively acidity with cutthroat minerality leaving a mouth watering palate. It was the ideal combination with the mixed Maltese platter we had as starters; gbejniet, bigilla and Maltese sausage.

Just writing about such a lovely dinner makes me look forward for another wine bonanza with my good buddies! There is nothing better than great friends, great wine and food under a starlit Maltese sky

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Basking in the Vineyards of the Loire

Ever since I stepped into France to conduct my studies in Burgundy I had dreamt about visiting the Loire region and taste its great wines. Loire is one of the most interesting regions in France and is renowned mostly for its beautiful castles as well as for the vast portfolio of wines it offers. So, after browsing through the cascading vineyards of the Rhone I drove for 6 hours to taste Loire.

From bone dry Muscadet to sweet Bonnezeaux to sparkling Vouvray, Loire is truly a treasure to discover for any wine lover. I had the luck to stay in a refurbished 14th century house in Vouvray during my 4 day stay. I chose Vouvray because it logistically makes sense; close to Tours and in the centre between the great wines of Sancerre and Menetou-Selon to the East and the Anjou and Nantais to the West. Yet little did I know that to taste all these wines and visit all these sub regions I would need at least 15 days. So with my 3 days and a half I travelled and discovered as much as possible.

Loire is one of the most important sparkling wine regions in France production mostly around the villages of Saumur, Vouvray and Montlouis, particularly due to the tuffeau caves which are ideal for sparkling wine second fermentation in the bottle.

Travelling upriver towards the west of Loire reaching the village of Anjou, the well-known Rosé wines take the top place on wine lists in restaurants around the village. Of course most Rosé wines are not as sweet and unbalanced as many Rosé d’Anjou examples found on commercial markets, yet they are refreshing with some striking acidity which makes them perfect summer wines. Grolleau and Groslot varieties are used for the cheap, medium dry rosés whilst lately more Cabernet Franc and Gamay are used for the better quality wines.

Some of the best sweet wines in the world also come from this diverse region. The grape used for such heavenly wines is the Chenin Blanc, also known as Pineau de la Loire yet has no connections with the Pinot varieties of Burgundy. Giving a wide range of ripeness levels, this grape variety can produce more than 190 to 260 grams of sugar per litre. Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, the grand crus of Coteaux de Layon have the most favourable microclimates for botrytised Chenin Blanc grapes giving lusciously sweet wines. As these wines age they offer a rich bouquet with overtones of honey and apricot.

In between the towns of Tours and Anjou one can also admire the reds of this region coming from the village of Chinon. Here Cabernet Franc can also offer a variety of red wines depending from the soil composition the vineyards are planted on. The most important wines are endowed with a good portion of tannins which ensure a long life in the bottle and more complexities with age. I find it very hard to find good examples of Cabernet Franc yet with it green pepper nose its one of the most recognisable red wines of France.

Well, Loire has delivered all it promised; lovely castles reflecting their beauty along the Loire river and great long lived wines well-known for freshness and finesse.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Geographical neighbours; poles apart in style

The Rhone Valley has always been on my top list wine regions to visit whilst studying in Burgundy, yet with all the travels in the past 8 months I didn’t have the time or the budget to travel to this wine region. As soon as my studies were over both the regions of Rhone and Loire pop in my mind and after having a quick look at my bank account, it always needs to be a quick look or else my heart stops beating, I decided to rent a car, drive down to Beaujolais, further down to Tain-l'Hermitage and then up to the Loire Valley.

Within a few hours’ drive south of the Cote d’Or the landscape changes from the soft hills protecting fertile valleys nourishing short vines of Chardonnay and Gamay to the steep garrigues of the Rhone covered in tall Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne vines. I had the luck to visit the picturesque towns of Solutré, Pouilly and Fuissé on previous occasions but this time I took the time to book a tasting at one of the Domaines which struck my interest during a tasting at L’Atrium, a hub which brings the 5 different terriors of Pouilly- Fuissé under one roof.

Greeted by the Madame Desroches who put my French language to test, my visit to Domaine Grand Pre Philippe Desroches was exactly what I was looking for. Their prestige cuvee wine coming for their vineyards in Solutré, the town shadowed by the Solutré Rock, has citric nose with undertones of exotic fruit yet on the palate the refreshing acidity and minerality give it a lovely balance. A wine as dainty as the land it grows in.

After a surprise thunderstorm at night which brought with it a very welcome cool breeze yet which skimmed off parts of the top soils of the vineyards of the Beaujolais I drove off towards the land of Syrah. With no GPS and relying only on google maps indications and my own instinct, I punctually made it to immersed village of Tain-l'Hermitage. Bathed by the Saone River on one side and the vineyards blessed by the Chapel dedicated to Saint Christophe, patron saint of drivers, this town is all about wine. The haunting domination of the vineyards on the right bank clearly portraying the Jaboulet and Chapoutier families evoked in me a desire to start my Masters once over this time in Tain-l'Hermitage. The wines? Powerful, intense and impressive, a perfect expression of the land grows their vines.

A distance of just over 159 km gave me an experience ranging from the charming delicate flavours of the Mâconnais and the Beaujolais to the structured untamed character of the Northern Rhone. Such is the beauty of diversity in French wine. As I drive away I know one thing for certain; I will be back sooner other than later! :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

On the Quest for the Perfect Tuscan

For a wine lover like myself, visiting a region like Tuscany always presents a great challenge; finding the wine which really captures me during my stay there. Last year during my visit in March, I visited a number of wineries with my friend Franco Traversi, a true Tuscan wine connoisseur. He took me to some incredible producers which till now represent my favourite in this diverse wine region. Rave wines from last year’s visit include San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo, Monteraponi’s Chianti Classico, Stella di Campalto’s Rosso di Montalcino, Pian del Orino’s Brunello di Montalcino and other great producers from Bolgheri area like Tua Rita and Le Macchiole.

So last week, apart for my main reason to visit Tuscany which for now I leave secretly undisclosed, :) I again took the opportunity to visit some wineries. The total number of visits by Saturday was up to 5, the total of number wine tasted throughout the week was enough to make me crave for some cool refreshing beer by Saturday evening. :) On this note I must say that for wine lovers like myself beer is a beverage that is truly appreciated especially during a week of great wine tastings.

First winery visited during the week was the very well-known winery of Dievole in Vagliagli. This winery is one of the few in Tuscany which really pushed its way through the modern marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter; tools that are yet undiscovered by many Tuscan and even Italian wineries, and we may also include the French producers here. The first reason for my visit to Dievole, was hunger followed by wine. The Chianti Classico is dotted with small osterias and trattorias where one can enjoy a lovely lunch yet that day I had enough time to make my way to a winery and taste both their food and wine. I must admit that the hospitality at Dievole was remarkable and very well-prepared. The food was mainly a nice carpaccio followed by a massive and tasty plate of pici al ragu. Wines to match were their white wine Bianco di Malvagia from Malvasia and Trebbiano; even though white wines from Tuscany are in my opinion of limited quality and only a few blow away my senses, this wine was an easy drinking aromatic wine enjoyable during a hot summer’s day. The second wine served with my pasta was the Certosa Chianti Classico which is a joint venture wine produced with the University of Siena; this wine is easy drinking with no complexities or aromas you fall in love with yet good quality and matching very well the juicy pici . After my lunch I had the opportunity to visit their cellars and taste their Chianti Classico Broccato, Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento and their Vin Santo. Both Chiantis in my opinion have strong tannins coming from barrique ageing which is not what I really look for in a Chianti. Will these tannins integrate better with age leaving the palate softer and more balanced? Guess I need to taste these same wines in a couple of years to make my judgement, all rise!

Another dynamic and evolving winery I visited last week was the Tolaini Estate which is found on the gentle rolling hills of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Diego Donato, the young talented oenologist over seeing the estate gave me a really good tour of the vineyards which are planted with both international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and also with the indigenous grape Sangiovese. A tour which yes ended up with a tasting yet which was brought to a halt by a punctured tyre in our car in the middle of the vineyards; not so bad given the sun, vines and company. The wines of this estate are atypical for the region of the Chianti Classico. My favourite was Al Passo made of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot, whose aromas are very compelling with cherry notes, prunes and spice. The Picconero and the Valdisanti are mostly composed of international grape varieties and have a French twist to them; oh did I mention that the consultant oenologist is Michel Rolland?! His fingerprints are all over. :)

Next on my list was Isola e Olena, a winery which was suggested by a friend who recently tasted their wines at the Decanter Italian Wine Tasting in London. What makes me fall in love with this region over and over again are the magnificent sceneries you discover after making your way through an endless curvy road, praying you won’t have car problems here since you know that even your GPS signal is weak let alone your mobile phone reception. When you arrive at the winery of Isola e Olena, you think to yourself, wow... I am so lucky to have a passion for wine.. it brings me to this.. a tapestry of greenery... undulating vineyards; olive trees and cypress trees dancing with the light wind, then the darker green forest on the background against the bluest of skies.. To top it all I was greeted by this lovely woman, owner of the winery, Martha de Marchi. Her husband’s family originally cultivating vineyards in Piedmont, bought this winery and surrounding vineyards in the 1950s and through research and hard work is now producing some stunning wines. The Ceparello 2004 was truly a gem; the aromas of ripe cherries and prunes intermingling with earthy and forest floor nuances make you wish to stop time and just keep sniffing. The palate was very balanced, with tannins which were very broad on the mouth yet not dusty; just right for a long finish. The other wines tasted including the Isola e Olena Chianti Classico and their Vin Santo, both show really great quality and wine making skills yet difficult to beat their brother Ceparello.

Bbbbbrrrrr Brancaia was the next winery I visited. A winery introduced to me by another wine friend a number of years back. Another Italian winery owned by non-Italians, once again giving a modernist approach to a traditional region like Tuscany. Work both in the cellar and vineyards is very meticulous with high density plantings and lutte raisonnée viticulture put into practise. As expected, given their modernist approach, the recipe for their wines mainly includes international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. By now you would ask, but what’s wrong with such grape varieties? Why is Berenice so hard to please? Surely there is nothing wrong with Cab and Merlot wines and surely yes I am hard to please. :) In my opinion wines should represent the region, area, piece of dirt they are coming from and to do this I believe that only indigenous grape varieties can reflect this. By all means I cannot deny that the Ilatraia and the Blu tasted at Brancaia are awesome wines which I am willing to drink and taste on a frequent basis yet it’s totally different from when you are discovering a true Sangiovese, a distinctive Nebbiolo or even a pleasing Gamay. Back to this tasting, Blu will always be amongst my favourite Bordeaux blends in the area. The grapes for this wine are mainly grown in the Maremma area which gives lovely ripe fruit notes on nose and palate; tannins are also ripe with dusty hints that support very well the alcohol and broadness of this wine.

Last but not least and from a completely different area altogether I visited Cantina Dei in Montepulciano. When the going gets rough I like to trace some imprints stored at the back of my mind and one of my favourites is the view one can admire from the belvedere hidden on the edge of the tiny village of Montepulciano; it makes anyone’s frown turn into a smile! :) At Cantina Dei I was welcomed by Catherina Dei herself who is currently running the winery with the help of her omnipresent father. The tour in the cantina followed the usual trail until she introduced me to their new project; a new cellar in an oyster shell form cut into the ground. Still under construction, using my “creative” brain I could imagine this future realm; a mix between old and new; the smell of wine filling up the empty spaces and yes the beautiful music by Catherina herself accompanying wine through its maturing journey. My favourite wine her was the typical Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from the Sangiovese clone, Prugnolo, enticing both on the nose and palate. I don’t really like to describe wines according to gender but this wine genuinely has a female touch; silky tannins, nice acidity and succulent fruit all branching to a long persistence.

Have I found the perfect Tuscan? Who am I really to judge perfect or imperfect? Each wine, each wine maker has a story of its own to tell, discovering each and every one of them is what keeps me going on, what keeps my thirst and dreams alive!