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!