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Beautiful Bordeaux

Beautiful Bordeaux!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Grand Vins de Bordeaux, a fabulous wine store to explore!

Despite the explosion of New World wines out there, no one country or region has managed to snatch the title of “World’s Most Emminent Wine Region” that Bordeaux holds tightly in its grasp. It is the red wines of Bordeaux, (formerly called “Claret” by the poms for centuries), that have set the standards for quality wine the world over.

That’s not to say that all of them are exciting … there are the vin ordinaires for the princely sum of a few euros, and only the backpackers are thankful for those … But the true Bordeaux red rewards those with patience, and offers a challenge not for the feint-hearted. Opening these wines too early is a waste, as is opening them in the middle of their maturity, or too late.

Big Bordeaux are tannic and tight for the first 5 or 6 years, holding back the blackcurrant or plum flavours of the signature Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Then strangely, they seem to slump – becoming flat and lifeless for the next few years, before taking on a new depth of complexity, aromas and fruit.

Probably Bordeaux’ biggest enemy is itself. It’s out of control in terms of … err, control.

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Chateaux in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

In an area of 123,000ha under vine, there are 10,200 growers, 35,000 Chateaux, 400 Distributors and 100 Brokers. One out of every six people in Bordeaux work in the wine industry.

Stats (at time of my visit – late 2006) held that 790,000 bottles are produced every year to reach a market value of €3,000,000,000. 90% of these are red – Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and 10% white – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Colombard.

Harvest in Bordeaux is determined by chemical analysis. What they’re looking for from grapes is 220 g/ltr sugar, 12.5 Baume – min level as per AOC. Bordeaux reds must be fermented dry, and the use of tartaric acid addition is prohibited.

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

Vineyards in the Blaye Bourg region, Bordeaux, France

There are a whopping 57 appellations within this region, telling growers what to grow, how to grow it, how much to grow …

In 2007, a new appellation “Côtes de Bordeaux” was introduced. This encompasses an area of the right bank of the Garonne river, from Saint Maixant and Cadillac to the city of Bordeaux, and in short paves the way for lower value wines to use oak chips during production. All these sub-regions are located on the right bank, and all currently produce easy-gowing, fruit-driven, primarily Merlot-based wines, 85% of which are reportedly consumed locally.

Bordeaux wines reflect terroir

Beautiful Bordeaux city

Beautiful Bordeaux city

They’re not allowed to irrigate in Bordeaux. Underground water supplies keep them alive, but also provide sediment to feed the vines – which helps the grapes and resulting wines take on the characters of the soils, which are actually quite poor.

Bordeaux wines are named after their location. So you won’t see the names of the grapes used in a wine on the label.

They divide the Bordeaux region between the left and right banks of the Gironde Estuary, which continues divided between the Garonne and Dordogne tributaries.

On the hilly right bank the soil is primarily clay and limestone – suitable for fruit-forward, lower tannin Merlot. These cooler soils slow down the ripening stage (avoiding August heat and rain), and budburst (avoiding April frosts).

The right bank encompasses Côtes de Blaye and Bourg to the north, and St Emilion, Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Côtes de Castillon and Francs divided from Entre-deux-Mers by the Dordogne.

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux.  Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

Roman ruins @ Palais Gallien, Bordeaux. Once on the outskirts of the city, now in the suburbs!

The left bank is more sandy, and has pebbles to absorb heat during the day, for distribution during the nights. It is a continuation of the sedimentary Acquitaine Basin; lowlands boundaried by Gironde Arch, the Pyrenean mountain chain, and the Bay of Biscal. This is big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon territory, producing wines with pronounced blackcurrant and cassis flavours.

The left bank is home to five major communes of Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Margaux and Graves. Located here are the five esteemed First Growth Chateaux: Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion. Further north we find the Médoc, and in the hinterland we find the Haut-Médoc. Alas, poor Médoc doesn’t get a mention on Grand Cru labels, however Haut-Médoc does.

I must add here that the above is not an exhaustive list of all vignobles Bordelais but quite frankly this page is getting too long, and I haven’t talked about Cellar Door visiting yet … such is the complexity of Bordeaux!

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Viticulture for Virgins Part IV: Voluminous Vitis Vinifera

Cinsault - photo courtesy Mulineux Family Wines, Swartland, Africa

Cinsault – photo courtesy Mulineux Family Wines, Swartland, Africa

Most people know the major grapes used to make wine: Shiraz,Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, blah blah blah …

But the truth is, there are actually a whole gamut of grapes that are used all around the wine worlds (new and old) for making wines.

I’ve come across many in my travels and studies, and it really became too hard to memorise them all.

So I started building this list to refer to.

Hope you find it helpful, and please – if you know of any that aren’t on my list, I’d love you to add a comment at the bottom telling me of others!

These here are the more well-known ones:

Variety

Notes

Barbera One of the world’s most widely planted red grapes. Important in Italy, Argentina and parts of California. Retains higher acidity even in hot areas. Intensely coloured and astringent.
Cabernet Franc Important variety in St Emilion and Pomerol, France. These areas of north Bordeaux have less maritime influence and are subject to cooler winters. This red prefers cool climates – budbursts and ripens early. Makes softer, higher quality wines than Cabernet Sauvignon. Mostly blended.
Cabernet Sauvignon Comes from Bordeaux, France where it is the major variety in Medoc wines. Considered the world’s premium red grape. Grapes have good tolerance of bunch rot, and damage as berries are small and tough. Vines don’t like damp, clay soils – they need drainage. The Medoc has gravelly, well-drained soils. Takes a long time to ripen so likes hot summers and long mild autumns.
Carignan Red grape which makes wines of good colour but average quality. Takes time to age, so is often blended with faster aging grapes such as Grenache or Cinsault. Spanish name – Mazuela. Used for bulk wines in USA. Likes hot, dry climates.
Chardonnay Versatile white grape widely planted in many wine regions around the world. Used in Champagne – blended with Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier preferably. Easy to grow, good yields, few problems.
Chenin Blanc Used mainly in Loire Valley, France for still and sparkling white wines. Widely grown in South Africa – where it’s sometimes called Stein. Has good acidity so is blended to balance other whites.
Cinsaut (or Cinsault) Southern France varietal red. Often mispelled ‘Cinsault’. Sometimes a table grape, sometimes wine. Adapts well to hot, dry climates, tough skins resistant to rain damage, but prone to fungal rots. Makes average quality, low tannin wine – often blended.
Colombard One of the whites used for Cognac in France, although larger plantings exist east of Gironde in Bordeaux. Often a table grape. High-yielding, tolerant of rot and mildew. High acidity, and has a distinct varietal flavour.
Crouchen White grape originating from (but not grown there much these days) south-west France. History of being associated with the name Riesling in South Africa and Australia – however it is not Riesling. Real problem child … doesn’t ripen well in cool regions, and is very susceptible to rots and mildews in hot regions. Thus its decline in favour globally.
Durif This majestic red, also known as ‘Petite Verdot‘ or ‘Petite Sirah‘ originates from the Rhone Valley, France. This grape ripens late and is tricky to grow. Durif offers wines of intense, blue-black colour, guaranteed to stain your teeth, and high tannins which require long ageing before drinking. However, Durif grown in warmer areas presents as a faster aging wine – probably due to advanced characteristics in the grapes – and is more approachable at younger age. Also used for Port.
Frontignac The official name for this grape is ‘Muscat a’ petit grains” (Muscat of small berries), and it can come in white or coloured varieties. The ripe berries wilt and shrivel quickly to concentrate sugar – thus its extensive use in sweet fortified wines called Muscats. The white variety is commonly used for table wines, with coloured grapes preferred for fortifieds.
Grenache Spaniards call this red “Garnacha”. Blended in southern France (Rhone) popularly with Shiraz and Mataro or Carignan. Before Cabernet Sauvignon took its place in the 1990’s, Grenache was important grape in Australia. Likes hot, windy conditions. Wind is important as it’s also prone to rots, fungus, mildew, etc. Makes wines of low colour, but faster aging. Most often used for Rose` or Tawny Port.
Malbec Red grape known as ‘Cot’ in west France, where it’s decreasing in popularity due to productivity issues. Grown near Bordeaux and Loire Valley, France as a blender. Important grape in Argentina. In Australia it has been confused with Dolcetto and Inta Amarella. Irregular crops have been improved through cloning. Rich in colour and tannin and used for blending mostly.
Marsanne As the name suggests, this white is another originator of France, where it is grown in the Rhone region. Similar to Viognier, the wines made from Marsanne have little varietal character and age quickly. Used as a varietal in Australia – famously by Tahbilk – as it seems to develop more character in this climate.
Mataro In Provence, France, this red is known as Mourvedre, and in Spain (where it holds more importance) is called Monastrell or Morastell. Recovers well after frost, and yields well. Hardy grape, and needs warmth to ripen. Makes neutral wines of high astringency. Good for blending.
Merlot The principal red of Bordeaux. Sensitive to salinity, enjoys cool damp clay soils. Makes softer wine than Cabernet Sauvignon, ripens earlier so avoids the summer rains and autumn winds from the Bay of Biscal. These two wines are often blended. Wines made from Merlot age quicker than other red wines.
Palomino White grape used for Sherry and other fortifieds – makes low quality table wines. Important to Spain – providing most of the wines for Sherry (Jerez). High sugar content, low acidity and neutral flavour.
Pedro Ximinez Also used in Spain for Sherry. This white is tender-skinned and thus prone to weather damage and rots. Sometimes blended into table wines.
Pinot Noir Burgundy, France’s favourite red grape, and one of the most popular varietals for white sparklings and Champagne. In Germany and Switzerland, it’s known as ‘Spätburgunder‘. An old varietal, it is claimed there are over 1,000 different clones. Has little colour, and excels in cool areas. Has distinctive varietal characters ranging from “barnyard” to “cherry”.
Riesling The white grape king. Widely grown around the world. Originated in Germany – prolific in Rheingau and Mosel regions, makes excellent wines from Alsace, France. Moderate producer, Riesling ripens well in many conditions, and produces distinctive, aromatic wines.
Sangiovese An Italian red grape, most used in Italy’s Chianti, becoming more popular in the north-eastern area of Victoria, Australia.
Sauvignon Blanc This white grape put New Zealand on the map, at the same time as it was decreasing in plantings in France. A large leaf-area:fruit ratio enables successful capture of sunlight to produce sugars in colder regions. Wines have distinct varietal characters.
Semillon This poorly identified white historically gets confused with Chenin Blanc, Crouchen and Riesling – particularly in Australia. In Bordeaux it claims fame as second most important white. Berries split easily in rain when ripe, leaving it susceptible to rot – which can be a good or bad thing, depending on what you want to do with the grapes. In Australia, botrytised semillon is probably the most famous dessert wine in the country.
Shiraz The red grape king in Australia – however not necessarily so important elsewhere. Also known as ‘Syrah‘. Red wines from Hermitage region of Rhone Valley are 100% Shiraz. Yields well in variety of climatic conditions, but berries tend to wilt when ripe – making mechanical harvesting difficult.
Tarrango An Australian-born red grape developed by CSIRO as a cross-breed of Sultana and Touriga grapes. Makes a light-bodied red table wine with good acidity, and faster aging. Don’t hold your breath looking for it in an Australian bottle shop, though.
Touriga Red Port variety, more succinctly called Touriga Nacional, of Douro Valley in Portugal. Mostly used in fortified wines. Excellent colour and flavour for Ports. Sometimes used as productive blender in table wines.
Verdelho This Portuguese white varietal, known on the island of Madiera as ‘Gouveio‘, has until recent days been used for fortified wine. In the new millenium however, table wines have been popping up in the bottle shops made from this varietal. Ripens early, and offers distinct tropical fruit characters in hot regions.
Viognier Wine made from this white have been traditionally blended with Marsanne and Roussanne to increase complexity as it’s pretty ordinary on its own. [Mind you, I’ve had workmates threaten to string me up for saying that] Often apricot flavours and aromas. Ages quickly. Relative new kid on the block in Australian market is Shiraz/Viognier – emulating the Cote Rotie wines of France.
Zinfandel Common red varietal in California, USA. Reportedly the same grape as Primitivo in Italy and Mali Plavac [or more distinctly Crljenak – a parent of Mali Plavac] in eastern European countries, eg Croatia. Wines made from Zinfandel have distinctive Raspberry characters.
Chardonnay - photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Chardonnay – photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Sauvignion Blanc - photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Sauvignion Blanc – photo courtesy Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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Viticulture for Virgins Part II: Grape Expectations

I’ve already mentioned in ‘Viticulture for Virgins Part I’ that the varietal of grape grown in any region is determined by the location.  Let’s look into this further …

Horses for Courses

Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)
Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)

Although grape vines are weeds, you can’t just throw any old variety in the ground and expect to make great wine from it. The realisation that certain varieties grow better in certain regions didn’t happen overnight. The Europeans discovered this more by trial and error – over hundreds of years – than by scientific research.

There are a handful of considerations you need to mull through when choosing your grape:

Ripening – is there enough sun and warmth to ripen Shiraz? Is it cool enough to maintain desirable acidity in Sauvignon Blanc? If not, there’s a myriad of varieties to choose from that will be more suitable to a region. If all else fails, modern science just creates new varieties to suit growing conditions.

Tolerance to Climatic Hiccups – some regions are prone to drought, or Spring frosts. These factors can have horrific affect on new buds, or fruit setting. It’s important that the varieties chosen for a particular region can hold up in times of adverse conditions.

Jerez, Spain

Jerez, Spain

But the world is a constantly changing place …

Advances in viticultural practices (trellising, harvesting) and modern technology (eg refrigeration) may mean that ideal grape type may have changed, however -probably because of traditional planting restrictions in Europe – implementation of this change has been slow, if at all.

And then there’s …

Market Demand – obviously there’s no point in increasing plantations of Chardonnay in Australia at the moment. No-one wants it. Consumers are looking for more interesting whites. [Originally written in 2006 … update in 2012 is that Chardonnay is making comeback … I rest my case …]  Here again the New World boasts supremacy. Without appellation contols, they can plant whatever they want!  But can they keep up with consumer demand?  New vines take up to 7 years to produce a decent yield. The consumer has changed his mind 15 times by then. Nature takes a little longer to respond to consumer demand than man does.

Old World Tradition -v- New World Innovation?

Siena, Chianti, Italy

Siena, Chianti, Italy

If I may digress into my marketing head for a moment … Interestingly enough, the New World criticizes the Old World for adhering to planting restrictions – particularly in France, where not only type of grape but yield (quantity harvested/hectare) is limited by appellation controllée laws.

At the same time, repeated articles I saw in wine press during the late 90’s/early 00’s, claimed the New World [particularly Australia] has revolutionised the wine industry globally with its “brand-building discipline“.

Building brands is exactly what the French have been doing all the time. Just because they don’t do jingles, fluoro-coloured labels and tacky merchandising to go with it, we all know that a ‘Bordeaux’ is not just a region, likewise a ‘Burgundy’, ‘Champagne’, or a ‘Rhone Blend’. The wine world knows what to expect in terms of taste and quality from these brands … oops, wines.

Early to Ripen:Early to Harvest

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Grape varieties don’t all ripen at once, so they can be split into different maturity groups. This is important when laying out the vineyards and determining which grapes are to be planted. Obviously if all grapes ripened at the same time, by the time you have harvested the fruit from the whole property, the last ones may be a bit worse for wear!

Thus, large vineyards often have different varieties growing in different sections which mature at different times.

Those grape varieties that need less heat or sun to mature are called ‘Early Ripeners‘. As the amount of sunlight has a direct bearing on the colour of a grape’s skin, it’s not difficult to understand that most early ripeners are white grapes: eg, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sultana, Traminer, Verdelho.

What? – you say – Pinot Noir is a red grape! True, but the colour in a wine comes from the skin, [flesh of all grapes is white] and when Pinot Noir is used in Sparklings or Champagnes, the colour of the skin is not needed – and neither is a high level of sugar. So, for this purpose, they are early ripeners.  You see, wine is not all red and white – there are pink areas!

Mid-season ripeners are the next to mature and be harvested. This group includes all the regulars, eg: Cabernets (Franc, Sauvignon, Ruby …), Shiraz, Merlot and whites that need a little more sugar, like Savignon Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Semillon.

Finally the late ripeners, which by now I’m sure you realise are those varietals which need more sugar: Grenache, Muscats, etc.

Grapes can move between these maturity groups depending on climate. Riesling, for example, is able to reach adequate flavour ripeness at relatively low sugar levels in very cold regions. This is one of the reasons it is one of the most important grapes in Germany.

Early-Picked v Early Ripening

Don’t confuse ‘early-picked‘ with ‘early ripening‘.  Early-picked refers to grapes picked at an earlier time than optimum ripening requires.  This is done to reduce the sugar level in a wine.  Of course, ‘late-picked‘ means the opposite – ie picked late to increase sugar levels.

A Sea of Varieties

Rudesheim, Germany

Rudesheim, Germany

There are literally hundreds of different grape varieties used for wine-making around the world, and research (particularly in New World countries) is resulting in new clones, custom-made for specific regions all the time.

Commercial wines from all over the world are mostly grown from grapes of the Vitis vinifera family. Originating in Asia, this species will die in freezing temperatures, and is prone to mildews and other bugs. The viticulturalist monitors these problems closely as they can be devastating not just to one vintage, but to the survival of the vineyard.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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What is Chianti Classico?

Back in the early 1700’s, the original region known simply as “Chianti” centred around the towns of Radda, Greve, Gaiole and Castellina, in central Italy.  These these days Chianti has grown considerably and now consists of several subzones:

ItalySantAntimo2Chianti Rufina – east of Florence
Chianti Colli Fiorentini – north east Florence
Chianti Classico – between Florence & Siena
Chianti Colli Senesi – north to north west of Siena
Chianti Colli Aretini – east of Classico region
Chianti Montelbano – north west of Florence
Chianti Montespertoli – west of Florence
Chianti Colline Pisane – south of Pisa

ItalySantAntimo1Nestled in the Tuscan hills between Florence and Siena is the most reknowned, largest subzone, and probably the heart of the region – Chianti Classico.

Vineyards here are located at varying altitudes, ranging from around 250m to over 500m above sea level. It’s quite a challenge at this level to ripen red grapes to appropriate sugar and tannin levels.

That’s not the only problem they face either – downy mildew can be a killer for tight Sangiovese bunches when it rains during vintage.

It was surprising to me to find during my visit to the region, that Chianti Classico is not one huge expanse of vines rolling over the hilly landscape.   In fact, 75% of the environment is still woods, and you’ll come across as many olive groves as vineyards. The region resonates peasant village life from bygone eras, and cheesy romance films.

Siena0055Tiny Castellos sit atop hills – each with a maze of narrow streets lined with picture-book Tuscan houses. Yes, they really do exist – complete with terracotta pots of red flowers, tiny central squares dominated by an ornate church, and even the quintessential cat sleeping on the window ledge.

Today there are over 600 wineries in Chianti Classico. And one of the vineyards, west of Figline Valdarno, belongs to Sting, … so the locals say …

So, what exactly IS Chianti?

ItalyDalbola7It’s important that you know that not every Chianti is a Chianti Classico. Chianti as a style of wine can be, and is, made in other regions of Tuscany, in fact most of central Italy makes it, from all kinds of grapes.

However a Chianti Classico must come from the Chianti Classico region, is made from 75 to 100% Sangiovese grapes, and bears the pink neck tag as proof of its origin.

The original formula is attributed to Baron Ricasole- once Italy’s Prime Minister – in the 1870’s. He determined two different styles. The first was a drink-early style, which originally included white grapes the likes of Malvasia and Trebbiano to provide more up-front fruit for this style. The other was a high quality, well structured wine that could age for decades.

Over time the proportion of white grapes used in the cheaper quality wine started getting out of hand. Not only that, but red wines imported from other Italian wine regions began creeping into the mix. Chianti became insipid, unstable and boring.

The DOC, when setting up the Chianti region in the 1960’s, decided to limit the use of white grapes in Chianti to between 10 and 30%.

This wasn’t enough for serious Chianti producers near Florence [notably the Antinori family], who – by the mid 1970’s -began to produce their own style of Chianti – using primarily Sangiovese and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.

This new wine was much more refined, had better aging capacity, and exhibited higher quality character than any of the other Tuscans. However, as they hadn’t stuck to the DOC rules, they had to sell their wine as a Vino da Tavola [table wine]!

Thus Chianti Classico Reserva was born – a style which now carries the DOCG qualification, and is made from low-yeilding Sangiovese, aged in oak and able to be cellared around ten years plus.

If you want to read more about visiting this area, I have another couple of posts on this subject in the “Italy” folder of this blog.  If you’re a real wine buff, you’ll want to see this place.  If budget permits (mine certainly didn’t!) I strongly suggest hiring a car from Florence; venture down to Sienna and stay a few days to sleep and take in the Piazza before looking around.

ItalyMontefioralle2

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Italy, Wine Touring

 

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Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010

Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz 2010Geez … you can tell I don’t blog for a living.  It’s been six months.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been drinking wine.  I have.  Unfortunately I also changed jobs six months ago, and have gone from alcohol retail to wholesale.   So, it’s back to 10 hour corporate days, punctuated by the occasional outing somewhere to visit clients.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of free evenings to write.

Today I went to see a client who runs a store filled with amazing wines;  some imports (his own), some local stuff.  It really is a wine-lover’s wonderland, and if you haven’t been to Nick’s Wine Merchants in Doncaster, Melbourne yet, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.  Doesn’t really matter, though, because he actually sends wines all over the world via his website – Vintage Direct.

So, apart from some yummy-looking imports in the $20-$30 bracket, I asked Alex (seek him out if you venture there – Alex knows his wines) for a cheapie to scoff tonight with dinner.  He produced a bottle of Three Brothers Reunited Shiraz (2010).

Now, for the past four weeks, I haven’t drunk anything of note, purely due to a nose operation.  As much as I’d like to say I earn enough to chuck big dollars away on a cosmetic procedure, in my case it was to correct a seriously dislocated septum, and rebuild the sides of my nose that were collapsing.  (I know what you’re thinking … my nose doctor also asked several times if I have been doing drugs … but no, I have never snorted cocaine …).

So I have been having trouble even breathing through my nose, let alone really smelling anything complex. So, with my new nose, I dove into the glass.

Loads of rich, ripe dark plums, blackberries, licorice (Wow! The nose is really working!) are the immediate deliveries – however, after leaving the wine to breathe a little, I easily detected some milk chocolate nestling nicely above raspberry jam.

The first sips revealed the expected plums and blackberries, but also an amazing wallop of black peppery spice – the hallmark of McLarenVale Shiraz. In all honesty, I felt the spice actually overpowered the wine initially, but again, with a little air, this settled down, and I don’t know about the other reviewers, but I was left with a finish of Violet Crumble Bar.  That’s right … chocolate-coated honeycomb.

Tannins were modestly smooth and silky, leaving a dry finish with no coarseness.

Drinking this wine, you get a craving for char-grilled lamb cutlets, or a medium-rare barbecued steak.  Unfortunatley, none of these were available to me … so, after the third (small) glass, I settled for Old Gold dark chocolate mini Easter Eggs.  Hey, ’tis the season …

Overall, this is a sensational wine in the sub $20 category.  Even more amazing is that it only costs $9.99!!  My advice – get online and get some in your wine rack for the coming winter. I know I’ll be heading back there to stock up.  So, Alex, if you read this, put a case aside for me. 

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Wine Reviews

 

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Visiting Cellar Door: The Czech Republic

I’ll bet you’re surprised that there actually IS a wine region in the Czech Republic.  Bet your life there is – and it’s one of the most stunningly unique and historic wine regions I have ever seen.

I first visited the wine region in southern Moravia in the deep winter of 2006.  New-found friends drove me from Olomouc to Mikulov – just before the Austrian border, stopping at deserted cellars along the way.  The vision of ice-covered vineyards appearing like spectres remains one of my favourite memories of Cellar Door roaming.

Not far from Mikulov, is Valtice, where in the majestically restored Chateau Valtice, you’ll find the Národní vinařské centrum (National Wine Centre).  This majestic chateau belonged to the Liechtenstein family from the 1100’s until the communists siezed it post WWII.  The real Baron von Liechtenstein used to stage his jousting tournaments here, and the floors on the first floor are still covered with original Afghani hunting rugs.  At the National Wine Centre, you are able to taste the finest wines of the Czech Republic all in one place in the cellars of the old chateau.

If that’s not historic enough for you, head over to Palava, a short distance from Valtice.  Palava is a rocky outcrop of pure, hard, and white limestone of Upper Jurassic origin.  Needless to say, they produce some fine white wines here.

Hectares of vines spread around Palava’s gentle slopes, and the hills themselves are crowned with no less than two castle ruins.  If I remember correctly, they date back to 11th and 15th centuries.

Winemaking goes back much further than that.  They say the Celts brought viticulture to Palava, but there’s no tangible evidence. There is, however, archaelogical evidence that Roman legions brought the practice here in the first century AD.  And they weren’t the first inhabitants.  The Věstonická Venuše found here dates back over 25,000 years BC.  It’s the oldest ceramic statue in the world.

Yep, this place is a wonderland of exploration and ancient history.  I feel so lucky to have stumbled across it.

I loved the place so much, I went back in 2007 and lived there for 3 years.  I was also honoured to lecture at the NVC in wine marketing and tourism in 2008/09.

There’s little industry consolidation in Moravia, and in its 16,000 hectares of vines, you will find 10,000 producers.They were very appreciative of the information I shared with them.  It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my wine career.

 

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Organic, Bio or Preservative Free?

Reaction to SO2 is something I am very familiar with.  I am clinically allergic to anything remotely resembling sulphur – which is serious misery for a vinophile.  The truth is, although I taste a lot of wines, I can’t actually have long sessions of wine drinking without shocking migraines the next day. The more heavily-sulphured ones give me cheeks resembling Santa, and sinuses stuffed with cotton wool within a single glass.

In the past six months, I’ve noticed a lot more customers asking for preservative-free wines.  I thought this was reflection of the demographic around the particular store I was in, but a few weeks ago I moved to a store on the other side of Melbourne, and the trend continues there – albeit to a lesser degree.

When they first come into the store, they are certain of one thing – they don’t want stuffy sinuses and headaches from their wines. What they don’t seem certain about is what all the different claims are on the bottles.  So, let me offer some advice:

Organic

Organic wines are made from grapes grown without the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.  However, this does NOT mean the wine is preservative free. Sulphur can be added during the winemaking process to stabilise and preserve the wine, and chemicals from neighbouring vineyards can be carried in the wind to the otherwise organically grown grapes.  If you’re sensitive to sulphur, read the back label.  It MUST list any preservatives, and the one you’re trying to avoid is 220.

Biodynamic

This takes ‘organic’ to a whole new level. It’s not just about the absence of chemicals, but espouses a ‘holistic‘ approach to raising grapes by emphasising the interrelationships between plants, animals, and soils.  And it goes further – using an astronomical calendar to indicate plant sowing times, and I’ve even heard of farmers  dancing naked among their crops under full moons … however, having seen a few winemakers over the years, I’m not sure that’s something to either believe or get excited over.   Biodynamic is sustainable, environment-friendly and very new age.  But again, check the back label for information about any 220 added during winemaking.

Preservative Free

Fermenting grape juice actually contains a small amount (10-50mg/L) of sulphur dioxide – a natural preservative – produced by the yeasts.  Thus, technically speaking, there’s no such thing as preservative FREE wine.  Those claiming to be preservative free are referring to the absence of ADDED preservatives.  They really should be labelled “lower preservatives“.  Regardless, most customers who try them seem to come back for them – although they do admit the wines are somewhat ordinary.  The few that I’ve tried at tastings confirm that, and are often a little oxidised.

Personally speaking, to restrict oneself to a small range of wines, when there are tens of thousands out there to enjoy, seems a bit depressing.  As I said, I can’t handle sulphur myself – so, how do I deal with it, and still enjoy a wide variety of wines?  There’s a few considerations I make:

Close to half of the organic producers around the world are French. Admittedly, I don’t appreciate a lot of French wines, but I am working on that, as I have personally found that French wines give me less/no reaction.

I try to avoid mass-produced wines, or wines from hotter regions – where SO2 is added as a fermentation-control measure as early as harvest. No, this doesn’t mean cooler regions DON’T practice this, just less so.

Finally, I carry a bottle of Pure Wine around with me.  That way, I can drink any wine being poured by friends, ordered at a restaurant or given as a gift.  One drop per glass.  Yes, people look at me with suspicion when I pull the bottle out of my bag and ‘spike’ my wine – but that doesn’t worry me – it makes me look cool.  😉

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Wine & Health

 

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