November Wines of the Month: Spring Release 2017 Reds from Penley Estate & Karatta Wine Co.
Spring had sprung when I visited Australia last month, destination the Limestone Coast. As had some rather spiffing ‘Spring release’ 2017 reds. Spring-loaded I reckon, given their exuberant perfume and lively, fresh fruit. My November Wines of the Month – two terrific examples of this new super-niche style – surprised me both conceptually (given the Limestone Coast’s reds are renowned for longevity) and for their sheer quality and interest.
The style was well-suited to the Limestone Coast’s cool, late 2017 vintage in which, reports Ulrich Grey-Smith (Executive Officer Limestone Coast Wine Industry Council), there was “significant rain for all regions…A number of vineyards were not harvested.” But I was heartened to hear intimations from both producers that the style is here to stay.
Penley Estate Spring Release Cabernet Franc 2017 (Coonawarra, Limestone Coast)
As I well know having regularly visited the Loire in the past, Cabernet Franc is not the easiest of varieties to grow. But get it right (limestone helps!) and this grape has a delicacy of perfume, freshness and fineness of frame. Qualities which its off-spring, Cabernet Sauvignon, cannot replicate. So I was utterly thrilled by this wine, which shows delicious varietal character – a perfumed, floral nose and palate, with hints of graphite/cedar to its sappily, fresh red and black berry fruit, (although it sees no oak). The tannins are silky and fine. It is the first release from Penley Estate to have been overseen from start to finish by Kate Goodman, who joined as Chief Winemaker in 2016 (which role she juggles with her eponymous Yarra Valley label). Telling me, “[M]y personal aim is for more clarity and brightness in the wines and less alcohol,” Goodman observed, “[I]t is a great vineyard site…simple changes can make a big impact and the Cabernet Franc is a good example of things to come.” Assistant Winemaker Matt Tilby, who has been at Penley Estate since 2000, told me that the early-picked fruit comes from mature vines, planted in the 1980s. The wine was bottled unfiltered under cork, then sealed with wax. As you can see, the bottle is pretty striking too. Great work. A serious wine with a light touch. It sells for AUS$35. 13%
Karatta Wine Co. Lost Ram Syrah 2017 (Robe, Limestone Coast)
This wine, which I awarded the International Judge’s Trophy at the Limestone Coast Wine Show, was one of three early release red entries (the others being a Merlot and another Shiraz). I visited Robe in 2013 and, reviewing my report of the visit (here), it’s interesting to see that I wrote up a 2010 Karatta Wine Co. Shiraz from the same vineyard – 12 Mile Vineyard. (General Manager Charles Lawrence describes this vineyard in this video from the awards ceremony). It’s a rawer wine than the Penley Estate – really inky (positively purple in hue), but I loved its fresh grind of black pepper and bright but fit to burst exuberant blackberry fruit. Compared with the 2010, it had greater fruit purity, less sweetness and greater immediacy, despite the underlay of tactile tannins. Like the Penley Estate, I like the fact that it’s fruity, but dry, not jubey or jammy (hence deviating from the traditional plumper/oakier path for approachable reds). All in all, it’s a much more vivid, engaging wine than the oaked, savoury 2010 example. When I re-tasted it ‘seen’ at the Limestone Coast Wine Show Exhibition Day Tasting (I awarded the trophy following blind tastings), it tasted spicier with a whiff of charcuterie. Consultant winemaker Richard Bate confirmed that Lost Ram represents “a broad change in direction in wine style for Karatta.” In terms of the winemaking, all the fruit was de-stemmed “with the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of whole berries for fermentation.” The inky colour can be laid at the door of 10% saignee for “greater concentration, but avoiding ‘soupiness,'” observes Bate). The wine underwent twice daily gentle pump overs (“essentially for yeast health not for extraction,” he said) and spent 6 days on skins. The malolactic fermentation was concluded in tank prior to racking off gross lees into seasoned French oak, where the wine spent 4 months prior to cleaning up and bottling in the first week of September. According to Lawrence, “we are going to move forward with this direction of producing wines which are joyous examples of their time and place.” The aim, he said, is “working to craft elegant, cool, maritime influenced wines which are eminently enjoyable and super drinkable.” Job done. Lost Ram sells for AUS$18 at Karatta’s cellar door. 13.5%