Australia Day Tasting: two exciting new finds from The Story & Cullen
Today I arrive in Portalagre, Alentejo’s northernmost, most elevated sub-region. Home to some uncommonly fresh reds for a region this far south. Heading super-south, to Australia, I discovered two exciting new finds – beautifully fresh, bright reds – which set my pulse racing at last week’s Australia Day Tasting in London. The world’s oenological centre of gravity has most definitely shifted towards less extracted wines, a development which I welcome. Here are my notes on this pretty pair:
The Story Wines Port Campbell Pinot Noir 2016
I’ve tasted some terrific Victorian Pinot Noirs this last fortnight – the latest 2015 releases from the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. This wine surprised me on two counts. First its youth – 2016. Second, its provenance – Port Campbell, which The Story’s owner/winemaker Rory Lane explained is between Geelong and Henty (I’d never heard of it). Proximity to the chilly Southern Ocean 15 minutes away accounts for this single vineyard Pinot Noir’s fresh, bright but delicate palate. Newton’s Ridge Vineyard is located on fertile brown and grey loam over the limestone bedrock from which Port Campbell’s most famous landmark is sculpted – the 12 Apostles’ dramatic limestone stacks. From vines planted in 1998 to the MV6 clone, this pale naturally fermented, unfined, unfiltered Pinot Noir was matured without racking (i.e. reductively) in a mix of older French puncheons and barriques for 9 months. According to Lane, the grapes have a particularly high seed content, so the extraction process is very gentle. As you might expect given the site and the winemaking, it has a pristine quality, with marked purity and definition to its red cherry and berry fruit. I liked its crunchy, fresh acidity very much. Though its a serious Pinot – very refined – it’s made for drinking now. Enjoy it now and over the next year or so when its freshness and delicacy can be appreciated to the max. 13% RRP £26.75 (imported by Awin Barratt Siegel).
Cullen ‘Vanya’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Margaret River)
Shown alongside the latest release of Diana Madeline, the 2014, Cullen ‘Vanya’ 2012 is a remarkably pale, perfumed, delicate Cabernet Sauvignon (with a dash – 3% – of Petit Verdot) – to my mind, redder in hue and fruit profile, with dried roses and gossamer, super sheer, tannins. To use a cliché, very feminine, which is how I had thought of Diana Madeline (especially recent incarnations) until I tasted ‘Vanya.’ In comparison, while still fresh and finely honed, Diana Madeline 2014 – a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc – was much darker and spicier in hue and flavour spectrum. The Cabernet Sauvignon for both wines comes from Cullen’s original 1971 blocks and, for this wine’s namesake, winemaker Vanya Cullen, the differences are partly down to vintage. For her, 2012 produced “classic” Cabernets – “medium-bodied and elegant,” while 2014 “is a big fruity year and very popular because of that, with amazing texture.” The Diana Madeline’s tannins are certainly firmer, which accentuates the dryness (of flavour profile) which I enjoy about Cullen’s Cabernets/Cabernet blends. And its oak accent – delicious cedar spice/pencil shavings – is more prominent (though true, this wine is two years younger). As if set free from tannins and oak, it’s the purity and joyous flow of ‘Vanya’ which took my breath away. It makes for an approachability – a precocity, as if I’d been fast forwarded to the older wines I tasted at Cullen’s 40th anniversary vertical in 2012. Funnily enough, I just picked up that’s what I said about Cullen Diana Madeline 2012 (my review here) – what exceptional balance and seamlessness in this celebrated vintage! Which is why, Cullen says, while Diana Madeline is made every year, ‘Vanya’ “will come in those years when the wine is there.” Taking purity to another level, I might add. Glorious. 13.5% UK RRP £199.99 (imported by Liberty Wines).