Catching up with Taras Ochota, Ochota Barrels
UK artisanal wine importers Indigo Wines are renowned for their Spanish portfolio but they’ve been listing some terrific cutting edge Australian producers of late. Nice to know someone else who has an Iberian/Australian bent! This week, I caught up with Ochota Barrels hot off the press releases and, a lucky bonus, winemaker Taras Ochota. He is currently hot-footing it around Europe and Scandinavia together with the other half of Ochota Barrels, his wife Amber.
Hot off the press is a pretty apt description for the latest white, rosé and red releases, all of which hail from the 2014 vintage. When I ask Ochota why he releases so early he wryly claims “it’s my cellar palate.” He explains, “I get immersed in my barrels and, when I put them together, they are ready to roll.”
And its’s how he and his circle of winemaker friends like their wines – fresh. Which makes sense when their number include Adelaide Hills’ neighbours Lucy Margaux Vineyard’s Anton von Klopper and Jauma’s James Erskine and Abel and Emma Gibson of Ruggabellus, the Barossa. All favour a less is more, minimal intervention approach.
What’s more, Ochota is not looking to oak to provide structure. He’d much rather let skin contact and stems to do the job, not least where he’s a huge fan of texture. As he puts it “texture is the only thing I have any control over and can manipulate…it makes everything.” That and picking early for acidity/freshness.
You’ll find my notes on the wines below. Each focuses on a regional varietal strength and is named after a favourite track which Sager & Wilde (who very kindly allowed me to crash their tasting) obligingly played as we supped. UK stockists include Sager & Wilde, Bottle Apostle (who are about to open a new store in East Village within the former Olympic Athlete’s Village), The Sampler, Honest Grapes, Fine & Rare, Loki Wine.
One other thing to add. As the felt-tipped numbers on the back labels attest, this is a truly artisanal outfit; the Ochotas intend to keep it that way.
Ochota Barrels The Slint Chardonnay 2014 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills)
From a vineyard at 550m on “hungry ground” The Slint has signature Adelaide Hills’ fruit purity (grapefruit and cusp of ripeness white peach), but it’s at the lean (but not mean) end of the spectrum. Cutting startlingly to the chase, the emphasis is on the region’s classic tight citric backbone and mineral undertow. Naturally fermented and pressed straight to nine barrels (only one new), it was aged on solids for 6 months with weekly batonnage and reveals subtle sourdough and nutty nuances. A thoroughly modern Australian Chardonnay in a pure, tightly wound style which does not reply on reduction/sulphides for ‘minerality’/funk. Very good. 12.4%
Ochota Barrels Surfer Rosa Garnacha 2014 (McLaren Vale)
An attractive bright salmon pink hue, this dry rosé is made from Garnacha/Grenache from the more fertile end rows of the organic (certified) vineyard which produces the fruit for The Green Room Grenache Shiraz in Onkaparinga Hills. As you’d expect from Ochota it’s very textural. Aged on the lees with batonnage it’s really creamy through the mid-palate with a pleasing, ever so gentle, rub of sandy tannins to its bone dry, clean, fresh finish. Flavourwise, it’s savoury as opposed to fruity and, if it sounds bad to say it put me in mind of flat Rosé Champagne, that’s a compliment! It’s about the leesiness, super delicate suggestion of red fruits and a saltiness which puts me in mind of oyster shells. A refreshing Australian Grenache rosé in every sense of the word. 12.4%
Ochota Barrels A Forest Pinot Noir 2014 (Adelaide Hills)
Made from Bernard (Burgundy) clones 777, 115 & 114, this Pinot Noir has knock out aromatics borne of 100% whole bunch and knock on carbonic maceration. If this perfume had a colour it would be deep purple, such is its intensity and vivacity – heady violets, complex Campari fruit and herbs and earthier beetroot. Bitter chocolate too. All of which notes follow through on the palate together with coltsfoot, kirsch, sandalwood and (dried) pine needle forest floor. With fine but present tannins, it’s not in the least overworked or heavy; an ethereal, wild Pinot which, despite its youth, is immensely attractive now. 12.5%
Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache/Syrah 2014 (McLaren Vale)
Vivid crimson – really bright and pure of hue with a lick of bubblegum to its white-pepper-laced and (Touriga Nacional-esque) violet perfumed red berry fruit. The fruit is really exuberant on the mid-palate, it really flies. Old vine Grenache (70+ years old, 88% of the blend) brings a savoury/textural dimension to the dry but (thanks to fresh acidity), very clean, bright finish. And 28 to 88 days on skins helps!
Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2014 (Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale)
The 2012 vintage, my first introduction to Ochota Barrels’ wines, blew me away. The 2014 shows bright red cherry fruit and mesmerising if curious slinky yet present tannins – maybe it’s the fruit that’s slinky? Or maybe the tannins – fruit tannins of course – are just so brilliantly integrated. Whichever, whatever, they really extend the finish of this intense, medium-bodied, fresh and focused Grenache. Of all the wines, together with The Shellac, I thought this would benefit most from time in bottle to really strut its stuff. 13.8%
Ochota Barrels I am the Owl Syrah 2014 (Mount Barker, Adelaide Hills)
A very deep bright hue. With 100% whole bunch, the fruit (well defined slightly leafy blackcurrant and blackberry) shoots over a raft of fine grained ripe but present tannins which re-surfaces on a finish juiced up with fresh mineral (natural) acid; salty piquancy adds to the impression of freshness. I like its directness of expression/purity – with no seasoning of new oak to smooze the fruit or get in the way, it’s like you touch every home spun element of this wine (fruit, tannin and acid). 13.8%
Ochota Barrels The Shellac Vineyard Syrah 2014 (Marananga, Barossa Valley)
My only other sub-regional encounter with Marananga Shiraz is Penfolds Bin 150. As you’ve probably guessed, Ochota Barrels’ expression of Marananga is rather different. Ochota jests of his much earlier (we’re talking by weeks) picking regime at Shellac (a shared vineyard), “Barossans are probably thinking is that for rosé?!?” He goes on, “I want it [Syrah] ripe but turgid, with red and blue not black fruits.” For me the wine pulls in two directions, which meant I found it a little tricky to get my head around. On the one hand, it has classic Barossa black forest gateau aspects to its flavour profile – black cherry and loamy, earthy chocolate, a creaminess even. On the other hand, despite the creaminess (more of a cream in my [frothy] coffee than a textural thing), it’s towards the slim end of the medium-bodied spectrum in palate weight and majors on fruit spice as opposed to the more typical lavish helping of vanilla or mocha oak. It makes for a (purposefully) less polished, distinctly un-luscious style of Barossa Shiraz – firmer and drier. For sure, adopting Taras’ phrase, The Shellac is a “more than a half glass wine.” The latter tells you everything you need to know from the off. I’d certainly have liked to spend more time getting to know The Shellac. I was curious! 13.8%