Landmark Tutorial Day 2: a sparkling debut, cutting edge Shiraz & some golden oldies

Yesterday, the first full day of this week’s intense programme, focused on sparkling wines, Shiraz and “the Great Australian blend.”  The tutorials are pretty pacey and our days and nights jam-packed, so I’m looking forward to a period of reflection to gather my thoughts on the wines and the fascinating insights our tutors are giving us on Australian wine styles, old, new and emerging.  Meantime, I’ll keep flagging some personal highlights of the day – here goes for day 2.

Sparkling wines – a sparkling debut

An illuminating session, presented by Ed Carr, Group Sparkling Winemaker at Constellation and Australia’s most awarded sparkling winemaker and Dr Tony Jordan, former director of winemaking at Domaine Chandon.  Though Australia traces it history making sparkling wine back to the 1840s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Australia saw the emergence of a new breed of aspirational, cool climate sparkling wines made from Champagne’s triumvirate, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (mostly) with Pinot Meunier.  

Positively aspirational at AUS$200 a cork pop is Carr’s latest release, House of Arras EJ Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay /Pinot Noir 1999 from Tasmania.  Kept on the lees for 10 years, it’s an inspirational wine too, with beautiful freshness and terrific toasty/biscuity line and length.  A super-long, structured and subtly textured finish shows a fine, persistent bead with a hint of oyster sauce.

Shiraz – cutting edge, cool climate wines 

From the outset, we’ve been left in no doubt that the aim of this week’s tutorial is, in the words of Paul Henry, Wine Australia’s General Manager Market Development, “to challenge assumption and change expectations.”  Mission accomplished as far as Shiraz s concerned.  Yesterday’s blind Shiraz tasting presented by Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk focused exclusively on cool climate Shiraz. 

For Kirk, the genre is typified more by red fruits than black, together with a savoury, spicy dimension whose relatively “quiet” style, compared with Shiraz from warm to hot regions, allows food to express itself.  For me, two of the 16 wines exemplified these characteristics:

Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2006 (Adelaide Hills) – a sweet plum/blood plum, black cherry and pepper nose.  In the mouth, sezchuan/cracked black pepper is very much to the fore, with crunchy red fruits and plum beneath.  There’s an exotic, ethereal incense and white pepper lift to the finish.  Lovely.  (See my report of a vertical tasting to celebrate Shaw & Smith’s 20th anniversary here for more information about this wine and note my comments about the food match  – stir fried fish fillets in black pepper – “a testament to the elegance, spice and lift of these thoroughly modern, sophisticated wines.”)

Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2005 (Canberra District) – a touch of bell pepper and black peppercorn on the nose, this is thrillingly on the cusp of ripeness, showing savoury yet lively red fruits with a green edge, supported by quite firm tannins.  It benefits from time in glass, showing lifted white pepper and savoury bacon fat as it opens up.  A complex, fine wine that draws you back to the glass. (See my report here of a vertical of Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier, with detailed background notes on the wines/vintages and winemaking philosophy).  Looking forward to my visit next week!

The Great Australian blend – some golden oldies

My jaw hit the floor when I read that, in one of our sessions, we’ll be tasting wines to the value of $40,000 – I suspect that will be at this afternoon’s session presented by James Halliday and Andrew Caillard MW which will showcase an historical line-up of Australia’s best. 

But what great news that some very modestly priced Australian wines age so wonderfully.  Pictured is a bottle of Penfolds Bin 333 Burgundy 1980, (kindly liberated by Halliday for last night’s dinner), whose label describes it as “a soft, easy drinking Burgundy style wine.”  Nonetheless, it retains a sweet and very pure core of red fruit, subtly edged with cedar and game notes.  Though I’d have guessed this supple, red fruited wine was made from Australia’s “warm climate Pinot Noir,” Grenache, I’m told it would have been Shiraz-based.

Equally impressive in Charlie Melton’s afternoon seminar on the great Australian blend was Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 1979 and d’Arenberg and d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Burgundy 1990.  Here are my notes:

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 1979 (South Australia) – an aubergine hue with boot polish on the nose and game, star anise, cedar, plum and tar and on the palate.  Excellent balance.  On a plateau but far from dropping off the cliff.  (Check out my tasting notes of a parallel vertical of Bin 389, nick-named Poor Man’s Grange and Grange itself presented by Peter Gago here)

d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Burgundy Shiraz/Grenache 1990 (McLaren Vale) – quite pale, very much focused on the Grenache for me, with sweet red strawberry/cherry glace fruit, liquorice, boot polish, leather and an underlying minerality.  Though the fruit has mellowed, it’s still very much alive, supported by bony tannins.  Terrific.

So delightful though these Aussie classic blends are young, it’s worth stashing some away to allow their delicious and complex tertiary characteristics to come through.  And if more of us did, perhaps Australia’s warmer climate wines in particular wouldn’t be tagged with the fruit bomb stereotype…

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