Reflecting on 2012: a year of super-luxury releases & collaborative creativity
When I reflect upon the year, two phenomena stand out.
An upswing of exclusive, stratospherically-priced super-luxury-releases in my areas of focus, notably The Penfold’s Ampoule (£120,000, pictured above), now The Penfold’s Vertical (£1.2 million) and, a snip by comparison, Very Old (Tawny) Ports like Quinta do Vallado Tributa (£2500), Wine & Soul 5G Five Generations (pictured below) and Niepoort VV.
Second, the power of collaboration – magnetic in the case of Swartland’s charismatic Revolutionaries; still a force to be reckoned with for Portugal’s Peter Pans, the Douro Boys.
The first is, of course, particularly effective at grabbing the headlines. But the creativity which flows from successful collaborations (not to mention the impetus it can bring to projects) has both sparked and sustained my interest. Charting my vinous passage through the year, here are the collaborations, formal and informal, which excited me.
With only 1514 ha under vine, Tasmania’s wine industry may be small but, uniting under the cool climate, sparkling wine now Pinot Noir banners, there’s no doubt it can punch above its weight. And, as you can see, the island’s beauty is without parallel – a prime candidate perhaps for Tourism Australia’s and Wine Australia’s new partnership promoting Australian wine regions?
- stake its unique claim of being the only Australian state whose entire grape production is cool climate; and
- release the results of a three year research project focused on improving Pinot Noir and sparkling wine by manipulating viticultural and vinification techniques*, as well as minimising spray drift and environmental contamination from vineyards.
*Click here for a feature I wrote for wine-searcher.com about Alain Rousseau’s and Nick Glaetzer’s boundary-pushing Pinot Noir collaboration at Frogmore Creek.
What’s more, where every Tasmanian producer makes Pinot Noir but also “there’s also an unusual focus between winemakers about what needs to be done,” Brown Brothers’/Tasmanian Estates’ Ross Brown reckons “Tasmania has the opportunity to be the southern hemisphere’s pre-eminent producer of the variety.”
Though I don’t believe it can yet boast wines of the consistency or finesse of say Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley, it’s surely only a matter of time before it gives them a run for their money. Watch this space, not least given ongoing investment in the island, most recently Yalumba’s Hill-Smith family’s augmentation of their existing Jansz Tasmania and Dalrymple vineyards at Pipers River in the north east with around 300 hectares of land in the Coal River Valley in the warmer, drier south.
Meantime, canny mainland investment has unearthed some particularly stupendous fruit in the Derwent Valley. Jimmy Watson Trophy-bagging for Nick Glaetzer’s Glaetzer Dixon Shiraz. Gold Medal-worthy for Dawson & James 2010 Chardonnay (loved their Pinot Noir too). And fit for Penfold’s queen, Yattarna, in the case of Derwent Estate whose very own palate searingly-focused Derwent Estate Chardonnay 2010 from sea-shell-studded soils (pictured) was my stand out wine of the trip.
Click on the links below for reports and tasting notes from my island travels.
The Yarra Valley
Hitting the Yarra hot on the heels of my Tasmania visit, I was immediately struck by how populated the Valley is by comparison. Bucolic but buzzing, the spirit of collaboration is strong here – a real boon for boutique producers like De Bortoli’s Yarra Estate and its long roll call of high-flying graduates. Or casting the net both within and outwith the Valley, the members of South Pack (pictured). Small wonder the Yarra has been at the forefront of Australia’s Chardonnay renaissance (click here for a case in point – my report of a horizontal tasting of Oakridge Chardonnays).
Though relatively speaking, it has been under the radar, there’s been a Shiraz renaissance Down Under too, even in the variety’s Barossa heartland – click here for my report of last year’s visit). In Victoria and particularly the Yarra Valley, new wave Shiraz owes much to techniques more commonly associated with Pinot Noir, especially whole bunch and whole berry small batch open ferments (including carbonic maceration), pigeage or foot stomping and ageing in bigger format, older oak. Perfumed and spicy with bonier fruit tannins to the fore, stylistically they are a world apart from fuller-bodied Barossa and McLaren Vale Shiraz – as it should be given their respective terroirs.
Click here for my Yarra Syrah/Shiraz highlights and here for a follow up word on De Bortoli’s Reserve Syrah 2010, which deeply divided the audience at Wine Australia’s Landmark Shiraz tasting which I presented earlier this month.
If Tasmania wants to seize the Pinot Noir crown, it has a tough fight on its hands with Victoria’s Yarra Valley and especially the Mornington Peninsula, whose Vigneron’s Association (MPVA) have hung their hat on the variety too.
Though he admits the discussions about it “went on for many years and there were many who thought we were wrong to do it,” former MPVA president 10 Minutes by Tractor’s Martin Spedding told me “the specialisation has allowed us to enter the next dimension in the development of our winemaking. That is, exploring our terroir and better understanding it via the subtle and nuanced view of a single variety…. I believe that the wines being produced in Victoria and in Mornington have never been better and there is a real sense that we all know where our future lies.”
I couldn’t agree more. Here are three stunners which fair blew me away this year:
- Main Ridge Estate Pinot Noir 2004
- Hard to choose between these three from Paringa Estate, but The Paringa 2010 just pips the others to the post.
- Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2009
The Granite Belt
Located in Queensland and at between 600-1200m above sea level, the Granite Belt is about as far flung as Australian wine regions get. Not easy in terms of generating profile but, with 40 cellar doors, many of whom are members of the region’s “Strange Bird” alternative variety wine trail, the producers of this cool climate region have made a virtue of being different! And if you can’t make the journey yourself, check out ABC Landline’s programme about my visit here.
Favourite Strange Birds?
- Felsberg Riesling 2011
- Symphony Hill Gewürztraminer 2010
- Golden Grove Vermentino 2011 (a variety to watch)
- Ridgemill The Spaniard Tempranillo 2009
- Boireann Barbera 2011
Click here for my tasting notes on these feathered friends (and 70 Queensland wines all told).
The Alvarinho wine route
I was delighted to see Jancis Robinson MW include Alvarinho in her recent Decanter feature on 10 grape varieties every wine lover should know. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan, especially of Vinho Verde from the warmer, drier sub-region of Monção e Melgaço which specialises in Alvarinho.
Just 65 miles from Oporto, it’s closer to the city than Pinhão in the Douro (along a road perhaps less travelled, but much straighter and quicker!) So why not bag two famous wine regions in one visit and make a detour to Monção e Melgaço en route to the Douro?
With a growing band of Alvarinho specialists keenly pushing the envelope, while the region may be focused on one grape, what’s striking is the exciting range of styles, whether fruit-focused or mineral, citrus or stone-fruited, unoaked or oaked, textural or racily clean-as-a-whistle.
Competitive yes, but also collaborative, which makes it easy to navigate the highways and byways of Alvarinho via the charmingly rustic Rota do Alvarinho or, easier still, at one stop tasting rooms/shops in the region’s imposing historical centres: Melgaço’s Solar do Alvarinho or Monção’s Paço do Alvarinho.
Favourite Alvarinhos of the year?
- Palácio da Brejoeira 2010
- Quinta do Regueiro Reserva 2010
- Carlos Alberto Codesso Dona Paterna 2011
- Carlos Alberto Codesso Alvarinho Dona Paterna Reserva 2010
- Quinta do Regueiro Reserva 2010
- Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2010
- Quinta de Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2010
Click on the links below for Alvarinho producer reports:
The Douro Superior
There are familial if no formal connections in the Douro Superior. Skilful winemaking may be in the blood at Ramos Pinto, Muxagat and Quinta da Touriga-Chã but, no doubt, the inter-generational accumulation of knowledge and experience helps too.
Three out of five Douro Boys are at work here (Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto and Quinta do Vallado), the former of whom, in true Douro Boy style, kindly hosted day one of my stay and a get together with other producers in this the Douro’s remotest sub-region.
It’s also possible to join the dots between those producers who, in some way or other, are connected with Portuguese icon Barca Velha, the Douro’s first premium wine. Sogrape’s Casa Ferreinha continue to make it. Quinta do Vale Meão’s vineyards used to supply the grapes for Barca Velha. Duorum’s winemaker José Maria Soares Franco made it for 27 years. Returning to familial connections, Barca Velha’s creator Fernando Nicolau de Almeida was father of Ramos Pinto’s João Nicolau de Almeida and grandfather of Muxagat’s Mateus Nicolau de Almeida and Quinta da Touriga-Chã’s Jorge Rosas.
And the creative spark still flickers. Ramos Pinto and Muxagat are trialling egg fermenters. Symington’s Vilariça vineyards represent Portugal’s largest certified organic holding. CARM produce an unsulphured Touriga Nacional. Casa Ferreinha are experimenting with Touriga Nacional clones. And what isn’t Conceito’s dynamic Rita Ferreira Marques (pictured) doing? In short, there’s a story to be told (and continuing to unfold fast in the Douro Superior).
I reckon this, the most far flung, remote Douro sub-region would benefit from a collective effort to do just that. Not least because, as I discovered when I visited in March, you shouldn’t fall for the hot and dry stereo-type. Au contraire, the Douro Superior is reputedly home to Douro DOC’s coolest spot, the Teja Valley. Though full-bodied reds are the norm, it’s possible both here and elsewhere within the Douro Superior to make exciting lighter reds in a medium-bodied vein (like the Bastardo and Barroca below) as well as terrific whites (see below).
Favourite wines tasted this year?
- Maritávora Branco Grande Reserva 2010 (white)
- Muxagat Os Xistos Altos Rabigato 2010 (white)
- For sheer value for money, Altano Red 2010 (mineral and more interesting than previous incarnations)
- Conceito Bastardo 2010
- Muxagat Tinta Barroca 2011
- Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro 2010
- Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda 2009
- Quinta da Touriga Chã 2009
And a couple of golden oldies:
- Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Red 1994 (magnum)
- Barca Velha 1982
Click on the links below for my reports on Douro Superior producers:
Having visited the Swartland Revolution last November, I wasn’t surprised to see folk flock to the Swartland Independents’ stand at Cape Wine in September. In tune with the decor, the best wines are hip and retro (or is hip necessarily retro?) At any rate there’s a dial up creative vibe around some deadly serious winemaking, all pulled off with aplomb, whether from old(er) hands Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst, intermediate (time-wise) players like Chris and Andrea Mullineux and Callie Louw or young guns Craig Hawkins, David Sadie, Jurgen Gouws and Donovan Rall. Check out some vinous highlights here (and note how other regions are now taking Rhone varieties more seriously).
But by far and away the buzziest event of Cape Wine was the Rosa Kruger-chaired “A passion for Old Vines” seminar. Kruger (pictured) started scouring the Cape in her quest to preserve (now propagate cuttings from) old vines 10 years ago. In so doing, she has become the go to person and inspiration for a new breed of itinerant fruit sourcers and winemaking sorcerers. The seminar showcased the scintillating outcome of several of these collaborations, notably Eben Sadie’s Old Vines Series and my October Wine of the Month Alheit Cartology 2011.
Read all about it here.
In Portalegre, Portugal (Alentejo’s northern-most sub-region), I see the glimmers of a Swartland-like make-over. Maybe I’m sticking my neck out, but it shares Swartland’s undistinguished co-operative-dominated history and, on the upside, its legacy of old vines, including field blends of traditional varieties (few had the money or motivation to invest in new vineyards).
I had my first inkling about the quality potential (and scope for individuality) of Portalegre’s old vine wines when I tasted Rui Reguinga’s Terrenus label. Terrenus Tinto 2007, a field blend of Aragones, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelao, Baga and Touriga Franca, was one of my 50 Great Portuguese Wines of 2010.
This year, Julia Harding MW’s 50 Great included the maiden vintage of Lisbon Chef Vitor Claro’s Dominó Monte das Pratas Branco 2010, an outrageously good field blend of Alicante Branco (Palomino Fino), Fernão Pires, three types of Muscatel and three types of Arinto, Rabo de Ovelha, Pérola.
So when I visited Alentejo last month, I was mustard keen to pay another visit to this mountainous region – a cooler, wetter pocket of one of Portugal’s warmest regions. And delighted to discover that Reguinga and Claro are not the only ones hunting out old vineyards for artisanal wines. Alentejo-based since 2007, talented ex-Douro winemaker Susana Esteban (pictured) is collaborating with a young generation of growers keen to restore them. Esteban blends old vine Portalegre fruit with grapes from Evora in an extremely promising maiden release under her eponymous label. Revista de Vinhos’ wine critic João Afonso makes an exciting white (Equinocio) and red (Solsticio) there too. (Watch this space for my Alentejo report).
Suffice to say the big players are sitting up and taking notice. Esporão now have vineyards in Portalegre at up to 500 metres; David Baverstock told me “we had some outstanding fruit from there this year.”
As well as collaborating with Portalegre’s young growers, Esteban is making a Douro wine with Wine & Soul’s Sandra Tavares (another story) and planning to produce a Vinho de Talha (traditional Alentejo amphora-aged wine) with Bairrada’s Filipa Pato.
Meanwhile, at home in Bairrada, with help from Baga Friends Dirk Niepoort (who just invested in Quinta do Baixo in Bairrada) and Mario Sergio (of Quinta das Bageiras, whom I believe supplied the Baga brandy), Filipa Pato has released Espirito de Baga (a.k.a. Saga de Baga), a fortified Baga (pictured). It revives a tradition which was lost in the late 18th century when the Marquês de Pombal (Portugal’s prime minister) put paid to the region’s wine production in a bid to protect the Port industry.
No doubt I’ll be discovering more exciting Baga Friends’ bursts of creativity like Espirito de Baga and Luis Pato’s all new Valadas Vineyard Pé Franco (click here for my write up) when I spend a week in Bairrada next year for an in depth feature for The World of Fine Wine – 2013 is already looking exciting!
Wishing you an exciting and happy New Year! And thank you for reading The Wine Detective’s missives, a monthly round up of which you can receive by subscribing to my email newsletter for free here.