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Highlights: Artisans of Australian Wine Tasting

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Context is everything.   Usually generic tastings are dominated by classic wine styles and more established, sizeable players.  At Tuesday’s Artisans of Australian Wine tasting, the boot was on the other foot as Wine Australia gave the floor to over 200 artisanal wines and 20 artisans.

The dance floor I might add. Maybe dance is the wrong word (it’s a while since I’ve been clubbing!)  The host venue was Shoreditch’s Cargo nightclub.

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Turning the tables really showed off many of the new wave, fresh, über-drinkable wines to great advantage.  They can look a little lean and mean – skinny – next to more traditional Australian wines.  But not on Tuesday, though a reverberative, nutty/smoky finish – oxidation – marred my experience of a few of the natural wines (even from producers I liked).

Having written up a fair few of the wines recently following producer visits or meetings (see my links at the end), I made a bee line for those producers and wines I didn’t already know.  And was waylaid along the way by some old favourites.  I hope to catch up with at least some of the wines I missed later this month at a couple of indie tastings.  My highlights?

Big picture the alternative ‘T’ word – texture – which can tantalisingly snag and embed flavours and, together with fresh acidity, extend a wine’s finish.

Drinkability too.  With no need for new, even any, oak to integrate or high extract tannins to mellow, many of the wines were ready to go.

Last, the ‘B’ word – blend.  Australia blazed a trail for single varietal wines made from top French varieties.  Yes, some of these were on show but idiosyncratic blends are smokin’ hot.  With a ton of (varietal) ingredients spliced with spicy, sharp, sweet and savoury sensations of no little intensity, these are wines with appeal for cocktail lovers.  And lovers of Ottolenghi recipes.  Happy to play fast and loose with the traditional blending canon, they are a really provocative addition to the world of wine.

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As for individual wines, I made a great start with Gareth Belton at Gentle Folk Wines (Les Caves de Pyrene).  The Adelaide Hills-based winemaker makes a whacky ‘field blend’ (the vineyard is block planted by variety but the fruit is harvested together).  Featuring 19 different varieties, red and white, Gentle Folk Rainbow Juice 2015 tastes as if a winemaker let rip with a juicer and a fruit bowl. It’s a fun wine – spurtingly fresh and vibrant.  It even tastes good for you – more than your five a day! Unlike a fruit juice, it’s textured, with spicy skin contact tannins, which temper its gluggability (in a good way).

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Of his more classic wines – barrel selections made for the longer term – Gentle Folk Wines Forest Range and Scary Gully Pinot Noir, both from 2015 –  had a lovely smile-cracking immediacy.  They busted different shapes in the mouth, but shared a delicate persistence, especially of tannin structure.  I also really liked Gentle Folk Wines Basket Range Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.  Its soft, dark berry fruit is ripe and earthy but fresh with tick box varietal notes of violets, bay leaf and chocolate. Firm tannins give length and line. Plenty to savour in this pleasurable not posh Bordeaux blend.

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I’ve not tasted Smallfry‘s wines but I have tasted the fruit from Wayne Ahrens’aged Semillon vines.  It went into the first two vintages of Chateau Tanunda’s wonderful Old Vine Semillon. Ahrens uses it in another rainbow blend, this one from the Barossa.  Called Smallfry “Tangerine Dream” 2016 it features the Semillon, Pedro Ximenez, Riesling, Rousanne and Muscat and, you guessed it, it’s an orange wine.  Actually, it’s got a blush of pink which, at first, I thought might be Cargo’s livid lighting!  Ahrens attributes it to his pink Semillon. Twenty four hours skin contact gives Tangerine Dream textural grip to the attack and finish – think quince and pith – specifically mandarin, okay maybe tangerine pith (I am not sure I know the difference). The mid-palate has a softness and a sweetness – a Smallfry trait.  It’s peachy and perfumed, soft but not fat.  I think I liked it.  It’s really like nothing else I’ve tasted.  So it certainly got my attention.

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As did the Iberian varieties in my favourite of Smallfry’s wines, Smallfry Joven Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Bastardo, Tinta Amarela 2015.  I tend to think of Joven wines as fairly simple and fruit focused.  This has the delicious forwardness of good examples, but with savoury tobacco (so Amarela)  and negroni florals (Basatardo?) and liquorice to its it soft plummy fruit.  Unpushy, yet moreish.

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And finally, clothed in a label which seems to have taken its cue from Ahren’s shirt, Smallfry Schlieb’s Garden 2014 – a blend of Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz, Cinsault, Marsanne and Roussanne – offered bright red fruits, sweeter mulchier notes, firmer radicchio, a lick of pomegranate syrup and  headily rich, waxy florals – think damask rose.  There has to be an Ottolenghi recipe for this one!  Smallfry is seeking UK representation.

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Con-Greg Grigoriou has recently been listed by Indigo Wines.  He represents a new breed of Riverland producers who, in his own words “are trying to make fun and easy drinking wines with natural yeast and minimal intervention which are punter friendly.”  His background in advertising shines through in the brand name and labels. Delinquente Wine Co.

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But so does his family background in wine (his dad managed Riverland wineries for over 35 years).  The small batch single vineyard wines are fruit-focused and delicious, shot through with Riverland sunshine (no residual sugar here) and natural acidity.  Grigoriou is not the first to endorse Italian grapes for their acid retention.  Delinquente Screaming Betty Vermentino 2016 and Delinquente Bullet Dodger Montepulciano 2016 are brilliant quaffers with great varietal typicity delivered in a friendly but well-focused Australian style. Con-Greg captured it well when he described them as having “a whole mouthfeel.” The wines sit just right in the palate, with no pull of added yeast, tannin, acid or oak.   Just great, balanced fruit.

David Bowley Interloper

Vinterloper‘s David Bowley has caught the Italian bug too. I enjoyed Vinterloper PARK Red 2016.  This year Dolcetto replaces Refosco in this salivating, sapid, cruncy and crisp outpouring of bitter chocolate-edged red cherry fruit.  The wines are sold by Red Squirrel.  Check out my earlier post this year on Bowley’s Pinot Noirs here.

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The Chalmers family are Australia’s gurus of Italian grapes having imported and raised so many varieties.  I visited their Heathcote operation in March and will check out the Mildura vineyard – source of their famous experimental bucket wines – in November when I judge at the Australian Alternative Variety Wine Show.  Still, time for a sneak preview of their 2016 Chalmers Project releases.  Tennille Chalmers described this label as “a grown up version of bucket wines,” which the family produced in response to demand.  I can see why.  These very complete (grown up even) wines deliver unadulterated pleasure from attack, through mid-palate to finish; beginning, middle and end.  Chalmers Project Malvasia Istriana 2016 showed lovely spicy fruit with a vibrant spurt of juicy acidity which pushes out a long, savoury finish with a subtle nutty edge.   Similarly vivacious, Chalmers Project Schioppettino 2016 sports juicy blackberry fruit with an edge of cocoa and crisp, clean finish.

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During my March visit with Chalmers I re-tasted Sue Bell’s Bellwether Ant Series Vermentino 2015 which grows on me every time I taste it.  Salty/bosky and vegetal (artichoke?).  The texture creeps up on you, helping maintain a long finish.  New to me was Bellwether Ant Series Shiraz Malbec 2014 from Wrattonbully.  I do like Malbec’s bright, perfumed and juicy contribution to Australian blends and this is no exception.  The fruit is crunchy – fresh and vivid blueberry and blackberry, without a trace of jamminess/thickness.  Concentrated but lively, more forceful in fluidity than breadth or depth – it just flows.  Fine tannins aid and abet.

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Mac Forbes looking serious with a super serious rose

The Yarra Valley was represented by some of its most talented indies in the shape of Mac ForbesLuke Lambert and Timo Mayer.  I was sorry to miss Gary Mills of Jamsheed – just ran out of time….MacForbes Rose 2015 made quite an impression.  A super serious, structured, dry Pinot Noir from Woori Yallock.  Subtle but intense.  It has really stayed with me.  Also loved Mac Forbes EB22 Tradition Riesling 2015 (Strathbogie Ranges) which put me in mind of (dry, if you can imagine it) baklava with its rosewater and cardamom aromatics.  It had a touch of dried ginger spice too and terrific mineral under-pinning.  Mac Forbes EB15 Pretty Young Things Syrah 2015 lived up to its name.  The previous evening I’d had raspberries with ricotta and lemon zest infused sugar and this wine took me back to the lemony sugar dusted raspberries.  Fresh, perfumed and lively – a crunchy, zesty style.

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I really enjoyed Luke Lambert Crudo Shiraz 2015.  It comes from a granite outcrop at 250m and boy, does it shout granite with its firm, bright, perfumed red fruit and fine but firmish al dente tannins.  This pretty Shiraz put me in mind of an elegant St Joseph from the Northern Rhone.  It really sang from the glass.  And made for a great comparision with the savoury Luke Lambert LL Syrah 2015 from volcanic soils (which impart a chocolate note) and a higher vineyard.  Green peppercorn riffs rip through this very long, layered wine – lots of whole bunch here.  As my description suggests, plenty to savour here.

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I’m a big fan of Timo Mayer‘s Pinot Noirs.  He showed 4 examples – 3 different cuvees with two vintages of his close planted Pinot.  Timo Meyer Bloody Hill Pinot Noir 2015 has a deceptive creaminess on entry but the overall impression is very much one of crunchy cranberry and red cherry sluiced with mineral acidity.  Sapid, pretty and dances lightly over the palate.  Super-drinkable.

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As you’d expect, Timo Meyer Close Planted Pinot Noir is more concentrated, though it was fascinating to see the differences between the 2014 (a bit reduced) and the more expressive 2015.  The oak (25% new) is currently quite present but this wine has the chops to deal with it – it’s an impressive exercise in concentration, power and intensity.  Timo Meyer Doktor Pinot Noir 2015 is a completely different animal again.   Sweet yet not as fruit focused as Bloody Hill, it has a tickle of lifted dried herbs and, having undergone sees semi-carbonic maceration, is lighter than Close Planted.  Pretty, pale and interesting.

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Onward upward I hope to catch up properly with wines from Ministry of Clouds, Andrew Hoadley’s La Violetta, Adelina, also Ochota Barrels, Sami Odi, David Franz, Jamsheed, Espemosa and Ruggabellus at a couple of upcoming trade tastings later this month.  It’s a good month for Australian wine!  Meantime, I couldn’t resist re-tasting Hoadley’s Up! Shiraz 2013 from Great Southern – a former wine of the month.  Top stuff, with violets, black peppercorn, red and black fruit – plenty of grit and backbone.

Recently visited/tasted and reported in these pages:

Castagna

S C Pannell

Yangarra Estate

Ministry of Clouds

Adelina

Sami Odi

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