October Wines of the Month: Avani Syrah 2015 & Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No. 1 2015

Challenging the stereo-types – Shashi Singh, winermaker/owner of Avani

I saw red last month.  Not just in terms of my most memorable wines of the month, but also having heard various anecdotes about sex discrimination against women in wine.  On a positive note, the company which gave buyer Ruth Yates a bunch of flowers and her male colleagues bonuses gifted Corks Out to Cheshire.  Yates dumped the flowers in the bin, handed in her notice and founded her own independent wine store.  Today, she has five multi-award winning wine stores-cum-wine bars and Yates herself regularly features in wine industry power lists.  Hats off!  Not least since her business is a beacon of gender equality among staff and management – an issue close to her heart, she said.

I know all this because I chaired a Women in Wine seminar for Wine Australia last week focused on the UK trade.  It was one of a series of discussions organised around a huge celebration of Australian women in wine in London, which played host to the Australian Women in Wine Awards 2017.  I may not have been amused by Yates’ treatment but I was most certainly amused by two Victorian red wines this last month both, as it happens, made by women and both from the superlative 2015 vintage.  Here are my notes:

Avani Syrah 2015 (Mornington Peninsula)

I’d not come across Avani before, although owner/winemaker Shashi Singh and her husband acquired the Red Hill South vineyard in 1998.  At 204m above sea level, it is relatively high for Mornington Peninsula, albeit with a north-facing (sunny) aspect.  Singh completed an eight year apprenticeship with Pinot Noir luminary Phillip Jones of Bass Phillip following her oenology degree.  Ironically, (and, the Pinot lover confessed, somewhat to her initial disappointment), the site was simply not destined to make great Pinot Noir (it was a bit too warm, she said).  “I tried everything I could to make a great Pinot Noir,” but it just wasn’t as interesting as the Syrah.  Though Pinot Noir is very much Mornington Peninsula’s signature red grape, since 2006 Syrah is the only grape she now grows on her biodynamically cultivated vineyard.  Referring both to this decision and her minimal interventionist approach (she naturally ferments and neither fines nor filters), Singh credits Phillip with encouraging her to take risks and let the wines speak for themselves.  The Syrah is a super cool climate, medium-bodied take on the variety, with a ravishingly spicy, peppery nose and palate.  Together with fresh, crunchy red fruit and crystalline acidity, its spicy accents animate a long, persistent palate with a pronounced mica/granitic minerality and a fine weave of tannins.  You might have thought that there was an element of whole bunch ferment but no.  The fruit was 100% de-stemmed and, post-ferment, aged in 1 year old tight grain Francois Frere French oak barrels.  Incidentally,  she makes a lovely Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris too, but they come from different vineyards.  Avani are seeking distribution in the UK.

Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No. 1 2015 (Yarra Valley)

At the Yarra Valley Wine Women London Masterclass with (l to r) Clare Halloran (TarraWarra), me, Sarah Crowe (Yarra Yering), Sarah Fagan (De Bortoli, centre front), Caroline Mooney (Bird on a Wire, centre back), Cathy Phelan (Sutherland Estate) & Sandra de Pury (Yeringberg)

Yarra Yering was established by botanist Dr Bailey Carrodus in 1969, in Gruyere, the Yarra Valley.  Carrodus was at the vanguard of the revival of this, Victoria’s first wine region, which enjoyed great renown for its premium wines, including ‘carbinet’ during the 19th century.  Together with Mount Mary and Yeringberg, the 20th century renaissance was very much centred around Cabernet. Yarra Yering’s Cabernet-led Dry Red Wine No. 1 is an Australian icon.   Sarah Crowe took over as winemaker in 2013.  One can easily imagine how intimidating it might be to assume responsibility for a wine held in such high esteem – a classic.  However, Crowe’s sunny demeanour and the great regard in which she is held by her peers tell a different story.  To preserve the clarity of fruit which, she says, gives longevity, not oak, Crowe has put the wines under screwcap, backed off using stems and barrel ferment and reduced the amount of new oak.  It’s a testament to her success that one so intimately familiar with Yarra Yering as James Halliday named her Winemaker of the Year 2017.  Crowe is one of a newly formed group – Yarra Valley Wine Women – who presented a masterclass to showcase the longevity of Yarra Valley wines last week. It was fascinating to taste the 2015 alongside the 2005 Dry Red Wine No. 1.  I felt in no doubt whatsoever that the 2015 will last longer than the 2005.  And yet, with its bright, perfumed fruit and plentiful but ultra-fine tannins, it is absolutely delicious now.  Exquisitely refined and defined, with a luminous energy to the fruit.   Dry Red No. 1 is a Cabernet-led blend.  The hand-picked fruit was hand harvested and fermented in Carrodus’ small stainless steel lined ‘tea chest’ fermenters and underwent some extended skin maceration before being basket pressed.  It was aged for 18 months in 60 % new French oak (the 2005 was aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak).  13.5%  Yarra Yering is imported into the UK by Caviste Independent Wine Merchants



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