Personally, I would rather drink a white wine rather than a
in general, but every now and then, a wine comes along to challenge my
perceptions. The Red Knot Rosé is one of those wines. The label says
“Crisp and Dry”, and this wine fits that description perfectly.
The other surprises this month came from wines made with
Tempranillo. There is growing interest in this Spanish variety here in
Australia, and the reviewed wines demonstrate two distinct styles of wines that
are worthy of attention.
The Paxton is delicious drinking, with pretty red berry and
floral characters, whilst the Singlefile is a more structured, savoury style
worth of time in the cellar. At $25 each, they also represent good value.
Shingleback – Rosé – Red Knot – 2018 (17/20pts – $18). A blend of Pinot, Shiraz and Grenache. Very pale and quite savoury. The refreshing acid carries the fruit on the palate, giving the impression of a bone-dry finish. There is decent length and mouth-feel, ensuring that this would be great with food. The label says “Crisp and Dry” and this fits the bill perfectly.
Paxton – Tempranillo – 2018 (17.7/20pts $25) Pretty red berry and floral fruit notes on the nose. The palate is bright and fresh, with delicious savoury fruit coating the palate and building in layers. The tannins and acidity keep things fresh, making for a great drink. Pizza or pasta – the choice is yours.
Singlefile – Tempranillo – 2017 (18.1/20pts – $25). Much more depth than the last, but also less accessible now. The savoury fruit is structured and textured, and gets a little chewy on the palate. This will accompany food well now, but will be better with a few years in the cellar. Good effort.
Margaret River has a reputation for producing some of the
greatest Cabernets in Australia, if not the world. So it came as no surprise to
the panel that the 2016 Cape Mentelle Cabernet is a truly outstanding wine.
But it was the quality of the entry-level wines from Cape
Mentelle and Vasse Felix that delighted the panel. They both make for great
drinking now, but are also worthy of time in the cellar to allow the wine to
Also included in this review is the Cape Mentelle Zinfandel,
a wine of great finesse and elegance, which helps to redefine what this variety
is capable of in Australia.
Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2016 (18.8/20pts – $98). Wow, wow, wow, this has it all. Bright, fresh floral fruit and savoury notes from the oak leads into a silky finish framed by fine tannins. A joy to drink now, but sure to age well for a decade or more. Gets serious on the close, with density of fruit, graphite and tar-like notes.
Cape Mentelle – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Trinders – 2016 (18.5/20pts – $31). Given that this wine is the entry level Cabernet from Cape Mentelle, the quality is nothing short of outstanding. The dense, ripe fruit is a highlight. This is a serious wine, with chewy, structured fruit and savoury, texturing oak and tannins. Remains supple and lithe despite the power, with blueberry fruit building with air. Great now, but also age-worthy.
Vasse Felix – Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold Capsule) – 2016. (18.5+/20pts – $47). Fragrant and pretty, with bright red fruits and gentle cedary oak, but the depth is a step up from the Filius. Very long, this builds real depth in the mouth. Near seamless, though the acidity does build on the finish. Brilliant now, but needs 10+ years to really hit its peak. This includes 11% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot, aged in French oak (44% New).
Vasse Felix – Cabernet Sauvignon – Filius – 2016. (18.2/20pts – $28). Fresh and supple red berry fruit, with hints of mint on the nose. The palate is fine and savoury, with supple tannins and acid combining on a silky finish. Fresh and approachable, this is such an easy drink now, but has enough depth and Bordeaux-like structure to allow for short to medium-term cellaring. Excellent. Aged for 12 months in French oak, this includes 14% Malbec.
Cape Mentelle – Zinfandel – 2016 (18.5/20pts- $58). This is very impressive. Real depth and power to the fruit, with red berry, cherry, tobacco and spice. The palate is poised and balanced, with a delicious finish. The texturing tannins and medium toast oak adding grip, but also balance. Very impressive , this has a lot of similarities with a high-quality Cabernet.
This week saw the panel try a couple of really smart wines
from Singlefile under the Run Free label. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and
Chardonnay are very worthy wines at around $25 per bottle.
The surprise for me though was the Organic Rose from Angove.
A delicious, food friendly wine at a sensible price.
Moss Wood –
Semillon – 2018 (18/20pts). Almost green tinged, this is very grassy and
herbaceous, with lanolin notes. The palate is fine, though very zesty, with acidity
that, whilst intense, magically allows the creamy, textured fruit to shine.
Would be brilliant now with cured fish or super fresh sashimi, but will also
Sauvignon Blanc – Run Free – 2018
(17.5/20 pts – $25). Fresh and vibrant, with grassy fruit over lantana and
tropical notes. Quite intense, with decent texture, this is a smart wine indeed.
The textural components on the finish are a highlight and reflect a portion of
barrel- fermented fruit.
Vasse Felix –
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – 2017 (17.8/20pts – $24). Quite a complex nose, with and
hints of fresh tropical fruit and creamy, barrel- ferment aromas. The fruit
really shines on the long palate, complemented by a creamy texture and supple
finish. A quality wine that would make an excellent alternative to Chardonnay
with a mushroom risotto.
Chardonnay – Run Free – 2017
(17.9/20pts – $25). This has a little wow factor. Creamy, silky fruit and
supple oak meld into a seamless package. The intensity and fruit weight are
note-worthy at this price point. There are hints of pineapple and tropical
fruit, but it is the melon notes that shine through. Fresh acidity ensures a
Chardonnay – 2016 (18/20pts). With high quality fruit, creamy, textured
winemaking inputs, and subtle minerality, this reminds me a little of the
Pierro Chardonnay. A richer style.
Howard Park –
Chardonnay – Flint Rock – 2017
(17.7/20pts – $28). Full of nervous energy. Taut yet there is impressive power
to the fruit. Whilst this will be very enjoyable with food now, it will be much
better with a couple of years in the cellar.
Angove – Pinot
Grigio – Organic – 2018 (17/20pts – $17).
Quite creamy and textured with a nutty, chewy finish. Again, the textural components
are more important than the fruit, but there are some fresh stonefruit notes on
the mid-palate. Slightly viscous finish adds interest to this food friendly wine.
Well made, if uncomplicated.
Angove – Rose – Organic – 2018 (17.3/20pts – $17). Fresh
strawberry and plum notes. This is very attractive, with just the right amount
of grip and texture to make the finish complete and refreshing. This feels
relatively dry adding to the appeal. The texture and acid would make this a good
choice with some nibbles on a sunny afternoon.
In the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, the character played by Meryl Streep chastises her underling (played by Anne Hathaway) for criticising the importance of fashion. She points out that the cerulean coloured sweater she is wearing has come about by the trickle down effect of high fashion, plotting where the colour originated, and how much influence designers, fashion moguls and magazine editors, have on the styles and tastes of the day. Meryl Streep’s character is making a business statement, highlighting the power of marketing.
I have heard it said the wine industry is also a fashion industry, in the sense that tastes and styles in favour at a particular time, by a particular group of people, are influenced by factors other than the product itself, in this case the wine.
I am aware I am treading into dangerous territory here, in that many would argue that the merits of a wine can be objectively assessed, and will “speak for themselves”, as it were. While I agree that this is the case to an extent, and have argued in a previous wine musings article that some objective assessment of the quality of a wine, along certain parameters, IS possible.
However, I am also of the belief that other factors influence market trends. In a sense, this statement seems self evident, but what factors are at play? And do they influence purchasing decisions more that the innate quality of a wine?
Let us lay out the ground rules first. There is more than one “market”, and even several “markets” in the same geographical location. Each market has its own relevant price point, level of engagement with the product, and “maturity”. By the last point I mean that some more established markets may seek novelty, newness.
Who then are the players in this fashion tussle? Several groups emerge as important – firstly, producers and winemakers themselves. Secondly, so-called “industry experts”, comprising, in the main, sommeliers, wine writers and commentators. Thirdly, there are results from wine shows and competitions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are consumers themselves.
It would be naïve to think that the above players do not influence each other, and that their influences can be synergistic and even antagonistic. It is likely that is some markets, and for some products, different players “hold the power” at different times.
What do you think? Who drives fashions and trends in wine?
In a line-up of high quality wines, the Vasse Felix Cabernet
really stood out. A wine with great poise and balance that has a very premium
feel about it.
At the more affordable end of the spectrum, the Thorn Clarke
Sandpiper is an excellent effort, with delicious fruit and supple winemaking.
Moss Wood –
Merlot – Ribbon Vale – 2016 (18/20
pts). A very fine wine, though this is closed and tight. The fine tannins and
acid suppress the fruit, though the souring acidity adds drive to the finish.
Give it a few years to open up, and 10 years to shine.
Flametree – Cabernet
Sauvignon – SRS – 2015 (18.3/20+pts). A step up in power and fruit weight, this
is dense, powerful and compact. Darker fruit characters combine with serious
oak on a palate that is chewy and textured, with an abundance of fine tannins
on the finish. Needs years, but will be very good indeed.
Thorn Clarke – Cabernet
Sauvignon – Sandpiper – 2017 (17.8 –
18/20pts – $20). An approachable, modern wine with delicious red berry fruit,
gentle spice and supple texture. Souring acidity and excellent structure add to
the appeal of this excellent value wine.
Vasse Felix –
Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold Capsule –
2015 (18.5+/20pts). Refined red fruits with just a touch of mint and eucalypt.
The palate is fine and silky, with the tannins gradually building, eventually
closing down the fruit. This is a serious, powerful wine, where the fruit has
been expertly managed to make it approachable now, yet is also guaranteed to
age well for a decade or more. A complete wine with great poise.
Thorn Clarke – Cabernet Sauvignon – William Randell – 2016.
(18+++/20pts – $60). Textured, rich and chewy, with ripe, dense fruit of some
power. The finish is textured and chewy, with the fruit a little subdued right
now. An impressive wine with exemplary tannin management, this demands a rich
dish if drunk young. Gets very chewy on the
close. 20 years.
In a line-up of fine wines, three really impressed the
panel. Each wine took a different approach in expressing its personality, but
in each case, the results were outstanding.
Over time, their personalities will gradually express
themselves allowing the patient to determine the final pecking order, but from
a value perspective the Leeuwin Estate is the pick.
Cape Mentelle –
Cabernet Sauvignon – 2016 (18.6/20pts). Red currant and bright blueberry fruit,
with floral highlights reminiscent of violets. Long and supple, this is a
charming wine now, but there is density to the fruit that would benefit from 10
years+ in the cellar. Pre-release sample
Cullen – Cabernet
Sauvignon – Diana Madeline – 2017
(18.7/20pts). Intense red berry fruit over subtle mint notes. Quality is
stamped all over a palate which is long, refined, supple and elegant. Will
build depth with time in the glass or a decade in the cellar. A sublime wine of
Leeuwin Estate –
Cabernet Sauvignon – 2015 (18.7/20pts). Intense, with laser-like focus, the powerful
fruit has been paired to fine oak and winemaking. Very long, with taut acidity
and fine, if prominent tannins. Needs a decade or two in the cellar, or an hour
or two in a decanter. Due for April Release.
Until recently, the world hierarchy of Chardonnays went
But as in the rest of life, nothing stays the same for ever,
and so it is that the current crop of Western Australian Chardonnays are of
such high quality, that they must be considered a worthy challenger to the
white wines of Burgundy. When price is brought into the equation, then no other
region can even get close to matching the value on offer.
From a value perspective, the Xanadu, Evans and Tate and
Drumborg were the standouts. The Cape Mentelle turns this up a notch, with reserved
power. A simply outstanding wine from the new winemaking team.
Wines like the Deep Woods Reserve are redefining how good
Australian Chardonnay can be, whilst the Leeuwin Estate 2016 is destined to be
one of the truly great Chardonnays made anywhere in the world.
With the majority of these wines available for under $100,
there has never been a better time to try some truly outstanding Chardonnays.
Leeuwin Estate – Chardonnay – Art Series – 2016 (19/20pts). What an extraordinary wine. Barely darker than water right now with subdued/muted fruit notes on the nose. The palate however is amazingly long and intense, with the flavours and textures seamlessly coating the entire palate and lasting for what appears to be minutes on the close. Is this the best Chardonnay yet produced in Australia? It might well be. (Pre-release sample).
Deep Woods –
Chardonnay – Reserve – 2017
(18.8/20pts). A very different wine, but just as good as anything in the
tasting. Elegance and poise are the keys
to this wine. The fruit quality is superb, but rather than being overt and
showy, this is refined and restrained. Peach-like fruit is the main focus, with
minerality and supple lemony acidity driving the finish. The textural nature of
the palate attests to the finest oak treatment. Sublime.
Cape Mentelle –
Chardonnay – 2017 (18.7/20pts). Wow. This is a powerful wine, yet remains taut
as a drum right now. The intensity of the fruit is amazing as is the way the
palate seamlessly transitions from front to back. The white peach and nectarine
fruit is superbly matched to high quality, fine grained French oak. Quite
Fraser Gallop –
Chardonnay – Palladian – 2017
(18.7/20pts). Again, the intensity of the fruit here is outstanding, but here
there is more of the pineapple/tropical notes coming through. The palate is
dense and viscous, revealing its flavours and textures in seamless layers on
the finish. As good as this is now, it will be even better in 3 years.
Chardonnay – Il Liris – 2016
(18.6/20pts – $70). Powerful, expressive wine of great character. Complex
aromas of peach, curry leaf, minerality, and struck match. The palate is
intense and focused, with the acid and deftly handled oak building in layers
over the fruit. This will be a great
wine either now or in in 5 years’ time. This is sealed with a glass
stopper and the fruit comes from Denmark.
Chardonnay – Family Reserve – 2018
(18.6/20pts – $50). An immense, powerful wine with great presence. Tropical
fruit, peach and nectarine are all on show in this densely flavoured wine, with
expertly managed oak adding texture, yet tis remains elegant and has a very
long palate. Outstanding.
Chardonnay – Drumborg – 2017
(18.5/20+pts). An intense, mouth-watering wine that, whilst in a cooler style,
has plenty of personality and life. The high quality ripe fruit is long and
intense, with a core of lemony acidity that drives the finish. Needs 3 – 5
years, but a very impressive wine.
Evans & Tate
– Chardonnay – Redbrook – Estate –
2017 (18.5/20pts – $40). A powerhouse of a wine that is full of youthful
exuberance, with intense stone-fruit and citrus notes, taut acidity, supple oak
and hints of minerals. Needs a few years to fill out, but this is a star. (Pre-Release
Howard Park –
Chardonnay – 2017 (18.5/20 pts – $58). This is a very impressive wine, with the
dense, ripe fruit paired expertly to medium toast, fine grained oak. Stone-fruit,
curry leaf/minerality and citrus zest aromas and flavours all shine through. However, it is the depth of fruit on the
palate that is most impressive. The finish is a little taut now, so 3-5 years
in the cellar should see it start to open up.
Chardonnay – 2016 (18.5/20pts – $39). A serious wine with great fruit weight,
density and notable viscosity. Powerful, with ripe peachy fruit, a lovely
creamy texture and excellent length. Near seamless, the oak adds to the
texture, seamlessly complementing the high quality fruit. Will age well in the
In a previous Wine Musing, I discussed the notions of “typicity” and innovation, and how they may relate to each other. I briefly discussed the concept of wine quality also.
As mentioned, wine quality is difficult to define, but is often spoken about in terms of the degree of complexity of wine bouquet and flavours, the length and persistence of these flavours on the palate, the intensity of aromas and taste, and the overall balance of the core elements of the wine. These core elements, depending upon the style of wine, variably comprise alcohol, acidity, fruit flavours, tannins and sweetness. This notion of balance is also key to the concept of ageability, or the ageworthiness of a wine, though this multiplex issue is also linked to other aspects of quality mentioned here. In addition, we might infer a wine’s quality by the quality of oak we perceive in the wine, acknowledging the cost associated with the use of high quality barrels (though aforementioned balance is also salient). The development of a wine as it sits before us in the glass, when it evolves to emanate varied primary, secondary and even tertiary aromas, also adds to our enjoyment and appreciation of a wine. Finally, the notion of the “typicity” of a wine is often viewed as one of the indicators of a wine’s quality. By this is meant the degree to which a wine is representative, “classic”, distinguishing, prototypical, even archetypal, of a particular wine. Though sometimes referred to a variety, the term more fittingly describes, I believe, the “whole package” – of variety, style, winemaking, origin – dare I say, terroir.
In assessing a wine, we rely on
some of the above descriptive terms, but can wine appraisal ever be truly
objective? There are two extremes in the argument: the first is that wine
appreciation is wholly subjective – “You know what you like, and that is the
only important thing…” This position
holds that, it does not matter what others think, what the individual enjoys,
and regards as desirable, is all that matters.
The alternative view, in the
extreme, is that wine quality assessment is a wholly objective exercise: that,
if sufficiently trained, “experts” can assess, with reliability and precision,
how good (or not) a wine is.
Of course, arguments for and against
both positions can be mounted. The area broadly fits into the philosophical
question of aesthetics. In support of the former (subjective) position, many of
my most enjoyable wine experiences have been based upon company, ambience,
occasion – and have not always been with expensive wines or those (objectively
regarded) of quality. Yet can quality assessment be divorced from enjoyment?
This is an area that,
understandably, often polarises. I am of the view that, even though there are
certain styles of wine that I prefer, the objective assessment of wine quality
along the lines of length, balance, intensity and complexity, is possible. I
can appreciate the quality of a wine style I do not personally enjoy and would
not ordinarily purchase to drink.
In further support of the latter
argument, just as a student of music or architecture can appreciate the nuances
of a great symphony and the artistic details of a wonderful cathedral, and use
a language to describe them, so too, I think, can a student of wine assess and
describe a wine. There is some tacit support of this in the way that wine
scores from so-called “experts” are sought by consumers, and wine show results
used as a marketing tool.
That is not to say that individuals
without any theoretical knowledge of, say, music or architecture, cannot
appreciate a wonderful piece of music or stunning edifice. Yet we know that the
likes of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart are all recognised “objectively” as
creative geniuses. We may prefer the Baroque epoch to the Classical or
Romantic, but that is the realm of personal taste – the genius of Beethoven or
Mozart is unarguable.
I tend, however, to add two other
dimensions to my tasting notes: the first is “quality-price ratio”, and the
second, “drinkability”. I find that, when assessing wines in an industrial or
commercial setting, these two aspects most influence the likelihood I will go
on to purchase.
My most thrilling wine moments have
been, however, when I have been moved by a wine, when it has so captured my
senses as to transport me to another place….without, I might add, the excuse of
Evans & Tate has had a chequered history. Established by
the Evans and Tate families in 1974, the original Redbrook vineyard was planted
in 1975. In 1983 the partnership broke up, with the Tate family taking control
of the winery.
The winery then underwent a period of sustained growth, culminating
in a listing on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1999.
After apparent initial outperformance in 2005, things
started to unravel, with mounting debt and unsold inventory (an interesting
review of this was published in the Financial
Review at the time). This culminated with the appointment of receivers and
the subsequent sale of the winery to McWilliams Wines in 2007.
A new chapter for Evans & Tate began in October 2017,
when the winery was purchased by the Fogarty Wine Group, who also owns wineries
such as Mill Brook, Lakes Folly and Deep Woods.
Through many of the changes, one constant was the presence
of Matt Byrne as chief winemaker. Matt started in 2001 and has consistently
produced quality wines, despite the ownership changes, with the current wines
in the premium range being amongst the best the winery has produced.
The staff are really enjoying the transition to Fogarty Wine
Group and, if anything, the wines are only likely to get better.
A winery to watch!
Evans & Tate – Chardonnay – Breathing Space – 2017. ($16.15 ex cellar door). Taut and fine, this is made in the modern style, with gentle wine-making inputs and subdued fruit. With air, this wine really shines, showing fine fruit framed by the subtle oak and barrel ferment characters. The texture and acidity on the close are a highlight. Excellent value.
Evans & Tate – Chardonnay – Redbrook – Estate – 2017 ($36). Fine and taut, with attractive stone fruit aromas leading to hints of grapefruit and pineapple. The palate is a treat, with the supple fruit absorbing the oak and lees work easily, rendering the palate near seamless. The finish is lithe and fresh. Delicious drinking now – 5 years. (Spends 7 – 10 months in 100% new oak, barrel ferment, on oak, wild yeast ferment).
Evans & Tate – Chardonnay – Redbrook – Reserve – 2015 (Pre-release sample). Lovely nose that is at once complex and complete. The palate is a tour de force, with powerful fruit in the grapefruit and melon spectrum, complex flinty/mineral lees characters and creamy texturing oak. The acidity is a highlight on the finish, conferring great drive to the palate. Slightly chewy to close, this will be a treat over the next 5 – 7 years.
Evans & Tate – Chardonnay – Redbrook – Reserve – 2014 ($65). Honeysuckle, melon and zesty grapefruit notes. The palate is taut and reserved, more so than the 2015. Lanolin, minerals, driving acidity. A taut, shy wine right now, this is worthy of spending years in the cellar to let the fruit express.
Evans & Tate – Shiraz – Redbrook – Estate – 2016. An explosion of super sweet fruit in the plum and red berry spectrum, with spice notes building in the glass. The palate is flooded by white pepper and spice, with the structural components keeping the fruit in check. A very impressive wine that, whilst delicious now, will be much better in 10 years’ time (fruit cold soaked with a proportion of whole-bunch).
Evans & Tate – Shiraz – Redbrook – Reserve – 2013. More restrained and reticent than the Estate. The palate is sophisticated and complete, with hints of mint, vanilla and supple spice. Only 20% new oak, but this makes an impact in a positive way. A textural treat that is sure to age well.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Redbrook – Estate – 2016. Again, lovely fruit on show here. Ripe and polished with fine, texturing oak, supple tannins and fresh acidity. Also shows a touch of eucalypt and pepper on the finish. The finish gets a little grippy to close, which will soften with time in the cellar. Will be great with a juicy steak now.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Broadway – 2017. Supple, medium bodied, savoury. Fruit is the focus here, with little in the way of oak. An approachable food-friendly style with eucalypt highlights and fresh acidity that cleanses the palate.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Broadway – 2016. Similar in style to the 2017, but with a little more richness and depth to the fruit. The balance is the key here. Again, a very food- friendly style, but also one that will do well with short-term cellaring.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Redbrook – Reserve – 2014. Wow, the step up in intensity and power is palpable in this wine. It is crammed full of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with firm tannins and driving acidity. Textural, chewy and complex, with spice from the oak and gentle herbal, eucalypt notes. A wine of presence and power.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – Redbrook – Reserve – 2013. Inky, intense, powerful and brooding, with chewy tannins. Tight, structured, very long, with the oak barely noticeable. Needs a decade to open and will continue to improve for many more years, yet you can already see the quality of the fruit open up with air.
Evans & Tate – Cabernet Sauvignon – The Evans & Tate – 2014. Tangibly different from the Reserve. Supple, fine, silky, fresh, lithe and restrained, yet this manages to remain approachable. The integrated tannins help confer a seamless finish. With lots of air, the fruit characters start to shine. This is a superb wine that is a delight to drink, but also sure to age well.
Wine quality is difficult to
define, but is often spoken about in terms of the degree of complexity of wine
bouquet and flavours, the length and persistence of these flavours on the
palate, the intensity of aromas and taste, and the overall balance of the core
elements of the wine. These core elements, depending upon the style of wine,
variably comprise alcohol, acidity, fruit flavours, tannins and sweetness. This
notion of balance is also key to the concept of ageability, or the age-worthiness
of a wine, though this multiplex issue is also linked to other aspects of
quality mentioned here. In addition, we might infer a wine’s quality by the
quality of oak we perceive in the wine, acknowledging the cost associated with
the use of high quality barrels (though aforementioned balance is also salient).
The development of a wine as it sits before us in the glass, when it evolves to
emanate varied primary, secondary and even tertiary aromas, also adds to our
enjoyment and appreciation of a wine.
The notion of the “typicity” of a
wine is often viewed as one of the indicators of a wine’s quality. By this is
meant the degree to which a wine is representative, “classic”, distinguishing,
prototypical, even archetypal, of a particular wine. Though sometimes referred
to a variety, the term more fittingly describes, I believe, the “whole package”
– of variety, style, winemaking, origin – dare I say, terroir. We speak, therefore, of “typical” Chablis, as having
flavours of oyster shell and shale, and a mineral acidity matched by pristine
citrus fruit. We might speak of a wine as being “quintessential” Meursault, and
point to why it may differ, for example, from a Puligny Montrachet of comparable
quality and vintage.
Yet these notions probably best apply
to the so-called “classic” regions. Typicity is a term we could safely ascribe
to wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Mosel, Rioja – I could go on. But what
about New World winegrowing regions?
Is the task of a New World
winemaker crafting, shall we say, a Chardonnay, to make it in a style that
emulates the best white Burgundies? Why not Chablis, for that matter? Or is the
task of the winemaker to put their stamp on a wine, so that it is the most
honest and faithful example of the fruit of the region?
Of course, even if the latter is
true, winemakers might vary in their view of how best to achieve the aim of
showcasing a region’s fruit… WA’s own Millbrook Viognier has exquisite varietal
faithfulness, but is unlike any other Viognier in the world. Brazenly
un-Condrieu-like yet superbly representative of terroir. Should it be regarded as a “typical” West Australian
incarnation of the variety?
These questions are becoming more
difficult as winemakers around the globe adopt new and varied techniques – New
World winemakers can make wines in an “Old World” style. Old World winemakers,
assisted in part by global warming, can make wines in a “New World” style.
So where does the concept of
typicity come into play? We speak of “modern” and “traditional” Rioja; “modern”
and “traditional” Barolo; as though both incarnations have an innate
“typicity”. Yet winemakers in modern and traditional camps can be as varied in
the techniques employed within as without of these categories. Often this
“modern” and “traditional” distinction boils down to the use (or not) of new
oak and/or protective handling.
Even in “classic” regions, such as
Burgundy, winemaking techniques vary immensely between producers. Do we assess
the notion of typicity by the final product, the grand Gestalt of all the wine offers?
The perspective of history is also
important. In the mid 1800s, after Sir James Busby had brought the first vines
to Australia, Barolo and Barbaresco were still sweet wines. Amarone, as a style,
in terms of the very long history of wine, is a relative newcomer on the scene,
yet has qualities that are now said to be “typical”…
And what of innovators within the
“classic” regions? A winemaker in the Mosel who wishes, let us say, to ferment
Riesling to dryness, in new French oak barrels? Or the Margaret River producer
who feels Cabernet Sauvignon from the region is best expressed through the
employ of amphorae?
At some point, innovation can
become accepted practice, and even orthodoxy. Though clearly not always…..
A cautionary word – we as humans,
seek novelty as much as familiarity. In the chase for novelty, those other
aspects of quality I listed at the start of this article should not be
forgotten. Just because something is “different” or “trendy” does not make it
“good”. There are clearly reasons winemaking in Burgundy has evolved to where
it is now. So perhaps thoughtful innovation is the key, with dangers lurking on
both sides – of staying stuck in out-dated practices, and of changing for
And who decides what is a quality
wine anyway? Perhaps that is a subject best left to another musing.