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Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Wines of 2018

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I described my wine related highlights of 2018 in the last article. Not surprisingly some of my favourite wines of the year are related to those highlights, orange wine and Australian wine.

Let me start with orange wine, the focus of the excellent ‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J Woolf. I could include Jeff Coutelou’s OW 2016 which we drank regularly through the vendanges. However, I have limited myself to just one of Jeff’s wines as part of this case. That is made from Muscat and my favourite orange wine which I drank in 2018 was made from Viognier, not often my favourite grape. It does reinforce a theory that some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic, characterful grapes which add to the sensation of texture created by skin contact. So, the first bottle into my case is by Australian producer Kalleske, Plenarius Viognier 2017. I described it in Brisbane where I came across it as having “aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture”. Seven days skin contact only for the biodynamically grown grapes, enough to add tannins without overpowering the fruit. Lovely.

Red wines next.

I drank Patrick Rols’ Les Anciens 2016 late in the year and it jumped straight into this case. I loved the iron filings like aroma and deep red fruit flavours of this wine made from Merlot and the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc. To make wine that good from some of my least favourite grapes, real talent and healthy grapes!

That lunch!

My Coutelou wine comes next. There were so many highlights, including 1998 Cabernet and Syrah still brimming with life. However, everyone knows my favourite wine, the one I would choose above any other is La Vigne Haute 2010. The 2017 is a beauty and the 2018 promises to be special too. However, Jeff opened the 2010 one July day over lunch with our friend Steeve. The years add a complexity and depth to the fruit and acidity to make a dream wine. Just stunning.

In New Zealand I was a little disappointed with some of the vaunted Pinot Noirs of Otago but some of the Syrahs were excellent, often from Gimblett Gravels on the North Island. However my favourites were from Hans Herzog in Marlborough, another biodynamic producer next to the Wairau River. I liked everything I tasted there whites and reds such as the Pinot Noir, Tempranillo but my favourite was the outstanding Herzog Nebbiolo 2013. Concentrated fruit flavours including peach and apricot surprisingly, light and fresh. Memorable. (shown in the photos above where Petra poured it)

My final red is Little Things, Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend 2017. This was one of the wines in made by James Madden in his first vintage, unbelievable that it could be so good so soon. I described it like this when I was there, “The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds.” I am going to choose this as my wine of the year, the single wine I enjoyed most of all.

Another field blend, another Basket Range wine. Basket Range Vineyard Blend 2016 is made by the Broderick brothers Sholto and Louis. Made from Petit Verdot, Merlot and the Georgian grape Saperavi, fermented and made together. Bright fruits, spice and appealing tannins this was a wine of pleasure but with added complexity too.

White wines provided most of my 2018 highlights, here are the final picks.

Little Things again, no apologies. I am sure some will accuse me of bias but these are genuine picks based on quality. Little Things Sweet Child Of Mine 2017 which I described as “Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes.” Basket Range Chardonnay was a true highlight of my trip Down Under, other fine examples came from James Erskine of Jauma and Alex Schulkin of The Other Right. Interestingly their wines were from the same vineyard as another of my picks.

Gentle Folk Scary White 2017. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley this blends the Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with lovely acidity, a creamy fruit profile and a sense of the area – friendly and classy. Gareth Belton is a very talented producer, excellent Pinot Noir too. One of a very talented bunch of winemakers in Basket Range.

Yet another Australian Chardonnay makes the list. Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 is made in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne where I drank it. There is a lovely apple and pear fruit, a touch of citrus and great length. Not Burgundy but similar in profile yet clearly Australian in its ripeness. All class.

Talking of Burgundy. Domaine Valette Macon Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2016. I drank this from magnum at lunch during vendanges and again in single bottle from the excellent Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. It may not be the most celebrated Burgundy but this relatively humble area produces a pure, creamy but citrus, hazelnut and white fruit flavoured delight. A producer I hope to find out more about.

Four Chardonnays and a Merlot/Cabernet blend so far. What is the world coming to? Well, let’s add some exoticism. Bacchus, Ortega, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe to be exact. From England. French readers think I have gone mad! Davenport Limney Horsmonden 2016 is the work of a very talented producer in East Sussex whose PetNat is another favourite. This wine has a distinct floral note to the aroma profile, fresh and fruity. English wines are really on the move.

No sparkling wines to add this year, I had some nice ones but nothing which made me go wow. Only eleven wines though. Well to make the case I am adding another bottle of the Little Things Field Blend as my favourite of the year. Or maybe the 2010 La Vigne Haute.

Please would someone bring in some of the Australian wines to the UK market. I am missing them already.

 

 

 

 


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A Tour Down Under, conclusions

It was always going to be the trip of a lifetime but, my word, it lived up to that billing. There are so many positives to Australia and New Zealand. I couldn’t help thinking that these young nations are energetic, vibrant and forward thinking in comparison to so much of Europe. Links with Pacific and Asian countries are to the fore and that will be their future though they retain a tremendous affection for their European links. The many people who were more than keen to talk with us were rightly proud of their countries, eager to find out about our trip and delighted to hear our enthusiasm. Positivity abounds.

The people themselves were such a highlight, as I have said before, they are helpful, polite and know how to enjoy themselves. The climate is obviously helpful in encouraging outdoor lifestyles, admittedly we were very lucky with the weather on our trip.

The wildlife was a constant joy, seeing kangaroos, koalas and kiwis in real life was just marvellous. Birds, fish and shark were stunning. Please look after them.

Above all though it was the joy of their natural landscapes which will live longest in the memory. These are jaw droppingly beautiful countries with such variety from coastlines, mountains, equatorial forest to the wonders of the Barrier Reef. Add on man made wonders such as Sydney Harbour’s Bridge and Opera House, I find myself smiling just thinking about them all.

Regarding wine. To be honest overall I was a trifle disappointed with so many wines and wine lists. The safe, conventional and commercial are everywhere. Perfectly drinkable wines but lacking excitement. However, dig a little and quality emerges. From Kalleske in the Barossa to Hans Herzog in Marlborough and Domaine Road in Otago I found conventional wines that were very good to drink. The highlights though were from the emergence of a natural wine scene in both countries. Kindeli, Cambridge Road and The Hermitage Ram in New Zealand were certainly highlights. Shobbrook, Sullivan, Tausend are names to look up in Australia.

In a way though I was spoiled early on. The Adelaide Hills was the source of so many of my favourite wines of the trip. There is a lively community of producers, supporting each other, who are making exciting, vibrant clean wines. Gentle Folk, Jauma, Manon, Basket Range, The Other Right are just some of the names to seek out. Add to that list the excellent bottles of my friend James Madden of Little Things wines. I am biased but his wines were amongst the best I tasted during this trip. The brilliant Chardonnay, refreshing PetNat, complex Field Blend were all in my top wines.

Australia and New Zealand have young winemakers looking to break with traditional methods. Behind the wave of producers in Europe perhaps but starting to create an impression and proving to my mind that there will be some wonderful wines to savour in coming years. It is no coincidence that most of these producers have worked in Europe, for example James at Jeff Coutelou’s. They will use that learning, adapt it to their local conditions to make their interpretation of Australian and New Zealand wines. I buy into their vision wholeheartedly.

Thanks to everyone we met for making the trip so special. Above all thanks to James, Sam, Flo and Pat for sharing their home with us and being so generous. And to Howard, a great chef, host and friend.

 


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A Tour Down Under, Adelaide wine

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Adelaide Hills vines

We were fortunate to be staying for a few days with James and Sam in the Adelaide Hills for a few days (5* on Trip Advisor definitely) and they ensured that we were able to travel around the wine areas and meet some of the new wave producers who are making this possibly the most interesting wine region in Australia. What follows is necessarily an impressionistic approach but I hope that my enthusiasm for the area will persuade many to try wines from South Australia and especially from the winemakers I mention.

Let me start with the Barossa Valley, the iconic region for Australian wine for those of my generation who were essentially brought up on Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from producers such as Wyndhams, Seppelt, Wolf Blass and Penfolds. Some of those are based elsewhere but source grapes from the Barossa. It was interesting, therefore, to drive into the region and see it for myself. What a surprise in many ways. I expected it to be dry but with a large central area of vines as might be seen in the Rhone for example. Not at all. It was dry certainly, indeed arid in parts. The vineyards shone out like oases of greenery set amongst the brown, parched landscape. Irrigation is important, indeed vital, to these producers.

We visited Seppeltsfield, home to Seppelt of course. There was a tremendous cellar door experience with tasting rooms, restaurant and lots of craft shops. Visitors are made to feel very welcome, this is how wine tourism should be. The wines are not necessarily my thing but I have to admire the people who established wineries in such uncompromising conditions and went on to make such a success of it.

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The Seppelt restaurant

I was aware that there are producers such as Tom Shobbrook, based in Seppeltsfield, who farm biodynamically and embrace natural styles. I have met Tom before and was happy to do so again when we came across him at The Summertown Astrologist. This is a restaurant/wine bar run by some local natural producers in the Hills notably Anton von Klopper of Lucy Margaux wines. Tom’s wines are always interesting, often very good. Given the terroir, my admiration is increased enormously.

I knew there were a number of producers making natural style wines in the Adelaide Hills. We met Tim Webber, who makes Manon wines with partner Monique Milton. Over coffee he explained that they farm other crops, vegetables and animals as well as making wine. All on sound organic principles. Favourite wine of Manon that I tasted was the Pinot Noir Love Lies Bleeding 2017. Interesting to hear that as well as the usual Australian grapes there was Garganega and that Tim and Monique are interested in different varieties. He is unusual in having his own vines, many such as James, buy fruit from growers with input about how they want the vines looked after. It can be difficult to source quality grapes, especially organic. James has to travel up to an hour from his winery to get to some vines.

James Erskine with James and checking progress of some Grenache

James Erskine, of Jauma wines, is somewhat of a mentor to James and he was brilliant to visit. He is an enthusiast, embraces life and was keen to share wines from tank and bottle even in the midst of a harvest afternoon. I have been fortunate to taste Jauma wines before and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to taste in situ, they are very good indeed.

Gareth Belton and some of his barrels

Gareth Belton is the producer behind Gentle Folk wines. I was familiar with his wines before but they really stood out here. Again generous with his time mid harvest Gareth let us taste wines from barrel and bottle. There were many excellent wines, Pinot and Chardonnay stood out but I could list a dozen. The fruit stands out, it is clean, expressive and long lasting on the palate but there is good use of barrel, especially on the whites, adding lovely complexity. One wine I really loved was the Scary White. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley rather than anything scary about the wine itself, it is a field blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and other white grapes. I do love field blend wines, they do offer a sense of place and this was one of my favourite wines of the trip so far. A gently spoken man, Gareth’s passion for his wines is evident and I heartily recommend them.

Alex Schulkin makes wines under the name The Other Right. I liked his Pet Nat rosé and his Chardonnay in particular, a very good Shiraz called Love Potion was also enjoyed. Alex has the shed where James now makes his wine, they help each other out a lot, indeed Alex’s father was picking for James on the day we left. Alex is also a scientist who works in wine research and I enjoyed chatting to him about closures, yeasts and other topics. I love the strap line for The Other Right, ‘Untamed Wines’.

Interestingly the Chardonnay which Alex, Gareth and James all make comes from the same vineyard and is made in pretty much the same method. Tasting the wines from all three did show a great similarity in profile, a true sense of terroir as well as common shared values in winemaking.

There is a real sense of community in the Hills between this group of winemakers, they help each other, advise each other and work for each other. When visiting Gareth’s lovely place in the beautiful hills three other winemakers arrived to chat, share stories and experiences. I found that truly inspirational, I was very much reminded of the groups of natural producers in the Languedoc.

Australian wines fell off my radar many years ago when the big, blockbuster style began to tire me out. French subtlety and elegance became my preference. It seems that many Australians share that view and some are now producing wines of the style which would please any Francophile whilst still retaining distinctive Australian character. This was a memorable time with some excellent wine producers. Adelaide Hills and the Barossa, I salute you.