FINE WINE SPE­CIAL RE­PORT

The Australian - The Deal - - Fine Wine Special Report - BY MAX ALLEN

The times they are a-changin’ at the pointy end of the wine world. The most sought-af­ter and ex­clu­sive wines of to­day are not just well-known lux­ury brands such as Grange, Krug and Do­maine de la Ro­ma­nee- Conti. A whole new or­der of highly col­lectible wines is emerg­ing.

A younger gen­er­a­tion of pas­sion­ate and ob­ses­sive wine­mak­ers is busily chal­leng­ing both the es­tab­lish­ment and our ex­pec­ta­tions of wine qual­ity. A new co­hort of im­porters is head­ing over­seas, by­pass­ing the fa­mil­iar names and re­turn­ing with some ex­quis­ite new clas­sics. And some of our most es­tab­lished wine­mak­ers are tak­ing their best wines to ex­tra­or­di­nary new lev­els. I have se­lected my dream dozen; a col­lec­tion of new (and a cou­ple of old, but rein­vig­o­rated) clas­sics that would not only add to the depth of any se­ri­ous wine lover’s col­lec­tion, but pro­vide im­mea­sur­able plea­sure on any true flavour lover’s din­ing ta­ble. These wines em­body the true mean­ing of ex­clu­siv­ity; they are at the pin­na­cle of the qual­ity pyra­mid and avail­able in some­times painfully lim­ited quan­ti­ties.

It’s worth in­vest­ing $30 for an an­nual “Pro” sub­scrip­tion to wine-searcher.com to help lo­cate and com­pare the prices of these and other wines. I use it al­most ev­ery day.

The most ex­cit­ing, spine-tin­glingly bril­liant wines in Cham­pagne are not from the well-known houses or big com­pa­nies – as good as some of those lux­ury brands can be. They’re com­ing from small, in­de­pen­dent grow­ers such as Jean-Se­bastien Fleury, Anselme Selosse, Pierre and So­phie Lar­mandier and David Le­cla­part.

Som­me­liers and wine mer­chants in Europe and the US fight over mea­gre al­lo­ca­tions of Le­cla­part’s cham­pagnes, so it’s a mi­nor mir­a­cle that any bot­tles man­age to find their way to Aus­tralia. But I’m glad they do, be­cause they’re ex­quis­ite. The 2006 L’Artiste, for ex­am­ple, has laser­like pre­ci­sion, pu­rity and the unique dry, pow­dery taste of the re­gion’s chalky soils.

What sets these cham­pagnes apart – and those of the other top small grow­er­mak­ers – is that they are su­perb, nu­anced, ter­roir- driven wines first and fore­most, be­fore they are sparkling wines. The com­plex­ity and in­ten­sity and sat­is­fac­tion found in them is ev­ery bit as great as that found in the finest whites from Bur­gundy or the great sweet whites of Sauternes. eu­ro­cen­tricwine.com.au

This is the best sparkling wine to have been made in this coun­try. An out­ra­geous call, I know. But I hon­estly can’t think of an­other Aus­tralian sparkling wine that has had quite the same ef­fect – goose­bumps, hair-standin­gon-the-back-of-the-neck im­pact – as this one, with its ex­tra­or­di­nary, mul­ti­lay­ered flavours of fresh cream, bak­ing bread, grilled nuts and a hint of leather­wood honey, fin­ish­ing dry, long and pro­found.

The se­cret to the ex­tra depth lies partly in wine­maker Ed Carr sourc­ing the finest chardon­nay and pinot noir grapes from the best cool-cli­mate Tas­ma­nian vine­yards. But it’s mostly due to the fact that the wine has spent 10 years on its lees af­ter the sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion, qui­etly build­ing more and more flavour, be­fore be­ing dis­gorged.

Ac­tu­ally, I should qual­ify my ini­tial state­ment. This is the best Aus­tralian sparkling wine to be re­leased so far. Ar­ras has more than a decade’s worth of sub­se­quent vin­tages qui­etly ma­tur­ing. Just imag­ine what treats lie in store for us, as each one is care­fully dis­gorged and drib­bled on to the mar­ket. house­o­far­ras.com.au

There has been a rev­o­lu­tion in the mak­ing of Aus­tralian chardon­nay in the past decade. As vine­yards and wine­mak­ers ma­ture, as grapes are picked ear­lier, as more young wine is put into fewer new-oak bar­rels, the fat-and-ripe, golden-yel­low, vanilla-laced chardon­nay style of the 1980s and 1990s has given way to much sleeker, leaner, brighter and more min­er­ally mod­ern wines.

These wines are of­ten more re­fined, and will pos­si­bly age bet­ter in the cel­lar, than their pre­de­ces­sors. But don’t you some­times han­ker for a chardon­nay that is rich rather than racy, that does fill the mouth rather than slice across it? If so, Phillip Jones’ 2010 pre­mium chardon­nay from Gipp­s­land in south­ern Vic­to­ria fits the bill pre­cisely. Yes, there is plenty of re­fresh­ing acid­ity here to keep the wine juicy and bright and mod­ern, but there’s also oo­dles of the most se­duc­tive yel­low fruit and layer upon layer of nos­tal­gic tex­tu­ral com­plex­ity.

Jones is, of course, best known for his pinots, and the 2010s are also a must-buy, as are the 2010 ga­may and the rather won­der­ful 2011 gewurz­traminer. bassphillip.com

Con­cep­tual art­work as well as a de­li­ciously dif­fer­ent take on Hunter Val­ley semil­lon, the Nat­u­ral Se­lec­tion The­ory wine­mak­ing col­lec­tive’s unique Egg Project has sent rip­ples of both joy and hor­ror through the Aus­tralian wine world – joy from some at the brash weird­ness of it all and hor­ror from oth­ers at, well, the brash weird­ness of it all.

Each vin­tage, the NST boys – Sam Hughes, An­ton van Klopper, Tom Shob­brook and James Ersk­ine – wild­fer­ment and then “bot­tle” Hunter semil­lon in unique, hand-crafted ce­ramic eggs. These white wines, some fer­mented with whole berries (like red wines), are un­fil­tered (and there­fore a lit­tle cloudy), but they are thrillingly un­usual and ut­terly de­li­cious. From the 2011 vin­tage, three slightly dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions on the theme were bot­tled (or “egged”), in a nod to the old Hunter “Chablis”, “Ries­ling” and “White Bur­gundy” wines of yore, i.e. dif­fer­ent styles, but all made from semil­lon.

Each trio of eggs also comes with a sound­track al­bum, on vinyl – the idea be­ing that you lis­ten to the spe­cially com­mis­sioned mu­sic while sip­ping on the wines. Art meets wine meets art. nat­u­rals­e­lec­tion­the­ory.com

This might well be the sin­gle best dry ries­ling I have tasted. It (or, rather, an ear­lier vin­tage) is cer­tainly the most ex­pen­sive dry ries­ling to have been sold at auc­tion any­where in the world.

Klaus-Peter Keller is one of the shin­ing stars of wine­mak­ing in the Ger­man re­gion of Rhein­hessen, south of Mainz. He crops his vine­yards at ridicu­lously low lev­els – more like the tiny har­vests you ex­pect in grand cru vine­yards in Bur­gundy – and the re­sult­ing wines have out­stand­ing, al­most im­pos­si­ble con­cen­tra­tion.

The G-Max ries­ling, named as a trib­ute to his great grand­fa­ther and his son, is a se­lec­tion of the best bar­rels from each vin­tage and is al­most painfully in­tense: limes and fresh white grapes, spice and white flow­ers cas­cade across your tongue, chan­nelling vivid grooves of flavour into your mem­ory. Only a few bot­tles make it to Aus­tralia; luck­ily, Keller’s other wines – such as his gor­geously pris­tine and beau­ti­ful sin­gle-vine­yard ries­lings – are in slightly more plen­ti­ful sup­ply. heartand­soil.com.au

An­other de­li­ciously bold and dif­fer­ent white, made this time not by a rag-tag band of grape-tread­ing an­ar­chists, but by a refugee from cor­po­rate life. Glenn James-Pritchard was, un­til a cou­ple of years ago, group red wine­maker for Fos­ter’s (now Trea­sury Wine Es­tates), but since leav­ing to set up his own bou­tique la­bel, Ducks in a Row, with wife Amanda, he’s had an epiphany. Where once he would spend much of his time be­hind a desk, now you’re more likely to find him inside an old, 500-litre ter­ra­cotta am­phora, ready­ing the ves­sel for its next batch of grapes.

In 2011, in­spired by an­cient wine­mak­ing meth­ods, James co-fer­mented white, Heath­cote-grown ver­mentino, fiano and moscato gi­allo grapes in this am­phora – wild, with no ad­di­tions and lots of skin contact, much as wines were made thou­sands of years ago. The re­sult is mag­i­cal: an in­trigu­ing, ethe­real per­fume of el­der­flow­ers and musky grapes, with a won­der­fully spicy, sat­is­fy­ing tex­tu­ral qual­ity on the tongue. It’s quite un­like most white wines you have ever tasted. It’s also rare – only a few hun­dred bot­tles for the world. pan­do­rasam­phora.com.au

Pyra­mid Val­ley’s pinot noirs, from a tiny patch of fas­tid­i­ously farmed vines grown in re­mark­able white, chalky soils north of Christchurch in New Zealand, are haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful. Mike and Claudia Weers­ing spent many years search­ing for just the right spot to plant their own vines be­fore they found the nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre­like hill­side at Pyra­mid Val­ley. They make two ex­cep­tional pinots from the one site (as well as wines from other top vine­yard sites in New Zealand). I love the round, vel­vety tex­ture and silky, rich fin­ish of the Earth Smoke pinot (from one side of the hill), but I ever so slightly pre­fer the dense, spicy, tightly wound struc­ture and won­der­ful com­plex­ity of the An­gel Flower.

The Weers­ings also have a mag­i­cal touch with other va­ri­eties: their 2010 sav­agnin rose is del­i­cately per­fumed and creamy; the 2009 Marl­bor­ough ries­ling is rich and apri­cotty; the 2010 “orange” Kerner (a skins-fer­mented pinot blanc-pinot gris blend) is fab­u­lously mul­ti­fac­eted and nutty. pyra­mid­val­ley.co.nz

This is an au­da­cious and con­tro­ver­sial de­but wine from a hugely am­bi­tious vine­yard and win­ery project in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley. The wine it­self, from the dif­fi­cult, cool, wet vin­tage of 2011, is an un­usual blend of mostly shi­raz with some pinot noir and a splash of sauvi­gnon blanc. The idea was to cap­ture in the bot­tle the essence of place and sea­son, rather than be guided by or try to em­u­late an es­tab­lished wine style. And I think the wine­mak­ers have suc­ceeded: Bright and per­fumed, the wine has a lovely, sinewy, sappy, for­est-floor char­ac­ter. It’s tempt­ing to use the French tasting term, sous-bois, a highly de­sir­able sign of qual­ity in that coun­try’s top wines.

That said, this is also very much a new ver­sion of an old Aus­tralian wine story. Rather than equat­ing qual­ity with power, rich­ness, body and weight (think of the black-pur­ple mon­ster wines that were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s), Thou­sand Can­dles of­fers an al­ter­na­tive view, one of sub­tlety, fi­nesse and el­e­gance. thou­sand­can­dles.com.au

A re­cent tasting of 20 vin­tages of Clon­akilla shi­raz viog­nier ce­mented this Canberra red’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of Aus­tralia’s topech­e­lon wines, a wine as im­por­tant to­day as Grange was back in the 1960s.

It tells an em­phatic story about per­fume, el­e­gance and poise, at­tributes aug­mented by the cool, damp grow­ing con­di­tions for the 2011 vin­tage – and a very dif­fer­ent story to the big, clunky icon shi­razes of old. That el­e­gance comes from the ad­di­tion of the heady white grape viog­nier to the fer­ment­ing red shi­raz, the cool cli­mate and sen­si­tive han­dling in the win­ery.

It will re­pay 10 or 20 years of cellaring. At the re­cent ver­ti­cal tasting, other coolv­in­tage ex­am­ples of this wine – 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2002 – were all de­li­cious. Clon­akilla also pro­duces smaller quan­ti­ties of a straight syrah with great den­sity of flavour, which is be­gin­ning to show signs that it may one day eclipse the shi­raz viog­nier as the la­bel’s top wine. clon­akilla.com.au

Pen­folds grabbed head­lines around the world ear­lier this year by re­leas­ing 12 Am­poules of wine – each a hand­crafted art­work in glass, sil­ver and wood, con­tain­ing a sealed ves­sel of 2004 Block 42 Caber­net. The $168,000 price tag for each Am­poule came with a prom­ise that, when the proud owner de­cides to drink his or her pur­chase, Pen­folds will fly a se­nior wine­maker to any lo­ca­tion to per­form an open­ing cer­e­mony.

Re­gard­less of your view on this – mar­ket­ing ge­nius or end-of-em­pire in­san­ity – you can buy a con­ven­tional bot­tle of the same wine for con­sid­er­ably less. Avail­able at auc­tion and from some fine wine mer­chants for about $ 600, the 2004 Block 42 – from a small block of gnarly vines thought to be the old­est caber­net plants on the planet – is un­ques­tion­ably great: pow­er­ful yet el­e­gant, mul­ti­lay­ered essence of caber­net that will de­velop beau­ti­fully in the cel­lar for decades. It’s much rarer, and – some ar­gue – even bet­ter than Pen­folds’ most fa­mous wine, Grange. pen­folds.com

PEN­FOLDS BLOCK 42 IS THOUGHT TO BE MADE FROM SOME OF THE OLD­EST CABER­NET PLANTS ON THE PLANET.

The re­sult of years of painstak­ing and pas­sion­ate re­search and wine­mak­ing ex­per­i­men­ta­tion by wine sci­en­tist Peter God­den and wine im­porter Sally McGill, this is one of the best ex­am­ples of the new wave of Ital­ian va­ri­eties be­ing planted in Aus­tralian vine­yards.

Neb­bi­olo – orig­i­nally from Italy’s north­west, where it’s re­spon­si­ble for the fa­mous red wines of Barolo and Bar­baresco – is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to grow and make well. It of­ten pro­duces wines that can be de­cep­tively light in colour – al­most a rusty orange – but that pack a huge punch of tongue-hug­ging tan­nin, leav­ing the drinker cry­ing out for the ame­lio­rat­ing ef­fects of cured pork prod­ucts. By mac­er­at­ing the skins of their neb­bi­olo for more than two months in their newly fer­mented wine, God­den and McGill have tamed those tan­nins. This wine is tan­nic, yes, but it flows like satin through the mouth, drap­ing your taste buds with a deep sense of savoury sat­is­fac­tion.

The Ade­laide Hills is emerg­ing as an ex­cep­tional place to grow neb­bi­olo. As well as Ar­rivo, other sen­sa­tional ex­am­ples from the re­gion in­clude those made by SC Pan­nell, Protero and Longview. ar­rivo.com.au

Since 1878, the wine­mak­ers at Sep­pelts­field in the Barossa have put aside the best bar­rels of Para port from ev­ery vin­tage, with the in­ten­tion of bot­tling them when they each reach their 100th birthday. Un­til re­cently, the an­nual Cen­ten­nial Col­lec­tion Para re­lease was al­most the only way to ex­pe­ri­ence this re­mark­able legacy. This year’s vin­tage, for ex­am­ple, the 1912, is now avail­able in a 375ml bot­tle for $ 990.

How­ever, Sep­pelts­field is now of­fer­ing a much wider range of vin­tages. In fact, ev­ery vin­tage be­fore 1983 is avail­able in 100ml bot­tles ($300 each for the wines from the 20th cen­tury, ris­ing to $450 for those from the 19th). You can also buy a 375ml bot­tle from all the ma­jor an­niver­sary years (1972, 1962 and so on back to 1922) for $750. And if you want some­thing re­ally spe­cial, such as a 375ml bot­tle from any of the vin­tages be­tween 1882 and 1909 – as a trib­ute to your great-grand­par­ents per­haps – it’s yours for $ 1500.

These are ex­tra­or­di­nary, un­for­get­tably in­tense, dark, trea­cly wines – unique tastes of liq­uid his­tory that stay with you for life once you have tried them. sep­pelts­field­cen­ten­ni­al­col­lec­tion.com.au

From left: Bass Phillip Pre­mium Chardon­nay 2010; Sep­pelts­field Para Port 1962; Pyra­mid Val­ley An­gel Flower Pi­nor Noir 2010; Sep­pelts­field Para Port 1952; Le­cla­part L’Artiste Blanc de Blancs 2006; Clon­akilla Shi­raz Viog­nier 2011; Ar­rivo Neb­bi­olo Lunga...

Max Allen is a wine colum­nist for The Weekend Aus­tralian and the award-win­ning au­thor of The His­tory of Aus­tralian Wine ($49.95, Victory Books).

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