Gone Are the Days of Goon - Australian Wine
Wednesday 5th June - 6.30pm - 8.30pm
"Was it because this act of debauchery was reserved for scallywags..."
Everyone I speak to who remembers Australian wine from the 80s talks about overly oaked Chardonnays and crazy nights involving bags of Goon to which they would finish all 3 litres of, blow up and then use the bag as a pillow...Yes, you know who you are!
Having travelled around Australia six or so years ago, I never understood (or got into) the Gooning movement of buying cheapo boxes of wine and drinking to extremes. Was it because this act of debauchery was reserved for scallywags and I was above that sort of thing? No, it's because I am little and can only tolerate small volumes of alcohol. However, travelling around Australia (and New Zealand) did open my eyes to the wine world and what is has to offer. I stayed with amateur winemakers at their homes and visited many wineries around the South Western coast of Oz. And I am not the only one to have experienced this vast continent; if you come along to our Cru Club tasting on 5th June 2019 (tickets below), our own Will will be on hand to tell you tales of... well... debauchery.
But since those terrible oaked Chardonnays of days gone past, what is Australia doing now?
Even though many still use screwcaps, new era winemakers of Australia (and by extension Tasmania) are incredibly successful at taking international grape varieties (like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah/Shiraz and so on) and crafting them not only into classic styles but also unique and interesting ones too! And that's a reason why we love 'em.
So let's dive down under and see what all the fuss is about!
The Wild West
Wine making in Western Australia is predominantly restricted to the south west tip of this gigantic island, more specifically to Margaret River where it is warm and relatively wet (in winter) when compared to other Australian regions! Cabernet Sauvignon is well grown here and often blended with Merlot in a Bordeaux style (elegant and restrained) or an Ozzy style (fruity and powerful).
You will also find an abundance of Sauvignon Blanc, often blended with Semillon resulting in enticing gooseberry and tropical fruit aromas with mouth watering acidity (Madfish do a great bottle of juice for under £10). Chardonnays are also produced here in a fuller style, utilising Malolactic Fermentation and barrel ageing to add complexity and round out what is naturally a wine with high acidity wine.
What is Malolactic Fermentation (also known as MLF)? Well my dear, it is like a secondary fermentation carried out by lactic acid bacteria that takes place once the alcoholic fermentation has finished; these bacteria convert the tart malic grape acid (think sharp green apples) into softer lactic acids (like the ones found in milk). MLF softens the acidity (giving the perception of lowering the acidity when compared to other structural components in the wine like body, sweetness and tannins). MLF also creates creamy, buttery flavours which are very common in Burgundian and American Chardonnays.
Beasts from the South East
Majority of wine making occurs down in what's known as a the 'Super-Zone', which covers part of South Australia, all of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania and part of Queensland.
You'll find many producers label their wines as 'Super-Zone', Riverland, Murray-Darling or Riverina, which are generally high volume brands who take advantage of being able to source fruit from the fertile, irrigated vineyards.
However, if you are looking for something a little more enhanced that your bottles with Kangaroos or other marsupials on them, try some of these regions:
South Australia is made up of five main wine making regions, and quite arguably some of the best Australia has to offer!
Clare Valley and Eden Valley are both famed for their Riesling production. Clare Valley has a warm climate which ranges between 18-22 degrees Celsius cooled by afternoon breezes and cold nights, whereas Eden Valley has a cooler all-round climate that helps the grapes maintain that delicious high acidity. Rieslings here are dry in style with intense lime and citrus flavours; but would you be able to tell the difference? If you want to get full anorak, Eden Valley Rieslings tend to exhibit more of a steely character due to the varying altitudes of vineyards and the soil here, like this example from Pewsey Vale.
A little further south you have Barossa Valley. Many of you keen wine aficionados may know Barossa already due to its affinity with fine wine production. In the warm, dry lands old bush vines are used to produce incredible Shiraz (the New World equivalent to Syrah. Want to catch up on what Syrah is like? Click here to read our article on South of France varieties) but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Think full bodied reds, with soft tannins accompanied by ripe black fruit and sweet American oak. As it ages, it softens and develops aromas of leather and spice which you can find in Yalumba's FDR1A (or Tri-Centenary if you fancy a spot of Grenache).
McLaren Vale produces red wines relatively similar to that of Barossa. The warm climate moderated by the cooling sea breezes contribute to intensely flavoured wines with dark fruit and soft, ripe tannins.
Famed for its distintive red, terra rossa soil, the Coonawarra climate is supported by cold currents that waft up from the Antartic. This cooler climate means that Cabernet Sauvignon dominates down here; wines have serious power and structure (high tannin, acidity and reasonable levels of alcohol). The signature scent of these Coonawarra Cab Savs are the deep, rich cassis flavours and eucalyptus or menthol aromas with the best examples really benefiting from age in the bottle (i.e. ones to keep for a while!), like the Cigar from Yalumba.
South Australia was just the tip of the Iceberg into Australian wines, as you can see above, the orange areas (being South Australia) are dwarfed by that of Victoria and New South Wales.
We could spend hours chatting about the different regions and wine making styles, but we won't, we promise to keep it short and sweet (sometimes) by covering the areas of real prominence and interest!
In the pinky-purple area above we have Victoria, one of the coolest regions for vineyards on the mainland, and there are three regions that we are going to focus on: Yarra (yes, another) Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong (pronounced G'long).
In Yarra Valley, situated north-east of Melbourne with a wide range of altitudes and aspects (aspect are the positioning of the vineyard in relation to the sun), Pinot Noir is the speciality whilst also producing excellent sparkling wines (as you'd expect in regions that produce high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). The Pinot here is rich in fruit, strawberries, plums and dark cherries. The tannins are ripe and soft, with careful oak handling only adding to the complexity of these wines. Due to the cooler climate, other varietals like Cab Sav and Shiraz are also made here but not with the same body as warmer regions; they are a bit lighter and more floral.
A little further south is Mornington Peninsula, home to many boutique estates that focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Whilst the climate is similar to Yarra in terms of temperature and rainfall, it is more inconsistent with unexpected rain and wind around harvest time. However, in good vintages where the growing season is long; fragrant and elegant wines with finesse are produced. The Pinot Noir produced here tends to exhibit pure varietal characteristics such as strawberry, cherry and plum whilst being slightly more structured that their Yarra Valley counterparts. The Chardonnays, like Kooyong's Clonale reflect the cool climate by showing green fruits (apple, pear) and citrus flavours, and high acidity which is usually softened by MLF.
And finally good ol' Geelong (remember, G'long). The variety grown here known for its quality is Chardonnay; although Pinot and Shiraz both do well here. The Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are often blended to make tasty sparkling wines that would rival some of the top named Champagne houses.
The last noteworthy region on the mainland is in New South Wales (NSW). Hunter Valley (we promise, it's the last valley), is a hot, humid SOB but pretty good if you want to grow world-class Semillon. Semillon is grown all around the world, Bordeaux, South of France, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand - it is a grape that produces very neutral and clean wines in its youth with low alcohol and makes a great blending partner to Sauvignon Blanc. However, if you're patient enough (we're talking 15 to 20 years), it develops complex spectrums of toast, nuts and honey. It is quite a difficult bottle to find, but if you do stumble upon a bottle of aged Hunter Valley Semillon I implore you to try it!
Located 150 miles from the south coast of Victoria, Tasmania is the coolest region of Australia. It has a cool climate, very similar to that of Champagne... can you see where I am going with this... meaning that it is an ideal region for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier (the third Champagne grape). And what does this mean? Fizz, lots and lots of excellent, elegant, delicious sparkling wine. Majority of the sparkling wine producers use the traditional method like in Champagne, known as Methode Champenoise, but call it Methode Tasmenoise. Clever huh? If you've never tried Tasmanian sparkling wine, you are really missing out. We've got two cracking examples being Jansz and Pirie, the latter of which goes toe-to-toe with that of Bollinger in blind tastings and usually wins!
But what else is Tasmania good for? In addition to the fizz, they also make bloody good still wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (think a more sophisticated and less floral Pinot Grigio) and obviously Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Feel like trying some? Have a look at Devil's Corner and Tamar Ridge!
But we're going to let you decide - grab one or two of the remaining tickets and drop by our shop on Wednesday 5th June 2019 from 6.30pm to sample some (of what we think) is Australia's best offerings!
- Alex Rondel