Victoria – Australia’s New Cool; John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 21, 2012
Victoria – Australia’s New Cool; A Loire Valley Quartet; Ten Top Summer Whites.
July 21st will be a cool release. There are plenty of thirst-quenching antidotes to summer heat recommended in this report, from no fewer than ten different countries. The main feature is “Hot New Wines from Cool Climate Victoria”. The WineAlign crew sat down in late May to taste through a couple of dozen wines from across the state of Victoria (capital city: Melbourne), many of which will hit the shelves on July 21st. It was a perfect opportunity to dig deeply into Australia’s new image as a producer of more than just shiraz and cute labels. Regional distinction is the new focus, alongside cool climate expressions and an expansion of the varietal repertoire. Read on to rediscover the breadth and depth of what’s coming up from down under.
The mini feature of this release covers the Loire Valley, long a source of extreme values, and more importantly, of wines those in the business love to drink (and are secretly glad they’ve stayed out of the mainstream and consequent price inflation). Get the inside track on the top four in this release. And to supplement all this refreshment, I have added a list of brilliantly crunchy and crackling whites from Spain to South Africa and New Zealand to Niagara, all yours to discover on July 21st.
Victoria: Oz’s New Cool Spot
Grampians, Nagambie Lakes, Heathcote, Bendigo… These may not be household names yet, but they are just a few of the regions in the Australian state of Victoria that are emerging as sources of more refined elegant wines, what many believe is the future for Oz. Victoria is Australia’s smallest mainland state, but also the most densely populated, a demographic remnant of the discovery of gold in 1851, which led to the largest gold rush in history. When the rivers of gold dried up, people stayed on; some planted grapes. Most moved to the state capital of Melbourne, where nearly three-quarters of the population reside today. Victoria is in the southeast corner of the country, bordered by South Australia to the west, New South Wales to the north and the Bass Straight to the south, opposite Tasmania.
Victoria is Australia’s coolest and wettest mainland state, second only to Tasmania in annual rainfall. Cool air from the Southern Ocean heavily moderates the coastal zones, thought Victoria’s coldest regions are found in the Victorian Alps, part of the Great Dividing Range (what the Aussies call “The Big Crinkle”), which runs east-west through the centre of the state. Wine regions with names like Alpine Valleys, Strathbogie Ranges and Pyrenees give you an idea of the topography. The temperature hit nearly -12ºC in June 1970, damned cold by Aussie standards, and a cool day even for Canadians.
Victoria is certainly not the only Australian state with cool climate regions (parts of Western Australia, Coonawarra, the Adelaide Hills and Clare and Eden Valleys in South Australia come to mind), but it is, along with Tasmania, the only state that is able to hang its hat predominantly on cooler climate style wine – where the majority of regions could rightly be classified as relatively cool – which is a real marketing bonus. With time, Victoria and cool may well become closely linked in consumers minds, something the folks at Wine Australia are keen to see happen.
For me, many of Victoria’s wines are indeed dramatic departures from the typically broad, super ripe styles commonly encountered in better-known regions like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia. The WineAlign tasting of nearly 30 wines from Victoria in May clearly underscored this regional difference. And while I’m still some ways off from being able to distinguish between shiraz from the Pyrenees and the Grampians, for example, various combinations of variety and region are increasingly well articulated. Among the already established expressions out of Victoria’s 20 different regions, I’d count chardonnay and pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley as classics. Both of these Ocean-moderated regions are clearly well-suited for pinot and chard built on acidity, freshness and moderate alcohol, as evinced by wines such as the 2011 Innocent Bystander Chardonnay, Yarra Valley ($23.95) and the 2010 Stonier Chardonnay, Mornington Peninsula ($24.95 – Vintages September 29th, 2012 release).
My top rated Victorian chardonnay, however, comes from the relatively unknown region of Gippsland around the town of Leongatha, further south even than the Mornington Peninsula: 2008 Caledonia Australis Reserve Chardonnay ($39.95). The name of the estate was borrowed from 19th century Scottish explorer Angus McMillan, who upon gazing over eastern Victoria from Mount Macleod was so strongly struck by the landscape’s resemblance to his native Scotland that he named the place “Caledonia”, the Roman name for present-day Scotland, and “Australis”, meaning “southern”. Scotland in Australia? That’s Victoria. In any case the wine is a classy, refined yet substantial example of Australian chardonnay, with uncommon depth and richness on the palate.
But of all the wines presented to the WineAlign panel in May, the pinots stole the show. There’s a terrific range of styles and expressions, all within the cool climate framework of Victoria’s more temperate wine regions. The Yarra Valley is represented in this release by the fine value 2010 De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir at $17.95, while the Mornington Peninsula is highlighted by the excellent, if a little idiosyncratic, 2011 Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir ($39.95). Kooyong is the sister estate of Port Philip Estate, both owned by the Gjergja family, dedicated to producing pinot noir of the highest order. Expect more on Kooyong in an upcoming Vintages mini-feature in September on Mornington Peninsula pinots.
Aside from these classics, Victoria has also proven its suitability for some less mainstream grapes. Worth pointing out is the superb 2011 Tar & Roses Tempranillo ($24.95). A blend of tempranillo from both Heathcote and Alpine Valleys in Central Victoria, this is a dead ringer for excellent Ribera del Duero, one of the most surprising finds at the tasting. And for the intrepid in search of an intriguing experience, don’t miss the 2007 Tahbilk Museum Release Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes ($22.95). It has a fascinatingly complex profile of smoky honeysuckle, wildflower honey, fresh and dried basil, peach crumble, lemon custard and more, plus a balanced, crisp and lean, low alcohol (12.5%) and high acid palate that’s still fleshy, with tremendous length and depth for the price. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a captivating explorer’s selection.
Look for more on Victorian Wine from David Lawrason’s dedicated report, to be published on WineAlign next week.
A Classy Quartet from the Loire Valley
I was impressed by several of the Loire selections in the July 21st release, each a regional archetype. The 2010 Bernard Reverdy & Fils Sancerre ($22.95) is a top notch, classy and classically proportioned example of Sancerre, with great poise, balance and tension and a marked terroir component. Across the river, the 2010 Jean-Paul Mollet l’Antique Pouilly-Fumé ($25.95) likewise offers the typically smoky/flinty character of sauvignon blanc Pouilly, though decant this before serving for best results.
If there’s aged goat cheese, rillets, lobster or crayfish on the menu, reach for the 2010 Vincent Raimbault Les Terrages Demi Sec Vouvray ($17.95). It has immediately recognizable chenin blanc character, with honey, citrus, green apple, wet hay and beeswax on the nose, not to mention riveting acids that more or less cancel the pinch of residual sugar. Perhaps the one exception to the archetypal angle to the Loire offerings is the 2007 Château de Chasseloir Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires ($18.95). It’s unusual to see a 2007 muscadet just hitting the shelves now, but those on the inside know just how well these wines can age. This example is excellent, starting to deliver some creamy, lightly oxidative notes, but a long way from tired to be sure. The palate is held together by tight acids and stony-mineral flavours, while the palate lingers on and on with lightly honeyed nuances – a terrific wine.
Ten Top Summer Whites
And if all of the above refreshments are yet still not enough, click on the link below for a shopping list of 10 exceptionally crisp, dry, characterful whites for summer drinking, with all but one under $25. There’s representation from South Africa, France, Austria, Greece, Spain, Italy, Niagara, California and New Zealand. I’m pretty sure there’s something there for you. And for Chardonnay lovers, join David Lawrason and I on July 21st to celebrate the I4C with an exclusive Cool Chardonnay Boot Camp for WineAlign members.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier