March 14, 2013

Wines of Wonderland

I was excited. Nay, extremely excited when I heard Jancis Robinson was heading south to host tastings at this years Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. This quickly turned into unbridled wine nerd bliss when the I discovered that one of these tastings would focus on the more esoteric wine grapes.

Two tickets were quickly secured and I settled back down, content. Which was roughly the moment I realised that I was double booked. My long term colleague & friend at Douglas Lamb Wines was getting married on the same day. With two tickets spare I gave them to another friend whom I thought would be equally excited. His thoughts form the real bones of this post, so I thank Aidan from Melbourne’s Europa Cellars for his generous contribution.


“… follow me, the white rabbit, down the rabbit hole …”

Such a fitting opening from mediator Max Allen at the Wines of Wonderland tasting (as a part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2013), for this was to be an afternoon of tasting the more obscure grapes of the world and it would turn out to be a tasting I felt was truly important and one which every wine lover in Australia should have attended.
On face value the tasting could appear to be a shameless plug for Jancis Robinson’s new book Wine Grapes or the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show or merely a chance for sommeliers to geek out over Koshu from Yamanashi or Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon. But what unfolded was a discussion on the way we drink and perhaps indeed the way we should be drinking.

10 years ago, due mainly to a lack of availability and interest, it was enough to know the 6 ‘major’ grape varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinot Noir), but today we currently grow more than 150 grape varieties here in Australia and thanks to a constantly growing population of importers the wine landscape in Australia will never be the same.

We tasted through 5 whites; a delicate and ballerina poised Koshu from Yamanashi, a ripe stone fruit and bruised pear Petite Arvine from Valle d’Aosta, a minerally and saline Assyrtiko from Santorini, an unfortified sherry from Jerez (an ode to the wines of the past and a joint venture between Dirk Niepoort and Jesus Barquin of Navazos) and finally a truly knock out Savagnin from the “Pope of Arbois” – Jacques Puffeney.
The first bracket of 4 red wines exploded with my wine of the day; a single vineyard Mencia from vines of approximately 100 years of age from Descendientes de J Palacios, which was a truly special way to begin the reds. To follow; a sweet fruited and voluminously rich Prieto Picudo from Tierra de Leon, a bracken, twiggy and brambly fruited Teroldego from Trentino and a herbal, amaro bitter Blaufränkisch from Burgenland.
The final 3 red wines upped the structure ante with a beautiful black tea and rosehip scented Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, the next wine; an Aglianico from Puglia, wasn’t in the best of conditions with the wine tasting baked and flat and we finished with a Bobal from Valencia which was truly bizarre offering up aromas of lavender, tomato vine and cherry yoghurt.

“The terms noble or great need to be thrown out, just be open minded and enjoy.”
Jane Faulkner

“Good wines do not necessarily need flavour to be enjoyable, digestible or great.”
Max Allen

Tasting aside, it was these two quotes for me that summed up the vibe of the tasting, they made sense not only in the context of the tasting, but also in the way in which we should view wine in the future. You need not sweat the small stuff and try to search for 20 flavour descriptors to help understand what is in your glass, or attempt to compare the grape with another of which you are more familiar. What is important is to seek an emotional resonance between the wine in front of you and the winemaker’s devotion to it or the cultural heritage from where it originates or just with the person with whom you are sharing it.

And so it was, a Sunday afternoon descent into the wonderland of vinous treats currently being imported into Australia by those that seek to drink outside the box.
Come and join us, one and all.

Wines Tasted
2009 Grace, Hishiyama Koshu, Japan
2011 Ottin, Petite Arvine, Italy
2011 Sigalas, Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece
2010 Niepoort Navazos, Vino Blanco Palomino Fino, Spain
2007 Puffeney, Arbois Savagnin, France
2008 Descendientes de J Palacios, Moncerbal Mencia, Spain
2008 Pardevalles, Gamonal Prieto Picudo, Spain
2009 Foradori, Teroldego, Italy
2008 Moric, Reserve Blaufränkisch, Austria
2008 Biondi, Outis Etna Rosso, Italy
2008 Antica Enotria, Aglianico, Italy
2010 Mustiguillo, Mestis Bobal, Spain



Filed under:waxing lyrical