Artisans of Australian Wine
I went along to the Artisans of Australian wine tasting which was held at a rather artisanale space in the swinging up and coming district of Shore Ditch in East London.
Some 40-odd wineries were represented, where, as the tasting brochure says, “we draw together some of the most exciting, innovative and downright talented winemakers in the world today”.
Well, maybe some are, but that’s a pretty sweeping statement, which clearly needed investigation. A number of the wineries were already known to me and already appear in Wine behind the label, either with full entries or as “other wines of note”. My task was to seek out those that were not known to us and to assess which ones are going to make it into the next edition.
Since the millennium, winemaking has taken a technical turn for the better all over the world and the digital and computerised technology has certainly helped to improve the consistency of production.
But it has also led to some producers thinking themselves clever enough to sometimes try and make things into what they ain’t! The most common mistake here is for New World winemakers trying to make Old World wines. I know they want to get away from the big blowsy fruit bombs that, the reputation of , say, the Californian and Australian wines have been tarred with, but sometimes they go so far the other way that the wines finish up as being thin and weedy disasters. And these are usually the most expensive wines to boot!
There were a smattering of these at this tasting, but there were also a number of producers making world class wines.
The pick of the bunch for me, particularly as there was an added bonus of an excellent price/quality ratio, were Julian Forewood and Bernice Ong’s Ministry of Clouds wines. Like a few excellent winemakers in other parts of the world, their usp is the fact that as yet, they don’t own any vineyards, and having worked in the wine trade for other producers for many years in the past, they have the connections with some of the best growers in different regions in Australia. Mainly using the facilities of Tim Geddes at his winery in McLaren Vale, they are turning out wines with enormous purity of expression, balance and complexity with true varietal flavours, ably abetted by some uncanny (or is it canny) fruit selection from top growers. The icing on the cake, though, is the gentle pricing of the wines. Here is the assessment:
Chardonnay Tasmania ★★★★ £E
Grenache McLaren Vale ★★★★ £D
Mataro McLaren Vale ★★★★✩ £D
Another great producer is Timo Mayer who has just 2.5 ha of vines in a single vineyard, Bloody Hill (so called because of its bloody steepness) in the Yarra Valley. The sheer purity of the fruit comes over strongly in the unfined and unfiltered wines and whilst not cheap exude quality in every direction.
“Bloody Hill” Pinot Noir is very fine with excellent varietal flavours with soft tannins and a long finish. The vines are planted 3000 to the hectare for this wine but there is a part of the vineyard where the planting is at 6000 and from these vines he produces his “Close Planted” Pinot Noir, which has that extra bit of concentration in the wine. The “Doktor” Pinot Noir is made from the close planted vines but here the selection is 100% whole bunch, which, while certainly austere in its youth, will repay long cellaring.
His Syrah, also with 100% whole bunch fermentation, displays the essential tarryness of the grape, corpulent without being over-blowsy with firm, but gentle tannins.
“Bloody Hill” Pinot Noir ★★★★ £F
“Close Planted” Pinot Noir ★★★★✩ £F
“Doktor” Pinot Noir ★★★★✩ £F
Syrah ★★★★ £F
A close neighbour in the Yarra Valley is Luke Lambert, whose single vineyard wines are made from handpicked fruit, wild yeast fermented and with no temperature control, fining or filtration. Luke sources his fruit from vineyards that give a true expression of the terroir and the result is that the wines reflect that expression together with vibrant juicy fruit and true varietal flavours.
“LL” Chardonnay is juicy with good balance between the fruit and the acidity if perhaps lacking just a little bit of complexity. “Crudo” Shiraz, on the other hand, combines this juicy fruit, coupled with the tarryness of the grape and a judicious use of oak. “LL” Syrah (why one is called Shiraz and the other Syrah is something I haven’t been able to fathom out) has that extra bit of complexity and a great deal of persistence on the finish. Whilst they are all approachable now, long cellaring will be additionally rewarding. Prices are very reasonable for the quality.
“LL” Chardonnay ★★★✩ £D
“Crudo” Shiraz ★★★★ £D
“LL” Syrah ★★★★✩ £E
Perhaps the most boutique of the wineries is the one-third of a hectare owned by Fraser McKinley in the Barossa Valley and dedicated to organically produced Syrah. He does, however, farm some other small vineyards, but nevertheless his total production is very small. He makes a number of different bottlings almost, as it seems, on a whim. They go under the label of Sami-Odi, which is apparently named after a Turkish boat and an Italian book. Quantities of each wine are tiny, just a few hundred bottles of each, but there is no doubt about the high quality of the wines made by this dedicated winemaker. “Little Wine” is a series of bottlings of mixed vintages and the recent offering, #5, is full and fruity, with a wonderful soft mouthfeel and good balance between the fruit and acidity. Syrah “XIV” is the latest (2014) vintage of his top cuvée, displaying real finesse, balance, complexity and true varietal flavours.
“Little Wine #5” Syrah ★★★★ £F
Syrah XIV ★★★★✩ £G
Not far behind were the wines from Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis and Adrian Thomas at Lethbridge Wines in Geelong. All coming from a medical background, these somewhat “cult” wines are much sought after by Melbourne doctors. Now venturing internationally, there is a chance for the rest of the world to appreciate theses well-made wines.
“Dr Nadeson” Riesling (Ernie Loosen, eat your heart out!) already displays from its youth that peculiar petrolly sensation on the palate and has a fine complex finish, but the entry level Lethbridge Chardonnay disappointed a bit with some excess of residual sugar. Lethbridge’s strength, however are in their reds, starting with the well-balanced “Ménage á Noir” Pinot Noir – easy drinking and smooth. The Negroamaro is also easy drinking, but like its counterpart in Southern Italy, is not very complex.
Where Lethbridge really steps up is with the Pinot Meunier, good colour, balance and length and one of the best examples of this component of Champagne wines I have tasted. Both the Lethbridge Shiraz and the Lethbridge Pinot Noir display true varietal flavours coupled with good complexity and a long finish.
“Dr Nadeson” Riesling ★★★ £D
Lethbridge Chardonnay ★★ £E
“Ménage á Noir” Pinot Noir ★★★✩ £D
Lethbridge Negroamaro ★★✩ £D
Lethbridge Pinot Meunier ★★★✩ £D
Lethbridge Shiraz ★★★★ £E
Lethbridge Pinot Noir ★★★★ £E
Other wines of note
Ruggabellus Barossa Valley
“Fluus” Grenache, Mataró Cinsault ★★✩ £D
“Timaeus” Grenache, Mataró Cinsault ★★✩ £E
“Efferus” Mataró, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault ★★✩ £E
“Archaeus” Syrah, Mataró, Grenache, Cinsault ★★★✩ £E
Eperosa – Barossa Valley
“Synthesis” Mataró, Grenache, Syrah ★★★ £E
“Elevation” Syrah ★★★✩ £E
“Stonegarden” Grenache ★★★✩ £F
Ochota Barrels – Adelaide Hills
“Weird Berries in the Wood” Gewürztraminer ★★ £D
“The Slint” Chardonnay ★★✩ £E
“5V 0V” Chardonnay ★★★ £F
“A Forest” Pinot Noir ★★✩ £E
“Impeccable Disorder” Pinot Noir ★★★ £F
“Fugazi” Grenache ★★★ £E
“I am the Owl” Syrah ★★✩ £E
“Shellac” Syrah ★★★ £E
“A Sense of Compression” Grenache ★★★✩ £F
“186” Grenache ★★★★ £F
L. A. S. Vino – Margaret River
Chardonnay ★★★ £F
“CBDB” Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay ★★★ £F
“Portuguese Pirate” Tourigo Nacional, Tinto Cao, Souzoo ★★★✩ £F
The Other Wine Company
Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris ★★✩ £C
McLaren Vale Grenache ★★★★ £C
“Art Seies” Vermentino Heathcote Victoria ★★ £D
“Art Series” Shiraz/Malbec Wrattonbully South Australia ★★★ £D
Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ★★★ £E
Tamar Valley Chardonnay Tasmania ★★★ £E
BK Wines Adelaide Hills
“One Ball” Chardonnay ★★★ £D
“Skin ‘n Bones” Pinot Noir ★★✩ £D
“Skin ‘n Bones” White Savagnin ★★✩ £D
“Cult” Syrah ★★★ £D
“Gower” Pinot Noir ★★★✩ £E
“Swaby” Chardonnay ★★★ £E
“Red Blend” Grenache, Mataró, Syrah ★★★✩ £E
For rating and pricing explanations, please see page 12 of the guide or go to https://www.winebehindthelabel.org/general/ratings/