Australia is drinking more Champagne - over 6 million bottles were imported in 2013 – with favourable exchange rates and sharp prices (especially from the direct importers) being key drivers.
I’ve had several opportunities to taste Champagne recently, both in my routine tastings at home, and other places, including Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine’s big non-vintage tasting. I’ve also reviewed a lot of sparkling wines from Australia and other places, and this month uploaded about 120 reviews.
Aussie sparkling has a hard time competing with the best of the discounted Champagnes, dollar for dollar, but there’s no denying the quality exists. Often, when I taste the best local sparklings against Champagnes, and quality and price align, the only advantage for some Champagnes is the image.
The House of Arras has been written about here plenty of times (and I’ve reviewed another crop of these (tastings), led by their new entry-level $25 non-vintage, ‘A by Arras’ Premium Cuvée - tasting). But this month I was especially impressed by the new releases from Jansz. Made by the talented and very bubbly Natalie Fryar, these are all-Tasmanian, and are among the many brands and wineries owned by Hill Smith Family Estates. The style can be described as generously flavoured, and their natural full bodied style is augmented by the fact that they’re permitted plenty of time on the lees to build complexity.
I especially love the way they brand their wines ‘Methode Tasmanoise’. A new word enters the language, and why the hell not?
Jansz prices are also very reasonable. The nine year-old Late Disgorged Cuvée is truly exceptional value for money.
Just look at these:
2010 Vintage Rosé $48 - 90 pts (tasting)
2008 Vintage Cuvée $45 - 90 pts (tasting)
2008 Single Vineyard Chardonnay $65 - 92 pts (tasting)
2005 Late Disgorged Cuvée $50 - 95 pts (tasting)
I hasten to add that my ratings may seem modest compared to some reviewers, but the ratings are relative to the greatest prestige cuvées of Champagne, which are the greatest sparkling wines in the world. If we rate the best Australian bubblies 96 to 97, what do we give the 2004 Dom Perignon (previous tasting), 2002 Salon (previous tastings), 2004 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Rosé (previous tasting) and 2000 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart (previous tastings), which will be in next month’s tasting notes?
NB: to find the latest tastings, go to the ‘Browse’ page and sort by ‘sparkling’ and ‘date tasted’. You can further refine the sort by price, if you wish.
If you’re wondering what wine to serve with dinner this Friday, I’d suggest something containing grenache. That’s because Friday is International Grenache Day. Why dedicate a day to commemorating a grape variety, you might ask?
It’s to remind wine drinkers that grenache exists, really, as grenache is a great grape which suffers from an image problem. At the foot of the problem is its lack of recognition: a great deal of grenache is used in red blends - think Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Locally, we have plenty of pure varietal grenaches but they are not big sellers. Most of our grenache goes into GSMs (grenache, shiraz, mourvedre blends, sometimes including other grapes such as tempranillo, cinsault or touriga).
GSMs are also a little unfashionable, but that’s good news for the red wine drinker as it means they are often under-priced. Look no further than the latest St Hallett Gamkeepers Shiraz Grenache Tempranillo 2013 ($14), which is outstanding value for money, while Arakoon’s 2012 Full Bodied Red Shiraz Grenache Mataro ($18) is hot on its heels.
Pure grenache? Try The Old Faithful Northern Exposure 2010 ($50 - tasting), Chapel Hill Bush Vine 2012 ($30 - tasting), Yangarra Estate High Sands 2010 (tasting) (or the lighter bodied 2011 - tasting) (both $125), Yangarra Estate Old Vine ($35 - tasting) and, if you can find it, the 2010 Wirra Wirra The Absconder ($65 - tasting).
Any of the Twelftree grenaches released in tiny quantities by Two Hands part-owner Michael Twelftree from specific vineyards in both the Barossa and McLaren Vale are worth buying, especially the 2012 Airport Greenock ($40 - tasting).
When money is no object: Torbreck Les Amis 2012 ($195 - tasting) is the most enjoyable I’ve yet tasted under this label.
For events, go to www.grenache-association.com
‘Natural’ wines reared their controversial heads at last Sunday’s Sydney Italian Wine & Food Festival. The event was a major success, attracting about 1200 to the Sydney Town Hall, where more than 250 premium Italian wines were offered for tasting.
I hosted some masterclasses in an upstairs room, all of which were booked out and the wines were exceptionally good as well as interesting – although the ‘natural’ wines were challenging. As I’ve repeatedly said about these ‘back to the roots’, hands-off wines, the good are good and the bad are terrible. I can handle wines looking cloudy and even amber in the glass, but we were served wines which were alternately mousy, excessively volatile and oxidized. And some that smelled dirty or simply lacked freshness.
On the other hand, several were very palatable. Quealy’s ‘Turbul’ Friulano 2013 ($34 - previous tastings) was very reductive to sniff but the palate was superb: rich and fleshy, with silky texture, full body and marvelous complexity of flavour. I also liked the 2006 Gravner ‘Anfora’ Ribolla Gialla ($140) – an unequivocally orange-amber coloured white wine with tremendous complexity and persistence, as well as very special, and very appealing, character.
We began with a sparkling wine, Podere Pradarolo Vej ($64), a non-vintage malvasia from Emilia. While yellow-amber in hue and leaving sediment in the glass, it had a delightful perfume. It was very tannic, prompting me to wonder if it mightn’t be much more enjoyable with the right kind of food, eg a simple slice of smoked salmon.
The one red that I (and it seemed, everyone else) enjoyed was 2010 Damiano Ciolli ‘Cirsium’ ($59), made from the cesanese grape under the DOC Olevano Romano. It was rich, chocolaty, full-bodied but smoothly textured in spite of its abundant tannins, with a satisfying old-viney density.
The tally for this admittedly rather traditionally-schooled taster was 4/10 acceptable wines. Well, at least whoever selected the wines didn’t cop out: they pulled no punches and went for some pretty wild stuff, so the audience had a true glimpse of the ‘natural’ offering. As Max Allen, my co-host for this tasting said, these wines are about a state of mind. It’s a philosophy. Tom McCarthy of Quealy Wines made the point that they’re about problem-solving: making wine with minimal intervention, no additions or subtractions, is about solving the problems that inevitably arise. Some do that better than others.
More conventional were my masterclasses on, firstly, tre bicchieri Italian wines (3 wineglasses, as rated by the Gambero Rosso wine guide) and secondly, the red wines of Piedmont. There were some sensational wines.
I was gobsmacked at the freshness, vitality and charm of a 2006 Soave - the Suavia ‘Monte Carbonare’ (previous tasting) - although, yes, it was from magnums. I’d never tasted a biancolella (white grape) from the island of Ischia, and the 2012 Casa D’Ambra ‘Frassitelli’ ($42) was very, very good. The wood-aged 2011 Provenza ‘Fabio Contato’ Trebbiano di Lugana ($68) - actually the same grape as verdicchio – was superb, as was the even more full-bodied and oaky Cervaro della Sala 2011 ($80) from the Antinori (tastings) family’s Umbrian property Castello della Sala. Then in reds, the 2008 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco ($80) was a crackerjack example of this oft-maligned grape, while the 6Mura Carignano del Sulcis 2009 ($68) was carignano (carignan) as you’ve never seen it from Spain or France, or even probably from Italy.
The buzz at the Italian festival was amazing and the venue outstanding, although it was hard work hearing the chefs for the noise of the enthusiastic crowd as they did their cooking demonstrations in the Smeg kitchen set up in one corner of the Town Hall auditorium. Artisanal Italian beers were also represented, and Australian wines made from Italian grapes were given a run, with the likes of Coriole (tastings), Pizzini (tastings) and Quealy (tastings) pouring their wares. Hungry visitors snacked on breads, cheeses, salumi and pasta. Hot food was provided by restaurants Pilu, Ormeggio, Balla, A Tavola and Via Napoli.
Meletti Limoncello, Marche, Italy $47 / 700ml
With its deep, bright lemon-peel yellow hue and explosive lemon aroma and flavour, this is a benchmark limoncello. Very sweet and thickly textured when served ice-cold, it has almost pulpy density and fantastic length, augmented by warming alcohol and peely bitterness. Store in freezer and serve as a digestif. 30 per cent alcohol.
Food: no. Serve by itself after the meal
Stockist: Blackhearts & Sparrows, Melbourne
Zonin Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Veneto 2009 $55 Value: very good
With its dark, concentrated purple-red colour, this amarone is laden with vibrant prune and raisin aromas and hints of jam and licorice. While tannic and gutsy, it’s also big on sweet fruit. A rustic but generous, bold red with overtones of dried grapes. Best from 2016 to 2029. 15 per cent alcohol. 92/100 - Huon’s Wine 360
Food: Reggiano cheese
Stockist: Dan Murphy’s stores (both states); www.danmurphys.com.au