Albanian Surprise – Çobo Winery, Berat, Albania

Some kilometres outside Berat you think you’ve landed in a real dump with nothing much to offer than a statue in the centre of town and the ubiquitous cafés surrounding it. The place is called Ura Vajgurore and this is where the gem is to be found.

Çobo Winery in Ura Vajgurore, near Berat, Albania

The winery consists of a huge house attached to the cellar, bottling plant and tasting room. A charming gentleman steps forth and introduces himself as Muharrem Çobo, owner, winemaker and marketing director. He knows how to do all three of these things well. Here’s why.

Muharrem Çobo, owner, winemaker, marketing director

Taking us through the cellar which produces no more than 100 000 bottles per year, he tells us that the grapes are sourced from their own vineyards and others that they buy in. The stainless steel tanks for primary fermentation look pretty new and shiny and then there’s the room where all the vats are kept most of them new Barriques and some older large ones. I notice the riddling board where several bottles of sparkling are awaiting a turn and he tells me it’s his new baby, making a bubbly out of Puls, a white wine grape only found in this region. Everything is done by hand and carefully monitored by Muharrem himself. His first batch of Shendeverë, the name of the fizz suggesting the good life, has been sold out except for a few bottles kept for tasting.

An impressive tasting room

Our next stop is the tasting room, a fabulous facility where you’re able to indulge in the line-up of wine as well as have some bread, cheese and olives to go with it. Shesh I Bardhe is an example of a traditional Albanian white wine, kept as pure as possible to its traditions without too much interference. It’s got a strange flowery nose almost like honeysuckle and has some gooseberry on the palate with good acidity and something slightly bitter but not offensively so, on the finish. Shesh i Zi reminds me of Pinot Noir which I find out later is in fact true. It’s acidic, bright and fresh with berry fruit on the palate. But it’s Kashmer that gets my attention. The name is made up of the 3 grapes it contains viz. Cabernet (Kabernet) Sauvignon, Shesh i Zi and Merlot. This is an earthy wine and tells the story of its terroir. There’s enough fruit and acidity to keep it interesting right through the finish which is medium. The flagship is next up – E Kugja e Beratit meaning ‘the red of Berat’. This grape varietal is also called Vlosh and has seen the inside of small oak barrels for 6 months and 4 months in big ones. It comes from a small parcel of land measuring 2 hectacres. It has a deep nose of horse, leather and covers the palate with thick, velvety tannins that are not overwhelming. The finish is looong and satisfying. Put it together with a meaty dish on a cold winter’s night and life’s complete.

The reds got my attention
Muharrem’s new baby – a sparkling made from an original Albanian grape called Puls.

As I said before, Muharrem knows what he’s doing. The pricing is somewhat more than you would expect from Albanian wines but the quality is all there and for a small set-up like his, paying €30 for their E Kugja e Beratit is not unthinkable. It might be difficult to sell this to a consumer after import taxes, transportation, etc. but production is so little that he probably doesn’t have a lot to export anyway.

What a surprise to find a top class winery in the wilds of Albania that understands the international market and sticks with what it knows best i.e. grapes from the area that speak of the oldest winemaking tradition in Europe.

Links:

Çobo Winery

Ackerman Winery – Saumur, Loire Valley

The more you read about this company, the more you like it. From the word go, Jean-Baptiste Ackerman, understood the principals of local and locality. He did his homework well and then transferred his store of knowledge applying it in a new place.

Ackerman Winery, Saumur, Loire Valley

From the caves of Champagne where this wealthy banker’s son from Antwerp, learnt the tricks of the trade, Ackerman proceeded to Saumur in the Loire Valley in 1810. His vision was to recreate those fine bubbles of mousse rising steadily to the top of the glass using the grapes of the area. He bought some of the best tracts of underground galleries consisting of cool, limestone caves and started implementing his ideas. Instead of importing experienced workers, he decided that local was best and launched forth in educating the people around him teaching them the ‘méthode traditionelle’. He even married locally. His bride was the daughter of a rich banker carrying the name of Laurance and hence the brand name Ackerman was extended. His sparkling wine, which he labelled ‘champagne’, a mistake that would cost him dearly, received high acclamation from a wine-tasting jury spurring the company on to export. Due to his efforts, an addition to the railway line from Paris to Rennes and Angers, ended up in Saumur and from there Saumur Brut became widely known in England, Russia, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.

Ackerman and Laurance, a formidable pair

Today, Ackerman has not lost the vision and passion that Jean-Baptiste Ackerman had for the product and the company. They operate sustainably, making sure that waste is separated, water re-used and their footprint minimised. They’ve been able to reduce pesticide-use by 40% without losing production, cut down the amount of water that is used mostly for washing the bottles and have encouraged their growers to plant grass in between vineyards which works against soil erosion.

The cellar master’s chilly office at 12C

Taking care of their labourers is high priority. The average age of their 150 workforce is 45 years, an ageing population and hence training in load carrying is vital. Planning for retirement with mentor-based training is another way this way company looks out for its own. Disabled people are employed in bottle-conditioning.

The products from this winery are held up as benchmarks for the rest of the region. In 1956, they joined forces with Rémy Pannnier and have gone from strength to strength in quality and quantity. Both still and sparkling wines are produced from the highest quality of grapes grown in the Loire Valley creating tannic, earthy Cabernet Franc from Chinon, delicate sparkling wines using Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and even Pinot Noir in their cuvées and nutty, intense Chenin Blanc.

Creamy crémant

The iPad guided tour takes you on an informative, delightful journey through the caves including an installation art exhibition with a writhing python, a beautiful blonde and a spider web stretched across a huge hall. The whole tour costs a meagre €5 including a tasting of their entire extensive range, if you so wish. When the personnel are chatty and genuinely friendly, you know you’re in the Loire Valley and not in Paris or some other renowned regions where egos outstrip generosity and kindness. The service here is superlative and when you can walk away with a stash of outstanding bubbly and a few robust stills, most of them for under €10 per bottle, you count yourself lucky.

Let’s Talk Champagne – J.L. Vergnon

The Old Student House is anything but the way it sounds. The building, which used to be the party place for university students, screams pomp and ceremony with its arches and corniced pillars. What could be more appropriate than a Grand Champagne celebration in these glorious surroundings?

Amongst the 50 champagne houses represented, are some new names that stand out and one of these is Christophe Constant from J. L. Vergnon. Besides the tastings and Master Classes at Vanha, as we refer to the venue, there are other occasions to extend the pleasure of drinking this ‘king of wines and wine of kings’. In the fitting environment of one of Helsinki’s top restaurants Olo Garden, brunch is served accompanied by a tasting of four of the J.L. Vergnon range.

Christophe Constant, oenologist and winemaker at J.L. Vergnon with Petra Anttila, co-owner of Bottlescouts.

The titles of each one in themselves are points of discussion. We start with Conversation, what else? It’s a Blanc de Blanc which breaks the ice and oils the wheels of a good chat with your table companions whether you know them or not. It’s crisp, very dry and the fine mousse rises rapidly to the rim. Made from 25% of 2006 reserve wine with grapes from the Grand Cru region of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, it has a classic nose of biscuit and citrus. Apricots, lemon and again that cake and biscuit flavour plays around on your palate with a finish of slight saltiness. A cabbage/kale dish for breakfast could be a conversation stopper but with this sparkling mouthful of acidity, words start flowing and chatter becomes easy, even for the Finns.

Eloquence is next, or is it? If you couldn’t find the words in Conversation, you’ll never find them in Eloquence. The excellence of language usage comes into play with this tight, flinty champagne. Christophe Constant does it again in his inimitable style of creating a racy, tense wine that brings you brioche, pear and lemon zest with a finish of lingering marzipan. A deep structure keeps you coming back for more and every sip reveals another secret. The slightly sweet pickled cucumber delicately laced with dill on a bed of shrimps brings out notes of grapefruit and melon. The elegance of Eloquence is hard to resist.

Brunch at Olo Garden, Grand Champagne 2017

Renowned for Blanc de Blanc, Christophe has gone out on a limb creating the Rosémotion, a blend of Chardonnay and Grand Cru Pinot Noir wine. Tart strawberry and yeast on the nose is followed through on the palate with minerality, some lingonberry and grapefruit. This is not a candy-style rosé, it’s far more serious and displays dense structure which would go well with Steak Tartare, unfortunately not on the menu at this brunch. However, the crisp little Madeleine’s sweet, almondy flavours, makes the wine sing.

A deep Résonance is sadly, our final mouthful of this exceptional flight. The 2008 vintage blanc de blanc champagne digs deep into your thoughts with its complex structure. It brings that ever-present grapefruit and almond to the fore with elements of vanilla and honey. On the second drop the creaminess of a long time spent on the lees reveals itself while the third taste makes talk unnecessary and you settle in to a cosy, satisfying warmth. Rich is an understatement without ever losing elegance and minerality. This one will resonate for a time to come.

These fine products are available from:

Finland

http://bottlescouts.fi/articles/viinikategoriat/sesonki/grand-champagne/

Elsewhere:

http://www.champagne-jl-vergnon.com/partenaires-en.html

 

Winning Wines of 2017

The wine competition took place this year as usual and here are my favourites from the flight of winners.

Getting ready for the tasting

Whites:

 Camie Salié Jurançon Sec 2014 – way down south in a lesser known region of wine making in France comes this gem made from Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, also lesser known. But the careful hand vinification has produced a wine with walnuts, mandarin, sometimes marmalade and vanilla. Each sip is a new revelation. Alko price €18,89.

A really good wine at a really good price

Dal Cero Vigneto Runcata 2014 – a soave superior with the classic Garganega grape. Its deep flavours come in the form of rich butter, citrus and baked notes with plenty of acidity to give it structure. You could mistake it for a Chardonnay but then there’s this nervous finish which gives it a whole new profile. Alko €22,90.

Fraser Gallop Parterre Chardonnay 2015 – all the way from Margaret River this wooded Chardonnay is made from free run juice and has elegance second to none. It is wooded but not overtoasted and shows a mingling of citrus fruit and baked Alaska leaving you with a mouth full of creaminess in the finish. Alko €32,98.

White wine winners

Reds:

 Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2010 – a big wine, full-bodied and ready to take on any steak or red meat delivery out there. The woodsmoke shouts out for a barbecue and the strawberry and dark cherry puts it on a level with some outstanding rivals. Balance is the key and firmness can be found in the finish. Alko €24,94

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – wood ash opening up to cigar box and cherries on the nose, this comes from Stellenbosch, South Africa. It’s got a whole load of stuff happening with plums, cherries again, coffee and chocolate. A barbecue is calling you with a nice fat lamb chop on it. Alko €16,89.

Domaine Bousquet Ameri Single Vineyard 2011 – an organic wine which at first almost gives you a fright with its pungency of balsam dissipating into boysenberry and chocolate notes. It’s a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot that grows on you and keeps coming back with more intriguing flavours every time you have a taste. Definitely made for meat in its full robustness. Alko €29,94.

Red wine winners

NEXT TASTING – get your head around some dizzying rosés on Tuesday 30 May 2017 at Nomad Cellars, Annankatu 22, 00100 Helsinki with Veli-Antti Koivuranta. Bookings: +358 40 4143705.

Links:

Vuoden Viinit 2017

Alko

La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life in Helsinki

Wine and food fairs are a menace. You never get to drink a full glass and you never seem to be able to fill your stomach on all the snacky portions available. You usually come away feeling dehydrated and slightly ill. Nowadays, I make it a habit of going to a fair not just to see what’s available but with a particular mission in mind, a quest for what is different and new.

At this year’s Italian celebration of their fabulous fare, held in the gorgeous setting of the Old Student House or Vanha Ylioppilastalo as it is known in Finnish, I’m on the look out for some grape varietals I’ve never tasted before. Not as easy as you might think…. Not because I’ve tasted so many wines in my lifetime but because the standard and generic is in your face all the time and it’s hard to sift through the stuff that you always come across.

Benanti’s Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla

This time I’m in luck when I stumble upon the Benanti wines from Sicily. Their Marketing and Export Manager Agatino Failla, has a wicked sense of humour and before you know it, you’re tasting some products that grab your attention. Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 is made from Carricante grapes. I try not to look too stupid. It’s full of mineral and flint, slightly spicy and plays games with your taste buds resulting in a long, extended finish. When I do a bit of research, I find out that Carricante is an ancient grape that thrives on the slopes of Mount Etna’s volcanic soil and is prized for its acidity. The vines inherited by the Benanti family are old, really old between 80 and 120 years I am told. The complexity in all their wines are testament to these struggling growths digging deep to find water and hence survival.

This brings me to the reds and again I’m trying not to show my ignorance. Benanti Etna Rosso is a product of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio both of which have been around forever, both of which are intriguing in their profile. It reminds me a bit of Pinot Noir with its fruity intensity without losing that trademark minerality of all Benanti wines. It could be my imagination but do I really taste the terroir here? Then the 100% Benanti Nerello Mascalese. We’re talking tannins and sour cherry, cranberry and some hints of a flower, violets perhaps? It’s medium-bodied and stuffed with all kinds of intricate flavours that keep you talking and sipping.

With diurnal temperatures sometimes ranging as wide as 20 degrees at certain times of year, these vineyards have to fight for their very existence. Growing ancient grapes on an active volcano is not for sissies. The Benanti family intend to hang in there and judging by awards, they’re reaching for the stars and getting there.

Alko stocks 2 of their wines: Benanti Etna Bianco 2014 and Benanti Nerello Mascalese 2013.

Barolo, Barbaresco, King and Queen?

Let’s get down to the earth. If you read what it says on the websites, it’s all in the soil but should one be considered better or lesser than the other, is another question.

Perjantaiparlementti or Friday Parliament is what the Minister of Wine, Veli-Antti Koivuranta calls the Friday wine tastings where he pulls out all the stops and goes for the top of the range stuff. Here’s a chance to taste wines that you might never buy yourself but that you’d love to try.

The Minister of Wine. Veli-Antti Koivuranta

North-West Italy is where these wines originate. The region is divided into four areas viz. Piemonte (Barolo and Barbaresco; Astia, Alba; Gavi), Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Liguria. Now that we know this, we understand that Barolo and Barbaresco are areas, not grape varietals and that the fruit is called Nebbiolo. But the devil is in the detail and here it is: soils in Barbaresco are more nutrient and hence produce less tannins than what you might find in Barolo. Both produce wines that smell of flowers and perfume and both have a long finish. But on the palate is where you’ll find the difference, less of a chalky mouth-feel on the Barbaresco. Then there is also the question of cellar time. Barolo stays in barrel longer because of its tannic qualities but it also changes the flavour profile.

Three favourites

We always kick off with a sparkling of some kind and this one is a Frizzante from Lombardy. It’s a good way to get the palate going and freshen it up. Seven wines to follow and every single one is an explosion of flavour.

Barbaresco Gallina 2012 from Ugo Lequio which smells like cherry, a hint of liquorice and rose petal. It’s nuanced with great balance between soft tannins and sweet berries. (Alko €28,39).

The Gemma Giblin Barolo 2008 reminds me of creosote, leather and smoke and yet has heady notes of roses and spice. (Alko €58,40).

Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2012 ranges in scores from 98 by James Suckling to 89 from Wine Enthusiast. With spice, ash, raspberry on the nose and then more violets and sour cherry on the palate, the finish is tannic. It’s robust and big and it’ll take a well-matured steak or truffles to stand up to its powerful flavour. Be warned, this is not for sipping. (Alko €92).

Friday Parliament – a wine tasting with top-tier stuff

To join us for well-priced, top quality tastings at Nomad Cellars, see Viiniministeri.fi and for info in English, call Veli-Antti Koivuranta at +358 40 4143705.

Biodynamic, Organic, Natural. Huh?

Can you really taste the difference? Is it healthier for you and is it better for the environment? These are all questions that spring to mind when the discussion on organic, biodynamic and natural wines comes up.

So what’s different between these 3? All three have factors in common not least of which are little manmade intervention, zero technology i.e. no sugars or yeasts added. What you see in the vineyard is what you get in the bottle. But when we get down to the nitty gritty, what can or rather cannot be done to the grapes in order to produce wine that can be considered drinkable?

Organic and biodynamic are largely vineyard-related practices while some certification does restrict what you do in the cellar. No synthetic chemicals can be used in organic farming while the principles propagated by Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophical philosophy takes it a step further that prevention is better than cure. Build a strong, robust vine by using plants, minerals that occur naturally and animals for manure, and the battle against diseases is mostly won. Planting, pruning and harvesting are done according to the cycles of the moon and the movement of planets and stars. It’s a holistic approach preaching the inter-connectivity of everything.

Sulphites are used to preserve wine and to give it a longer shelf-and cellar life. This is taken into account by organic and biodynamic winemakers but to a far lesser degree than would generally be the case. Wild yeasts or certified organic yeasts get the fermentation process started while stabilisers have to be bentonite or cream of tartar to prevent clouding. ‘Less is more’ could easily be the motto.

So what distinguishes natural from the biodynamic and organic? No real definition exists for natural wines and no certification has as yet been issued by authorities but disciples are increasing and practices are being firmly established. ‘No’ is a word you’ll hear often when speaking to a natural winemaker. It applies to irrigation, machinery, yeasts, bacteria, additives, sulphites (although some cheat ever so slightly just before bottling), fining, filtration, meddling on the whole.

Ultimately, do they taste any different? In some cases, a resounding ‘yes’ is the answer. Unfortunately, however, this would apply in the negative sense and the liquid would preferably be spat out rather than consumed. This was the case for most who tasted Les Quarterons 2012 Sancerre (Alko €28.58) by Sébastien Riffault, a young winemaker who has taken over his father’s 5-hectare property in the Loire Valley. This Sauvignon Blanc gives you a strong nose of straw and farmyard and a smoky palate with yeast and speaks to you straight from the earth it grows in, but whether it’s palatable is another matter. It grows on you but it’s not something I would choose for a party. The blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne is something that you might look for in France’s Rhone Valley but this one comes from a producer in the Casablanca Valley in Chile called Emiliana. Signos De Origen La Vinilla is organically farmed, fermented in stainless steel and finished off in used oak barrels. The wine is lush with tropical fruit and nuttiness on the palate and has enough acidity to give it a medium finish.

The reds were more interesting than the white wines at this tasting. Austria has made its mark on the wine industry ranking mostly as high quality and Beck Ink (Alko €16.50) holds that banner high. Watch out for Judith Beck. She has taken control of the family winery in Gols on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee in Burgenland and she’s doing some pretty amazing stuff. A blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent, this wine is vibrant and fresh with balanced acidity in the sour cherry, herbaceous flavours. It would go well with smoky meats.

Another female winemaker in this male-dominated world is Elizabetta Foradori from the Dolomites. Her grape of choice? Teroldego, a new one for me but not for Italy where it’s been cultivated for hundreds of years. Horseradish and herbs on the nose and dustiness on the palate turns this wine into a fine example of what minimal intervention creates. Simply called Foradori 2014 (Alko €29.90), it shows the true colours of the stony terroir from where it hails.

Wine tastings with Veli-Antti Koivuranta, the Viiniministeri, take place at Nomad Cellars more or less 4 to 5 times a month and are laid-back, fun and reasonably priced events where you’ll feel comfortable whether you’re a novice or someone who takes this thing of sipping wine seriously. Website: http://www.viiniministeri.fi/ (for details in English, call +358 40 414 3705).

 

Friendly Wines for Friendly People

If you ever thought that a Monday night couldn’t work as a wine tasting event, you’re probably right. But Maanantaiklubi (Monday Club) organised by the Wine Minister Veli-Antti Koivuranta himself, is always a success. It’s got a lot to do with lots of factors that turn dull Mondays into celebrations, not least of all the friendly crowd and Veli-Antti’s knowledgeable and laid-back demeanour.

The tastings are always blind i.e. the bottles are wrapped in tin foil. The descriptions help you along to guess what’s in the glass. The wines are handpicked and high quality. The snacks are superlative and best of all the price is within everyone’s reach.

Friendly Wines, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is kick-started by Mionetto Gran Rosé Extra Dry, recognisable as a Prosecco but not made from Glera grapes but strangely reminiscent of the classic pear and apple flavours. At €8,99 from Alko, it’s a nice little number with a touch of strawberry to remind you it’s a rosé.

More bubbles are next leaping forward into a whole new category with André Clouet No 3 Rosé Champagne Brut. At €39,95 you would expect so. Hailing from Bouzy, a region known for it’s Pinot Noir grapes, this one gives you opulence and plenty of red fruit pulled together by that lovely yeasty character of baked bread.

Not being much of a Viognier fan myself, The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 is surprisingly acidic, the one element I usually find lacking. It’s got honey melon and a little ginger too which turns it into a good choice for seafood. McLaren Vale, Australia, is where it’s made on the d’Arenberg Estate and the name is appropriate for the terroir of calcerous remains of shell fish, the hermit crab being one.

In the set of reds, the Kleine Zalze Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 catches me off guard when I’m almost convinced it’s from Bordeaux with that unmistakeable fireplace ash nose. It’s bold with enough body and tannins to match any pan-fried steak or roast beef. And while we’re on the subject of tannins and body, get your tongue around Numanthia Termes 2013, a robust wine full of blackberry, plums and wood. This wine’s not for the faint-hearted and can stand its own with any red meat.

The line-up at the Monday Club usually consists of at least 6 wines, 7 to 8 more often than not. Good bread, cheese, cold cuts and lots of sweet goodies all from Stockmann’s delicatessen adds to the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of tasting quality wines for a mere €25. For an evening out in Helsinki, that’s a real deal.

Links:

To join, look at the website:

Wine Minister’s Wine Club

Blushing with Blossa

As a wine drinker, I blush to admit that I do like a tipple or two of that sweet, Christmas drink in Finland called glögi. Before everybody shouts me down, I’m fussy and cannot include those cloying excuses of berry juice with alcohol added that stick to your gums and spoil the rest of your wine-drinking evening.

Glögi parties are huge in December and you’re bound to get invited to more than one during this festive season. Be prepared! Welcoming you to the party is a glass of hot, sweet juice with a spike of vodka added, some raisins and almonds thrown in and off you go. One is usually quite enough for me. But there are some that will change your perception forever. Once you taste them, there’s no going back really. You’re Christmas craving will always remind you of that one.

img_2610

It’ll take only one sip of Blossa 16 to convince you. It’s green, minty, full of pine cones and ginger. Chirstmas in a mouthful. Whether it’s the first or the last drink of the night, it’s going to bring Santa straight down the chimney. They’re never going to give away the secret but here’s a hint: white wine base and crowberry…. Yes, crowberry, and according to Wikipedia, “a small genus of dwarf evergreen shrub that bears edible fruit.” And full-flavoured to boot. (Alko price €13,99)

And just when you think you’ve had enough, Blossa 1895 hits you with a port wine base and herbs and structure to such an extent that all that’s lacking is the classical blue cheese to round it off. What bliss would that be! (Alko price €14,99)

Why I Always Attend Australian Wine Master Classes

Because it shakes up my thinking. It’s unsettling when you think you know something and then find out that you were way off the mark. When you expect robust and you get lean, it messes with your perspective and that means that you’re just plain wrong, something most of us would not like to admit.

This time we celebrated the evolution of Chardonnay, Grenache and Shiraz. You’ve seen the map and probably know that it’s a vast country, so vast that it could be called a continent. You expect diversity. You automatically think that there’s a lot of wine being produced judging by the ubiquitous product on your shop shelves in other parts of the world. Surprise #1 – It produces a mere 4 % of all wine but is the 5th largest exporter by volume.

Justin Fairweather from Alpha Box & Dice
Justin Fairweather from Alpha Box & Dice

Then you hear there are no less than 60 wine regions stretching across the southern coast and that South Australia has some of the oldest vines in the world, some 150 years old. Not so surprising Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cab Sauv are the top 3 varietals. And just when you think that what you’re going to be faced with are heavy, overoaked offerings, the wines trip off your tongue like light, wisps of purity but not without structure and finish.

Ever heard of Orange County as a wine region in Australia? Yep, behind the Blue Mountains vines are growing at a high altitude and some of these belong to Philip Shaw. His #11 Chardonnay 2015 with citrus and honey and a good backbone of minerality and acidity that is balanced by the well integrated oak exposure, counts as one of the top ten. Next up is one huge kangaroo hop to the West Coast and Margaret River, an area that consistently amazes me with its uniqueness. The grapes for Woodland Wines Wilyabrup Chardonnay 2015 made by Andrew Watson come from a small, low-yielding vineyard, which apparently brought forth even less grapes than was expected due to heavy rain and wine which damaged the canes causing a 40% crop reduction. Fermented in French oak, the nose is toasty with plenty of citrus and pears notes followed by a full, rounded, fruity palate and an added flavour of apricots. Again, gorgeous acidity to keep it elegant. Out of a line-up of four, these were just my picks but the other two were just as stylish: Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Chardonnay 2015 from Mornington Peninsula, Victoria with the ocean surrounding the vineyards on 3 sides and The Pawn Wine Company Jeu de Fin Chardonnay 2015 from Adelaide Hills.

Tom Keelan - The Pawn Wine Company
Tom Keelan – The Pawn Wine Company

While Shiraz is what most of us associate with Australia when it comes to reds, Grenache is making huge, delicious inroads with innovative winemakers blazing the trail. These wines are astonishing, some richer in style than others without sacrificing the fruit of this great grape. Grenache, Shiraz & Tempranillo blend is what Alpha Box & Dice Tarot Grenache 2015 consists of. Youthful and excellent, just like the winemaker Justin Fairweather, this wine is luscious with raspberry jam and a touch of savoury spice to keep it on its toes and by that I mean, not falling into the trap of jamminess. The label bodes ill but we’re told not to worry. The face of death on the Tarot card only spells new beginnings after the blade has cut away dead wood. Let’s climb the hill north towards the Barossa Valley where 60 year old vineyards sprout forth Langmeil Fifth Wave Grenache 2009. Here is the richer, fuller example of this versatile grape and even with 15,2% alcohol, it retains its sophistication finishing up with chocolate, spice, fruit and silky tannins. Others of the same ilk: Yalumba Tri-Centenary Grenache, 2011 and Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Grenache 2014.

Enter Shiraz and might I remind you that it’s come a long way from the old bold and brassy attitude it used to have. West of Melbourne lies the area of Grampians where old vines of Shiraz are transformed into Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2014. Distinctly mineral with fine acidity underpins this mellifluous wine that has just the right amount of pepper intermingled with cherries and oak. The finish just goes on and on. Coriole Scarce Earth Old House Shiraz 2014 highlights the single vineyard and distinct geology of McLaren Vale dating back millions of years. It comes through on the palate when you get this earthy taste of graphite, then cloves, then a bit of liquorice and plum all dancing together in harmony. No new oak was used keeping it smooth and velvety.

Languishing in the luxury of ignorance never got me very far and even if I have to admit that I was wrong, I do so gladly especially when I know that it’s going to get better and better from here on out.

Here’s where you can find these wines:

Philip Shaw#11 Chardonnay 2015

Woodland Wines Wilyabrup Chardonnay 2015

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Chardonnay 2015

Alpha Box & Dice Tarot Grenache 2015

Langmeil Fifth Wave Grenache 2009

Yalumba Tri-Centenary Grenache, 2011

Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Grenache 2014

Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2014