Whilst wines stored in your cellar need constant, if not coolish temperatures, it’s an entirely different rule for winemakers applying their viticultural skills to the developing fruit in the vineyard. Around the world, growing regions with the greatest variation in daily and seasonal temperatures tend to produce the best fruit for winemaking purposes and there’s no better example than Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island.
In Otago, the semi-continental climate experiences seasonal extremes with hot dry summers and cold, snow packed winters. And the impact on fruit quality is obvious, especially in Pinot Noir from the region.
Chard Farm is one of the well-established wineries in Central Otago, having some 25 years or so of production under its belt and it’s now turning out some world class Pinot. Their River Run Pinot Noir 2013 is selling at a $35 price point and exhibits all of the characteristics that have put the region on the viticultural map.
In the glass, the vibrant ruby redness telegraphs a fresh liveliness that will have your tastebuds salivating well before the first sip. Take a whiff and the red cherried fruit aromas are a prologue for the arrival of spicy violet and sage notes across the mid palate, while fine tannins, minerality and a gentle acidity provide elegance to a lingering strawberry epilogue.
It’s a world class wine, but without the Burgundian price tag.
The Wrattonbully wine region is sandwiched between Coonawarra and Padthaway in South Eastern South Australia and, just like its neighbouring districts, enjoys regionally distinctive terroir and abundant underground water. The Terra Rossa soils and limestone ridges have proven to be an ideal environment for growing Cabernet and Shiraz, but also Merlot wines of unusual power and persistence.
The Pepper Tree 2013 Merlot is made from 100% Merlot fruit and is sourced from the Wrattonbully vineyards on the southern end of the Limestone Coast. And it’s definitely not your typically soft and mellow style! The nose is slightly dusty and reeks of plump ripe raspberries, but once on the palate a spicy cascade of mulberries and blackcurrants become a mouth-filling tidal wave of voluptuous richness. It’s perhaps a few steps beyond ‘medium bodied’, but the plush fruit, hints of cassis and plums allow it to carry through a lengthy conclusion.
There’s a lashing of savoury oak to add balance at the back but it’s powerless to constrain the overwhelming peppery spiciness that is the hallmark of the region.
The power and presence of the Pepper Tree Merlot is atypical of the style and will appeal to lovers of full bodied reds, especially at its $19 price point.
Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass was born in Germany in 1934 but by the youthful age of 27 had moved to the Barossa Valley in South Australia and established his own “Wolf Blass Wines” label only five years later. It didn’t take long for this German national has become an Australian icon of the wine industry having won a record four Jimmy Watson trophies for his handiwork with Barossa fruit.
These days, the brand is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, but is still pumping out some terrific wines under the Wolf Blass label. The current Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz is the 2012 vintage and is selling at only around $25 a bottle. It’s a certain winner in the value for money stakes as it displays all of the fruit intensity that we’d expect from the region, but with an integrity that belies its price point. Put it with a decent steak and the intensely ripe fruit will cavort with some lovely toasty oak characters in the middle, before a savoury spiciness descends on the back palate. To me, the real attraction of the wine is the probity of its conclusion which is true to the rich heritage of the region, but balances lashings of French oak to bring a dry edge to the finish. I have no doubt that even Mr Blass himself would be proud of this one!
Chardonnay may still be the world’s biggest selling white wine varietal, but at least in the United States, the star of Pinot Gris is well and truly on the rise – so much so that it’s now comfortably the second biggest selling white wine in that country.
Amongst Australian wine consumers the style lags well behind sales of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but it’s growing every year. And it’s cooler climate regions like Adelaide Hills in South Australia and Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island that are leading the charge thanks to maturing vines and an ideally suited terroir.
Across the ditch, examples like the Mount Michael Pinot Gris 2015 ($30) are delivering a new level of opulence to a style that is traditionally dry and demi-sec.
The Mount Michael hails from a single vineyard at Lowburn and is a much richer offering than the traditional styles that arrive from Alsace in North-Eastern France. It’s a style that is textural, complex and surprisingly low in acid.
The nose you’ll find floral and honied, but once you take that first sip the aromatics work their way across the palate where flavours of Nashi pear, quince and ripe nectarines meet a spiciness in the middle, and an apple pie at the conclusion.
The medium palate weight makes it a style that is easily consumed on its own, yet also an ideal companion for spicy Asian dishes, especially when chilled.