Wine Notes

The importance of equilibrium

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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In our fast paced world it can be hard to find the equilibrium that we know we all need in our lives. Balance is also an important attribute found in wine, and often cited along with intensity, concentration and length. Together, these quality markers can set a wine apart from the crowd. In the north island of New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay producer, Bilancia, has undoubtedly achieved this particular trait with the Bilancia Syrah 2013.

As well as being the Italian word for balance, harmony and equilibrium, ‘Bilancia’ is also the Italian translation of the zodiac sign of Libra under which its winemakers, Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson were born. With winemaking experience gained around the globe, Leheny and Gibson established their small production wine label in 1997 when they returned to New Zealand. Gibson also took on, and continues to fulfill, the role of winemaker at Trinity Hill, one of the more famous Hawke’s Bay wineries.

Celebrated for its Mediterranean climate and diversity of topography with an array of over 25 different soil types, Hawke’s Bay is less windy than many other coastal regions as it is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds by high country. Few consumers realize that Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region; it boasts a history that dates back to the mid 19th Century with the establishment of vineyards by Marist missionaries. The region remains the second largest wine producing area from where 80 percent of New Zealand’s red wine originates. However, it is the poor soils of the Gimblett Gravels sub-region that has garnered most of the attention in the Hawke’s Bay region. More recently, the spotlight has been focusing particularly brightly on the quality of the Syrahs produced from the area whilst not forgetting the top quality of the Bordeaux varietals, and their blends, that have long been the region’s flagship.

Initially tasted whilst on a trip to Wellington last year, Bilancia Syrah 2013 struck me not only as a delicious wine, but also as a bargain at its modest price point. Apart from the obvious pedigree of its terroir, the hand harvested fruit has been treated more like that of Pinot Noir with hand plunging and 14 months in French oak of which only about 15 percent was new. Nothing is overdone or out-of-kilter in the wine. Dense crimson in colour with a vibrant deep, pinky-purple the inviting nose displayed black pepper and blueberry aromas together with a savoury, slightly spicy complexity. The medium bodied palate exhibited fine, yet fleshy, rounded tannins with a juicy, black fruit freshness alongside lovely dark chocolate, coffee and licorice flavours. It is, as its name suggests, in balance, meaning that this fellow Libran had no problem reaching out for another mouthful. ****

 

From little acorns

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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I thought that catching up with an old friend, whom I hadn’t seen in ages, on her birthday might prove a little tricky gift-wise. It would be difficult to go wrong offering a bottle of wine but would it be risky to give one of my favourite Aussie Chardonnays? Regardless of all the recent commentary that the majority of Australian Chardonnay has undergone a transformation away from the ‘Sunshine in a bottle’ guise, there are still wine consumers who are forthright about their desire for ‘Anything But Chardonnay’. Certainly most producers have moved far away from the deeply coloured, buttery-nosed, overly ripe, flamboyant style that put Australian dry white wine on the global wine map 30 years ago. Some Chardonnays can now be the complete reverse – so watery pale and intensely tight that they are virtually austere in character. They can be singular in profile, but at the opposite end of the fruit spectrum to their famous predecessors.

What is so exciting about Australian Chardonnay is that winemakers who are producing the more understated, yet not austere, styles are crafting wines that more readily reflect their origins and the high quality of the fruit grown there. Resolutely in this group is David Bicknell, co-owner and winemaker at Oakridge Wines in the Yarra Valley of Victoria. Oakridge was established in 1978 and has been able to source fruit from its own vineyards as well as other, well-established growers within the region. The diversity of vineyards has resulted in a range of altitudes, soils and general topography. With time, improved matching of grape variety (even specific clone) to suitable terroir has produced some impressive offerings.

 The Oakridge portfolio of Chardonnays may be broad but the focus on quality is very strict. There is a ‘Local Vineyard Series’ with, depending on the vintage, offerings from the Guerin Vineyard, Lusatia Park Vineyard and Willowlake Vineyard. Amongst the flagship wines there are also the ‘864 Single Block Release’ Chardonnays from the aforementioned vineyards and more. The diversity of wines made by one winemaker, from a single variety, within such a small area is fascinating.

From the ‘Local Vineyard Series’ Lusatia Park is a north-facing vineyard with red volcanic soils that produced a delicious Chardonnay in 2014. The fruit was all hand-picked and whole-bunch pressed into 500-litre puncheons where it underwent a natural fermentation and then matured for 10 months on lees. The resulting wine is immediately savoury and slightly nutty on the nose with hints of white peach evident. It is the purity and taut structure of the palate that really make it mouthwatering. White peach and zesty citrus intensity, together with the underlying savoury note, produce a wine of balance and elegance. ****

P.S. My friend loved the wine too.

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Respect for Riesling

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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Early on in conversation with Andrew Hoadley, winemaker at La Violetta in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, it becomes apparent that little will be discussed about his own wines. Softly spoken with a quiet, but confident, assurance in his own winemaking skills, Hoadley’s enthusiasm for the idiosyncratic is infectious. A glance at his wine labels, with eye-catching logos and unusual names, hint at an unpredictable approach to everything Hoadley does.

With winemaking experience in various prime locations of the wine-producing world, Hoadley returned to Western Australia to take up a position at Castelli Wines. An insider’s knowledge of the diversity of the Great Southern where he was located gave him the opportunity to pinpoint high quality vineyards and thus exceptional fruit. So it was that La Violetta’s first Riesling labeled ‘Das Sakrileg’ was born as a side project in 2008.

There is certainly no irreverence for the Riesling grape when it comes to the result that Hoadley has achieved with ‘Das Sakrileg’, it is more in the way in which it has been vinified. Contrary to most Australian Riesling production ‘Das Sakrileg’ was barrel fermented using wild yeasts. A few hours of skin contact with some deliberate oxidation the fruit was pressed directly to large (mainly 7-10 year old puncheons of 450 – 500 litres) with some of the pressings retained until racking the next day but reserving some of the lees for an ongoing gentle fermentation. The result is a stunning wine.

Das Sakrileg 2016 is intensely pale in colour with a pretty nose displaying delicate white floral and mineral aromatics. The texture has a wonderful depth to it, undoubtedly achieved by the skin and lees contact during production. The wine slides across the tongue in a silk-like, almost creamy fashion then there is an explosion of ginger, lime and citrus zestiness that builds to an amazing concentration with an extended length of flavour showing its power and finesse simultaneously. *****

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Transfixed by beautiful bubbles

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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As someone with a special interest in champagne and who thoroughly enjoys snorkeling, I’m always thrilled when I get a chance to swim through a plume of scuba diver’s bubbles as they swim below. As the fine bubbles of air burst against my hands and face, I imagine this is what it could be like swimming around in a vast glass of champagne. Completely whimsical, of course! Yet bubbles are one of the most essential joys of good champagne.

It is always magical to watch a tiny, consistent bead dash in a sparkling column up to the top of a glass and gently release fine aromas as it reaches the surface. The recent trend to bring back coupe style glasses is, as you can imagine, not one supported by me. I can certainly understand using a more traditionally-shaped white wine glass for very mature champagne when bubbles are still part of the fundamental experience, although it is the complex aged aromas and flavours that remain of prime importance.

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I have been buying and drinking Pol Roger champagnes for many years. Not only do I admire the quality and consistency of their wines butalso the precision and finesse of every single wine in their portfolio. If I had to choose one category over all the others, it would be the vintage Blanc de Blancs – but the whole range is impressive. Although the millennium vintage is certainly not classed as highly as years such as 1996, 2004 or 2008, it did deliver some fabulous champagnes. Not only was it a warm year but there was also widespread hailstorm damage across 114 communes. Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Brut 2000 was sourced from 100 percent grand cru villages across the Cote des Blancs. The wine is aged on lees for at least eight years prior to disgorgement. Drinking this wine at 16 years old was a pure delight. The tiny bubbles sparkled in the pale golden liquid, so I was glad I had chosen a traditional flute to admire them. Hints of honey nougat and biscuity, brioche aromas gently emerged from the glass. The palate displayed generous pear and nectarine flavours, but these were all reined in by the wonderful finesse, precision and citrus intensity that are the hallmarks of the house of Pol Roger.****

Boundless Kiwi creativity

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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New Zealand has been at the forefront of my thoughts recently. Not only because I recently returned from seeing my extended family in Wellington, but also due to the latest enormous earthquake in Kaikoura, which was followed by endless aftershocks. Add to this a visit by Two Paddocks’ General Manager, Jacqui Murphy, then follow it up with a viewing of the film ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and there really was no escaping a New Zealand focus. Wine producer Two Paddocks, which was established in 1993 by actor Sam Neill, is based near Alexandra in Central Otago. ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is a wonderful Kiwi production by director Taika Waititi. It is a big-hearted film set in New Zealand’s great outdoors where Neill and his young ‘nephew’ try to escape the establishment together, surviving on their wits and ‘the knack’.

Ms Murphy explained that previously Two Paddocks often garnered attention because of Neill’s status as a Hollywood movie star. More recently, increased focus is being placed on the quality of the wines being produced, in particular the single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Neill must be extremely proud of this achievement, as his father’s family ran a wine and spirits import company, so he was familiar with wine but in cardboard box format, rather than bottles. Neill’s real wine epiphany and subsequent long-term obsession with Pinot Noir occurred when, the now late, distinguished British actor, James Mason, introduced Neill to something a little more upmarket. Struck by the greatness of the contents in his glass, Neill asked what the wine was and Mason replied, ‘This, my boy, is Burgundy and don’t forget it’.

Under the humble label ‘Two Paddocks’, Neill now proudly produces Pinot Noir and Riesling from his own vineyards in breathtaking Central Otago, New Zealand. The first plantings took place in 1993 – the aptly named ‘First Paddock’ vineyard producing its debut wine with the 1997 vintage. Planting of additional vineyards took place at Alex and Redbank Paddocks. These acquisitions have enabled the release of single vineyard wines since 2002 together with the Two Paddocks Picnic range that exudes charm and freshness in its ‘drink now’ capacity as well as the benchmark, blended Two Paddocks Pinot Noir.

Having previously purchased land and then planted vines, in January 2014 Neill bought an existing 5.6 hectare Pinot Noir vineyard that had been established in 2000 at the end of Felton Road in Bannockburn. The 2014 is the début release under the Two Paddocks label – a single vineyard bottling named ‘The Fusilier’. The name pays tribute to Neill’s father who was a soldier in the Royal Irish Fusilier Regiment for 20 years before returning to New Zealand to run his family wine and spirit business, Neill & Co. Displaying a medium density crimson/garnet colour, the nose proffered attractive black cherry and summer pudding aromas. The palate was particularly well balanced with an excellent concentration of black cherries and coffee, along with beautiful fine tannins giving a lovely persistence to the intense flavours. *****

 

Italian Poise

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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Any mention of Tuscany immediately recalls scenes from one of E. M. Forster’s novels, beautifully brought to life in the film productions of the Merchant-Ivory duo. Intimate piazzas and cool, dark, secluded cloisters contrast with the open countryside made up of undulating hills of olive groves and vineyards. The scenes are thoughtfully balanced. Just like wonderful literature, music or film, wonderful wines also have innate balance.

It is this poise that I recently discovered in one particular wine during a tasting of wines from the designated area of Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany. This year the association that controls and safeguards the wine quality of this tiny area, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation. When the DOC was assigned there were a mere 11 producers, of which Biondi Santi is considered as the original home of Brunello di Montalcino. Today there are 258 producers of Brunello di Montalcino and exports have reached 70 percent of total production. Although the region’s reputation has experienced some untoward challenges in recent years, the standing of the vast majority of producers remains intact and the DOC continues to be at the high end of Italian appellations. Such has been the high quality of production recently that producers (namely Allegrini and Bottega) from elsewhere have been investing in the region’s vineyards, which was the first Italian region in 1980 to become a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) – Italy’s highest quality designation.

Regulations require that all Brunello di Montalcino undergo a minimum of four years ageing, of which two must be in wood prior to bottling. An additional 12 months is necessary for wines labeled ‘Riserva’. Inevitably this results in a significant hiatus between actual vintage and market release of the wine. There has been such a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the 2010 that I was more than eager to try producer Campogiovanni’s 2010 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva ‘Il Quercione’. Riserva wines from the 2.5 hectare Quercione vineyard are only produced in exceptional years, such as the excellent 2010. The wine spent two years in 500 litre French ‘tonneaux’, followed by 36 months in bottle prior to its release. It was worth the wait, as my tasting notes attest. High density crimson in colour, the nose displayed concentrated, pure black fruit aromas. The palate showed an incredible precision with glorious black and blue berry fruit, fabulous dusty tannins and delicious freshness. Above all, the wine had poise and elegance, utterly superb. *****

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Way Down South – The Great Southern (Part 1 of 3)

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There are so many reasons why the Great Southern wine region of Australia should be better known – its size; its diversity; its ‘on trend’ cool climate viticulture; its abundance of small wine producers; and the high standard of winemaking. Yet some of these benefits seem to have conspired against better recognition and understanding of the region.

The Great Southern, located in the most southerly area of Western Australia, is so large that it has been divided into five sub-regions – Frankland River, Mount Barker, Porongurup, Denmark and Albany. Travelling by car from Perth to Albany (the largest city this far south) takes around four and a half hours. The distances between each of the sub-regions are not insignificant. For example, it takes around an hour to drive from Denmark (very much considered as the region’s bustling centre) north to Mount Barker, which was the first part of this region to be pioneered by winemakers in 1965 at Forest Hill. This vastness results in a diversity of landscapes that includes rolling pastures, dramatic coastline, dense forests of towering Karri trees and stark granite outcrops perfectly perched to give fabulous vistas of the whole region when clear skies allow. Such a variety of environments inevitably lead to an array of different ‘terroirs’ and an ability to grow a diversity of grape varieties. The over-riding cool climate of the region has resulted in the production of some pristine Rieslings and aromatic Pinot Noirs. In some pockets, long-lived Cabernets and restrained Shiraz wines have been produced.

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The region seems dominated by a plethora of small producers, which means only small volumes of wine are released and not a lot of it has been distributed overseas. Regardless, the quality of winemaking is generally very high. My only criticism would be that there appears to be only a small group of very proficient winemakers whose names appear repeatedly on many different labels across the region. The relative isolation and sparse population of the area must make it difficult to attract new winemaking blood although one would imagine the landscape and, generally, unspoiled environment would enable some excellent winemaking opportunities.

thumb_IMG_8720_1024Opportunity was seized in the mid 1960s by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture following a report in 1955 by Californian viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo, which highlighted areas for high-quality grape growing in the region. Working together with the Pearse family, a pioneer vineyard was established at Forest Hill in the Mount Barker sub-region. Ownership has changed hands over the decades but it has retained its family-run status, most recently bought by the Lyons family in 1995. In conversation, Guy Lyons regularly refers to stories that original owner, Betty Pearse, still tells about the property, including the fact that most of the original vineyard needed to be replanted in 1966 as the first cuttings were planted too late in the season.

However, now with such good vine maturity, the owners have been able to highlight different blocks within each vineyard that consistently produce superlative fruit and bottle these as separate offerings. For example, Forest Hill Block 1 Riesling 2013 produced an intensely pale wine with overt minerality and a lime essence nose. The palate has a fabulous intensity with a slightly chalky texture and an amazing minerality. Block 1 Riesling 2014, equally pale in colour, displayed a subtle but attractive floral aroma. The palate offered a wonderful ripe mango with some tart pineapple flavours with the same precision and fine, long fresh length shown in the 2013. These are delicious, mouthwatering wines. Forest Hill Block 8 Chardonnay 2012 is another impressive wine in the producer’s portfolio. The wine is made from the top ten rows of the estate’s Chardonnay vineyard. Extremely pale in colour with a savoury, slightly nutty nose, the palate is very tight with abundant lemon curd flavours. The wine is textural and yet firm with a long length of concentrated citrus characters. Of the 14 wines tasted at Forest Hill, it was the Block 9 Shiraz 2013 that reminded me just how harmonious an Australian Shiraz can be. Aromas of black fruit mingled with floral notes and licorice. The palate had succulent, juicy and fleshy black fruit with fine tannins and refreshing acidity resulting in a gorgeous wine where all the essential elements come together.

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Way Down South – The Great Southern (Part 2 of 3)

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Another long-established, family-owned property is that of Alkoomi in the Frankland River sub-region of the Great Southern. Sandy Hallett’s parents, Merve and Judy Lange, established a tiny vineyard in 1971, which has now expanded to more than 104 hectares of vines that Sandy’s viticulturist husband, Rod Hallett, oversees. Although an enormous undertaking it does not mean that quality has been compromised in any way. Highly affable and talented young winemaker, Andrew Cherry, is obviously very much valued as a member of the Alkoomi wine family and, in turn, he recognizes the responsibility he has to uphold the Alkoomi reputation. Alkoomi has an extensive portfolio of wines taking in a host of grape varieties including Viognier (to blend with Shiraz in Alkoomi Black Label Shiraz Viognier, of which the 2013 example showed particularly well during our tasting) and Malbec. Nonetheless, it was the current release Alkoomi Black Label Riesling 2015 and a barrel sample of the 2016 that excited my taste buds. Both wines had classic steely noses with tight, steely, lime intensity on the palate. Andrew Cherry explained that grapes for this label would only ever come from block 7 or 8 – old vines that consistently produced intense Rieslings.

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It is easy to understand why the sub-region of Denmark, based around the busy township of the same name, is so popular with tourists. Fine sandy beaches and crystalline, though very cold, water can be found within easy access of stunning Karri forests and rolling pastures. The region has so many natural assets that it attracts year-round tourists as well as longer term inhabitants who prefer country living, including young families and retirees. Along Scotsdale Road (shown above) in Denmark, which Australian wine writer Peter Forrestal refers to as ‘arguably the most beautiful scenery of any winery road in the country’, lies a high concentration of wineries. Some are better known than others, for example long-established Howard Park, recently renamed Burch Family Wines that now has a huge collection of wines including those produced under the Marchand & Burch labels as well as entry-level Madfish.

Newcomers to this beautiful forest enclave include Estate 807 and Rising Star, whose owners purchased existing vineyards and have now stamped their own very different personalities on their respective cellar doors and the wines produced from their properties. Among other recent arrivals to Scotsdale Road is the Snowden family of Singlefile Wines, who have, without a shadow of a doubt raised the benchmark in the region as far as the general quality of marketing their wines is concerned. Where some other wineries don’t seem to understand that the intense competitiveness of the wine industry means they actively need to market their wines, Singlefile Wines have done, with great aplomb. In 2014 Singlefile Wines became James Halliday’s Wine Companion ‘Dark Horse Winery of the Year’. Meeting owners, Viv and Phil Snowden, within the wine community and at their property their professional approach to everything they do has ensured that this accolade, and the many others received, are totally justified. Very successful geologists by profession, this South African couple, sold their Perth-based business in 2004. With a love of fine wine and after significant research into Australian wine regions they purchased an existing vineyard in 2007 where they have removed some varieties and restored the health of others. Friendly and warm-hearted, the Snowdens live in the house adjoining the new cellar door and are often found pouring their wines in the tasting area. I will always remember Viv Snowden as the thoughtful person who offered a weary wine traveller a much appreciated cup of tea and biscuits after a very long day of tasting.

thumb_IMG_8601_1024Although I enjoyed the whole portfolio, it was the eponymous The Vivienne Denmark Chardonnay 2013 and The Philip Adrian Frankland River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 that resonated. The Chardonnay was nutty and savoury on the nose with green mango and grapefruit on the palate giving incisive acidity and concentration. The high-density crimson-coloured Cabernet Sauvignon was quite closed aromatically with just a hint of attractive leafiness. Conversely, the palate was particularly expressive with a plush, voluptuous texture of concentrated cassis fruit followed by fine, yet firm tannins and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. Both wines have long lives ahead of them.

Way Down South – The Great Southern (Part 3 of 3)

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In contrast to the newcomers of Singlefile Wines, is the name Plantagenet. Considered one of the senior wineries with an envious track record of success spanning more than four decades, the relaxed and welcoming cellar door is on the main road from Perth to Albany, just outside the tiny town of Mount Barker. English immigrant Tony Smith planted the north-facing Bouverie vineyard in 1968. The Bouverie covers nine hectares but successive plantings have led to the establishment of almost 130 hectares to include Wyjup, Rocky Horror, Crystal Rock and Rosetta vineyards. The naming of the Rocky Horror vineyard came about after two years of clearing the original land of vast boulders, some as large as cars. thumb_IMG_8657_1024Although Plantagenet is now owned by a large corporation and has seen a steady rotation of talented winemakers, Tony Smith still has regular input as far as management is concerned. Plantagenet’s Rieslings and Chardonnays have a strong following, but it is the red wines that caught my attention about a decade ago. These are the classic red varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that have long been produced in a cool climate style so have always shown a restraint and energy, which, over time has become more refined. Plantagenet Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a good example with distinct cassis and floral aromas on the nose followed by extremely fine dusty tannins with a dense core of black fruit and dark chocolate, countered by juicy acidity. There was certainly a strong structure to the wine but it also had finesse.

To the east of Mount Barker and away from its rolling green pastures lies the Pororongurup sub-region of the Great Southern. The landscape of the Porongurups is dominated by massive outcrops of granite, considered amongst the oldest in Australia. From this higher ground, panoramic views of the whole region can be seen and are particularly striking on clear days, which are frequent in this part of the world, although a stormier and very dramatic sky is shown in the photo below (courtesy of Castle Rock Estate). In 2015 the prestigious title of ‘Winemaker of the Year’ was bestowed by James Halliday upon one of Australia’s most modest winemakers, Rob Diletti, who grew up on his family’s vineyard at Castle Rock Estate in the Porongurup. Diletti is responsible for the winemaking of several regional labels, including 3 Drops, Zarephath, Abbey Creek and his own Castle Rock Estate. Where other contract winemakers in the area seem to have stamped their own style on their wines, Diletti’s winemaking approach ensures that all his wines express a sense of place as their priority. Diletti has been gaining some traction with the Pinot Noirs produced at Castle Rock Estate but it is his sensitivity to the Riesling produced on this family property that impressed me.

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The pristine quality of the environment is echoed in Diletti’s Rieslings, which have precision and purity. Castle Rock Estate produces three Rieslings with 2015 being the current release. Castle Rock Estate Porongurup Riesling 2015 displayed a steely minerality on the nose with mouthwatering citrus intensity. Sourced from about five rows of the vineyard, Castle Rock Estate A & W Reserve Porongurup Riesling 2015 (named after Diletti’s parents Angelo and Wendy who planted the vineyard in 1983), had lovely floral and citrus aromas with more weight on the mid-palate than the previous wine. The beautiful texture and concentrated fruit core is balanced by a long, racy finish. Castle Rock Estate Skywalk Great Southern Riesling 2015 ticked all the boxes as far as a classic Riesling is concerned – delicate floral notes mixed with citrus intensity on the nose, whilst the palate was of a taut citrus concentration with just the right level of fruit ripeness to produce a finesse and elegance not commonly found.

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The vast expanse of the Great Southern wine region encompasses, without doubt, an enormous diversity of landscapes, micro-climates and soils. The additional time and effort required to access the region is well worth it. On one hand established vineyards are focusing on distinguishing individual blocks that have shown consistently superior fruit quality as they have matured. On the other hand new players have arrived in the region giving a fresh impetus to existing vineyards. There is much to see and a significant array of high quality wines to taste and enjoy.

Steadfast amongst other aspirants

This section is for brief reviews of wines that I have recently enjoyed drinking. For quick reference I have given a * rating for each wine from one to five stars.

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England has been receiving a lot of attention in the media recently – sadly little of the news has been worth celebrating. Nonetheless, there are certainly many things England should be proud of and, in the wine world, English sparkling wine has been garnering numerous international accolades. English viticulture has taken place for centuries and has always been on a small scale, with a high percentage of vineyards in the southern counties where the climate is more conducive to grape growing. In 1988 an American couple, Stuart and Sandy Moss, became trailblazers by planting the three classic grape varieties that are used in the production of Champagne – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Their first ‘traditional method’ wine was launched under the Nyetimber label in 1996. Twenty years later, the name Nyetimber is synonymous with fine English sparkling wine made from 100 percent estate-grown grapes.

I attended the London Wine Fair in May, where I was delighted to see a pale turquoise, converted double-decker bus standing amongst hundreds of wine stands proudly marketing Nyetimber’s portfolio, which I was able to taste for the first time. Five sparkling wines are produced under the Nyetimber label, of which the Classic Cuvée is most well known. With a total estate production of only 700,000 bottles per annum the wines do not have wide distribution outside the UK. Although the current owner of Nyetimber has recently purchased an adjacent golf course so production will increase eventually, it is unlikely that volumes will ever be large. thumb_IMG_8764_1024

Amongst the five labels – Classic Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé, Single-Vineyard Tillington and Demi-Sec – it was the Blanc de Blancs 2009 that impressed me particularly. Only recently released the 2009 was extremely pale in colour with a tiny, but persistent, bead. The one hundred percent Chardonnay wine spent five years ageing on lees, which imbued it with a fabulous toasty, brioche nose and lovely red apple characters on the palate but with plenty of citrus intensity to give a very attractive, harmonious wine. With its long length and overall finesse, it would be difficult to tell this apart from Champagne itself. ****(*)

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