Travelling is an integral part in learning about wine. There is only so much you can learn from books and tastings at home. Some say that you can only taste truly objectively that way, comparing only ”what’s in the glass”, but I disagree. Wine as all about context, and to understand the context of a wine, you really need to see the place and meet the custodians of the vineyards. Visiting vineyards all over the world has made me question my prejudiced opinions many times. In my early career, like many young sommeliers, I was prone to statements like ”South Africa can not make real wine” or ”Australian wine is all overextracted and alcoholic”, statements I today find not only ridiculous and embarrasing but downright dangerous, as I still see them propagated throughout the world of wine, by some quite imposing figures at that. The solution the problem is to take every chance to question yourself, and the best way to do that is to travel the world, which fortunately is getting easier and easier. My travel schedule this year has, admittedly, been extreme. The year started out with two trips to Italy, Piedmont and Tuscany respectively. After that I spent two weeks in Japan where I competed in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition and explored the very different realm of sake. Then there was a wonderful trip to Galicia, a weeklong exploration of Pinot Noir in Oregon, vacation in the spanish Basque country and a packed tour of California. Needless to say, I’m glad I don’t have a family to care for.
But this last trip takes the cake: five days travelling Victoria, Australia and after that almost two weeks in New Zealand. These two countries have had to take a lot of flak in the wine press and trade, after quickly becoming immensely popular in the 80’s and 90’s with cliché styles of oaky Chardonnay and heavy Shiraz for the aussies and lean, green Sauvignon Blanc for the kiwis. But there is so much more that they have to offer. I hope to be able to share with you some of the clostest kept secrets of wine ”down under”.
First day kicked off with visits at two of the most iconoclastic wineries in Victoria. First up was Mount Mary. In very rustic, but cosy facilities some of the most special wines in Australia are made. These are definitely not blockbusters. Robert Parker, the famous wine reviewer could not get his hands on these wines for a long time, but when he finally did, he gave their flagship wine, the Bordeaux-style blend ”Quintet” a scathing 78 points. But there is a cult following, especially on the domestic market. The wines are lean, low in alcohol and elegant. Best in show today was 2011 Triolet (a white Bordeaux-style blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle) which will age beautifully, and the very lightly coloured 2011 Pinot Noir that surprised with intensity of structure and flavour. Winemaker Sam Middleton explained that trends was nothing they concerned themselves with at Mount Mary, they defined their own style, as they have since 1971. Sam is the third generation of Middletons to make wine here, and we can only hope they do not give into trends and pleasing critics anytime soon. This is great wine.
Next up: Another Victoria favorite – Yarra Yering. Much like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering was founded by a doctor, Dr. Bailey Carrodus in the 1970’s and they have carved out their own following by making wines that no one else can copy, under some of the most easily rememberable labels in the world of wine. There are no bad wines here, but best of show today was the 2001 Dry Red Wine #1 (Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2010 Carrodus Merlot, a hommage to the late doctor, who passed away in 2008.
We were also able to loot the gigantic cellars of the great doctor, and brought a few halfbottles to a local restaurants for dinner. The 1987 Pinot Noir was meaty and full of dark fruit, the 1986 Dry Red #2 (Shiraz) elegant and floral, but the real showstopper was the 1982 Sémillon, golden and full of stonefruit and honeysuckle. I am glad to hear they are reviving the Dry White #1 (Sémillon and sometimes a bit of Sauvignon Blanc), which also tasted great from barrel. Incredible performance, especially from halfbottles! Those that think Aussie wines can not age need their heads (or palates) checked.