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Book Review: The Dirty Guide to Wine

This book, by Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Master Sommelier), promises to take us on a journey following flavours “from ground to glass”. Feiring notes that, in part, the idea for the book came about through visiting a restaurant where the wine list was ordered by geology rather than more conventional means. I like that idea … I think too often we are seduced by broader geographical terms (‘Marlborough’, ‘Barossa’) without taking the time to dig a little deeper and understand the subtleties in those regions.

The book begins, promisingly, with an overview of soil types before heading into chapters titled Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic. But before we even hit words, there’s a forewarning of the book’s focus: a map of the world, showing major bedrock types in winemaking regions. France gets a whole inset, detailing bedrock by major region. Australia … granite and limestone, with an indicator pointing vaguely in the vicinity of Margaret River and Great Southern.

The French focus is actually even a little more limited … with a heavy emphasis on the wines of the Loire. Feiring is pretty up front about this – it’s one of her favourite regions (clearly!) and obviously one in which she’s spent a great deal of time. The book’s other emphasis is on natural wines and organic and biodynamic farming (again, interests of Feiring’s) and I found that sometimes I needed to take pronouncements with both a deep breath and a pinch of salt.

The wine lists (‘what to drink’ or ‘tasting box’) probably won’t make a huge amount of sense to many Australian consumers, and while the wines I googled were available in Australia they certainly weren’t cheap. I’m not suggesting this is a problem I know how to solve – a book written in Australia will undoubtedly reference wines that are expensive or difficult to source for readers in America. It’s more something I found frustrating – because it’s always good to try something new!

I really loved the ‘cheat sheets’ at the end of each section, which detailed a wine region’s bedrock, climate and what the region is known for. Although – as elsewhere – the emphasis on France is definitely noticeable!

Possibly the biggest spoiler in this book for me was an inaccuracy I spotted early on. This worried me because if I’m reading about something, I want to learn about it … and if I want to learn about it, I want it to be accurate. And once I spot that first mistake? Well, then I’m worried about what other mistakes are there that I don’t know about?

To many, this may well sound silly … But here we go anyway … “But even in Australia, the wine is growing up. In the southeast, outside of Melbourne in the district of Victoria …” Setting aside the patronising tone of the first sentence, the fact that Victoria is referred to as a district is just so wrong. Add to this that is really the only mention of Australian wine (and I find Beechworth Shiraz a really odd choice for an only mention – although in this case I suspect driven by the biodynamic credentials of the producer written about) and you wonder “what else is missing? what else is wrong?”. Is this sloppy editing or sloppy research?

While this book has its issues, I found it a reasonably interesting read – and let’s face it, soil types is dry subject matter so clearly Feiring and Lepeltier have done something right here. If you find yourself in the position of a wine trip to the Loire, I would definitely recommend it. Outside of that scenario, it’s a fascinating premise but not delivered in a way that will engage a broad range of readers, and I think that’s a shame.

The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavors from Ground to Glass*, Alice Feiring with Pascaline Lepeltier, MS

* affiliate link

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Everything You Need To Know About Aglianico

(3 minute read)

Aglianico in Basilicata (Italy) – credit Basilicata Turistica, flickr.

A shift from previous posts where we looked at grapes that will be familiar to many, if not most (Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon). Today, we head to the start of the alphabet and to a grape that hails from southern Italy.

Aglianico is an ancient grape found in Basilicata and Campania in Italy’s warm, sunny south. It is first found mentioned in the sixteenth century and, historically, people have been tempted to assume a Greek pedigree for it (based on ‘Hellas’) but modern linguistics and science disprove this (although it makes a good story!).

The wines are dense in colour, with plenty of dark fruit and tannins and these characters, combined with good levels of acidity, mean that the best examples can age into more subtle wines with tar-like notes.

Australia

There’s not a lot of Aglianico being grown in Australia – it’s not making any ‘Top Ten’ lists. But South Australia‘s warm, sunny and Mediterranean climate lends itself well to the grape and you’ll even find it in warmer pockets of the Adelaide Hills, as well as the Barossa and McLaren Vale. Interstate, producers in Victoria, New South Wales and even Tasmania are all experimenting with this grape.

The World

In the case of ‘the world’ we’re really talking about Italy, with Taurasi DOCG (Campania) and Aglianico del Vulture DOC (Basilicata) leading the way. In many ways it’s southern Italy’s signature black grape variety, with around 10,000ha planted.

There’s also some grown in California, although I suspect Australian consumers might struggle to track down those wines!

The Key Facts

  • Aglianico is very late ripening (perfect for warm climates).
  • It’s also super vigorous: easy to grow but does need to be controlled.
  • Key descriptors include plum, dark fruits and chocolate.
  • Key regions are Basilicata and Campania in southern Italy. Only a tiny amount is grown in Australia.

Food Pairing

The wine is big and tannic so we have to head towards big, protein laden foods. Rich meat, such as lamb, will work well (the richness balanced also by the wine’s natural acidity). But don’t forget the cheese – Basilicata is known for sheep and goat milk cheeses, such as Pecorino, so pick up a strongly flavoured hard cheese and enjoy!

Anything Else I Should Know?

In Australia, Aglianico isn’t commonly blended but some Italian GIs do allow other grapes – Taurasi DOCG may be up to 15% other varieties and in some IGT wines you’ll find it blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Thirsty?

Despite our love of alternative grape varieties, we’ve discovered we have just one Aglianico in stock! But it’s delicious – the Monaciello by La Prova (Sam Scott’s label). It even comes with its own cute backstory about its name!

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Everything You Need to Know About Pinot Noir

(4 minute read)

Pinot Noir in Willamette Valley, Oregon (US) – photo credit Ethan Prater (flickr)

Pinot Noir is a bit of a ‘trophy’ grape – some of the world’s greatest (read, most expensive) wines are made from it and it’s notoriously finicky. Add to this that some of the wines can have rather barnyard aroma characteristics, and it becomes a bit of a symbol of sophistication (and spare cash).

However, we’re lucky that in Australia we do have some lovely, affordable examples as well as premium wines and (of course!) sparkling wines.

Australia

In Australia we have roughly 5000ha of Pinot Noir planted, accounting for just under 4% of the total plantings and just under 6% of black grape plantings. For context, that’s about a fifth of the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon we have planted and about an eighth of Shiraz plantings! And plantings haven’t changed that much over the last 20 years either.

And while Pinot Noir is generally a cooler climate grape, the Australian region which has the largest crush is actually South Australia’s Riverland with the more famous Pinot Noir producing regions of Yarra Valley and Tasmania coming in fourth and fifth respectively. The Adelaide Hills falls outside the top 5, crushing under 10% of Australia’s Pinot Noir.

The World

Where else to start but in Burgundy in France? A red Burgundy is almost always going to be entirely Pinot Noir, but these wines don’t come cheaply … in Australia you’re usually looking at upwards of $100 a bottle, heading towards the thousands (and even tens of thousands) for some of the most famous wines, such as those from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

In France, Pinot Noir isn’t limited to Burgundy – you’ll also find it grown in Champagne and the Jura. Germany has the next biggest plantings in Europe and you’ll find some Pinot Noir in northern Italy and it is even the UK‘s most planted variety.

Outside of Europe, look for wines from coastal California, where the vines have been cooled by sea breezes, or from Oregon. Pinot Noir from Chile can represent fantastic value, and, over in New Zealand, Pinot Noir is the second most widely planted grape variety (a distant second, it must be said).

The Key Facts

  • Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier (and others) are actually genetic mutations all appearing in a single initial variety.
  • Typically the grapes are thin-skinned, leading to wines that are lighter in colour and softer in tannins.
  • Key descriptors are focussed on red berry fruits, such as raspberry, strawberry and red cherry. But you’ll often see savoury descriptors creeping in (black olive), along with words like barnyard and (my personal favourite) cow pat.
  • Some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the world are right here in Australia – Best’s Great Western in Victoria has eleven rows of vines planted in 1868.
  • Key Australian regions include the Adelaide Hills (SA), Tasmania, Yarra Valley (Vic) and Mornington Peninsula (Vic).

Food Pairing

When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is pretty delicate, so you want to avoid swamping it with big hearty dishes that are laden with rich sauces. Salmon and tuna are potential pairings as is roast chicken. If you’re cooking game meat simply, then there’s no reason you couldn’t pair it with duck (the acidity of the Pinot Noir the perfect foil for duck’s fattiness) or even kangaroo or venison.

If cheese is your thing, you should look to Burgundy for inspiration and pair with Epoisses – a delicious cow’s milk soft cheese with a washed rind. Yes, this means it’s stinky!

Anything Else I Should Know?

Pinot Noir is typically not blended – although many Australian winemakers do have a bit of an experiment here! Its thin skins make it ideal for rosé – so you’ll probably find it in a pink sparkling wine. However, a white sparkling labelled ‘Blanc de Noirs’ will be white (yet still made from Pinot Noir and possibly also Pinot Meunier).

Thirsty?

We love Pinot Noir so there’s plenty in store!

Our budget pick – the Elephant in the Room Palatial Pinot Noir delivers an eminently drinkable wine at just $14 a bottle.

Our luxe pick – the Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir from Martinborough in New Zealand. We’re lucky enough to have a tiny quantity of 2014 in stock so you’re able to try a Pinot with a touch of age.

Can’t decide – get your hands on our Pick a Pinot six pack!

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Everything You Need to Know About Cabernet Sauvignon

(4 minute read)

International Cabernet Sauvignon Day is almost upon us (3 September – or just behind us, as some people say it’s 30 August!) so it’s the perfect time for a quick primer on the world’s most widely grown black grape. Yes, here in Australia Shiraz is the undisputed king of red wine (all wine?!) but for the rest of the world, it’s a crown which rests squarely on Cabernet Sauvignon’s shoulders.

Australia

In Australia we have roughly 25,000ha of Cab Sav planted, making up just over 18% of all plantings and almost 30% of black grape plantings. The Riverland, Murray-Darling and Riverina come in as the top regions for crush – at first I found this a little surprising but Cab Sav is pretty easy to grow and is used a lot for bulk wines (yes, you can buy a bottle of Cabernet for less than $5 …). The Coonawarra (a much smaller region) does come in fourth but Margaret River doesn’t make the top 5.

For comparison – Shiraz accounts for 46% of our black grape plantings … there’s not too much room for everything else!

The World

The question is more ‘where is Cabernet NOT grown?’ … because, really, Cabernet is loved the world over. It’s found throughout south-west France – most famously in Bordeaux, and there are plantings throughout Europe. From the usual suspects (Italy, Spain, Portugal) to much further east (Ukraine, Russia, Moldova …) you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon being grown. Similarly, when we head the Americas we find it hugely popular. It’s only once we hit the cooler climate of New Zealand that we find Cab Sav less well-represented.

The Key Facts

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc
  • The grapes are small and thick-skinned so it produces densely coloured wines with high tannins
  • Key descriptors include blackcurrant, mint (menthol, eucalypt), green capsicum, cedar and more blackcurrant
  • The oldest planting in the world is Penfold’s Kalimna Block 42, (here in SA!) planted in the 1880s.
  • Key Australian regions are the Coonawarra (SA), Margaret River (WA), Limestone Coast (SA), McLaren Vale (SA) and the Yarra Valley (Vic). Also look out for wines from Great Southern (WA).

Food Pairing

Thanks to Cabernet’s high tannins it’s an amazing wine to pair with anything high in protein. Its very intense palate means that it can handle that char-grilled steak while the lively acidity will work beautifully with a hard cheese. It’s a food-friendly wine – just steer clear of anything delicate because the wine will swamp it!

You might want to avoid spicy (chilli) foods (the tannin will enhance the spice, the spice will enhance the tannin – you’ll know if this is your thing or not!) and I’d avoid pairing it with oily fish – the tannins can make everything seem a bit metallic.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Cabernet is really commonly blended with other black grapes. The typical Bordeaux blend is Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (with a few friends) and in Australia we love to blend Cabernet with (you guessed it!) Shiraz.

Thirsty?

Our budget pick is the Forest Hill Highbury Fields at just $24 a bottle. From WA’s Great Southern, this wine is just delicious and absolutely over-delivers. Pop some away and revisit in 5, 10 or even 15 years time.

Our luxe pick is the Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra ($70). A 2014 it’s drinking beautifully now but still has cellaring potential.

You can browse all our Cabernet Sauvignons (and Cab Sav blends) here.

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Friday Drinks

Join us here at 6pm (Adelaide time) Friday for a weekly wine (& beer & all things drinkable) wrap up …

I put together this video and blog post after being at an event where more than one winery noted that their sparkling wine had been made by the Charmat method. My first thought was that I was surprised they were making note of that … but this was closely followed by the thought that how many normal people (ie not wine trade!) would know what the Charmat method was.

It’s reasonable to assume that a good proportion of the wine buying public probably doesn’t care – ultimately, if a wine tastes good and is at the right price point, most of us aren’t that interested in the ins and outs of production. But … if you’re one of the ones who is interested … here we go!

This method of sparkling wine production was first patented by an Italian, Federico Martinetti, in 1895 – and it was, unsurprisingly, know as the metodo martinetti. In 1907, after some tweaks and development, it was patented again in 1907 by a Frenchman from Bordeaux, Eugène Charmat – which is where it gets one of its modern names. It’s also referred to as cuve close (in French), the tank method, granvas (Spanish) or autoclave (Italian).

In Champagne (and other premium sparkling wine) production, a still base wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in a bottle. This fermentation (and subsequent ageing) can be anywhere from 15 months up to … well, as long as you want really. Vintage Champagne is required to spend a minimum of THREE YEARS in bottle. Above all, this is time consuming – as a producer you can’t react to consumer demand and get more wine out there quickly! But it’s also expensive (you’ve got bottles sitting around for years not generating cash flow) and labour intensive (in some instances, those bottles will be turned by hand).

The Charmat method solves all of these problems. You take your still base wine (made the same as any wine) but instead of putting it into individual bottles, you put it into a pressurised tank. You then add your yeast and sugar and allow the secondary fermentation to happen. This is a rapid secondary ferment – you’re most certainly not hanging around for years – you’re looking at one to six weeks. The longer the ferment, the finer and more durable the bubbles and the better preserved the wine’s aromatics. Once the winemaker is happy with where things are at, the contents of the tank are chilled to below 0°C and fermentation stops. Keeping the (now bubbly) wine at a low temperature and under pressure, it is then filtered and then bottled (using a counter pressure filler – keeping all those bubbles in).

Straight away – you can see that this is FASTER. It’s also CHEAPER – you don’t need to have hundred or thousands of bottles hanging around the winery and monitoring what’s going on in one large tank is a lot easier than worrying about all those bottles – making it LESS LABOUR INTENSIVE. And guess what? The wines are sometimes (but not always!) cheaper.

Of course, you don’t get to take a few shortcuts without some impact on the finished product. While sparkling wines made using the Champagne/traditional method will often be described as bready, yeasty, toasty, brioche-like you don’t get any of those characteristics with a wine made by the Charmat method. Wines made by the Charmat method are more likely to taste like the base wine plus bubbles. This means the method is really well suited to wines that drink well young and don’t have great ageing capacity.

In general, you won’t find CHARMAT METHOD plastered all over a wine’s label – so it’s not going to be immediately obvious if a wine has been made by this method. If you’re at a cellar door or talking to winery staff, they might be able to tell you and often the tasting/technical notes for a wine will include this information.

If you want to try a Charmat method wine – check out the Golding Last Hurrah. This is an incredibly consistent sparkling from one of our favourite Adelaide Hills producers.

  • Golding Last Hurrah
    Golding Last Hurrah 2018
    $25.00