It was just last week when Mark Davidson and Wines of Australia rolled back into town, replete with the greatest glass entourage this side of Corning, as they are want to do at least twice a year. The winter trade tasting titled “Australian wine, made our way” came barreling in on the heels of a comprehensively designed education program “Australian wine discovered,” a FREE online set of tools, materials, resources and detailed guides you really need to use. Download the FREE program at www.australianwinediscovered.com.
Many of you know Mark Davidson, the man, the myth, the omnipresent legend who for more than 10 years has served as Education Manager/Market Development Manager, North America at Wine Australia. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of judging with Mark at TexSom in Dallas, along with Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia’s Head of Market EMEA/Regional Director, Europe. We were all invited to preside over 3,500 wine entries at this most exceptional competition at the invite of James Tidwell M.S. At the judging awards and Sommelier retreat Texsom unveiled the education program with this introduction. “Creating educational materials for the trade is an integral part of marketing for the beverage business. Oftentimes it is a labor intensive process to compile all the necessary information. It is almost unheard of for a region the likes of Wine Australia to create this for you, but they have.”
Davidson, Jewell and Wine Australia sponsored lunch during the awards with another informative presentation by Mark plus an opportunity to taste some of that country’s most curious and erudite bottles. Some of the options on hand were Paxton Graciano 2017, Deliquente Screaming Betty 2018, Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Dry Riesling 2017, Mosswood Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon Ribbon Vale Vineyard 2017, McW Pinot Noir Reserve 2017 and Leeuwin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Prelude Vineyards 2014. Later that night we hit Pappa’s BBQ in Irving, Texas where Mark generously shared an old Tyrrells Vat 1 Sémillon and a 2015 Clonakilla Shiraz. Two archetypal and exceptional Australian wines.
Meanwhile back in Canada, Davidson led an esteemed panel (of three) through 12 Aussie wine stars chosen by the four of them with inspiration provided by way of a November 2018 journey down under. Christopher Sealy (Alo + Aloette), Joshua Corea (Archive Wine Bar) and Toni Weber (Giulietta) joined Mark for some of the best discourse any masterclass has provided in a very long time. Australia got into these sommeliers’ hearts and minds, as did the energy, structure and grace of this set of Aussie wine on display make their way into mine. The white choices alone lit up riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay, invoking Gregory Alan Isakov, “to keep me clear and calm and straight.” More than 100 wines were then available to taste at the walk-around portion of the event. Here are my notes on the 12 seminar wines poured.
From cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill-Smith at higher altitude for Adelaide Hills. Cool, nearly minty and compelling. Impulsively tart in the most controlled environment and implosive, safely protected within its own hermetic bubble. Outwardly unaggressive and even gentle, like waves lapping up on a shore. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted February 2019 shawandsmith liffordgram @shawandsmith @LiffordON Shaw + Smith Lifford Wine and Spirits
From 550m in a cold, exposed, almost harsh vineyard site. Originally planted in 1847 then re-planted in 1961. From the way ahead of the curve winery which began bottling under screwcap in the 70s, abandoned and resumed again, still ahead of the curve. Lemon waxy and paraffin lit but just now beginning the true centre of its secondary life. Honey is just a foreword entry beginning to gain momentum. Not the acidity of some other vintages in this vicinity and yet wise beyond its years. The interweb is of that acidity and tannin, together having grip and holding you tight. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted February 2019 pewseyvalevineyard breakthrubevcanada @PewseyVale @BreakthruBev Pewsey Vale Vineyard Breakthru Beverage Canada
The chenin blanc launched into the atmosphere by Brad Hickey is one fed by the critical mass of diurnal temperature fluctuations and a sandy site once a bank in a body of ancient water. Say hello to modern prankster guilt, ironic, maverick, waxy and skin-contacted tannic, of suffocating lemon and molecular pear. From Blewitt Springs and uniquely chenin blanc without any true heritage but rather creating a mythology about one from here on out. Trips easily, feels familiar and yet solicits a bout of narcotic psychedelia. Changes with every movement or whisper of air, agitation and successive sips. It’s not what you first thought think it might be. First impressions could very well ruin your experience, especially if you choose not to continue on. If you do, reward comes later, on repeat and in refrain. “Modern guilt won’t get me to bed. Say what you will,” but this chenin blanc gets inside my head. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted February 2019 brashhiggins thelivingvine @BrashHiggins @TheLivingVine Brad Hickey The Living Vine inc. Mark Cuff
One giant step for aromatics, one giant step for flavour. Composed and collected chardonnay of calm demeanour and great confidence. Cool, clear, fresh and airy, like a perfectly blue sky. Crunchy from Redstone volcanic-ferrous loam soils and in a way it is the terroir that stops fruit and barrel from talking too loud. Gentle chardonnay in the slow, smoky Coltrane way. Whole bunch, eight months of lees and 20 per cent new oak are all but an asterisk on the most graceful chardonnay of exceptional class. Drink 2020-20727. Tasted February 2019 giantstepswine rogersandcompanywines @giantstepswine @rogcowines Giant Steps Rogers & Company
Notably reductive chardonnay, toasty as any, yet to relent or to allow the shell to form cracks for access. Serious lemon opening, dead serious, from a low sea level site planted in 1992. Native grass chardonnay with a mild yeasty note and full creamy textured compliment. Really refined acidity to elevate the yellow flower/citrus nature. Gently churned with great control of energy. A return 30 minutes later realizes a particularly toasty finish. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2019 10xtractor grape_brands Ten Minutes by Tractor
Vasse Felix Chardonnay Heytesbury 2017, Margaret River, Western Australia (674648, $100.00, WineAlign)
The wine that receives Virginia Willcocks’ best fruit, by way of selection, first in the vineyards and then, out of the barrels. The soils are gravelly loam and the clone be told just because, is 100 per cent Gin Gin. Site is everything because it’s a place that tames ripeness and hedonism. There is an old soul character and a capturing, in reduction holding sulphides in the ways of the ancestors far away. Gemstone brilliance as a personality trait and singularly Vasse Felix. Weight matches the stick and texture supports the ripeness of fruit. Vintage and history conspire to churn and develop greatness. Around the corner that is, which happens to be around the bend. Another Heytesbury, unlike the last and also those that came before. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted February 2019 vassefelixwines breakthrubevcanada @vassefelix @BreakthruBev Vasse Felix Breakthru Beverage Canada
Acid may dominate the first moments but if you are not immediately struck by the confounding posit tug between early-picked yet wild-dry red berry fruit, you may not be paying very close attention. No cola, no Lola, no beets and plenty of beats. Eighteen year-old vines on grey loam over clay deliver adult maturity yet still naive enough and ready for anything. Good vintage, 12.5 per cent and from Forbes’ warmest site. It’s what he’s about. And the MV6 clone. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2019 mac_forbes_wines gsoleil123 @MacForbesWines @GroupeSoleilTO Mac Forbes Wines Groupe Soleil Fine Wines
Here’s a whole other pinot noir exploration, burning two ends, lightning red fruit and beetroot earthiness. It’s a 50 acre site of light silica over sandstone planted in 1988. Refreshing and deeply welling. Priced “reassuringly expensive” and worth the paper on which the money is printed. A touch whole bunch chewy and ropey, tart and tannic. Incidentally the story goes that the Tolpuddle martyrs were exiled to Tasmania for having created an agrarian union back in the U.K. This ’16 needs a year or two for further, i.e. better integration. Very structured wine. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted February 2019 tolpuddlevineyard liffordgram @TolpuddleVyd @LiffordON Tolpuddle Vineyard Lifford Wine and Spirits
Comparatively speaking this is the graceful and demure pinot noir in a flight of three. Also warmer, more curative and salumi led in terms of aromatics. Conversely riper and bigger of bones for structure. Lenswood at 550m is the site, of well-drained sandy loam over clay with shale. Others may flash acidity or tease singular fruit, perhaps even structure built on a quick-developed body politic. Then there is a wine from Stephen and Prue Henschke that builds it all, seamlessly in bond and perfectly all-knowing. It adds up to delicious. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted February 2019 henschke breakthrubevcanada @henschkewine @BreakthruBev @HenschkeWine Breakthru Beverage Canada
Few grenache-syrah joints begin like this, hover, linger, settle and then ask that you wait, re-visit and come back around again. Or just drink the shit out of it. Whatever floats your boat. Truth be told it’s 92 per cent grenache and marillion fruit will always win, in its many incarnations found in such a short time. Such a chewy, neo-progressive rock Rhôneish blend, alt-savoury, sneaky tannic and caught up in this wave of sweepingly seeping acidity. Very blood orange and the film negative version of it’s structured self. Three sites of red loamy clay with ironstone over deep limestone ask for whole bunch working and somewhere between six and 88 days on skins. PH at the top and under 12 per cent alcohol. “Unleash a stranger from a kiss, my friend. No incantations of remorse, my friend.” Assassing. Fugazi right? Drink 2021-2027. Tasted February 2019 ochotabarrels thelivingvine
#OchotaBarrels @TheLivingVine The Living Vine inc. Mark Cuff
Full-bodied to say the least and there is no grenache of or in its ilk. There are also no tannins like these and the chewiness does its own singular thing. Really old and challenging vineyard with large bush vines that may as well be growing on a beach. At 200m on ancient sands with vines planted in 1946. This has it all and more, with fossilized bones rising up to the surface and length for days. Drink 2021-2032. Tasted February 2019 yangarraestate breakthrubevcanada @Yangarra @BreakthruBev Yangarra Estate Vineyard Breakthru Beverage Canada
From winemaker Gary Mills and vines set in grey loam over red volcanic soils. A syrah with an old soul personality, peppery without resorting to spice and a volatile-ness light on the sprinkling and plenty of macerated character. Picked on acid, led through some carbonic and then a long extension. Tasted blind it might tease Hermitage but at the end of the day not. It’s as umami-mineral-savoury laden as it is fruity and the interest level is curiosity-seeking high. Remarkable tannins. Drink 2021-2029. Tasted February 2019 jamsheedwines thelivingvine @jamsheedwines @TheLivingVine The Living Vine inc. Mark Cuff
Good to go!