Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Wines French Bistro Style

I originally discovered Riversdale Estate whilst tasting wines from all over Tasmania at our favourite cellar door in the city of Hobart (read all about Gasworks Cellar Door here). When I heard the winery now had a wonderful cellar door of their own with a fine dining establishment, I knew I needed to experience it for myself.

Fortuitously, our next trip to Tasmania just so happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary, so I had an excuse to splash out!

Riversdale Estate is only eighteen minutes of scenic driving from Hobart city. At the closer end of the Coal River Valley, it is just up the road from the well known and much lauded Frogmore Creek. The moment I stepped out of the car, I was impressed. Walking in past the manicured gardens, there were expansive views across the orderly vineyards to the water. I had not realised that Riversdale Estate is the largest privately owned vineyard in the Coal River Valley.

Courtesy www.tripadvisor.com.au
When I had booked for lunch at the French Bistro, I was dismayed to learn that the cellar door was closed that day for a function. This ended up working to our advantage, as we were offered a private wine tasting at our table! It was a wonderfully personalised experience and our host was very generous in both his pours and his knowledge of the wines.

I love doing side by side tastings and the Riversdale range is conducive to this, as they have three tiers: Roaring 40s, Riversdale Estate and Stellar Reserve. The entry-level range Roaring 40s is named after the strong westerly winds that predominate down at the latitude of 42 degrees south - on which the Coal River Valley is situated. The term 'stellar' is fitting for the more expensive and hand-crafted wines, as the property is nestled right next to the University of Tasmania's Mount Pleasant Radio Telescope observatory.

Courtesy www.tripadvisor.com.au
We focused our attention on the aromatic whites and the Pinot, as I stand steadfastly by my belief that Tasmania can rival any other wine region in Australia for quality (and value for money) in these categories.

1. Pinot Grigio/Gris

2015 Roaring 40s Pinot Grigio
Quietly crisp nose with apple and lemongrass; green apple coming to the fore on the palate alongside crunchy pear.

2015 Roaring 40s Pinot Gris
Being made from the same parcel of grapes as the Grigio, this made for a very interesting comparison. There was definitely still pear there, but it tasted richer, livelier and sweeter.

2014 Riversdale Estate Pinot Gris
More elegant in style, and from a lower-yielding vinatget. The fruit sweetness from the pear interacted more consistently with the acidity.

2. Riesling

2015 Roaring 40s Riesling
Strongly aromatic with honeydew melon and lime. The lime becomes sticky and luscious on the palate. Would be a great match for spicy Asian dishes.

2013 Riversdale Estate Cygnus Riesling
Instantly sharper with lime pith and a slick nut oil note. Again, lime was the dominant flavour, following through to bitter almond on the finish (reminiscent of a Vermentino). 

3. Chardonnay

2015 Roaring 40s Chardonnay
Vaguely tropical aromas of green pineapple. I found the medium body and acidity did not make this wine as enjoyable as others in the range.

2013 Riversdale Estate Crater Chardonnay
I didn't believe our sommelier when he said we might find some blue cheese on the nose, but he was right! There was a little whiff hanging around the buttery melon flavours. Upon tasting, the wine is extremely delicate with mild toast and moderate acidity. Very elegant, thanks to hand picking and restrained use of oak (6 months).

4. Pinot Noir

2015 Roaring 40s Pinot Noir 
Sweet, fruit forward cherry and raspberry showing both their tart and jammy qualities. A nice hint of pepper to balance things out.

2014 Riversdale Estate Pinot Noir
Immediately approachable, this is a smooth and silky berry delight with a velvety mouth feel. My favourite of the three pinot noirs.

2012 Riversdale Estate Centaurus Pinot Noir
Hand picked and treated with care, this is a very delicate style with a lean, raspy berry profile. I would like to see how it levels out over the next few years.

We were convinced to finish our tasting with the 2014 Riversdale Estate Musca Syrah, which turned out to be my husband's favourite drop of the day. Overall for me, it was the Riesling and Pinot Gris from the Reserve range that won me over, just as they have done previously.

I cannot end this post without raving about our delicious lunch. I threw wine pairing conventions out the window to try the sparkling NV Riversdale Estate Crux which is not available for tasting and was not available for purchase at the time either. 

The Crux was rose gold in colour with playful rosewater notes, fitting for the surrounding stylishness of the French Restaurant. I enjoyed this with an indulgently rich escargot dish, done two ways. I won't elaborate further about the menu - that is for you to discover when you visit Riversdale Estate yourself!

Courtesy www.tripadvisor.com.au

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Everybody Loves Tapas

Tapas is all the rage these days. At least every second bar or restaurant I go to seems to incorporate this informal, sharing style of grazing into their menu offerings. And I'm certainly not complaining, having fallen in love with the concept on a trip to Spain a while back. his trip, and my ensuing enjoyment of Spanish and Portuguese food and wine, was the inspiration for my latest wine tasting event. 

When tickets went on sale, they were so popular we had no choice but to increase the number of guests. Under other circumstances, I would have been concerned that too many people would take away from the intimate and personalised experience I aim to create for guests. However, I was already planning a more informal and relaxed approach for tapas. I wanted to emulate the atmosphere encountered at a tapas bar in Madrid or a Pintxos establishment in San Sebastian.

For the evening's wines, I selected a mix of Italian and Spanish varietals to be enjoyed with the tapas. Of these, half were made in Australia, as I wanted to provide some education and insight into the mediterranean varietals that are taking off in our own country.

Groote Eylandt residents are notoriously tardy. The phenomenon is put down to the fact that people run on 'island time'. At past wine tasting events, I have had to wait up to half an hour for enough guests to arrive so that I can make a start. At one such event, I had people ordering a beer whilst waiting(!), so I thought it might be good to start this event off with a full glass of sparkling on arrival. In keeping with the theme, I chose a Spanish Cava. Such a wine acts as both a palate cleanser (helps those who thought it was a good idea to brush their teeth or have a cup of tea before coming) as well as a tongue loosener!

1. Mainegra, Cava Brut, Penedes D.O. - Spain

Pairing: Platter of rubicon red cheddar cheese, kalamata olives, smoked paprika toasted almonds, grilled spelt bread with EVOO and balsamic vinegar
Tasting Notes: Straw yellow with a persistent bead. Crisp citrus at the fore with underlying creamy caramel providing interest.

As guests arrived, I poured them the Cava, explaining that this Spanish take on Champagne is made using the same production method. What sets the Spaniards apart, however, is that they often produce these wines in Methode Champenoise style by machine - resulting in high volumes and lower prices whilst retaining the benefits of extended time on lees and the associated influences of yeast autolysis (creamy, nutty flavours). 

The Penedes region is just outside Barcelona and was my drink of choice when visiting this vibrant city. Three main grapes are used which each bring their own unique characteristics to the mix: 

  1. macabeu - simple, light, floral and lemon
  2. parellada - very high acidity, zesty citrus
  3. xarello - very rich and aromatic: floral, pear and melon flavours

Cavas are usually aged for 9 months on lees, if not more.

2. Mitolo, Jester Vermentino, McLaren Vale - Australia

Pairing: Anchovies with a marinated vegetable melange
Tasting Notes: Almost translucent in colour, herbaceous and salty nose, creamy mouthfeel with melon and a bitter but refreshing finish

Vermentino is grown in both France (where it is called Rolle) and Italy (where the Sardinians call it Favorita). It is now thriving in McLaren Vale, an Australian wine region which is championing Mediterranean varietals. Mitolo is one such project, headed up by Frank Mitolo in partnership with Ben Glaetzer. Their McLaren Vale site is suitable for vermentino due to its coastal climate, imparting saline and chalky notes. 

Fruit flavours in vermentino are temperature dependent, ranging across the spectrum from lime, through grapefruit and apple to mango at the warmer end. Vermentino can be identified by its bitter phenolics on the finish (think grapefruit pith or bitter almond). Therefore, it works well with richer foods such as seafood gumbo, fried calamari, tomato based dishes or salty seafood. It is a wine to drink young and fresh.

3. Ophalum, Albariño, Rias Baixas D.O. - Spain

Pairing: Smoked salmon croquetas
Tasting Notes: Greenish yellow and pungent with rich tropical fruits

Albariño typically exhibits fruity aromas with some saline notes and a full body - and this one did not disappoint. The wine hails from the classic Rias Baixas subregion where 90% of the vineyards are planted to the albariño variety. It is well suited to Thai, Moroccan and Indian cuisine due to its high acid and fruit concentration. 

4. La Linea, Tempranillo Rose
, Adelaide Hills - Australia

Pairing: Chorizo and prawn skewers with romesco sauce
Tasting Notes: Delicate pink hue, strawberries and pink sweets on the nose moving through to a vibrant and sweetly spiced palate with a bone dry finish

Recently rated in the 'Best Buy Wines Under $20' by GT Wine Magazine, this wine is part of the Adelaide Hills La Linea project, a collaboration between high profile winemaker Peter Leske and David LeMire MW. 

The winery focuses on production of Tempranillo in a truly Spanish inspired style. 'Temprano' means early and Tempranillo is always picked earlier than Grenache, alongside which it grows in Spain. La Linea's wines are intensely flavoured wperfect with Spanish foods such as paella.

5. La Vendetta, Sangiovese, Tuscany - Italy

Pairing: Sicilian spiced meatballs
Tasting Notes: Cherry red with berry aromas. High acidity interplays with creamy berries and pink, musky spice.

Acidity is the key to a good match with most Italian food, particularly if the sauce is tomato-based. A typical sangiovese fits the bill perfectly. The most well-known region and style for Sangiovese is Chianti. I advised my guests to look for 'Chianti Classico' on the label when searching for a quality drop from this region. 

La Vendetta's sangiovese is not from Chianti, however, but from a northern area of Tuscany, 30km west of Florence where deep, rich soils allow a more full bodied expression of the grape variety. The wine is 86% sangiovese with some less-traditional merlot and cabernet sauvignon in the mix.

6. First Drop, Nacional,
 McLaren Vale - Australia

Pairing: Twice-cooked pork belly
Tasting Notes: Velvet red with smoky dark fruits. Pepper and Christmas spices to season.

Touriga Nacional is a Portuguese variety which has long been associated with port production in the Douro Valley. More recently, winemakers have been realising what an excellent table wine  it can produce. I do still find that the flavour profile arouses visions of a glass of port by a fire on a rainy winter evening.

Once again, McLaren Vale, is represented here, championing alternative varieties. First Drop are leading the way with their rich yet elegant Touriga Nationale, with vibrant fruits and a silken texture.

It is safe to say that each guest learnt something new as they took their palate on a tour of Spain, Italy and Portugal. Most were excited to learn that Australians are experimenting with Mediterranean varietals. The success of the event means that tapas are likely to be back on the menu at some point in future!

In the meantime, I am in the planning stages for my next event which will be in a different format - a dinner with matched wines. Watch this space...

All in all the guests had rather a good time!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Vertical Tasting - an introduction with Fraser Gallop Estate wines

A vertical tasting involves tasting wines from the same producer over a number of vintages. This provides the opportunity to:
·       Understand how a wine’s characteristics develop with age
·       Experience the impact of seasonal variation on a wine 

Last year, I managed to acquire a few cases of back vintages from Fraser Gallop Estate - a boutique Margaret River producer. I have been enjoying the estate's wines for a number of years now and my mind quickly started ticking over how I could host a vertical tasting to share the enjoyment with friends and fellow wine-lovers. Through my wine appreciation business, I arranged an afternoon tasting with 15 guests which ended up going well into the evening.

courtesy frasergallopestate.com.au
Margaret River accounts for just 3% of Australia's total wine production but 20% of its premium wine. It has become world renowned for producing some of the finest examples of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon outside of France.

From the outset, Fraser Gallop Estate Vineyard has been dry grown, emulating the rigorous vineyard management practices of Bordeaux. Planted in 1999, there are now 20 hectares under vine. The estate winery was built in time for the 2008 vintage and they now produce 11,000 dozen bottles annually. Winemaker Clive Otto has been on board since 2007, which turned out to be their defining vintage with the Cabernet Sauvignon winning best in the world. 

I was so nervous about the wines (especially the older ones) showing well, as they had undertaken a rather gruelling journey from Margaret River, all the way up to my home on Groote Eylandt (a small island in the Gulf of Carpentaria). Transiting across the nation in hot sea containers and then on a week-long barge journey is certainly not best practice when it comes to wine handling and storage! Fortunately, I needn't have been worried - all the wines shone, event the oldest and frailest of them.

ready for an epic vertical tasting


Gone are the days when Australian Chardonnays were known for their bold, buttery flavours. Margaret River producers currently aspire towards a more elegant and acid-driven expression, allowing complex fruit flavours to shine through whilst still utilising enough oak influence to promote longevity in the wine.

As a grape variety, Chardonnay is known for its ability to be ‘moulded’ by the winemaker to a particular style. Starting with a pale straw yellow/green, the wine will progress to deeper yellow colours until it turns golden. Fruit flavours can vary across a spectrum from citrus through stone fruit to tropical pineapple/ginger, and can be affected by the temporal conditions of the region. Characteristics imparted by the oak will start with subtle caramel and progress with age to nutty and toffee aromas.

Fraser Gallop Chardonnay ready to be served
Fraser Gallop Estate were using Burgundian yeast until 2008, when they switched to a wild ferment. Over the years, they have also reduced their malolactic fermentation from 30% down to 10% and have incorporated the technique of battonage. I have collated a brief summary of the seasonal variations experienced in the vineyard next to my tasting notes from the evening.

Seasonal Variation
Tasting Note
Coolest conditions on record
Green/gold colour. Great level of acid remaining – still refreshing. Drink now.
Earliest vintage on record, high acidity
Green/gold colour. Mineral nose with delicate lemon and soft nuttiness. Perfectly integrated palate with creamy oak and butter.
Hailstorm damage resulted in lower yield but high quality
Rich gold. Toasty nose with lemon lime tart palate, some caramel sauce.
Cool start with long, slow ripening
Straw gold. Complex! Butter on toast - slightly smoked/charred aroma. Palate has rich lemon/lime with a nip of white pepper.
Earliest finish to vintage on record
Pale yellow (almost opaque). Closed nose, mineral. Very green and crisp. Grapefruit pith, edgy.
Storms reduced yield by 30% but retained quality
Pale yellow with green flint. Honeyed lime cordial, pineapple aromas. Zesty lime on palate with some macadamia notes

The 2006 (oldest tasted) was still going strong, with a refreshing level of acid. However, there was definitely a step up in complexity moving to the 2007 which was probably my favourite of the flight - it was very cohesive and had a creamy, luxurious aura to it. 

Most guests really enjoyed the 2009, finding it to have a toasty nose and some rich lemon/lime flavours, even a bit peppery: one of those wines where you find something different each time you go back for another taste.

People were split between the 2011 and 2013 - 2011 being more on the crisp, edgy side (enjoyed by the sauvignon blanc lovers amongst the group). The 2013 had pronounced oak influenced aromas but the palate was all about acidic fruits - perhaps it needs another year or two to integrate a bit more. I will definitely be buying some of the 2014 though, that's for sure!

palate cleansing platters after chardonnay and before cabernet

Cabernet Sauvignon

Fraser Gallop draws heavily upon viticultural and winemaking techniques used in the famous Bordeaux region of France. Complexity and longevity is achieved by avoiding irrigation in the vineyard and blending small amounts of other ‘noble’ grape varieties with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Ideally, the end product is better than the sum of its parts. French oak barrels are used, which is typical for Margaret River cabernets.

As red wine ages, the colour will progress from violet, through the mauve spectrum to a brick red. A very special aroma found in Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignon is cedar/menthol, which may be noticed in younger wines. The characteristic blackcurrant fruit flavour of the grape variety will slowly give way to richer port like fruit as well as nuances such as leather and cigars.

Blend has varied with the first vintage at 90% cabernet, then decreasing to 85-87% after that. Contributions from Cabernet Franc were originally significant (4%) but that has dropped off somewhat in favour of Petit Verdot (5.5-7%), Merlot and Malbec. A summary of my impressions of the wines is shown below, again alongside some comments on each vintage.

Seasonal Variation
Tasting Notes
Outstanding, despite some late rainfall
Brick red rim. Paprkia spices and a hint of leather. High acid, savoury with umami/herbs. Black pepper, minimal fruit and tannin
Coolest conditions on record
Pale pink rim, medium red. Sweet vanilla and spicy strawberry aromas. Some ripe cherry but   still savoury.
Consistently dry and warm
Pale rim with mauve colour. Mellow nose, dark fruits. Excellent integration of savoury aromas, menthol offsets richness and provides elegance.
One of driest and warmest on record
Mauve. Chocolate and a whif of menthol. Mysterious depth, dark cocoa, velvety tannins.
Earliest finish to vintage on record
Mauve. Cassis and vanillin, rich and ripe, rounded and juicy, subtle earthy tannins, ‘powerful elegance’.

Both the 2005 and 2006 were hanging in there but do need to be consumed soon. They had less body and seemed to be more of a savoury, lightly spiced style. Most people quite enjoyed them.

The 2008 and 2010 were excellent. I preferred the 2008 (only just), finding that nice little hint of menthol to complement the richness. 2011 was another elegant offering and, from tasting the 2012, I'm definitely glad I've got a few of those in wine storage at the moment. 

Overall, the group voted the 2009 Chardonnay and 2010 Cabernet as the best of the night. Many had been to Margaret River before but not tried Fraser Gallop Estate's wines. They were all very impressed with the quality. For me, it was a reminder of how much better wine tastes when enjoyed with friends or with others who also appreciate what's in the bottle.

guests enjoying the vertical tasting experience