Thursday, 3 July 2014

Shiraz Benchmark Tasting at Myattsfield

Shiraz benchmark tastings seem to be the flavour of the month around Perth. It is not that long since I attended the Winter Red Wine Benchmark Tasting at Faber Vineyard. And since then, I have found myself very fortunate to be working at Myattsfield for their latest Left Field Club Shiraz Benchmark Tasting.

The format for the Saturday afternoon tasting at Myattsfield was a casual approach, allowing people with all levels of wine tasting experience to feel comfortable.  Upon arrival, guests were invited out into the functional cellar, where a table was set up with the seven 'mystery' wines sitting there, ready to be tasted. Attendees gathered around with their tasting glasses.

Unidentified Shiraz just waiting to be tasted
Josh Davenport, co-owner, viticulturist and one of the three winemakers at Myattsfield, opened up the proceedings by welcoming everyone to the event.  He revealed that one of the wines was a 'traitor' as it was not a straight Shiraz but a blend.  Also, he warned that there was a 'foreigner' in the mix.  We poured one wine at a time, allowing a quiet period for tasting and absorbing, then opening the floor to discussion.

There was much conjecture as to which wines were the 'traitor' and the 'foreigner' and this really added a level of excitement and suspense to the blind tasting format.  In the end, no one guessed the foreigner correctly (it was a Myattsfield wine) but the foreigner seemed to be easily recognisable. It took a series of further yes/no questions relating to the wines to whittle down to one winner, who was lucky enough to walk away with a magnum of Myattsfield Cabernet/Petit Verdot/Merlot.

Here are my summarised tasting notes from the event, in order of tasting (I daresay you would not want to try and translate my actual scrawled version!):


As you can see, I was a huge fan of the elegant Skillogalee 2010 Shiraz.  For me, it stood out as the most balanced of the wines and is definitely drinking excellently at the moment.  The 'foreigner' from Spain was showing its age alot more, but as I like the leather and tobacco notes that tend to creep in over years in bottle, this drew me to the wine. Most interesting to note was that I did not rate the Best's Great Western Shiraz very highly, despite the fact that this particular wine won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy in 2012! I am unsure whether that is simply because the wine did not speak to me in particular, or whether it has not held up as well over the years as the judges expected.

My reference to the 'reductive nose' on the Fairbrossen Shiraz, could be explained by the presence of hydrogen sulphide in the wine.  This is likely to have been responsible for the 'eggy' nose, which cleared off after a few vigorous swirls.  Hydrogen sulphide can be generated when the yeast lack nitrogen (a critical nutrient for their survival) during fermentation and become 'stressed'. Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) can be added to replenish the nitrogen supply for the yeast, if the issue is recognised early.  Otherwise, a small amount of copper sulphate can be added to the wine prior to bottling.  Managing this issue becomes extremely challenging when natural winemaking philosophies are applied, and demonstrates just how delicate the process becomes when such chemical additions are off the list of options.

One of the wine bottles displayed notes of 'tinned asparagus' or 'fresh compost', indicating that it had oxidised in the bottle.  Random Bottle Oxidation is not something I have previously experienced, so it was a learning curve for me to be exposed to this.  It appeared that the bottle was not filled up adequately on the bottling line, resulting in a gap that winemakers call 'ullage'. Luckily, we had a spare one on hand to replace it.  I think it was a positive experience for all attendees to compare a good bottle to the oxidised version, allowing them to feel confident in identifying the issue if they ever encounter this fault in future.

Left Field Club tasters discussing their findings
From a personal perspective, it was great to meet all the Left Field Club members and learn about what had drawn them to join the club and, more broadly, to enjoy drinking wine in general. It is lovely to see that many of these people have developed lasting friendships through attending these events and meeting like-minded people.

So how do you get invited to a Left Field Club event?

Left Field Club Members have it pretty good, in my humble opinion.  To begin with, there are no membership fees to worry about. Each season, members are eligible to receive a tasting pack of 6 wines, many of which are limited production wines that are not even available at the cellar door.  The club also provides access to pre-releases and museum stock.

Not only are these wines hand packed (I know all about this, having packed the last bunch myself) and delivered free of charge, but the total outlay is only $120!  Further to this, Left Field Club members are invited to exclusive education and wine tasting events throughout the year.  Other than the benchmark tastings, there are such activities as a vintage breakfast, barrel tastings and a disgorging workshop.

Educating wine consumers at all levels is so important in enhancing the wine drinking experience.  It also instills greater levels of confidence in selecting wine and sharing it with friends and family. Maybe I will see some of you at one of Myattsfield's future events!