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.

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