Following a trip to Australia in January Terry Kandylis,Head Sommelier of 67 Pall Mall in London, shares his thoughts and discoveries with us.
Hunter Valley Semillon: The definition of a food wine
Starting in cosmopolitan Sydney, visiting the was a ‘must’. I was curious to discover the so-called ‘cloud cover’ and find out why the wines from this area are some of the most underrated in the world. from the Hunter Valley has a unique style; a modern paradox that deserves more attention. Low in alcohol and with zingy acidity that resembles the driest of , it has the ability to age for decades and when it does, it gains texture and toasty buttery notes that can confuse the most experienced of wine tasters on the level of oak. Hunter Valley Semillon is what I call a food wine. Young and fresh it is the perfect match for the amazing oysters found on the east coast of Australia, and when matured and complex it’s suited to accompany richer, creamier fish dishes or cheese.
Something that surprised me was the fantastic set up of the wineries I visited; with excellent tasting rooms and on-site restaurants offering beautifully made fresh food using local produce. The Hunter Valley is a very well-presented wine destination, leading as an example for many other regions around the world.
I am not sure if the cloud cover is actually the reason behind the low alcohol Semillons, or whether it’s the early harvesting and the focus to maintain a low Ph in the grapes. It might be either or both. The reality is that these wines were destined for sparkling production, for which, of course, acidity is key. It was fascinating to speak with Keith Tulloch of about the tremendous research that his father has done on appropriate clonal selections and viticulture. Tasting some late releases from Tyrrell’s and Mount Pleasant demonstrated wines with an evolution and a character that clearly shows that these wines deserve to feature in the best restaurants and wine bars around the world.
The diversity of Victoria
For me, is definitely one of the most exciting and diverse . It has numerous wine regions, some steeped in history like and , others with some of the most pioneering producers and wine-thinkers. I had the chance to visit some of the cult wine producers, those with such a long mailing list that it makes you feel very lucky to get your hands on their craft.
Our trip to revealed one of the most amazing Chardonnays I’ve tried outside of Burgundy. It was the , tasted from barrel. The wine was very pure and minerally, with a characteristic matchstick reduction and superb integration of oak, which showcases not only the importance of altitude in the area but also the meticulous efforts of winemakers like Rick Kinzbrunner and Barry Morey, just to name a few of the cult stars of the area. The former for his superbly made Chardonnays and the latter for his excellent Gamay.
It would have been an incomplete trip if we didn’t visit any of the long-standing guards of the Rutherglen, so we had some tastings with All Saints and Campbell’s. I put both of these wineries in the category of ‘Live Museums’, with some of the most concentrated and long-lived Muscats I have ever tried. It is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” when you have the chance to taste a 100 year old Muscat or Topaque. Their lifted character lingers on your palate for minutes. What better way to end a meal with something like this in your glass?
Ron and Elva Laughton's winery, , just north of Melbourne was another highlight. Coming across the winery for the first time about five years ago, I was amazed by the purity and restrained character of their wines. With finesse and elegance without losing the typicity of the variety, and with a core of acidity that was beyond anything I had tried before from Australia. Shiraz excels here, but it’s not the only one. If you are patient enough to cellar their Semillon or Riesling for more than a decade, you’ll be richly rewarded.
Pinot Noir is probably one of the most challenging grape varieties to grow and this is what Victoria is becoming renowned for. Arguably, some of the best Pinot Noirs of the New World are crafted here. An example is Wine By Farr in . With their extreme density plantations in such a dry area and whole bunch ‘à la monsieur Seysses’ winemaking, they produce highly characteristic and individual wines. If you like classic Burgundy, this is a fantastic alternative.
In the , sub-regional differences are key, alongside soil conditions which vary, as the area is not as uniform as many might think. (with a stunning 2014 Pinot Noir made from the central part of their Woori Yallock vineyard), and are crafting some of the most delicate styles of Pinot Noir with a character that a famous wine writer described to me once as “Wines with true Pinocity”. And these guys are really taking seriously the protection of their un-grafted vineyards from phylloxera, which invaded the region fairly recently. However, Yarra Valley is not only about Pinot Noir. A great bottle of matured Mount Mary Cabernet Sauvignon clearly showed that the region can host both of these famous black grapes. Also, a surprise for me was an excellent Chenin Blanc. Maybe, something to watch out for in the future?
Tips from the Barossa Valley
The is often the first region to come to most people’s minds when thinking about Australian wine. It is an historic region that has managed to establish itself as the producer of one of the great modern classics: . Shiraz is the king here. Wines are full of concentration, complexity and with a fruit- driven character that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
At Yalumba, I found that the wines have gradually become fresher, with lower alcohol levels and more restrained oak use, without losing their power and fruit. As well as Shiraz, wines to watch out for are those made from very old bush vines planted on sandy soils, which can produce wines with incredibly pure varietal notes. Another tip is Pewsey Vale Riesling from the vineyards purchased in 1961, but some parcels were actually planted much earlier by the Silesian immigrants.
When speaking about Silesian descendants, one vineyard immediately comes to mind: Hill of Grace. I was really excited to visit Hill of Grace; it was like going on a pilgrimage to greet the grandparents, so much history and so many stories to tell. The amazing work done by the generations of is second- to- none, especially by Stephen and his wife Prue. Prue has worked for decades on maintaining their legendary vineyards, while Stephen is responsible for transforming these grapes into everlasting wine legends.
Margaret River: Crunchy Cabernets and Crisp Chardonnays
Travelling to the most remote city in the world is certainly an adventure. And visiting made me wonder that, if paradise exists somewhere, this area is definitely a strong contender. Beautiful sandy beaches, marvellous national forests and caves, and some of the country’s best wineries. Margaret River is synonymous with quality.
In the northern part of the region, in Wilyabrup, we tried some of the most amazing and pure Cabernet Sauvignons. Often medium bodied, with a crunchy blackcurrant core of fruit, velvety tannins and refreshing acidity.
The Karridale region seems to be extremely well suited to Chardonnay, with the GinGin clone, giving wines of moderate to elevated fruitiness that are balanced by a refreshing palate that is unmistakably Margaret River. Some very fine wines are found here.
“One of the best wine trips of my life”
This was one of the best wine trips of my life; it was great to visit some of the most famous and exciting areas in Australia. After I got back, challenged me to name a wine highlight. Impossible to name just one or two, my three are the 2012 Vanya Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998 Tyrell's Semillon and 2014 Woori Yallock Pinot Noir. Big thanks to Wine Australia for helping to arrange my trip and to all the winemakers and winery principals who shared their wines and stories with me.
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