TexSom 2013 Diary – Part III
Day 2, Session 1: Australia
9:24 – The most-planted grape type in Australia is still Shiraz (known elsewhere in the world as Syrah), and in 2nd place is now Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay used to be #2, but the “Chard” boom has ended in Australia. In fact, Chardonnay vines are now the most pulled-out vines in the country. There is a debate currently brewing as to whether Shiraz can – or should – continue to be the “hero” of Australian winemaking.
9:32 – Important to note that the cuttings for the first plantings of vines in the Swan Valley of Australia came from South Africa, so the Australian winemaking regions owe a debt of gratitude to South Africa.
9:37 – Interesting Sommelier Factlets: 1) The hottest wine-growing region in the world is the Swan Valley. 2) Margaret River has roughly the same climate as the Medoc region in France – it’s a bit warmer and a bit drier, but essentially the same.
9:41 – The first wine of the day is a dry Riesling from Frankland Estate in the Frankland River Geographical Indication (GI). Or should I say the 101st wine for TexSom… yikes.
9:49 – Two of the producers we’re tasting today – Vasse Felix and Cullen – are two of the 5 great producers in Margaret River. These 5 were founded in the 60s, and there are now about 100 producers in the Margaret River region.
9:52 – Malbec is growing in importance in the Margaret River as a “backup” to Cabernet Sauvignon for red wine production.
9:55 – Tasting the Vasse Felix Chardonnay, which was aged in 60% new oak and is a really lovely light Chardonnay. Although I’m not generally a Chardonnay fan, I really enjoyed this wine.
9:59 – Enjoying a Margaret River Bordeaux blend from Cullen called Diana Madeline. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot with a smattering of cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. According to our presenter, Master Entrikin, this wine has been produced in a style that’s “more ‘Bordeaux’ than many wines produced in Bordeaux.”
10:08 – Coonawara and Margaret River are the two most well-known areas for Cabernet Sauvignon, and some might argue that although Coonawara is the premier area, others would posit that Margaret River has now surpassed Coonawara for Cab Sauv.
10:27 – After a little break and a spot of coffee (yes – sommeliers do drink coffee in the mornings in between tasting wines!), we are going to South Australia. This is the section I’d been waiting for because of an upcoming trip to the South Australia region!
10:35 – Barossa Valley is the 4th largest area in terms of production, and is the centerpiece of South Australia. Barossa has hilly ranges and then the flatter area is called the Barossa Valley, but Master Stamp says that “Valley” should really be in quotes because “I just don’t see it.” The oldest Syrah and Mourvedre vines in the world are planted in Barossa.
10:39 – The Barossa “old vine charter” was founded and developed at one of the largest producers in the area, Yalumba. The charter is a self-regulating system of classifications for old vines, rather than just a generic term of “old vines” which is a term that is used widely across the globe and has no real meaning.
10:43 – Both Eden Valley and Barossa Valley are in the larger “Barossa” region, so wines labeled “Barossa” will often have Eden Valley fruit in it. If it’s “Barossa Valley” then it’s just fruit from the valley.
10:47 – Tasting a Peter Lehmann white blend called Layers. Primary (33%) semillion along with some muscat, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris. Given the components of the wine, I expect not to like it, but it’s actually quite lovely and balanced. Very different and exciting!
10:54 – Sampling the amusingly named “Skin-n-Bones” Pinot Noir from BK Wines. Interestingly, this wine was produced through 60% whole-cluster fermentation and macerated for 274 days in a barrel on the grape skins. It’s a 2012 vintage, but it looks VERY old. You’d think that such extended contact with skins and stems would make it a highly tannic wine, but (as Master Stamp explained) tannins develop on a bell curve, so this wine is on the tail end of the bell. Matt tasted the entire portfolio of BK Wines, and this is a great example of the winemaker’s willingness to push the envelope in terms of experimentation of production methods.
11:03 – Interesting Sommelier Factlets: 1.) Shiraz grapes do not like water. Some winemakers say, “If you cry in the vineyard, it will get botrytis.” 2.) Regarding the hardiness of Grenache vines: “After nuclear winter, there will be two things left: cockroaches and Grenache vines.”
11:17 – The 2011 Luke Lambert Syrah from Yarra Valley is wine #107. Aged in 30 year-old barrels, and interestingly, this wine is labeled “Syrah” not “Shiraz,” which is becoming more and more common in Yarra Valley. Even though “Syrah” and “Shiraz” are exactly the same grape varietal, some Australian winemakers want to create some distance from what consumers would expect to taste when seeing “Shiraz” on an Australian wine label. When marketing wine (or anything, for that matter), perception and expectations can be huge factors in a wine’s success or failure.
11:31 – Rutherglen is known for fortified wines, and we are tasting Chambers, one of the top producers. These wines can be good before or after a meal. Although these wines used to be known as called “Liqueur Tokay” wines, they are now termed “Topaque” (for the reasons why, read more Jancis Robinson’s excellent detailing of the issue) and the markers are a mixture of honey, cold tea and sardine oil – a very briny complexity. The classification of the Rutherglen wines is voluntary, with no sugar or aging requirements, and includes 4 designations: Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare. And this lovely wine brings our Australian adventure to a close.
TexSom Day 2, Sessions 2 and 3: Mechanics of Tasting and Vertical Tasting of Vin de Constance
1:00…and beyond – After another delicious lunch with many, many wines to taste, I attend a session on the mechanics of tasting with one of my favorite instructors from the Introductory course with the Court, Master Tim Gaiser. This session is highly interactive – and not conducive to the diary format, so I skip taking notes.
That pattern then holds through my last TexSom session, a vertical tasting of historic Vin de Constance, an iconic wine from Klein Constantia in South Africa. The words “iconic” and “historic” are not exaggerations – Napoleon drowned his sorrows in Vin de Constance when in exile, and Baudelaire, Dickens and Austen each wrote about the virtues of Constantia. The current winemaker for Constantia presents each vintage that we taste, and provides illuminating and often humorous commentary about the challenges of making this beautiful wine. (The best example: baboons present one of the largest and consistent scourges to his vineyards’ production. This is stuff they do not teach you in viticulture classes!)
And so TexSom 2013 comes to a close. I tasted more wines in these two days than many people have tasted – or will ever taste – in a lifetime, and learned about wines from all over the world from the best in the business. I count myself among the most fortunate wine professionals in the country to be able to avail myself of this opportunity to learn and grow…and taste some pretty killer wines in the process.
And now…on to the kickoff for TexSom 2014!