Total Pageviews

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class on Australian Terroir

I can’t believe I’ve spent over 2 weeks away from the wine blog - but what I’ve realized is that due to a lot going on these days, I’ll be writing blog posts “as needed,” whenever I feel something entertaining should be shared - an extraordinary bottle or wine experience, a special wine class, or some particular wine thought that I think I should flesh out.  Basically, I’ll be treating Champagne Taste wine blog kind of like I treat my other blog, Here, Taste This!, the food blog.

I’ve been tasting through some truly fascinating wines, entirely too many to blog about in detail, so if you’re curious, “friend” me on Facebook, where I post daily with photos of my wine escapades, labels, tasting notes, pairings, tastings, observations, etc.  It’s just a lot easier for me than going to such detail on the blog all the time.  Longer thoughts will, of course, go straight to the blog, and then to Facebook, Twitter (and maybe even Instagram - I recently joined that!)

So here:
Facebook - “friend” me at Jacqueline Malenda
Twitter - “follow” me @jacswineblog
Instagram - “follow” me @tannatforlife

And if you’re in the area when I’m pouring a tasting - every Friday 3-6.30pm at Lake Side Emotions Wine Boutique in Stony Brook, or wherever else I may be pouring AP Wine Imports products on a Saturday or Sunday all around Long Island (which I always post on Facebook or Twitter), please come visit!  And if you’re far away and still want to talk wine with me, please drop me an email at, I’d love to hear from you!

Guild of Sommeliers Master Class -
Australian Terroir
That said, here’s something I’ve been meaning to share with you since I attended the class.  As you may know, I’m a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, which I joined just over 2 years ago when I began with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  The Guild offers some really fascinating “master classes” which are taught by level 4 master sommeliers on various topics.  When they’re offered in New York, I try to attend as many as possible.  Usually, they cover a specific region of wine production, and some have truly changed the way I view wine - in particular, my very first Guild of Sommeliers class taught by MS Dexheimer and MS Carney almost 2 years ago, on the wines from Sud-Ouest, South West France.  Since that day, I’ve felt a special connection with those wines from Sud-Ouest, and have taken quite a bit of time to learn about them even more, and taste as many as I can find.  Cahors fascinates me, as does Irouleguy, and others, particularly Buzet and Bergerac, but the wines I seem to be infatuated with are the bone dry, dark, rustic, expressive Tannat based wines of Madiran.

I’ve taken some really fun classes since then - anyone who knows me well knows that my preference lies with Old World style wines, but I’ve made it a point to take classes also based on New World regions, and the most recent was a tremendous revelation to me.

Some years back, when I first started learning about wine, the first country I learned about was Spain, followed by Australia.  (I then went back to basics with France and then Italy, but that’s another story.)  What troubled me about my experiences with Australian wine is that most I had tasted over the years have been mass-produced, from very large wineries, and often in a style not pleasing to my palate.  See, I don’t care much for wines with that “hot” feeling, when the excessive alcohol gets in the way of everything else, or where all I can taste is a heavy note of black pepper, or just a whole lot of fruit and no expression of anything else.  I’m sure you understand what I mean.

A couple of months ago, I was at the master class on Ribera del Duero, because I feel like Spain has almost become a weak point for me, in that I can do a lot better than just basic working knowledge of Spanish wine.  And while I was at Corkbuzz in Manhattan for the class, MS Laura Maniec mentioned that she and MS Matt Stamp would be teaching a class on Australian terroir soon, as they had just returned from an interesting trip to Australia.  I was quite curious, as she seemed very enthusiastic and said that the wines that would be included in the class would not be what most Americans are used to, in terms of Australian wine.

So when the class was posted, I signed up immediately.  And I’m so glad I did.

There wasn’t much Shiraz, which was completely ok by me - there were a few, but the focus was on other things, and that’s what made the class so exciting.  The first flight was Pinot Noir from Yarra Valley, the second was Grenache from McLaren Vale (probably always will be my favorite Australian region), third was Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, and fourth was a blind tasting flight.

Yarra Valley, it turns out, is a cooler place in terms of climate than some of the regions I’m more used to.  So alcohol levels were a lot lower in the Pinot Noir than in most of the Shiraz wines I’ve tasted - and right in my wheelhouse!  We began with the 2011 Giant Steps Applejack Pinot Noir, which felt a bit thin to me but was pleasurable and interesting, and since it was the first wine we tasted, already I knew I was in for something new - lighter style Australian wines!  Next up was the 2011 De Bortoli Estate Pinot Noir.  Usually when we think of De Bortoli, it’s the Noble One botrytized dessert wine, so this was interesting.  Again, since 2011 was a cooler vintage, the wine seemed slightly thin, but it was more expressive than the Giant Steps.  The last wine of the flight was my favorite of the flight - the 2010 Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot Noir.  It had great texture with lovely acidity and plenty of fruit notes, more red and fresh than dark and stewed, lots of cherry, smokiness, flower petals, and cool stony earthiness.  And what was really incredible was that the wines were 12.5%, 13%, and 12.7% alcohol, respectively.  Wow.

The Grenache flight from McLaren Vale left the most of an impression with me.  I’ve tasted wines with some Grenache in them, from McLaren Vale, but never wines like these.  The sandy soil drains well in McLaren Vale, making it ideal for Grenache, and there isn’t a lot of rainfall.  The wines we tasted were the 2011 Ess & See, 2011 Ochota Barrels Fugazi Vineyard, 2010 Yangarra Estate High Sands, and 2009 d’Arenberg Blewitt Springs.  My favorites of the flight were the Yangarra and the Ochota Barrels, and in fact the Ochota Barrels was probably my favorite wine of the entire class, because after talking with Australians about their continent and what to expect if I ever visit and what makes Australia unique, it was right there in the Ochota, as plain as day.  The wines are spicy and show lots of red fruit but a bit more concentrated than the Pinot Noir flight, and had plenty of black pepper, and some, particularly the Yangrra, were reminiscent of the Grenache based wines from southern Rhone, they were so expressive though and I loved them.  The Ochota Barrels was the most interesting, mainly on the nose, because it showed eucalyptus, mint, and black pepper right up there with the fruit and earth, that I knew without a doubt that this wine is screaming “Australia.”  They say that the oil of the eucalyptus plants becomes airborne - this was the best example of terroir, in my opinion, in that it’s the earth but also the air as well.  Australia was truly in that Grenache.

The Margaret RIver Cabernet Sauvignon flight was just lovely.  It turns out that the purpose of the plantings in Margaret River were the result of a search for a proper terroir for cooler climate table wine in Australia, and not just fortified wines, for which Australia was known for some time.  I enjoyed the wines very much as they were extremely well balanced and delicious and very expressive - they weren’t big, huge, hearty Cabernet - they were refined.  We tasted through the 2010 Vasse Felix, 2009 Lenton Brae (a favorite), 2010 Cullen Diana Medeline, and 2010 Moss Wood (another favorite).  The elegance and sophistication of the wines was stunning.

The fourth and final flight was blind, and there were some wild card wines in there!  The first was the 2011 Whistling Kite Petit Manseng from Riverland.  It didn’t remind me at all of Manseng I’ve tasted form Sud-Ouest and it wasn’t my favorite, but it was unique and worth having in the class, even though Manseng is by no means a staple in Australia.  We were told the producer is so small and unassuming, it was evident in the wine.  Next was a Chardonnay that was pretty easy to identify because it was just so Chardonnay - the fruit and texture were lovely.  It was the2012 BK Wines One Ball from Adelaide Hills, and they told us why it had that name, but I’ll spare you the details.  Next up was another favorite for me - the 2012 Shobbrock Seppeltsfield Syrah from Barossa (and I was actually happy to taste a really cool Shiraz at this point!  Too bad it’s not available in the US - a few other wines aren’t available either, so it was cool to taste them when I had the opportunity).  It was a soft Shiraz with lots of delicious fruit, some candied fruit and “sweet water” on the nose, very floral, herbal, peppery, but not overbearing in any way.  The final was the 2012 Ruggabelis Effrus which was quite a dark wine, a blend from Barossa of mostly Mourvedre with some Syrah and Grenache.  The structure was elegant but bold, with an almost rustic elegance if that makes any sense, with leather and meat notes with the earthiness, smoke, and dark fruit, plus the typical Australian herb and mint notes.

Does it sound fascinating and far from ordinary?  That’s because it was.  MS Maniec and MS Stamp (love his teaching style by the way, very easy to understand and follow) did a great job teaching the class, and when I take a New World themed class, usually I plan on being able to point out what I like so much better about their Old World counterparts - instead, this time I was in love with the Australian wines - completely unexpected.

No comments:

Post a Comment