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Friday 22 August 2014

Notes From a Big Country...

I love the ironic nicknames that are often given in Australia: Shorty for the individual who’s not exactly vertically challenged; Blue for the redhead; Curly for the chap that is a little challenged in the follicle department; Chuckles for an individual with a serious demeanour. Which provides me with a contrived way to segue to the host for Swirl, Sniff, Spit’s ‘American’ wine tasting - Brad Hickey,  AKA 'Brash Higgins'. A man who is anything but. Calm, thoughtful, considered, generous with time and knowledge.

And so it was that this former Wine Director for 2 Michelin Starred New York eatery Bouley, turned McLaren Vale winemaker - by way of that familiar tale of having found love - found himself at Brisbane Gastro-bar Statler & Waldorf, displaying that generosity of knowledge to a crowd of gathered wine lovers.

We started our journey with the thriving wine industry in and around Long Island. Charles Massoud, founder of Paumanok in the Spring of 1983. Again a familiar tale, though the industry may differ. Having made his money in banking, Charles moved his family out to North Fork of Long Island. Today, with son Kareem at the winemaking helm, Paumanok is the only producer of Chenin in Long Island. Vines planted in 70s, picked early to be fresh, bright, spends 3 months in s/steel – seeing no oak. Hickey advises that it has become something of a cult wine in Long Island (and remarks that its all the more surprising that Paumanok are the only producer). The 2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc - Fresh and crisp golden delicious, tropical hints. The palate sees a wine fresh, a real sense of life and vitality there – zest, zing and mineral; fades away on a good length. 92

Then we head North-West, to the Finger Lakes region, in the far North East reaches of New York state. The region gains its name from the spindly, deep glacial lakes (some 2 KM deep). The area has proven itself suited to aromatic whites: Riesling, Gewürztraminer etc, but it wasn’t always so. Hermann Wiemer is now seen as a pioneer of the region. Thought crazy initially, he turned out to be the smart one. Hermann J. Wiemer “Dry” Riesling 2012, Glorious perfume here: floral, candies, touch of tropical.blossom character. A little residual sugar, textural - pillowy softness, textural finish with a thread of lasting apple. 91

Moving over to the West Coast, California - undoubtedly the most famous of the US’s wine producing states, although as Hickey states wine is made in each of the states of America, quality varying widely across them, experience has shown those states in closer proximity to the moderating influences of the oceans tend to have the qualitative edge. The Dutton-Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, of the Russian River AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a collaboration between two gents: Steve Dutton (Viti) and Dan Goldfield (Winemaker). The Dutton Family has huge holdings, winemaking sees use of top French barrels, lots of lees stirrings to build complexity. 2012 is regarded as an excellent vintage. Initially gives the sense of being a little mute, cajoling the wine gives a core of citrus, pear and a suggestion of stone fruit. But its the texture that wins out: creamy, vanilla oak; nuts-cashew – on a good length. Bit of minerality adds complexity and rewards each sip, staying power, longevity. 92

Back across the East Coast again. Traversing the great nation, feeling like the great Sal Paradise. Now to Channing Daughters with their 2010 “Meditazione” white Friulian Blend. Chris Tracy, a friend of Brad’s, Channing Daughters' winemaker and partner in the business. Chris introduced new grape varieties such as Tokay Friulano, the intent was to try and play with climate – the belief that Merlot was not suitable for the region. The ‘Mediatizione’ is a blend of 6-7 varieties: 28% Muscat Ottonel, 20% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Pinot Grigio, 10% Tocai Friulano, 5% Viognier, 5% Aligote, 2% Semillon – picked at the same time and fermented together. This ‘orange’ wine spends about 20 days on skins. Destemmed, co-fermented together, 1 year in new Slovenian and some older second and third use oak. Shows almond/marzipan, butterscotch, florals, lychee, hints of stone fruit and a touch of earl grey tea. There’s plenty going on - phenolic bitterness, grip – frangipani tarts and vanilla/creme. That grip – lasting, on a very good length. Unyielding almost. 92/3
Back to California we go, about an hour drive north of Sonoma, a location that is providing cheaper fruit options for younger sets than those found further South. There the Idlewild guys found some old vines out there. Grenache Gris is pretty rare, often made into white wines in France. Here it’s made in style of a Rosé, but with bite. Idlewild's Grenache Gris, Gibson Ranch, Mendocino, CA, a but of Raspberry leaf, boiled lolly; leaf, raspberry – red fruit cordial notes on the palate with a little herb in there too, snap of acid and lingering spice. Not necessarily the greatest length. Would probably show better on its own and in more appropriate stemware. 89

Grenache specialists A Tribute to Grace Grenache provide our next introduction. New Zealand native Angela Osborne moved to California in 2006 with a dream to make Grenache. Boy has she done so. Light, pretty, aromatic: strawberry, cherry and a little citrus. At contrast to the palate where the wine possesses a bit of body. Given time the wine shows softer…almost pillowy sense to it. Spice, depth, length - gorgeous wine. Of many parts. 93
North again to ‘neighbouring’ Oregon for the 2010 Sineann Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. Peter Rosback established Sineann in 1994. Owning no vineyard, fruit is sourced from the finest vineyards in the region. Showing resinous notes - something I see in Willamette PNs - smoked tea; darker notes. Possessing good structure, floaty tannins latterly; spice, good length 89
South again back to California for Peay Pinot Noir, Sonoma CoastPeay is a labour of love for Vanessa Wong winemaker – cult winemaker for others – who, with her husband and brother-in-law sought out some fruit, Sonoma coast about 4miles from coast,  above the fog line. Marginal location - some might say perfect for fickle Pinot Noir. Strawberry, wild strawberry, green herbal/ slight pine edge; soft, concentrated, compact – soft almost spongey tannin/ structure. Excellent finish - good vitality. 92
Brad Hickey spoke of Matthew Warwick, a new breed of winemaker – looking at and pursuing alternatives (similar to Australian ‘side projects’ crew); Dutch parentage, a Navy gulf war veteran. An intellectual, smart; making serious wines with Cabernet. Forlorn Hope – comes from Dutch ‘hoop’ or troop/ tribe: 2010 Forlorn Hope “Mil Amores, Dewitt Vineyard”, (Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz, Trincadeira) from the Sierra Foothills, essentially port blend, but fermented dry as a table wine. Florals, purple fruit, lavender perhaps; Fruitcake, smooth, plush, on a Reasonable length. 91/92

Another unusual blend, the 2011 Scholium Project “Gardens of Babylon” Red Blend, CA from the hands of Abe Schoener, academic – philosophy professor. Hickey advises that Abe’s wines have a story – playing on the philosophy angle. Unusual red blend: Cabernet Sauv, Petite Sirah, Cinsault. 300 case production only. Spicy, lifted, florals; savoury, woody notes. Blue/black fruit with tart fruit acidity.
Short on length, good snap of acidity and flavour. 90
In a final bracket pitched as ‘typical’ American wines, Zinfandel labelled the ‘American’ grape. Ed Meades is one of the earliest plantings of the variety, with Dr Edmeades plantings in the late 60s. Now owned by Jackson Family, purchased in the 80s. The 2011 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino County, CA. Lavender, red, blue and black fruits - quite pretty still with spice riven through the wine. 91/2

In the context of Californian wine, La Jota is a grandaddy. The Howell Mountain area has become highly sought after high altitude growing location, vines at 600m. The 2008 La Jota “Heritage", Howell Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon, spends two years in new French oak - it shows. Abundance of Black fruit, cassis, cedary notes. Full, but a lovely innate sense of balance; minerality. Dark, dusty, fine graphite mineral. Excellent length. Structure and fruit quality for the long haul. 93

Tasted on: Tuesday 19th August, a Root Day
Source: Swirl, Sniff, Spit
Price: $Various
Alcohol: Various

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1 comment:

  1. Would have been an interesting night