Back in the late 1990’s and early naughties this was the proclamation “from on high” by nearly all of the wine aficionados. You heard it everywhere from wine journalists, sommeliers and even taxi drivers. People got sick of the big buttery Chardonnay and capsicum driven Cabernet and were looking for something different. The only problem, in my humble opinion, is that these people turned en masse to Sauvignon Blanc, and especially Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Now I don’t want to start another rant against Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, having come to the realisation that a lot of people like this style, but it is just not for me. In fact, our sommeliers have been given only have 1 rule. They cannot choose a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and so far, this rule has been kept. In saying this, rules are meant to be broken and I hear there are some new interesting styles being made from this region. But that is for another newsletter and another time.
During this ABC time, Chardonnay and Cabernet completely fell out of fashion, unless of course you were talking about White Burgundy and Bordeaux, but even these greats felt a little tarnished as people raced to Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Grenache and obscure Italian varietals and regions. But the times they are a changing. Cabernet and especially Chardonnay are limping back into fashion, being led by great Aussie winemakers who are turning out world class wines. In fact, if you talk to most wine experts from around the world, the best wines coming out of Australia right now are cool climate Chardonnay and to a lesser degree Pinot Noir and Cabernet. I personally have been telling anyone who will listen that Chardonnay is the new black. The secret, is that you need to spend above $25, as below this price you will get the commercial, slightly sweet tropical white wines which are OK, but kind of bland. The Chardonnay chosen for this pack is anything but bland. The 2017 Clarence House Estate Chardonnay Coal River Tasmania.
Tasmania is red hot right now as their Sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir continue to excite wine lovers and sommeliers alike. (I just realised we had a Tasmanian Riesling in the last pack, but I am sure you are not tired of this region or these wines.) Clarence House Chardonnay has been one of my go to wines over the past 6 months and we have been able to secure the last cases of this great 2017 vintage. Clarence House is like a lot of boutique producers, they were started by a very passionate and successful professional from another industry. In this case David Kilpatrick, a former cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Tasmania, who purchased Clarence House Estate in 1998 and planted the first 6, of what would eventually become, 16 hectares. The fruit was sold off to other wineries, until they created their own label in 2006. What is different at Clarence house, is that they have their wines made by one of the top wine makers in the country; Anna Pooley.
Anna Pooley is the third generation of Pooley wines, one of the benchmark producers in Tasmania and Australia. They are neighbours and I have been reliably informed would love to purchase this vineyard off David, with a lot of the fruit already going into their own wines. Anna is a seriously well-respected winemaker working for the large Treasury Wine Estates, before the lure of her family’s vineyards brought her back into the fold. This class and experience shines through in this 2017 Chardonnay. It has the fullness of flavour I look for in a Chardonnay, but with out the excess flabbiness. This wine is racy, elegant and sophisticated and just a joy to drink by itself or to match with a wide variety of foods.
In writing this newsletter I noticed there is a connection between Anna Pooley and the Australian Cabernet selected, the 2016 Salomon Cabernet Sauvignon Finnis River South Australia. You see Anna worked a vintage in her earlier travels and work experience at the very distinguished Austrian producer Solomon, who also happen to own a vineyard in the Finnis River of South Australia. Bert Salomon is the eighth generation of Salomon Undorf, one of Austria’s greatest wineries. They make amazing Riesling and Gruner Veltliner at Krems on the River Danube, just an hour’s drive outside Vienna and they make amazing red wines from their South Australian Estate.
Bert Salomon’s journey into wine began when his mother encouraged him to gain some experience outside the family, taking a job with a wine importer in the New York. Here he discovered a love and joy of International wines and the contacts that would lead to a successful import/ export business; still in operation today. It was through these contacts that he was the first person to bring Penfolds into Austria, beginning his love affair with South Australian Reds. Frequent trips to Australia led him to claim a piece of Australia for his own, planting a vineyard in 1995, not far from McLaren Vale.
So here we have a winemaking family with over 230 years’ experience in Austria and over 25 years in South Australia. Not a bad accomplishment; but only notable if the wines are good. And yes, they are petty bloody good. This 2016 Salomon Finnis River Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich full-bodied style, with plenty of blackcurrant and cedar characters. However, it still maintains plenty of freshness and vitality.
Wines from the Rhone valley continue to impress and when we were offered the last cases of this sensational 2015 vintage, we had to say yes. The 2015 Domaine les Hautes Cances, Cairanne, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Tradition” has been a favourite of Bullion Cellars for a long time and has been included in past selections over the years. The 2015 and 2016 vintages are considered classics of the area and drinking this wine again, shows me why. It has just everything you want in a fine wine, complexity, balance but overall just great drinkability and enjoyment.
But first a little summary of the Southern Rhone. The Cote Du Rhone is the group name for all the wines made in what is the 2nd largest region in France. The wines range from entry level through to some of the most complex and expensive on the planet. The Cote Du Rhone is all about Reds, (89 % Red / 7% Rose / 4% White). There are 21 different grape varieties allowable in this region, but plantings are dominated by Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault, and Carignan. It is this region which inspired the great GSM’s from Australia (GSM – Grenache / Shiraz / Mouvedere). Like any large region, there are special sites and sub-regions and the Rhone is no exception. The most famous of these subregions is Chateauneuf du pape, followed by other villages such as Carrianne / Lirac etc.
The wine selected is from the village of Carianne in the northern sector of the Cotes du Rhone, near the village of Gigondas. At a fraction of the price of most Chateauneuf-du-Pape and better than many, this is a great example of the more modern style of Cote Du Rhone. They have recently opened a new winery with all gleaming stainless steel and new French oak and this shines through on the wine. It is not too heavy but is quite fleshy and just a lovely glass of wine, with a sophistication that sets it apart. It has these amazing black fruit and liquorice characters swirling around the glass and before you know, you are onto the second bottle
Last, but certainly not least, we have a wine from Rioja in Spain. The 2014 Valenciso Laderas Cabama Rioja Spain. Rioja is all about Tempranillo and the region is going through a resurgence of late, as they move away from the excessively oaked and rather clumsy wines over the past decades, moving to fresher, more elegant wines which are offering a sense of place, rather than just how much new American oak was used in the aging process of the wines. Oak is required and necessary in most fine wines, but it should be in the background, enhancing the flavours and characters of the wine. Rioja of years past have forgotten this and presented wines which tasted like licking an American oak popsicle. Kind of nice, but in the end disappointing and disjointed.
Valenciso has been described as one of the most modern of the traditional producers, or the most traditional of the modern producers. Either way this small producer is creating a lot of waves for a winery which only started in 1998. They even have reverted to the use of French Oak over the traditional US oak of the region. Like a lot of wines which our Sommeliers love, this winery is a labour of love from 2 youngish winemakers who left the security and money of well-paid corporate winemaker gigs, to start their own venture with all the excitement and risks this entails.
So, there we have our recent selection. Enjoy and I am glad that we are continuing the recent trend of more Australian wines in our packs
Matt the Bullionaire