A report from World Class Australia – some really top and some vile filth wines

The Elitist Review editorial team dropped by this annual trade tasting organised by Wine Australia, the venue being the rather swish Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. We didn’t taste so many of the wines, partly because we had a lunch engagement to get to, but mostly because there were epic quantities of piss-boring, industrially produced wine aimed at the enjoyment-impoverished and the tight of wallet. So, what caught our attention?

There was clearly one stand-out producer who made wonderful, personality filled wines in a beautiful style that few other Australians can manage: Mac Forbes. [link2post id=”258″]I reported on one of their wines just over a week ago[/link2post] and it was a delight to try some more. His Riesling was really compelling with great acidity and lots of charming fruit; really tasty stuff. I liked the fact that the front label gives the amount of residual sugar in the wine (if only they’d do this in Alsace). The single vineyard Pinot Noir wines, especially the 2008s, were probably the best range of Australian Pinots I’ve tasted. I love their low alcohol and beguiling restraint. Lots of fruit, for sure, but these elegant little beauties were more about purity of expression rather than being fruit bombs that blow your head off at the first sniff. Clark Foyster Wines are the agent in the UK, so go to their website and order vast amounts of these lovely wines! Even the most expensive of the Pinot single vineyards, the Woori Yallock 2008, is undoubtedly worth every penny.

[image image_id=”2354″ align=”left”]

Mos sWood Cabernet Sauvignon An old favourite producer, Moss Wood, also had some good wines on show. These were only enhanced by being served by the owner’s quite lovely daughter; she was a charmer, alright. The Semillon seemed a good, weighty example with a really pleasing backbone of acidity; it’ll age surprisingly well for a inexpensive wine. Their Chardonnay was reasonably fat, but with its good acidity it never seemed over-blown or heavy, this was definitely a classy Chardonnay which was still recognisably Australian. I have a bit of a soft-spot for Moss Wood Cabernet and the 2006 vintage was a really top example of the wine. We are told the ripening time for the grapes was longer than any in Moss Wood’s previous history and this, we are informed, is why the wine has such a depth of complexity. I think ‘depth of complexity’ might be over-selling it a tad, but I liked the impressive tannic structure that seemed balanced with the ripe fruit and quite unusually high acid levels.

[image image_id=”2447″] Old favourites continued to provide the quality kit. The mighty and oft recommended Tim Adams had some new wines on show which I had not tasted before. His Riesling Reserve 2008 was a delicate entity of purity and exquisite attractiveness. Not very alcoholic, but its refinement… oh its refinement… A 2009 Pinot Gris was also on offer which had a pleasing opulent fruitiness, but thanks to its great acidity it seemed totally balanced and extremely drinkable. A top wine for the price. It appears the Cabernet I used to recommend to anyone who wanted a bargain but quality wine has become Cabernet Malbec, we tasted the 2006 vintage. It is still a winner, maybe a bit more rigorous than previous vintages with a good interplay between big tannins, fine acid and piles of fruit when you drink it. We have tried The Fergus, Clare Valley Shiraz and The Aberfeldy so many times we didn’t re-try them, instead we moved on to a new red wine for us: Tempranillo Reserve. This demonstrated that even brilliant winemakers cannot do everything right: it was utterly, horribly disgusting.

Grosset Springvale Riesling 2009 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2009 A few more Rieslings sucked us in. Mesh Eden Valley Riesling 2007 was fresh and focussed as ever; a really affordable Riesling that is an enlivening, vigorous pleasure to drink. Then we tried Jeffrey Grosset’s two 2009 Clare Valley vineyard-designated Rieslings, Springvale and Polish Hill. As usual, these were piercing, riveting wines that screamed with frightening acid-levels and exploded with vivacious citrus fruit. Perhaps it was because these wines were being served at such a young age that they seemed fruitier than normal, the citrus fruit was very primary. They seemed the best two examples of these wines I have tried.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling I shall pass over the mundane and simply pedestrian wines we sampled, and there were too many, and move onto spewing invective about the actively nasty filth we mistakenly tried. Some of the most repulsive white wines I have ever been misfortunate enough not to have avoided tasting came from Leeuwin Estate. When sniffing the Art Series Riesling 2008 I just about managed to empty my mind of the over-whelming revulsion long enough to wonder whether making insecticide really was an art. It smelled like the Platonic ideal of fly spray. What fruit was there was really confected and this, together with the pronounced Raid characters, just wanted to make me cry and wail asking what terrible crime I had committed to have to stomach such an abominable wine. I don’t actually know what insecticide tastes like, but I’d wager Art Series Riesling is pretty close to the most vigorously toxic kind. The Prelude Chardonnay was a melange of confected fruit and clumsy oak; no balance, harmony or charm, too much like sucking a charred plank coated with foam-banana sweets. Vile. Then came the ‘ooh fancy!’ Art Series Chardonnay 2007, retailing for an impressive £47 a bottle. For this princely sum you’d get a boringly overblown Chardonnay with an expensive but awkward and inept oak treatment that just smacks you on the nose and palate with its aggressive, unhinged character. The palate had no redeeming features, being too oaky with strangely contrived fruit flavours and no hint of length or complexity. What a pile of horribleness for so much money.

Ten Minutes by Tractor 10x Pinot Noir Finally I want to roundly abuse a particular style of Pinot that some people in hot climates make. My examples of this style are made in the supposedly cool climate region of the Mornington Peninsula by the producer Ten Minutes by Tractor. We tried their 2008 ‘10x’ Pinot Noir which is a blend of grapes from their three vineyards and two 2007 single vineyard Pinot Noirs. They were such travesties of the noble Pinot grape that Ten Minutes should be first up against the wall when the aesthetic revolution comes. All these three wines were really hot and alcoholic, seeming quite unbalanced because of this. But, because the poor Pinot had been left to bake in the sun for too long the only characters that remained were utterly ghastly HP Sauce and Bovril-like qualities. These can often be found in Pinot Noir that has been left to roast on the vine far too long and Ten Minutes by Tractor had clearly got their technique of ruining Pinot down to a fine art. If you can imagine, oh I am not sure I want to, a mix of one third Bovril, one third HP Sauce and one third vodka then you would have the perfect recipe for overblown Pinot that would be terribly, shamefully close to these offerings. I hated them.

Still, the good wines were good and I don’t have to try the bad ones any more today. Many thanks to the UK arm of Wine Australia for organising this event.

  • Wine Rambler

    Thanks for this amusing and enlightening write-up, David. I have yet to explore Australia properly, because most Australian wine I came across was either boring, too strong on alcohol or both. However, I do not blame Australia for this, but rather the people in the UK who, at receptions and all sorts of event I go to, always buy the cheapest wines they can get, and that often means Australia. So it will be interesting to explore a few of the better producers and you have provided good recommendations. Thanks for that!

  • David Strange

    Very kind of you to drop by.

    The Rieslings I recommend here are very good examples of the grape variety; worth seeking our and trying if you want to expand your horizons. The Mac Forbes Pinots are also really beautiful, top-bunny-kit which don’t suffer from those Australian wine characteristics of being dull or too alcoholic. I know these facets only too well and most of the wines at this event were of that style; overblown tedium just doesn’t interest me. High-grading was certainly necessary in this tasting.

    Australian wine is far from my favourite country-specific style, but it does seem that more people who care for balance and harmony are making wine these days. Good!

  • Peter

    Oh right, so we shouldn’t blame Australians when they make dreadful wine, but their British consumers. Sounds reasonable. Perhaps we in the UK should therefore also take credit for the great wines that are produced in France, for example. It’s down to us.
    It’s not about cheapness. Leeuwin Estate wines are not especially cheap. Lots of countries make poor cheap wine. But some Australian producers (quite a lot of them) really specialise in vile, overblown rubbish that actually costs quite a lot. That’s what’s really offensive. And then some of them brag about how great it is. There are some nice Australian wines, but let’s face it, they’re generally wines that just don’t taste very Australian.

  • David Strange

    There is a phrase often used by Australian winemakers, “Why should I make wine from unripe grapes?” This sounds fine, but most of them go on to interpret this as meaning they have to make wines from over-ripe grapes. The shocking horror of the soupy Pinots from Ten Minutes, especially if you compare them to the models of graceful harmony of the Mac Forbes, show that this is a staggering crime against not only the grapes but also all those who have to suffer drinking the wines. My two favourite Australian makers of Pinot (By Farr and Mr Forbes) don’t do this and, as you say, they are not typically Australian in style.

    The Leeuwin Riesling was just staggeringly awful; the most appalling experience for my mouth since I last had a tooth extracted. Their Art Series Chardonnay was not filth of this level, but if I paid full whack for it I would be steaming with totally justified rage. There was no harmony, beauty or class present in it, which is wrong for something not short of fifty fun tokens a bottle.

  • ed tully

    somewhat harsh, Peter!

    Henschke make wine that could only be Australian, and they are mostly wonderful.

  • David Strange

    Edward, this is where we disagree. I certainly think Henschke make Australian wines, but mostly wonderful? Certainly not. Their top two Shiraz wines (Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone) are powerful, impressive wines in the Australian idiom, but I don’t derive much pleasure from such large monsters. Their lesser wines are even less compelling (the Riesling is almost as fly-spray-themed as the Leeuwin Estate). These are not ‘mostly wonderful’ wines; I’m surprised you still rate them now you are a confirmed Claret drinker.

  • Peter

    You’re both wrong. Henschke Shiraz wines are very good (I agree that the Riesling is not), but I don’t think they are typically Australian. They are expressly wines from individual vineyards, and are relatively cool climate for that area of South Australia, from higher ground.

  • Jeremy

    The problem is in your definition of typical. It’s simply not fair on any wine region to define them by the more mediocre examples. And the country is simply to big to just get boxed as “eucalyptus flavored alco bombs”. When it comes to ripeness, typicity is especially dangerous as a concept. I think that Henschke make some of Australia’s iconic wines with Hill of Grace, Mt Edelstone and the Cyril Henschke Cab. The Farr wines are not obviously australian, but that is partly because few people in their area have chosen to make wines in that style, so it is not a “terroir” thing.

    And then for the debate between the two Peters. I think that it is fair to blame those that choose to serve awful wine, not just those that make it. In the industrial type of programs that would be Jacob’s Creek or Penfolds, the wines are not produced with some ideal of terroir representativeness in the mind of the winemakers but rather to respond to some sort of market study and trying to give people what they are asking for. So yes, it is important to vote with your wallet.

  • ed tully

    Hmm Peter! “They are expressly wines from individual (AUSTRALIAN!) vineyards”. Henschke could only be Australian. It would be unfair to say “australian” has to mean confected rubbish just because a lot of it is. We don’t say that Lafite is atypical bordeaux because it doesn’t taste like Mouton Cadet.

  • ed tully

    How entertaining (synchronous?)Jeremy, that we should post at the same time and with a similar point in mind! Does it really matter if lots of people are happy with rubbish? I mean, if everyone liked Clos de la Roche and Bonnes Mares it would be insanely expensive. Perhaps we should give thanks that some people are easily pleased and that some kind souls are servicing there needs.

  • Peter

    I’m sorry, I still think everyone’s wrong apart from me. Most consumers want cheap wine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. All wine producing countries make a lot of wines aimed at that market, and that is also fine. Australians are good at that, making wines that are clean and consistent. They taught the Old World rather a lot on that front. What I don’t like is those Australian wines that are priced more highly and reckon they are quality stuff, but which are overdone, big dollops of ripe fruit, but one-dimensional and with no interest. They are essentially just bigger, pricier versions of so many lower-value Australian wines. Yet there are some Australian producers, and I would submit that Farr and Henschke are among them, who make more interesting wines in a style which seems to me to be untypical of Australia. I hope and expect that more Australian producers will in time follow such trail blazers.
    Jeremy, you’re just being too reasonable.

  • Wine Rambler

    Peter, I do blame bad winemaking on winemakers and not the consumers, and I do not give credit for great winemaking to consumers. However, I also reserve the right to blame people for buying the cheapest plonk they can get to entertain guests at receptions. I have been to quite a few of those in the past few years and I often had to endure boring or annoying Australian wine. However, I do not blame Australia as a winemaking country for that as you will find cheap rubbish everywhere. I have not had nearly enough Australian wine (beyond the cheapest supermarket category) to feel even close to an opinion. I do agree that there is nothing wrong with wanting (or having) to buy cheap wine. One would just wish it would be decent value.

    David, thanks again for the recommendations.

  • Peter S

    Peter “What I don’t like is those Australian wines that are priced more highly and reckon they are quality stuff, but which are overdone, big dollops of ripe fruit, but one-dimensional and with no interest. They are essentially just bigger, pricier versions of so many lower-value Australian wines.”

    I reckon that this again is just excellent market positioning and branding, a talented wine-making industry repsonding to the large market niche of people who are unfussy in what they drink but who want to show off a bit at a special dinner !

  • David Strange

    Both Peters have a point here. We may not care about the cheap stuff, even though it is generally well-made, clean and ripe. Yet, as Peter says, when this wine-making style is carried to extremes it does not make for interesting wines (see tonight’s experience). Yet Peter S is also correct to say that this style of wine is a brilliant piece of marketing which will appeal to the unsophisticated drinker who just wants a bit of flash for their cash. I just don’t want to drink wines like this.

    Try and get some Mac Forbes, or By Farr, they are proper wines with real interest which come with a more interesting message than “Avoid.”