In search of balance: the cult of the winemaker

The cult of the winemaker. Some have stood out due to outstanding, new or different styles but always behind the brand. In recent years, the brand is less and the winemaker is more. For boutique wineries. For the avant garde. For the quirky and the super hands on.
In years gone by, we celebrated the master blenders, the chef de cave of champagne, the bordeaux master craftsman that work with thousands of parcels to give you the wine that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. In today’s world, however, we celebrate the micro-site maker. Someone who takes some grapes, does minimal and bottles it to the applause of the high profile audience.

Micro makers are by definition, making minute quantities at higher prices with minimal reach but take up majority of the air and press time. Vast majority of the population is still drinking the workhorse wines, those blended by almost anonymous makers working behind big brand names. Masters of blending, across time and space to create the same in spite of conditions. A somewhat harder task, I think.

I love the avant garde, the unique and the quirky. I love (some) of the so called natural wines – those that evoke emotion and have a personality. One particularly memorable tasting at Pares Balta (Penedes, Spain) I fell head over heels in love with two very different gentlemen in a bottle: one a gorgeous blond with a millionaire playboy personality, the other a dark and dangerous brooding sex god. That’s two wines with personality plus that I will struggle to ever forget. At another, a half-forgotten and often derided grape variety transported me to the late summer of my youth, a moment of happy melancholy – Pipeno by Cacique Maravilla (Bio Bio, Chile). Yet, others – that may perhaps be more “popular” or social media savvy left me cold.

Similarly, the master craftmakers of champagne who are tasked with blending juice from an incredible variety of parcels to taste the same, year in and year out for those non-vintage bottlings. As much as I might not love the taste of Moet Chandon, the task behind the making of this incredible volume driven non-vintage style is mind boggling. It tastes the same every year, quality only getting better. Similarly, Freixenet and their ubiquitous Cordon Negro which is sold in millions of bottles around the world, exactly the same every time. That is super skilling. Recently, I had the pleasure of having attended a masterclass with the incredibly talented Ed Carr. The skill and the deftness it takes to make a generic big brand $10 sparkling delicious and still be able to make the elixir that is the 2002 Arras EJ Carr (arguably Australia’s best sparkling in any vintage), leaves me speechless.

The point of this you may ask?

The quest for balance, the idea that just because there is one does not mean the other is any less. I love the ability to pick up a bottle for Tuesday night, that does not cost the earth (in all sense of the phrase), and occasionally to splurge on a wine that moves my little gray cells into stratosphere. Could I do the mind altering experience daily? I think I would probably stop appreciating it as much, as I do now.

The one thing I have taken away from all my studies – not just in wine – is that balance is everything. You can’t know the good without the bad. Just because things are different, however, does not make one better than the other. It’s just different. And before the supporters of the natural cry out about destroying the planet and drinking cleaner, big brand does not have to mean destructive to environment or being soulless. It may be the case for some, but not all. Let’s all move forward together.

And let’s not forget the many people who work alongside the winemakers, the cellar dwellers and the green thumbs, the coopers and the steel makers, the potters and all the other support staff that bring the wine to life.

Just in time for summer, the pink and the light red…

20170804_133716.jpgIn southern hemisphere, summer is fast approaching. In Sydney, it’s peeking it’s head every few days before winter claims it’s rightful place yet again. While today might be a tad chilly, all of 11 degrees, next week is looking sunny and positively pink drinking weather!

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure to try some rose and pinot noir…

2016 Jacob’s Creek La Petit Rose

A: a deep salmon

N: attractive with inviting aromas of flowers, black cherry, strawberry jam and raspberries

P: this is a dry rose style, with some good acidity but lacking in what the nose promised. Simple fruit and one dimensional.

C: Good for quaffing, which is what it’s made for. Currently $18 at my local. Could be good for $10. Grapes or region not specified.

2017 Taylors Estate Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir Rose

A: pale salmon

N: vibrant aromas of candied strawberries, fresh raspberries and grass

P: this is definitely dry, almost talcum with racy acidity and quite intense palate of raspberries, strawberries and some hints of ribena on the back end. There’s still that grassiness that was showing on the nose.

C: Good for quaffing. Would be really good on a Sunday with some friends. Great value and very session-able, $15 at my local on special.

2015 Mandela Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

A: ruby but with definite orange highlights

N: jumping out of the glass in it’s pinosity with cherry, earth, black fruits at the core. Developing nicely, with hint of barnyard and meatiness.

P: dry, juicy acidity with nice fine integrated tannins that give good structure on which the fruit hangs pretty and yet quite savoury. Reminiscent of black cherry, cinnamon spice, earth and smoked meats. Has a long finish note.

C: Good pub drinking, where you crank open the bottle and drink it fast. A glass 30 mins later was much duller. Around $30 in retail, so great drinking right now, but this isn’t a keeper.

2016 Jaraman Yarra Valley Pinot Noir

A: ruby

N: muted nose but with hints of black forest fruits, some cinnamon spice and oak, a bit of leather – sort of reminds me of a hot summer morning while it’s still fresh but promises to be a scorcher. Very youthful.

P: dry, with almost luscious lashings of dark cherry, very firm tannins that are almost angular, sappy and chewy. The body is medium weight and is promising good things with dark cherry, cinnamon, leather and cocoa.

C: Very good wine with a future, probably will drink much better in about 6 to 12 months. I’d love to revisit in another 2 to 3 years, so pretty good value at $30.

2008 Musella Amarone Riserva

Image c/o doesn’t love a beautiful and absolutely delicious red on a cold winter’s day? Or for that matter, a good looking Italian?

Sublime example from Valpolicella, Italy.

A: A deep garnet in the glass

N: Pronounced and overt, leaps at you from the glass wanting to envelop with aromas of coconut and cinnamon spice, stewed plums, raspberries, and earthier notes of herbs, heather and medicine. The wine is fully developed but still going strong.

P: A full bodied, high octane number (alcohol and tannin) that’s still quite elegant. The flavours follow on from the nose with black fruit and stewed plums, hints of raspberry, cinnamon and cloves, cedar some floral elements (!) and currants. Incredibly long and generous finish.


An outstanding wine. Spice. Cedar. Chewy fruit. Enjoy slowly, with food and good company so you can do the enjoyable noises at each other.

2009 Waverley Estate Reserve Semillon

A: Bright and enticing medium gold

N: Slightly muted bouquet of lemon curd, wildflowers, apricot and slathering of butter. Still developing.

P: A low alcohol wine with juicy acidity and high glycerol gives a full body palate with beautifully developed flavours of apricot, zesty lemon, lemon curd, and that beautiful oiliness of an older Sem. A very long finish.

Great freshness in the glass inspite of age and will continue to evolve. There’s great balance between the fruit and flavour intensity and the acidity, so expect good things in years to come. Drink now or keep and enjoy another 7+ years.