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.


2014 Mount Majura Pinot Noir

917110_0_9999_med_v1_m56577569855080457A: Vibrant ruby in the glass.

N: Earthy and raspberry notes, and very youthful.

P: Tight tannins and tart acidity with plenty of juicy and delicious fruit, think raspberries and blackberries. There’s an earthy note and some brambly heather. A beguiling little number out of Canberra that should evolve nicely over the next 5 to 10 years.

RRP $29

…at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, where Riesling dreams come true…

Last time I waxed lyrical on the subject of Riesling…well, I spent a weekend drinking, slurping, swirling and sniffing Riesling. We talked about it, discussed and analysed…and I’m more in love with the grape then ever before.

The morning of Saturday 15 October started with the opportunity to taste…514 Rieslings! Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Austria, Germany, South Africa and France sent in their representative bottlings.


We started with the Elite Golds and the Trophy winners before casually spending the next 3 hours trying the rest of the winning crowd – an incredible 85 Gold medals got handed out this year. Luckily, got to start before the crowds rolled in.


An impressive array of styles, from the bracing examples of bone dry Clare Valley to searing acidity of New Zealand with a nice balancing touch of residual sugar, to the lushness of Alsace and the versatility of our North American friends. This is a must attend event for anyone at all curious about wine, the absolute generosity and versatility of a single grape and for anyone interested in terroir. And no, just because someone didn’t win on the day doesn’t mean their particular Riesling was not delicious – competitions are only as good as the judges on the day, after all.

And for those more serious, Friday held the annual Seminar and MasterClass on the excellence in Riesling. This year we covered such topics as:

  • Innovation in Riesling winemaking – trying everything from sparkling examples to “orange” Riesling with plenty of skin contact (oddly yumm even if I was in the minority), lees and other bits, to a the new fad of low alcohol wines (clearly, I am not a fan of the ultra processed…nevermind the lack luster taste).
  • Key Aspects of Terroir – with focus on climate and the changes we have recently experiences in temperature.
  • The MasterClass on Riesling from regions 41 degrees and south: A presentation on evolution of New Zealand Riesling with some excellent examples, as well as what the Tasmanians have been upto in the recent years. Incredible diversity!


Interested or curious? Check out these links:



PS: My personal picks

2016 Mount Majura Vineyard Riesling, Canberra District (Trophy)

2016 Jim Barry Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley (Gold)  – consistently good

2016 Jaeschkes Hill River Clare Estate Riesling, Clare Valley (Gold) – purity

2016 Hentley Farm Riesling, Eden Valley (Gold) – deliciousness in a glass

2016 Galafrey Reserve Riesling, Great Southern (Gold)

2016 Trevelen Farm Estate Riesling, Great Southern (Bronze) – juicy deliciousness

2016 Hay Shed Kerrigan & Berry Riesling, Mount Barker (Gold)

2016 Capel Vale Regional Series Riesling, Mount Barker (Gold)

2016 Freycinet Vineyard Riesling, Tasmania (Silver)

2016 Goaty Hill Riesling, Tasmania (84 points)

2016 Chartley Estate Riesling, Tasmania (Trophy) – rose petals, waxy green apple.

2016 Bellarmine Dry Riesling, Pemberton (Silver)

2016 Robert Stein Riesling, Mudgee (Gold)

2016 SANTAS & D’SAS Henty Riesling, Henty (81 points) – chocolate nose and green apple pastry palate.

2016 Ferngrove Off-Dry Riesling Limited Release, Franklnad River (Trophy) – love it despite my self

2015 Basedow’s Eden Valley Riesling, Eden Valley (Gold)

2015 Laurel Bank Riesling, Tasmania (85 points) – finger limes and roses with jasmine, textural

2015 SANTA & D’SAS Henty Riesling, Henty (Bronze) – that of the fabulous magnum bottle, so points for presentation but also damn good juiciness inside

2015 Bream Creek Riesling, Tasmania (Gold) – searing acidity balanced with just a hint of sweetness to finish dry, but just love the purity

2003 Eldridge Riesling, Clare Valley (Gold) – for the petrol and kerosene

2010 Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling, Clare Valley (Gold) – aging nicely, no kerosene

2005 Poacher’s Ridge Riesling, Hastings River (Gold) – slurp, slurp away!

2015 Prinz von Hessen Kabinett ROYAL, Rheingau (Gold)

2014 Joern Riesling Arancia, Rheingau (80 points) – texture, funk, weirdness or epic proportions, totally intriguing. One of those ‘orange’ wines that’s just lips smacking good.

2014 Joern Riesling Hasensprung Stuckfass, Rheingau (81 points) – more ‘normal’ of the pair but oh so wickedly fun to drink. Slightly ‘orange’ wine i.e. saw some skins.

2015 Martha Clara Estate Reserve Riesling, Long Island (Bronze) – great balance

2014 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Lot 11 Lake Dana Vineyard, Finger Lakes (Silver) – ripe tropical notes, great length


2015 Moorilla Estate Sparkling Riesling, Tamar Valley – just yummy and frothy

2015 Glaetzer-Dixon Uberblanc Goldpunkt Riesling – sherbet, pears, apples, roses, lychees…and on and on

2011 Foxes Island Belsham Awatere Estate Riesling, Malborough – juicy, yellow fruits, tangy and incredibly fresh

2015 Mudhouse The Mound Riesling – in spite of myself, drink by the bucket

2010 Peregrine Riesling – “very like-y” not so technical with this one but sweet monkeys on fire this stuff is good. Good savoury edge.



For the love of Riesling…

I love Riesling. The realisation that I love Riesling came pretty early on in my drinking career, though I can’t quite say when. It was around the time when wine was becoming more prominent in the diet, rather than vodka or the usual lolly water cocktails. It started with Eden Valley Riesling, then the taste buds found Clare Valley, Canberra and Murrumbateman region featured quite prominently for a bit, and more recently I discovered Tasmania. Each year in October I have a mild flirtation with Rieslings from other countries, but I rarely feel the need to venture outside Australia’s shores. For the last 3 years I flirted with Germany, Austria, New Zealand and even America quite a bit due to the required learnings as part of a wine course – these guys make some amazing juice. On the annual pilgrimage to Canberra International Riesling Challenge in 2012, I recall being very infatuated with a Czech Republic offering… Yet, I always return back to the fold and guzzle the bracingly dry, lemon-lime, talc-y, juiciness and pure goodness that is  Aussie Riesling.

One of the more inappropriate Riesling experiences was on a Hunter Valley wine trip, in mid winter sitting in a spa at midnight and guzzling Riesling from Eden Valley that we brought with us for fear of running out of good wine. The wine was delicious, the stars were bright and the air was cold. Copious quantities were consumed, no hang over was experienced the next morning and the day was happily spent trialing Hunter Valley reds and the other great white, Semillon.

In the days of hosting public tastings in the suburbs of Sydney, I tried to sway the hordes towards the one and only. If I didn’t tell them it was Riesling, they loved it. If they asked for Sauvignon Blanc, they got Riesling and they loved it. If I offered them Riesling, the ubiquitous response was almost invariably the same “Ah nah, I don’t like sweet wine”. After years of this it made me want to tear my hair out, so I just resorted to subterfuge (see above) and kept the hair. This misunderstanding continues, and like any die-hard Riesling freak of a supporter I hope in my heart of hearts that there will be a renaissance. However, I am also guilty of thinking that while the mass of consumers forget this noble drink, there’s simply more for me!

So, Riesling… why do I feel compelled to put fingers to keyboard and publish my ravings? Mostly, because the annual pilgrimage to Canberra is next week and I’m gearing up for the Masterclass and also because sharing the love for the grape may just convert one more person. I may convince someone to try it, who hasn’t tried it before. Even small wins are gratifying.

On a more gripey note, recently the news is all about single vineyard or single site wines. (I’m waiting for that ultimate $100,000 bottle of single vine wine at this rate.) An article in a well respected wine rag, boldly stated that a producer having recently purchased a new rather famous vineyard (in Australia) has bottled a new wine (from Chardonnay) that speaks of the vineyard. The article then listed a few vinification techniques and concluded that the new single vineyard wine “speaks of its place” but also tastes very similar to a wine the producer makes from a collection of vineyards. Pray tell, how does the wine speak of its place when the winemaker worked it to the bone? And if it’s so site specific and speaks of place, why is it so similar to the more blended version?

So here’s the thing: you wouldn’t have this problem with Riesling. In fact, the best Rieslings are made in the vineyard, picked and the least the winemaker does to it, the better the wine is. A wine that truly “speaks of its place”. Alsace usually gets mentioned right around here with it’s myriad of soil types and Riesling styles. Germany, for centuries was renowned for producing the world’s best wines – from Riesling. So if you are a natural-minimal-intervention-wine-lover-type person, grab some Riesling and enjoy. It’s the closest to nirvana you will ever get.