Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Can You Tell The Difference?

The Wine Australia Comparative Masterclass is always a very interesting tasting to go to. Wine Australia loves to “test” those of us who attend to see if we can pick out which wines are Australia and which are from other wine regions that make wines using the same grapes and this year’s Masterclass included wines from Australia as well as France, California and Ontario. Some of the foreigners were easy to pick out while others were just a little bit difficult so, if you are not someone who can pick out a specific wine region based on what you are tasting, don’t worry because even some of us seasoned professionals can have difficulty doing this as well. There were four flights of wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – with five different wines in each flight, except for the Shiraz/Syrah category that had six different wines to taste. In each flight, there was three (or four in the one flight’s case) that were from various regions within Australia and two international wines from regions that are considered to be “benchmarks” in the particular flight we are tasting.

Naturally, we started the tasting with the flight of Chardonnays – one from Margaret River, one from Mornington Peninsula and one from Adelaide Hills with the imports being from California and Burgundy. Of the five wines, I did have two favourites – the Chardonnay from Yabby Lake Vineyards and the 2008 M3 from Shaw & Smith Tasting Room. Both of these wines had a tropical fruit quality to them but that is where the similarities ended. The Chardonnay from Yabby Lake had a distinctive but not overpowering salty quality to it. Considering the vineyards proximity to the Ocean, the salty sea and air is giving this wine its saltiness. There was also a smoky nose to this wine – like Applewood Smoked Cheddar – and, overall, the wine had great balance despite a strong presence of oak aging. On the other end of the scale, the 2008 M3 from Shaw & Smith had this wonderful, big mouthfeel but still showed some restraint to its flavours. It was like it was trying to be this huge, complex wine but then the winemaker reigned it in and made it this elegant, great drinking wine. If you like old movies, think of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady when you drink this wine. It’s like the process Professor Henry Higgins goes through to transform Eliza from her original self into a classy lady – Eliza is the wine trying to fight free from the restraints and Henry Higgins is the winemaker reigning her in when she starts to go too far. In the end Henry Higgins won the battle and that is what this wine does as you are tasting it.

Next we move on to the Pinot Noir flight where we have wines from Mornington Peninsula again, Yarra Valley and Tasmania alongside a wine from Burgundy and Ontario. My favourite was from the Yarra Valley – a 2008 from Oakridge Wines – that just stood out as being completely different from every other wine in that flight. While there was some berry fruit flavours and aromas to this wine there is an unmistakable earthy quality which none of the other wines really seemed to bring to the table. There was one other wine in this flight that deserves an “honourable mention” and that is the Yabby Lake Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir. The vines for this wine were planted in 1998 and you can get a real sense of development from this wine that the other wines do not quite have. A variety of flavours and aromas including black fruit, vegetal, tobacco, chocolate and beet root with incredible balance makes this wine rather nice to enjoy.

Our next flight was of six Shiraz/Syrah’s from McLaren Vale, Victoria, Hunter Valley and Barossa Valley with the Northern Rhone and Sonoma Coast mixed in for diversity. My favourite came from the Barossa Valley and it was the 2005 Schild Estate Morrorroo Limited Release Shiraz. Out of all of the six wines in this flight, this wine was the most developed in flavours and aromas and one of the tastiest wines of the afternoon. Aromas of coffee and dark fruit, even the nose smells complex. The palate is jammy and fruity with smooth tannins and a good string of acidity to give this wine really great balance. I do remember hearing several people simply say “YUM” as we tasted this wine and I have to agree – that’s the best way to describe this wine.

Our final flight of the tasting was the Cabernet Sauvignon wines and this is where something surprising happened. First off, when I think Cabernet Sauvignon – and it is not a wine I drink on a regular basis – Australia is not really a region I think of. However, that’s part of the point – the people behind Wine Australia wanted to expand our horizons and, essentially, give Australia a chance when it comes to choosing Cabernet Sauvignon’s for our dinner tables. Now, as I said above, Cabernet Sauvignon is not a wine I enjoy on a regular basis but I am always open to trying them and have found a few I enjoy over the years. Surprisingly, although California is known for great Cabernet Sauvignon, up until this tasting, I had yet to find a California Cab that I really enjoyed. Equally surprising is that side by side with the California Cab I enjoyed, I found a great Cabernet from Coonawarra that I enjoyed just as much if not more. The Australian Cab – from Katnook Estate – was the 2005 their Limited Release Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon. It had pleasant aromas of berries, dark fruit and a slight hint of floral. The mouthfeel was full and expressive and very enticing with flavours of dark berries, plums, vanilla, coffee and chocolate and a nice string of acidity winding through the mid palate to the lingering finish.

Now, in case you are curious, my California Cab find at this tasting was the Joseph Phelps 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot Noir flight was very nice but since the French comparison was from Burgundy, it would have been nice to see how a Prince Edward County Pinot Noir compared to the others as opposed to the Niagara Pinot Noir that was chosen. Don’t get me wrong – I did enjoy the Niagara Pinot Noir and, in 5-7 years from now I am sure it will be really enjoyable, but just as a personal preference, most of my favourite Pinot Noir’s come from Prince Edward County. As for the Chardonnay flight, it was interesting to see how the three Australian versions compared to a powerhouse like a California Chardonnay – the results were quite impressive. Either way, the next time you are in your local wine shop, give the Australian section a try – you may find something you really like that you have not tried before.
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