Thursday, June 28, 2012

Corks and Screwcaps: The Hatcher Theorem

Chris Hatcher, chief winemaker of Wolf Blass, has long been an ardent supporter of screwcaps, leading the charge by introducing screwcaps all the way up the range to the Wolf Blass Platinum Label wines. He has developed an elegant diagram, which isn’t easily reproducible for this website, but can fairly readily be understood.  On the vertical axis you have aged characters, and on the horizontal (bottom left intersection) you have time in years.  While the two closures are identical (barring TCA taint) for the first year or so, after two to three years you see more developed characters emerging under the cork closure.  While the difference is not great, some argue that the greater expression of age is a good thing, not a bad thing.  Neither Chris nor I accept that argument, but acknowledgement that it is possible to argue its benefit.

Around 10 to 12 years, the aged characters under cork continue to the point where, depending on the quality of cork, the quality of the bottle neck, the nature of the storage and other variables, the aged characters start to take on different dimensions such that no two bottles are the same.  At this point the bottles under screwcap are all identical to each other and the wine enters a plateau that can extend for decades, with incremental changes over time.  There is no ‘Eureka!’ moment, nor is there any ‘drink yesterday’ alarm bell.

Stephen Henschke has added his own views by saying that cork imparts a taste to the wine which can be detected even where it is a barrel-aged red wine, or a barrel-fermented white wine.

Chris Hatcher reduces this concept to simplicity: there is no point in the development of a white wine where the cork provides a closure as good as that provided by a screwcap.  There is much misunderstanding about reduced/sulphidic characters under screwcap: the fault is not the closure, as the vast majority of white wines show no such characters, but the fault of the winemaker in not ensuring that the wine is free from the signs of or precursors of reduction.  Even here there is room for debate: the eminent French researcher, the late Emile Peynaud, often wrote of the pleasant effect/taste of slight reduction. He saw this as simply being the opposite of oxidation. I won’t go further down this track, because it leads into the scientific thickets of the redox potential of wine, and its constantly changing impact.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Karina Dambergs wins dux title of the 2012 Lorenzo Galli Wine Scholarship

Karina Dambergs, group sparkling winemaker for Clover Hill wines and Taltarni Vineyards, won the 2012 Lorenzo Galli Wine Scholarship on 19 June. She will have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy valued at $10,000 to experience the country’s wine regions and producers. The Scholarship was founded by Pamela Galli, founder of Galli Estate together with her late husband, Lorenzo. Born in Tuscany, Lorenzo arrived in Australia in 1952, and build up a successful property business before founding (with Pamela) Galli Estate in the Sunbury region in 1996, and later a Heathcote vineyard of over 100 hectares.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bollinger’s 19th century bottle

Champagne Bollinger has adopted the design of a very old bottle found in the cellar which dates back to 1846.  The diameter of the neck is reduced from 29 mm to 26 mm, compensated for by an increase in the diameter of the base from 85 mm to 93 mm.  It mimics the ratio of the neck diameter to the base diameter of a magnum, and no one doubts for one second that a magnum performs far better over time than a bottle.  Mathieu Kauffmann, Cellar Master of Bollinger, explains: ‘The idea in using the curved shape of this old bottle was to aim for the perfect balance of a “small magnum” with curves more pleasing to the eye than those on the standard bottle. In addition to aesthetic reasons, using the shape of this new bottle, which is more like a magnum with a narrower neck ad wider base, should very slightly slow down the oxygen exchange and therefore give a better quality wine.’

The ratio (neck diameter/base diameter) of the 1846 bottle is closer to the standard magnum than that of the standard bottle.

1846, a bottle specific to Champagne Bollinger, will thus be used for the whole range: Special Cuvée, the first bottles of which are now being launched, followed by La Grande Année, La Grande Année Rosé, Bollinger R.D. and Vieilles Vignes Françaises. La Côte aux Enfants will keep its traditional bottle.

The new bottle shape is also available in all four formats: half-bottle, bottle, magnum and jeroboam

The pictures and  chart are interesting.  Obviously, the adoption of the new bottle took place four years ago, as the Special Cuvee Brut arriving in August will be in the new bottle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bordeaux En Primeur Campaign 2012

Various wine professionals returning to Australia after the Bordeaux En Primeur tasting of the 2011 vintage have commented on the changed atmosphere from one of unbridled enthusiasm to one of concern.  Following the recovery from a major crash between 1972 and 1974, prices have continued to increase on a yearly basis, with only minimal adjustments for lesser quality vintages.  A stock market chartist would show an unbroken trendline upwards, and it may be that this will continue.  But never in the history of Bordeaux has there been more than 10 years of rising prices without a major correction. (Some low-life has made off with my copy of Nicholas Faith’s history of the Bordeaux wine trade in which he makes this point). This year’s campaign realised only 20% of the value of the 2010 campaign, which is a very sharp contraction. Is it a hiccup, or a more sinister portent?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Australian Awards at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards & International Wine Challenge 2012

As is usual at this time of year, emails have flooded in from wineries that have succeeded at either or both of the competitions.  Hardys gave a full list of their awards, including silver and bronze medals, but most of the other releases only covered trophies and golds.  Through sheer force of numbers, Hardys had a long list of medals; one exception to that was Hardys subsidiary Bay of Fires Wines, which won three gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, and (counter intuitively) one silver, one bronze and three ‘Commendeds’ at the International Wine Challenge.  Normally the latter is more generous with its medals than Decanter.  Nonetheless, it was a 100% success rate, which is very impressive, the golds going to the 2010 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, 2011 Bay of Fires Riesling and 2011 Bay of Fires Sauvignon Blanc.

Moorooduc Estate won the Trophy for Best Australian Pinot Noir over £10 in the Decanter Awards with its 2009 Robinson Vineyard.  Interestingly, it is a wine sold predominantly in the UK, with a small release at cellar door, where it sells for $35 a bottle.

McGuigan Wines won gold at the Decanter Awards for its ‘07 Shortlist Riesling.  It is available at McGuigan’s cellar door in the Barossa Valley and selected independent retailers for $28.99.

Nepenthe won its second trophy in four years for the Best Australian Sauvignon Blanc over £10 in the Decanter competition; in this occasion succeeding with the 2011 vintage.  This is a poke in the eye for those who have been running around writing off the 2011 vintage in south eastern Australia; it has in fact produced some quite beautiful white wines from virtually all varieties.  Only 25 trophies are awarded at the Decanter Awards, selected from more than 12,000 wines entered.  Nepenthe also won a gold from Decanter for its 2010 Shiraz, and both these wines are available through selected independent wine stores for $19.99 each.

Rosily Vineyard won a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge, securing the only gold medal presented to a winery from the Margaret River region, for its 2010 Chardonnay.  It is currently available with an RRP of $23.

Monday, June 18, 2012

De Bortoli re-engineering its future

It’s not often a good news story like this comes across my desk.  I have always had the highest regard for the ethics, business principles and wines made by De Bortoli’s Riverina winery (exceptional value for money) and in the Yarra Valley (great quality).  Having got that off my chest, the press release announcing a $4.8 million grant from the Federal Government needs no re-engineering.

‘De Bortoli Wines would like to acknowledge the financial support received from the Australian Federal Government’s Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program delivered by AusIndustry.

The grant, worth $4.8 million, supports an investment of $11 million by the De Bortoli family in a project called “Re-engineering Our Future for a Carbon Economy”.

The ultimate goal under the De Bortoli family philosophy is to be a zero waste wine company. Operations Manager, Rob Glastonbury explains the shift in the company’s focus saying, “Where previously we have focused on sustainability on the farm and in the vineyard this project places greater emphasis on our production and warehousing sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria and includes upgrades to refrigeration, winemaking systems, packaging lines, electrical and lighting systems.”

Mr Glastonbury outlines the benefits the grant will bring in reducing the company’s carbon footprint, “Receiving the grant allows the company to implement a broad range of initiatives, some of which we’ve been planning for the past five years. It’s about using non-renewable power more effectively, lowering power use across our sites and wherever possible, offsetting power from both the grid and gas through the use of solar power.”

De Bortoli Wines has made a serious commitment to the environment, going well beyond mandatory requirements to develop a comprehensive environment and sustainability plan and to adopt a wide range of innovative programs and practices. Managing Director, Darren De Bortoli, summarises the importance of sustainability saying “Our future lies in the stewardship of our properties and through the management of our precious resources.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Giaconda – Australia’s Best Chardonnay

I have already written about this release (2010) from Giaconda; Rick Kinzbrunner believes it is the best chardonnay he has ever made, and, with the possible exception of the 1996, I for my part agree with that. It’s scarcer than hen’s teeth, but if you are quick you may be able to get some through Grande Millesime Fine Wines (

Friday, June 8, 2012

Barossa Valley Shiraz and alcohol levels

I pulled some interesting statistics out of the Wine Companion database covering all Barossa Shirazs tasted for the 2012 and 2013 Wine Companions.  In all, there were 62 shirazs with an alcohol level of 14% or less that rated 90 points or above. This compared with 352 shirazs rated 90 points or above with alcohol levels in excess of 14%.  The one consolation is that the overwhelming majority of those were in fact at 14.5%.