Posted on September 16th, 2009
The autumn wine tasting season is upon us and scarely a week goes by without some fantastic opportunities to taste some excellent wines and “expand your palate” in the process.
I had the pleasure of heading along to a tutored Adelaide Hills tasting on the 4th of September, part of Wine Australia‘s Bringing Australia to Ireland series.
The Adelaide Hills and Australian Regional Heroes
The new world and Australia have brought science, technology and clever marketing techniques to the wine world. The old world brings an ancient wine making tradition and, among other things, the French concept of “terroir”, the mix of climate, weather, geography, soil type matched perfectly to specific grape types.
Terroir or “regional specific” wines are now an important part of the new world and the premium wine market in Australia is no different.
The Adelaide Hills is a “cool climate” (if 35°C can be considered cool) which suits a particular grape and style of wine (think Burgundy).
It makes perfect sense, Australia is the same size of Europe, give or take, so saying you like Australian wines is equivalent to saying you love European wines. It simply doesn’t take account of the different regional variations. Speaking of which, Curious Wines have kicked off a series on Australian regions over on their blog.
Marty Edwards gives the grand tour of Adelaide Hills
Marty Edwards, chief berry grower (viticulturist) at family-owned The Lane, was on hand to take us through the Adelaide Hills, the region which links the slightly better known Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
The Irish love talking about the weather. Turns out grape growers do too. With this perfect pairing, Marty and guest were off to a great start.
In particular, the Hills are much cooler than Adelaide. Only 25 minutes from the city of Adelaide, though often with a 5-10 degree difference, due to altitude, the Hills are around 400m above sealevel.
The diurnal difference (day versus night) can be around 24°C.
These temperatures allow for a long growing season, letting the grapes mature and build up complex flavours, elegance and natural acidity.
Many wine areas are monocultural, i.e. they grow just one crop: grapes (okay and sometime olives). Not so in the Adelaide Hills where the winemakers of the Adelaide Hills share their ecosystem with fruitgrowers and cattle farmers and more recently, city slickers looking for their rural idyll.
One anecdote is the spraying of sulphur over vines to deter fungal diseases but having the hilarious side effect of turning cattle blue. New meaning to bleu steak.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink
Agriculture needs an incredible amount of water and the Adelaide Hills shares the water table with the city of Adelaide so there’s stiff competition for resources.
This is compounded by the age of Australian soils. At over a billion years old, Burgundy was still under water when there was soil in the Adelaide Hills. With this age, it means there is less organic matter in the soil – an important factor in providing the vines with nutrients but also as a sponge, acting as a vital water store.
With the panoramic Tuscan-like vistas, many people are upping sticks and moving to the Adelaide Hills, settling around and in vineyards.
This peaceful idyllic existence can come to a sudden and abrupt halt around harvest time, when the noisy grape harvesting machines work through the night to pick the grapes when it’s coolest and the grapes are at their most turgid. Picked this way the grapes have the best chance of making it to the winery in the best shape.
Unfortunately, new residents don’t appreciate this point as much as the winery and have been known to call the police who show up with disturbance reports which need investigation.
Have the residents of Ramsey Street taught the Adelaide Hills neighbours nothing? When neighbours should be just good friends.
And what about the wines?
Ah yes, the important bit. Loved them, particularly the whites. The “Sauvies” were similar to their neighbours in New Zealand, but far more restrained or subtle. The “Chardies’ were my favourite, matching many of the characteristics of top white Burgundies like Meursault, but at a fraction of the price.
- Wirra Wirra Hiding Champion Sauvigon Blanc 2009: lovers of New Zealand SB will like this stuff, though it’s in a slightly more restrained style. RRP €16
- d’Arenberg Lucky Lizard Chardonnay 2006: Fantastic minerality and peach stone flavours. RRP €20
- The Lane Chardonnay: butter on toast, pears and nuttiness all combine to give a fantastic impression of a top Burgundy white. RRP €23
- The Lane 19th Meeting Cabernet Sauvigon 2001: Blackcurrant, licquorice, plum and tar with smooth and silky tannins. RRP €32
- Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz-Viognier 2003: The red Shiraz is fermented along with the white Viognier. The Shiraz is all about big fruit and spice with the Viognier bringing fragrant aromas and a soft velvet creamy texture. RRP €25
The last word
A special word of thanks to John McDonnell from Wine Australia and Marty Edwards who made the trek from the Adelaide Hills.
Bloody great show.