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Article – Old Vines in the Barossa

June 13th, 2010

Free Rosé @ Red Nose

Lately, a few people have been suggesting that I am always on the road, and not in a Jack Kerouac kind of way. The truth is I am stretching the travels I do embark on (in the interests of wine) to the maximum, and usually get a number of articles and blogs from a very quick trip. So, alas, I don’t spend vast amounts of time globetrotting and drinking wine on a veranda in the sunshine. Anyway, I have very nice decking out the back garden and recently the sunshine has been cooperating. I don’t think that I am alone, as the current offer of free Rosé in the shop has been hugely popular. But I am not going to talk about Rosé, even if it is free, today I am going to transcend over 16,500 kilometres and visit the famous Barossa Valley in southern Australia. Brian O Driscoll sent a message on Twitter this morning (or tweeted to use the proper terminology) saying that he was really struggling with jet lag. Whilst I would love to send him a good Shiraz recommendation, I don’t think it would be answering Ireland’s Call in the correct manner. Brian will have to suffer on, but we can “line out” for an article about very old vines.

Australian Wine in Croker

Wine Australia (Ireland), under the very steady guidance of John McDonnell put on a great day recently in Croke Park where the best of Australia was on show. As well as the chance to meet and taste with importers and winemakers, there was also an opportunity to learn. I am always looking to learn more about wine, and the seminars on show that day ranged from the independent wine merchants take on the state of the industry, and included a very vocal opinion on big brand wines, supermarkets and their “use” of low price wine strategies.

The crowd at Croke Park

The crowd at Croke Park

It was interesting to see the wines on show for tasting, as there was very few that retailed for under €10 Euros. There seems to be a move away from that bottom end, and not before time. Considering the distance the wines have to travel and the quality of fruit at that price point, it is asking a lot to find a wine that has minimal sulphites and is not as natural as it might be. It is having a terrible effect on the independents, winemakers and I have witnessed a few dodgy post function hangovers to suggest the customer is not being best served either. The point was made that they won’t build up a brand with their customers, only for the supermarkets to sweep in and take it over and destroy the margin. Going on this theory we can hope to see more and more smaller vineyards making their way to the marketplace ( much as is the case with France today ). This offers the customer quality and real value, and can protect the importer and retailers who invest so much time and money in finding these wines. It was a very opinionated speech on the day, so we will see if the threat will transpire.

Alternative varietals with Chester Osborn

Alternative varietals with Chester Osborn

Very Old Vines indeed

One of the seminars I attended was about the old vines charter from the Barossa Valley, which is north of Adelaide. I have a lot of old vine wines from France, as I believe they offer characteristics that transcend the fruit and climactic conditions. If it is possible to taste history, it will be with an old vine wine. However, due to the ravages of phylloxera, which began in the mid 19th century, the French wine industry was more or less wiped out. You don’t see a lot of really old vines about. The insect came from North America (possibly on the newly launched steam ships – there is no recorded proof of ticket purchase) and caused havoc. No remedy could be found and the only solution was to rebuild the vineyards by grafting the European vines to the resistant North American rootstock. But this is all for another article. Australian vines were not affected and many people think of their wines as new world, which they are, but at this tasting I had a wine that came from vines that were planted in 1843. You read it correctly, 1843 – which makes them 167 years old. A German settler fleeing persecution in Prussia decided to plant a few vines. That same year, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. The following had not yet happened – the Crimean War, Franco Prussian War, World War 1 or World War 2. The Irish famine was just about to start, and in 36 years, a baby boy named Padraig Pearce would be born in Dublin. After that quick jaunt through history, what did the wine actually taste like? Ironically, it needed more time. It was a Shiraz and from the 2006 vintage, and while typical Shiraz characteristics (big black fruits and spice) shone through, there was an earthiness and a denseness to it with surprising acidity. I would love to retaste it in about 10 years. It is made by a direct descendent of the man who planted the vines in 1843. Unfortunately, it is made in tiny amounts and as far as I know, it is sold out in Ireland.

Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association

Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association

How Old is Old?

The wine was presented as part of a tasting with the Barossa Old Vine Charter. It was presented by Sam Holmes, CEO of the Barossa Grape & Wine Association. The charter protects wines like the Langmeil Freedom Shiraz (with its 167 year old vines) among others. We tasted wines that fall into the following categories; Barossa Old Vine (35 years or over); Barossa Survivor Vine (70 years or over); Barossa Centurion Vine (100 years or over) or the very rare Barossa Ancestor Vine (125 years or over). The older a vine gets, the lower the yield tends to be, but the lower the yield on a vine, normally increases concentration in the fruit. I don’t need to tell you that the wine on show, all eight of them were very impressive.

The Barossa

The Barossa

To quote Robert Hill Smith of Shaw & Smith vineyards, “The Old Vine Charter is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of these old vines”. The 1980s saw a lot of very old vines pulled up, and they are very eager for this not to happen again. I would love to see a similar charter started in the Languedoc in France, where lots of old Carignan vines are being ripped up in order to plant more fashionable vines. That is a battle for another day, and it could be argued that I talk about French wine way too much. I would be one of Australia’s greatest critics as I believe their campaign of very cheap commodity wines over the last 20 years has had a very bad effect on wine across Europe and nowhere more than Australia itself. The truly great wines are pushed into the background as the race to the bottom engulfs them. However, it was great to taste such fun, serious but for the most part interesting wines in Croke Park.

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at www.rednosewine.com/blog or follow the ranting on Twitter – www.twitter.com/rednosewine

For anyone who would like more information and can’t make it into the shop, please feel free to contact me at info@rednosewine.com

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist June 10 2010

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist June 10 2010

Article – Truth about Sulphites

April 26th, 2010

I am trapped in a concrete wall with a tiny window, as I stare out into the sunshine. It is not a cell per say, but the office in the warehouse. I am focused on writing an article, but I can hear the swish of a golf club or the clink of a glass at a barbeque somewhere in the back of my mind. I am tired after a very busy week, yet cannot wait for the weekend to start. Oh tortured soul, give me peace from this magnetic sun. I signed up for Saturdays when I left the bright lights of Engineering for the dark shade of the vines. Summer is coming though, and I will look forward to my next trip to visit my winemakers in their little piece of paradise, while Tipperary embraces the summer downpour. One of the things that made this week so busy was the visit to Clonmel of one of my best winemakers. Samuel Guibert, of Mas de Daumas Gassac enthralled over 40 people in Nuala Hickey’s packed Cafe in the Westgate last Wednesday night. I may have mentioned he was coming a few times over the last few weeks. For those of you who missed it, it was a very special evening and Samuel charmed all concerned, especially the ladies. The night was a great success and photos and videos from the night can be seen on the blog – www.rednosewine.com/blog

There is a distinct difference between a tasting with a winemaker and someone who sells wine. The passion and the commitment to quality wine shines through, and as an added bonus, you might get answers to the questions that you have wanted to ask for a long time. The Clonmel audience definitely took advantage of their opportunity. Samuel answered questions on all manner of subjects from the truth behind sulphites, to the reason why sometimes, a white wine can be a little fizzy. All of these questions were asked by a very attentive audience in a very interactive tasting. The wines weren’t half bad either, in fact they are among the best reviewed wines in the world. For this week’s article, I will share some of the questions asked and Samuel’s very precise answers.

One of the topics that I get asked about a lot concerns sulphites. Every wine has to display on the bottle that they contain sulphites, even if it is minuscule amounts or buckets of the stuff. Mr. Guibert told us that there are recommended doses for sulphur dioxide, which acts as an anti oxidant and a preservative. You can’t taste it in the wine, which is why it works better than other anti-oxidants. Samuel told us about the ancient technique of using honey, which worked, but changed the taste of the wine dramatically. The next time you are down at your local farmer’s market, buy some honey and mix it with wine. However, don’t expect to like it. Another advantage of sulphur dioxide is that for every year the wine ages, the traces disappear two fold. However, the biggest insight we received was the scope with which the winemaker has to limit his sulphur usage. If you have limited production, you can constantly monitor and check your wine vats. A factory or supermarket wine is like a brewery and they are often forced to err on the side of caution, i.e. pour in the maximum Sulphur dioxide, just in case. The artisan winemaker can check his wine, as Samuel and his brothers do, many time each day, therefore controlling the usage. Samuel claimed that Gassac use very little ( as up to 10 -20 times less ) when compared to large scale producers, but then good wines don’t have to use it as much – the natural preservatives in the fruit shine through. The many people from the tasting who called in the next day to collect their wine without any trace of a hangover were testament to the negligible amount that Gassac use. One of the members of the group cheekily suggested that Samuel tasted his wine 20 times a day ( he checks it that often ), and was seldom sober. However, he confirmed something I have long been preaching – it is all in the nose. No need to taste every hour. He told us that 80% of tasting is in the nose, and the palate just confirms. When I am picking new wines, I nearly always know if I will reject a wine by smelling it. I don’t know if I will accept it as a buy, as you don’t get the length of the wine from the nose.

A very good question was asked by a certain teacher ( not Mrs. Red Nose ). It came on the back of Samuel’s description of the Viognier grape holding more than average residual sugar, and by that I mean more than Sauvignon Blanc. This means it is not dry, but off dry, and has wonderful honey undertones. Their Faune white wine for 12 Euros was possibly the star of the night, outside the Grand Cru wines. The simple description of fermentation is yeasts eating the natural sugar in the grapes and converting them to alcohol, thus converting grapes to wine. With bone dry wines, there is no more ( or negligible amounts ) of sugar to convert, but with sweeter wines, the chances are that it might start fermenting again – for example, if it is exposed to natural yeasts, such as exist in the atmosphere. What happens in effect is the wines become slightly fizzy as the fermentation happens in the bottle. Have you ever opened a white wine and had a light fizz from it. Now you know the reason why, and for the most part, is not supposed to happen. The most obvious wine where it is supposed to happen is Champagne. They have very special bottles and corks to control the power and the process takes much longer. If you ask for a still white wine in a restaurant and find it fizzes a little, send it back. The better winemakers, like Samuel, control the sweeter wines and the conditions they are stored, aged and bottled in.

There were many other questions asked and answered, and I am sure Samuel could have spoken all night. If there are specific questions you have, please send them in to me and I will answer them, or if you prefer, put the question to some of my winemakers. The truth is always easier to swallow coming from the people on the front line. There is a distinct air of summer barbeque about, so until our next wine makers visit, I bid you adieu.

Don’t forget to log onto the blog at www.rednosewine.com/blog or follow the ranting on Twitter – www.twitter.com/rednosewine

For anyone who would like more information and can’t make it into the shop, please feel free to contact me at info@rednosewine.com

“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Apr 22 2010

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