As part of a series of smaller, more focused tastings, Wine Australia in the UK held an Inspired Tasting – 50 Australian wines that were each picked by a key member of the UK wine trade who had been inspired by the wine on a recent visit to Australia. Justin Keay attended for us, glass in hand, actively searching enlightenment and managed to pick six of the wines for special mention.
Variety was an overriding theme of Inspired – from Moscato, to old dry-farmed Semillon to… dare we admit it? a 2008 bottle of Grange.
Does wine inspire? Readers of this site will need no persuading that it does or that it can dramatically amplify a moment or experience – a full-bodied Shiraz for example, can augment an evening spent with friends in a cold country cottage whilst a deliciously mineral Riesling can make that afternoon picnic on the beach all the more memorable.
However, it is also highly subjective: what appeals to one person may leave the next cold, because they find the wine too sweet or too dry or too acidic or too tannic. Which is what made Wine Australia’s most recent Inspired Tasting so interesting, because in showing 50 wines chosen by people in the trade they were pulling this sometimes contentious issue into the open.
And prompting such questions as: is that really what X thinks is a good Pinot Noir? What on earth did Y chose that Chardonnay – to me that seems pretty average. Or why, of all the Cabernet Sauvignons Z could have chosen did he pick this one?
I’m happy to say though that in my opinion the UK trade can rest easy: the 50 wines shown here at Inspired were not only generally pretty good (it would be weird if sommeliers and MWs were to chose wines that weren’t) but were eclectic and gave a good snapshot of where the Australian wine industry is right now.
OK, there wasn’t any sparkling Shiraz, a personal favourite: I would have chosen either the Ulithorne Flamma or the Rockford Black Sparkling Shiraz. And strangely there was only one Cabernet Sauvignon – although it was a very good one: see below.
But, on the positive side, there also wasn’t any Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, varietals that somehow always manage to make an appearance, even though Australia isn’t particularly renowned for either.
What the Inspired tasting did have was variety, really wonderful variety.
It started with the playful 5.5% Innocent Bystander Sparkling Moscato from Murray River, took in the unusual and ambitious Skin n’Bones Savagnin 2016 by BK Wines from the Adelaide Hills (the first time I have tasted this Jura grape made outside its home region) and the delicious, surprisingly rounded Long Gully Road Ancient Vine Semillon 2016 by David Franz in McLaren Vale. The latter is made from 130 year old dry-grown vines and utterly different from the more linear, drier Hunter Valley Semillon, represented by the next wine along, the equally delicious McWilliams Lovedale Semillon 2007.
As you might expect there were some great Rieslings, some delicious Chardonnays and decent Pinots alongside some newer alternative varieties including a Sangiovese, a Tempranillo-Touriga Nacional blend and a very good value Negroamaro, Hesketh Small Parcels 2016, just £13.50 a bottle.
But if I had to chose six wines?
Jauma “Pet Nat” McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2016
I’m not normally one for natural wines but this Pet Nat sparkling wine really jumped out at me – I mean literally, when someone removed the beer bottle cap of a fresh bottle in front of me at the tasting and it fizzed out all over the table and floor. This is a delicious energetic wine with a great sense of place and lots of nuance. Much more than I was expecting, and the Chenin Blanc works really well too. (£27, Les Caves de Pyrene)
Larry Cherubino Laissez Faire White Field Blend, Pemberton 2016
West Australia as a wine region has largely left me cold – perhaps because I’ve never been there – but people have always told me, I should try Larry Cherubino’s wines. This is a cracker from the up and coming Pemberton region: a wacky blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurtz, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, this is surprisingly full-bodied, fruit driven and very moreish. I’ve since tried some of Larry’s other wines – notably his Cherubino Cab Sav 2014 from Frankland River and his excellent value Ad Hoc wines, Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2016 and Chicken and Hen Chardonnay (approachable, nicely linear) – and now realise I’ve really been missing out. (£18.49, HDN Wines)
Mac Forbes RS10 Dry Strathbogie Ranges Riesling 2015
There was no shortage of good Riesling at this tasting – with so many MW s and sommeliers, no surprise there – but this really jumped out from the bunch. Slightly off-dry – despite what it says on the label – this is a wonderfully made wine, lots of fruit but good minerality. Perfectly balanced. (£23.50, Clark Foyster Wines)
Noon Eclipse McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Graciano 2016
I’ve come across many GSMs in my time but a GSG? Maybe it was the Graciano that gave this wonderfully nuanced, quite forward wine its lift, or maybe it is the wine-making skill, but this surprisingly old-school wine (in the best meaning of the phrase) certainly delivers. (£48.25, Seckford Agencies).
Peter Lehmann Ruediger Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
If you are going to have just one Cab Sav it might as well be one as powerful and full-bodied as this, with great balance and fruit and extraordinary length: I was still tasting this long after spitting. This will age beautifully but is tasting really great now. (POA, Liberty Wines)
Penfolds Grange 2008
A small part of me – a very small part, I must say – was tempted to be perverse and not include this deservedly iconic wine within my chosen six, but then I realised that would be just too weird. This was my first meeting with the 2008 and what a wine it is, fantastic structure and balance, good fruit and still feeling pretty youthful, despite nearing its tenth birthday. I notice Grange now costs £450 a bottle – I’m sure it was selling for around £300-325 not long ago – but growing demand from Asia and the UK’s Brexit-battered pound have pushed it northwards. Still, what price perfection eh? A near perfect wine with lots of time ahead of it. (£450, Treasury Wine Estates).
Wine Australia’s full tasting booklet with importer contacts can be viewed here.