Friday, September 12, 2014

Harkham Wines - Natural wine with a smile (Hunter Valley)


Maintaining a wine blog when you have a young family is tough, tougher when you combine it with a busy day job. The wine appreciation never stops, (nor do the recording of tasting notes, TBH) though the volume of articles being posted tends to inevitably decline. The post below should have been put on the blog over a year ago – the hospitality and enthusiasm of Richie Harkham demanded it, even if the quality of the writing in the post doesn’t quite. Regardless, this post was lost in the mix, and I have stumbled-upon it, dusted it off and posted it for the record. Tasting notes are from early October 2012. Thanks to Ritchie for taking time out of his day back in 2012.

The wine making industry loves ‘the next big thing’, especially when it polarizes opinions and has the potential to attract new customers to wine. In the last few years organic/biodynamic wine making practices and in particular, ‘natural wine’, have assumed this status. The growing trend of producing, selling and drinking natural wine polarises opinions amongst industry types, wine nerds and the wine cognoscenti.

While RedtoBrown have made light of natural wine in some of our posts (the ongoing ‘Wine Wars’ series of video clips being the most obvious example), on a serious note we have never shifted our focus away from the subjective assessment of the quality of the wine in the bottle for any given wine maker – be it natural or not.  If I like the taste of the wine, I like the wine: a tear-inducing, inspirational story behind the making of a wine does not mean I will enjoy drinking it.

With that elongated intro out of the way, my family headed to the Hunter Valley last October (editors note: 2012), for a relaxing few days. On recommendation of a wine friend, one of the wineries we visited was Harkham Windarra.

Owner and winemaker, Richard Harkham (Ritchie) has an infectious passion for his craft. Harkham is one of the few, (if not the only) Hunter Valley-based wineries making natural wine. This may be due to the regions successful battle with bret over the last 20 years, though it does seem strange that the major wine region closest to Sydney (the natural wine consumer capital of Australia) is not jumping on the bandwagon with more gusto.

When we met, Ritchie summed-up his winemaking philosophy as aiming for a wine that will be “as close to nature as you can get”. Ritchie noted winemakers tend to intervene too much in the winemaking process, and he tried to intervene only when necessary in a way that is done through positive energy in the cellar. As Ritchie noted, “wine is alive and always living and changing.”

Our tasting was a bit rushed, with Ritchie kindly fitting us in on a weekend prior to the arrival of a Chinese delegation keen to try his wines. The most impressive of the wines tasted had pure fruit flavours and refreshing, natural acidity. The least impressive strayed towards some left-field tropical fruit flavours and less structure. However, none of the wines tasted slotted into the cheap throw-away natural wine stereotype of faulty, funky barnyard reds and cloudy, orange, apple cider whites. Quite the opposite.

We left the winery with 4 bottles of wine (one of them a wine that Ritchie admitted did not turn out the way he would have liked, but was a wild wine to taste). The tasting notes below are for three of the wines, tasted in early November (Rose) and mid-November (the two Shiraz).  (As for the delay in posting the notes – blame my day job and downtime with my beautiful baby boy).

Harkham Aziza’s Shiraz 2012
An earthy, meaty nose with crushed grape stems, some dried florals, blueberry and dark cherry fruit. On the palate, a bit salty, with minimal tannin. Largely driven by juicy black cherry fruit and fresh acidity. The finish is earthy, meaty and savoury though clean, with a hint of residual salt.
After two days on the tasting bench/fridge, the nose opened up, with sweeter fruit coming out on the front palate, and a finish with additional dried herbs.
Given the difficult vintage conditions, and the minimalist natural wine making philosophy, this is a surprising result. Drink now.
Price: $22
Rating: 88pts

Shiraz Nouveau 2011
This wine hits home to me the razors-edge natural winemakers tread each vintage. If the winemaking is not at fault (and in this case it definitely isn’t), the fruit and vintage conditions can do their best to hijack a wine. Especially if the scientific – dare I say it, ‘industrial’ wine making work-arounds are not available. The wine had a banana-like nose with tropical undertones on the palate, arguably variable acidity, yet a core of ripe red cherry and raspberry fruit. Finished with an almost white wine textural mouthfeel. Ritchie noted that this was made from super ripe, small berries that were carbonically macerated in whole bunches in stainless steel tanks and bottled 3 months later. It was a tricky wine to make, and it shows in the glass.
Rating: 87pts

Harkham Rose 2012
Attractive light, pale strawberry colour. Nose – Sweet red fruits and a hint of spicy stonefruit (white nectarine). Juicy yet delicate fruit flavours, primarily strawberry, light and vibrant with lovely fresh, cleansing, integrated acidity. The finish is dry, with some mixed citrus peel lingering at the end. A very drinkable, refreshing wine, sweet on the nose, yet largely dry on the mid-back palate. The fresh, integrated acidity a standout. This wine passed the ‘Wife Test’, with the better half giving it two thumbs up.
Rating: 94pts

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2013 Tahbilk Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (Nagambie Lakes)

 
 
Tahbilk wines tend to cellar well beyond their supposed station in life, so it will be interesting to see how this new range of rhone blend wines go in this regard.

There’s some nice oak input here, but its mainly berry and raspberry fruit in a medium to full bodied frame. It turns very savoury with notes of leather, spice, and a soy finish. Has a good sense of balance. Enjoyable drinking now but will likely be better integrated in another couple of years.

Rated: 3.5 Stars
RRP: $25
ABV: 14.0%
Closure: Screwcap
Drink: 2015-2020+
 
 
Red 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2007 Cirὀ ἉVita Rosso Classico Superiore

A tasting note that was lost in the mail - Wine tasted early July 2012. Posted for blogging posterity. Interested if people have tried this wine, or later vintages recently.

Purchased from one of the most impressive bars in a blossoming Sydney wine bar scene (121BC), this Calabrian wine is defined by its tannins: if you are not a fan of tannic wines, a trip to merlotville might be advisable. The Cir Vita Rosso Classico Superiore is made using the indigenous Calabrian Gaglioppo grape, and in the glass, the wine looks and smells a bit like a Pinot – light crimson with a sappy, cherry nose. On the palate it is light to medium bodied with dark and sour cherry fruit, some all spice and sappy, earthy flavours with nice savoury intensity at the finish. The tannins are prominent and lingering in a good way – you find yourself pondering the tannins long afterwards. The drying characteristic of the tannins demands and greatly compliments food – a good start would be some rustic Calabrian pasta dishes.

Rating: 90pts
RRP: $32
ABV: 14%
Supplier: 121BC Cantina http://www.121bc.com.au/

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2012 Star Lane Nebbiolo (Beechworth)



Australian Nebbiolo.

    Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it

Edgar Albert Guest

 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or heard that Nebbiolo isn’t really worth pursuing outside of Piedmont in Northern Italy. The theory goes that there exists such a unique synergy between grape and terroir there, that nowhere else will be able to produce wine worthy of this King of grapes.

Well I’ve tasted enough good Australian Nebbiolo over the past 5 years or so to state emphatically that this is not the case. SC Pannell, Luke Lambert, Coriole, and Pizzini are all examples of wineries that have produced Nebbiolos that would sit comfortably in a line-up of Langhe Nebbiolo, albeit that the flavour and texture profiles might be somewhat different from a wine from Piedmont. The only question to my mind is whether Australia will end up producing profound, long lasting Nebbiolo such as one gets with top Barolo and Barbaresco. This is as yet unanswered. I am, however, increasingly of the view that Australian Nebbiolo is like Australian Pinot Noir of twenty years ago or so. Another decade or two will likely see a handful of vineyards and wineries making great Nebbiolo.

To the wine at hand, the 2012 Star Lane Nebbiolo. Somewhat pale and translucent in colour as per the variety. The nose is initially somewhat closed but it opened up over the course of a couple of days to reveal cherry, tar, and a note of orange peel. There’s nice fruit on the palate, but all within a medium bodied Nebbiolo frame. That orange peel note, along with some appealing bittnerness puts me in the mind of a Negroni. No bad thing. Oak is there but unobtrusive. The overall balance of the wine is excellent and it finishes with proper, drying tannin and a lovely earthiness.  On day one I had it at 3.5 Stars, but my last glass on day 2 was impressive enough to give it a nudge. 4 Stars, and a wine that needs a few years in the cellar yet.


Rated: 4 Stars
RRP: $55
Closure: Diam
Drink: 2016-2022
Website: www.starlanewinery.com.au


Red
 
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