Monday, April 5, 2010

Mudgee Matters . . .

I’ve just spent a couple of days with the missus in Mudgee and I’m excited about wine from this region.

It was the first time I’ve been there, and as well as being a lovely place to spend a weekend, it’s also a pretty wine region of largely small, family owned wineries, largely concentrated just to the north of the town of Mudgee.

The interesting thing is that it's well and truly off the radar. It doesn’t receive much press. Its wines don’t get reviewed as much as other NSW wine regions, and the wines are even hard to find in Sydney. If there was any city where you’d expect there to be a bit of a presence it would be in Australia’s biggest city, being only 3 and a half hours away, and yet I reckon you’d struggle to find a single bottle of Mudgee wine in plenty of Sydney bottle shops. The other issue with the region is that it’s not entirely clear which grape variety it does best. Most other wine regions are synonymous with particular varieties (Hunter = Shiraz & Semillon, Orange = Chardonnay etc.), but with Mudgee is it Shiraz, is it Cabernet, or is it an Italian variety?

Well, after a couple of days there, I have a much better appreciation for the wine of the region. While I don’t think the point should be laboured, Mudgee’s climate does have some similarities to Tuscany. It’s continental, with warm days and cool nights, in an undulating region, with vineyards generally at about 400-500 metres above sea level. The validity in the comparison comes because I think that the region’s two best varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (with some decent Merlot as well). I think there is some complex, age worthy Cabernet being produced. Much of the Sangiovese I tried was varietal and of genuine quality. Finally a few of the Merlots I tried had tannin and structure and therefore were a step up from the average Aussie Merlot.

When drinking a Mudgee red you can expect some earthiness along with a hint of chocolate. The majority of the reds that I tried (regardless of the variety) had a very appealing earthiness on the nose. You might be thinking this sounds a bit similar to the Hunter, but it is discernibly different (though I would struggle to articulate exactly why Mudgee’s earthiness is different from the Hunter’s!). There also tends to be a lovely hint of chocolate with many Mudgee reds.

In terms of vintages, 2005 and 2006 were excellent and there are still plenty of 2006 reds available at the cellar doors or by mail order. 2007 and 2008 were tough, though depending on the variety and vineyard location and management, there were still plenty of successes. I tried some excellent wines from both vintages. 2009 is looking very good, though is perhaps too early to tell. 2010 was tough again, with rain coming at the wrong time. Happily, when talking to winemakers and people working at the cellar doors, they are more than open and honest about the difficulties of various vintages. This is refreshing when compared to other regions/wineries where you’ll get the spin about the “vintage of the century”, or the dud vintage that is talked up as being good.

The reason I’m excited about the region’s wines, is not only because I’ve found a new (for me) wine region whose wines I like, but because as with many wine regions around Australia I think the best is yet to come. The best is yet to come because the judicious use of oak is on the increase. The best is yet to come because better clones of certain varieties are now being used. The best is yet to come because increasingly the right varieties are being planted in the right locations. Finally, a lot of the vines, particularly with the Sangiovese, are still relatively young, so you can expect the quality to continue to improve as the vines age. If Mudgee can have some luck in terms of weather conditions in upcoming vintages I think there will be some wonderful wines produced.

With limited time I probably didn’t even get to half the wineries in Mudgee that I would have liked to, but the wineries I went to that I really enjoyed included Rosby, Lowe, Huntington, Di Lusso, and Robert Stein. I’ll be reviewing some of their wines in the coming weeks . . .


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