Sunday, July 3, 2011

Golden Ball and the 2005 Gallice (Beechworth)

I was having an argument (a friendly one) with a winemaker the other week who was arguing that Cabernet Sauvignon is not a noble grape because most of the time it is blended with one of the other Bordeaux varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot etc. Being the Cabernet lover that I am, I stood up for my beloved grape pointing to the great Coonawarra Cabernets that are often 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Moreover, I see the blending that typically occurs with other varieties as a path to greater consistency in terms of both structure and complexity, rather than necessarily the source of it.

This conversation was symbolic of a general lack of love for the Cabernet grape in Australia at present. It’s become a daggy grape almost. Go to a Coonawarra tasting and you’ll be by and large surrounded by baby boomers and the war generation. Gen X and Gen Y will be scarce on the ground. Taking a bottle of Cabernet to a dinner party doesn’t win you any kudos either.

Which is a long winded way of getting to the fact that in meeting Golden Ball’s winemaker, James McLaurin, I met a kindred spirit who loves his Cabernet, and is similarly bemused by its apparent lack of appeal at present (that he is thinking of planting Nebbiolo is another big tick, being my other favourite grape). Beechworth is perhaps not immediately obvious as a place for great Cabernet, but as I discovered, Golden Ball are making a good fist of it.

The Golden Ball property was originally owned by McLaurin’s parents, before he bought it off them and planted a 5 Acre vineyard back in 1996. Since that time he has built a reputation for an impressive Shiraz. He is also currently making a Chardonnay from the Smith Vineyard from the 2010 vintage, which is looking very smart in barrel. For all this, however, his main focus is Cabernet. Golden Ball’s flagship wine is the Gallice, a Cabernet Sauvignon that is blended with some Merlot and Malbec.

While there I got to try a number of barrel samples of what will end up going into the 2010 Gallice. Interestingly, McLaurin looks to build further structure and complexity with different picking times and different oak treatments. The fruit that will go into the Gallice was picked in two lots, eight days apart. While perhaps riper, there was no hint of over ripeness in the later picked grapes, which I guess is a testament to the excellent, cooler 2010 vintage. The fruit across both picks is then not only put into new, 1 year, and 2 year old oak, but is also put into barrels made by different coopers. McLaurin enjoys talking and trialling different barrels, and it was interesting to see the subtle differences that two different coopers would have on the same parcel of fruit. Many of the individual samples I tried looked fantastic, and worthy of a good wine in and of itself, and in blending these many various elements Golden Ball should be able to produce an impressive 2010 Gallice.

So to the 2005 Gallice, which I tried over 2 days. This is the kind of wine I find tremendously enjoyable and satisfying to drink. It smells of blackcurrant, eucalypt leaves, chocolate and pencil shavings. It’s medium to full bodied, and presents with lovely ripe fruit on the front palate, before becoming predominantly savoury, with some appealing earthiness. Lovely drying tannin shapes the wine before finishing long with a just a hint of food-friendly bitterness. It’s drinking beautifully now, should do so for the next 5 years, and quite possibly a lot longer. Classic Cabernet. 4 Stars


RRP: $55



Sean C said...

With the fickle nature of wine consumers, apart from sales volume; what would prompt a winery to replace 1 grape with another?
Perhaps by the time the Nebbiolo grapes are producing wine, the Cabernet might be back in fashion?
Is it this risk/reward that every winery has to deal with sooner or later?

Red said...

Sean, just to clarify, McLaurin is thinking of planting Nebbiolo in addition to the Cabernet, rather than replacing it.

But to your broader question, yes the fashionability of grape varieties at different times would be a ongoing conundrum for wineries, especially those on the borderline of profitability.

I know a few wineries that have used a popular grape like Sav Blanc to maintain profitability and enable them to pursue less popular grapes that they are more passionate about.

Josh Tuckfield said...

I must admit that if i saw a chardonnay or cab from Beechworth on a wine list i would go the chardonnay all the time. I just love what they are doing with the variety.

Red said...

Thanks for the comments Josh. As I mentioned in my broader post on Beechworth, Chardonnay is the defining grape in that region, and I to love Beechworth Chardonnay, so wouldn't disagree with you generally speaking. In saying that the Golden Ball Gallice is an impressive wine, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to Cabernet drinkers.

Josh Tuckfield said...

I love cab as well. it's my favourite variety with a bit of age under its belt. ill grab a bottle of the golden ball if i see it. Cab is so under rated at the moment. i respect the idea that you use a popular variety to keep your winery profitable while planting varieties that the winery in more passionate about or something that fits your geography and climate better.

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