Two years ago I attended the first Real Wine Fair as a nervous wine novice. I went to taste some wine to, perhaps, include on the list of a West London wine bar I worked in. That experience changed my perception of Australian wine forever. Two years later, I’ve been given the opportunity to go to the Real Wine Fair again, this time as a guest, where I would host a seminar on the changing state of Australian wine. Plus, I wanted to curate a table jammed full of Aussie and NZ booze that I thought offered a small glimpse into the new dawn of Australia and New Zealand.
“Australia is all about volume and shit,” said one attendee of the Fair after I asked what her opinion of Australian wine was, “well, the stuff we usually get into Britain is, anyway,” she qualified. It’s the type of opinion (which isn’t entirely wrong by the way) that pervades many of the perceptions the UK and Europe has of Australian wine.
“Australia has always been known as having more concentrated, alcoholic, extracted, and big wines,” says Isabelle Legeron, natural wine warrior, otherwise known as ‘that crazy French woman’, “and it’s very refreshing to see this bunch of Australian producers who are coming out with very elegant, highly drinkable, interesting wines.”
Australian wine is changing, has changed, and I was at Real Wine Fair 2014 to shout it from the rooftops, scream it from the rafters and pour it down the throats of unsuspecting Brits and Europeans who had no idea that the words ‘smashable’ and ‘wine’ could ever be put into the same sentence.
The seminar I hosted was on the changing state of Australian wine, and, to help me communicate this message more effectively, I enlisted the help of Doug Wregg, organiser of the Real Wine Fair, and Iwo Jakimowicz, winegrower from Si Vintners, WA.
It was an informal discussion with an audience of about 40 people, mostly London trade, and some consumers, and the idea was that I wanted the wines to speak for themselves. I was merely there to provide some context. How these wines tasted was the single most important thing.
We shared a couple of bottles of Si Vintners White, Tom Shobbrook’s Giallo, a Bobar Syrah, and Domaine Lucci’s Wildman, because I thought that each of these wines were not only unique and had a distinct personality, but also demonstrated a commonality between each other, and best showcased this new Australian vanguard.
“There’s a word that gets used quite a lot in this new Australian wine scene, which is ‘smashable’,” I said to the audience that had gathered to share these wines with us. “I first heard it from Tom Belford (from Bobar) at Rootstock in 2013 and I think it’s the only way to describe these wines… they’re Australian versions of vin de soif.”
“They’re moreish,” said one woman in reply, as she drunk the Giallo.
The seminar was an eye-opener for everyone who attended. Many were surprised at the restrained elegance of the Bobar Syrah. It didn’t subscribe to their preconceptions of what an Aussie shiraz should taste like. The Wildman pinot noir from Domain Lucci had people falling into the glass and in love with the wine, because of it’s graceful moves and sweetly scented perfume that easily beguiled its taster. The Si Vintners White was as close as they got to any traditional notions of Australian chardonnay (and semillon).
“It’s still got that lovely fruit presence,” said one taster, “but it’s far more restrained than I’m used to tasting from Australian chardonnay.”
The end of the seminar concluded with a round of applause (for the wines!), and those who had come, left with their preconceptions of boring, sluggish, Australian wine, smashed by the smashable (and nourishing) new wines of Australia.
The Australian corner of the Tobacco Docks venue featured Iwo from Si Vintners pouring his wines, alongside Emily Harman and John Baum from The Winemakers Club, pouring the captivatingly fun Tom Shobbrook wines of South Australia. I selected a few wines from the Les Caves de Pyrene portfolio of Australian and New Zealand wines, which included Domaine Lucci, Jauma, Patrick Sullivan, Bobar, Pyramid Valley, and Cambridge Road. These wines barely scratch the surface in terms of the amazing juice coming out of our special part of the planet, but, together, they easily showcase some of the best things that are happening from here as well.
Shobbrook’s Giallo is a skin contact sauvignon blanc, and as, in the seminar, those that tasted it at the Australian table had their minds stretched well beyond the realms of perception that exists between them and Australian wine. Giallo has less than a few weeks on skins so that it can express more of its textual qualities, rather than the aromatics.
“Wow! This is the opposite of what we associate with Australian wine,” said the ‘volume and… ‘ attendee from above, after the sunlit juice had finished sluicing about within her mouth, “usually it’s all about the fruit,” she said.
“Drinking Tom’s Giallo is like walking through a field of Elderflowers,” Australian news journalist Imogen Brennan told me.
I poured Patrick Sullivan’s Britannia Creek, which is a skin contact sauvignon blanc, as an example of compare and contrast. Two wines separated by over 500km of wide brown land, yet seemingly interconnected in concept and idea by the invisible thread of transformation and revolution. Britannia Creek is not as fruity as it’s Breakfast Wine brother, more cool and lean, soaked in minerality, yet still juicy. It is a smashable wine. Same grape variety, essentially the same method of production, two totally unique wines. A sense of place.
“There’s nothing wrong with the old school, those wines are quite rich and full,” Erik Laan from the Vineking told me, “but I do enjoy the new stuff coming through… I think there is room for both.”
Domaine Lucci 2013 Village Chardonnay, from Adelaide Hills, South Australia, is (in my opinion) an exciting example of the old and new school melding together in perfect transitional harmony. There is a creamed fruit softness on the nose and palate, which echoes the deliciously lush and rich chardonnays of our past. The ones where, were it not for them, the Australian wine industry wouldn’t be nearly as well known abroad as it is today. But, it excites with an electric minerality that zips about on the back palate, providing a solid structure and foundation, so the melodious fruit can sing.
“You always expect (Australian wine) to be about technique,” said Normandy Cider maker Eric Bourdelet, as he tasted the 2011 Bobar Syrah, “but this is more open, so much more expressive.”
I had only just opened a new bottle of the Bobar Syrah, and, when I cracked the seal of the black stelvin cap, it spritzed (because of the carbonic maceration) so loudly above the hum of the Fair’s crowd, that the tables’ audience stepped back in shock. A white spiral began to swirl just inside the neck of the bottle before disappearing up into the rafters of Tobacco Dock. I had tasted this before, in Sydney, and wrote tasting notes that said it reminded me of clove bud and cola nut that had been hooked up to a couple of AA batteries, which gave it a pleasant zap on the tongue. It did exactly that, only this time in London, and Eric Bourdelet liked it!
From where I was standing, the Australian stands were buzzing non-stop for most of the two days. It was the section of the room that was still pouring tasters well after closing time, with so many eager consumers and trade people alike clambering to get a taste of new Australia.
“I hadn’t tasted Australian wine properly for years,” said Simon Huon from Henri of Edinburgh, “but if it’s like this now, I should proberly drink some more of it.”
“This year’s fair went beyond our expectations,” explained Fair organiser Doug Wregg. “We hoped that people could lose their preconceptions about mass produced homogenous Australian wine… and I noticed that people, especially the European growers, had discovered that these wines could be pretty and delicious, and reflect terroir with amazing personality, and I think they saw a kinship with their own wines.”
From an Australian Wine Idealist’s point of view, Real Wine Fair continued to blow away many preconceptions people have of Australian wine in the UK and European trade. The wines spoke for themselves. They were expressive, transcendent, revolutionary, but, above all, delicious. They were all the things that I love about Australian wine, and the reason for the existence of The Wine Idealist. I’m glad I was able to contribute to our exciting new wine landscape. It was an immense privilege and an honour to be able to represent Australia in this way… I was never that good at sport.
D// - The Wine Idealist
Selected Tasting Notes from the Australian/New Zealand Discovery Table
Domaine Lucci – 2013 Gris Noir, Adelaide – Utterly confusing and delicious. Is it a white, is it a rosé, Is it a red? It’s a slightly skin contacted pinot gris that possesses the same colour and fleshiness of ruby fruit, with hints of spice and effortless acidity. I’d say brown bag it, if it didn’t sound so disrespectful. Made for smashing in the sun.
Patrick Sullivan – 2012 Laffers Lane Shiraz, Yarra Valley – A big, bullying Aussie shiraz this is not. Whole bunch savouriness, elegance, and black fruit juiciness combine in a seamless transition of old school and new. You’ll want to eat a porter house, but you don’t have to. Either way, you will finish the bottle.
Pyramid Valley – 2009 Angel Flower, Pinot Noir, Canterbury – Transcendent. Once this wine passes your lips, something clicks, unlocks, and gives you access to the empyrean. The highest point in heaven, the most purest place in the aether. It’s a portal to a rarely glimpsed dimension of the wine paradigm. I haven’t even mentioned what is tastes like, yet…
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- Real Wine Fair
- Si Vintners
- Tom Shobbrook
- Domaine Lucci
- Patrick Sullivan
- Pyramid Valley
- Cambridge Road