“To make the best wines possible,”…
It was at this moment that I thought, ‘I should probably try a few (if not all) of these Macquariedale wines,’ and see, or rather taste for myself just how good they actually are.
Ross led me over to the cellar door tasting bar. A small, but beautifully timbered bench top that displayed most of his proudly produced sustainable wines, along with the usual fanfare of cellar door paraphernalia – spittoons, laminated tasting sheets, brochures and pamphlets.
He placed a small XL5 tasting glass on the bench top, and began to pour in a fairly watery looking liquid with a slight greenish hue. I expected to smell classic Hunter Semillon, with light tropical notes and a crisp grassy aroma. Instead, there was a distinct, but subtle, butteriness that was quickly followed by slighty toasty characteristics, and a subdued, but definitely more creamier mouthfeel than I was expecting – surely this was a Chardonnay, if not, it was a very confused Semillion.
In fact, it was a Chardonnay, although interestingly, this particular one was unwooded, and therefore able to leave a lot more room to explore the more clean and soft tropical characteristics often overlooked in Chardonnay, without being over burdened by the oak. This was reasonably light bodied with an off dry taste, low level tannic presence, good balance, but difficult to locate any flavour intensity. However, this might become more apparent after an few more years in bottle. This Unwooded Chardonnay wasn’t my cup of tea, but Chardonnay rarely ever is…
Next, I was also able to taste a little bit of 2012 Verdelho. It was pale, almost clear in colouration, which is to be expected after less than a years bottle age. Lively fresh tropical aromas give way to a clean and vibrant body, crisp tannins and excellent balance. Melon, lemon and lime flavours were noticeable without being too over powering, which left just enough room for a pleasant dry lingering finish.
It was at this stage that I started preparing my palate for the long awaited reds, when Ross suggested we go on a tour of his property, and take a look at the vines themselves… but…
We jumped into Ross’s Land Cruiser and proceeded off down the gravel drive, when without warning (but accompanied by generous amounts of obvious hindsight) we sharply veered off the gravel path and onto the grass heading off into the the paddocks, out towards the vines.
We stopped, close to the first of seven individual vine varieties, next to the Cabernet Sauvignon – an old teenage favourite of mine.
Compared with some, that is, most, of the vineyards dotted around Hunter Valley Wine Country, these vines looked rather ‘malnourished,’ with not as much foliage as I had expected, but Ross was quick to assure me that this was fairly typical of many vineyards who were operating sustainably.
“Many of the vineyards you see as you drive around have an over abundance of foliage; they look they’re on steroids. And this is not a good thing, as there is only so much energy that can be acquired by the vines, from the earth and from the sun, which can be used to provide the fruit with all its flavour”. The amount of sprays and chemical enhancements that many ‘new world’ winemakers rely upon create a false sense of healthiness – the more foliage a vine has does not mean better fruit yield. It anything it makes for less flavourful fruit, and therefore less flavourful wine, which then needs to be rectified back in the winery.
This is why I am such an advocate for sustainable winemaking – not (strictly) because I am against spraying or chemicals, but because I am an advocate for taste!
Speaking of which, we got back in the car so that Ross could show me his current pride and joy – Pinot Noir!
Strictly speaking, Pinot Noir shouldn’t really grow in the Hunter Valley. It’s too hot, the season is too short and Pinot is very very fussy when it comes to the right climatic conditions. However, try telling that to Mount Pleasant’s ‘Mothervine‘, or even Scarborough, who make a tasty little Pinot (although usually a non-vintage)… and try telling that to Ross McDonald.
It was with excited enthusiasm that we drove up, over and across to take a look at Macquariedale’s small plot of little hand grenades, resting over behind the Merlot and newly planted Mourvedre. Tiny little ‘bite-sized’ grape bunches that were more compact than a Friday night at an over-priced trendy gastro in inner Sydney. These Pinot Noir bunches looked every bit as beautiful and elegant as they taste, once their deliciously tiny souls are crushed, liquified and poured down the back of my throat. It was definitely time to take on the reds…
On our way back up to the cellar door we stopped off at Macquariedale’s winery to have a taste of the as yet unreleased Pinot Noir vintage – still in barrel. Ross climbed the stairs to the Pinot barrels, took out a long metal tube used to extract the wine – usually called a ‘thief’ or ‘pipette’ – and drew out just enough to fill a glass. He climbed back down, divided the glass in two and handed me the duplicate. I took a deep breath in, and was greeted with luscious amounts of ripe berry and plump currant aromas. As the wine passed my lips, I was instantly reminded of the Pinot’s of Irancy – grand, elegant, majestical, balanced – no wonder Ross was so evidently proud and excited of his creation! It was: immense.
We drove back up to the cellar door, and the (comparatively) raw, but refined Pinot hadn’t left my thoughts, or my mouth, and I was still reeling with imparted excitement as Ross poured a glass of his Thomas Reserve Shiraz…. Now this surely wasn’t 2010 – this had to be older than that. It was, in fact, a 2010, but it exhibited all the hallmarks of a gracefully aged Hunter Valley Shiraz. Soft and supple with a distinct, but not overburdened earthiness, licorice, spice and black pepper balanced perfectly with black and blue fruits. It was everything a natural wine should be…
I left satisfied that I’d made the trek out to Macquariedale Wines on Sweetwater Rd, and had the pleasure to meet and talk with one of the most honest winemakers in the Hunter Valley, and elsewhere. Ross’ knowledge, and enthusiasm for wine is equally matched by his commitment and talent for producing “the best tasting wine’s possible,” – and I can easily drink to that.
D// – The Wine Idealist.
p.s. I will hopefully be out there again soon to not only taste more of that incredible Pinot, but to get my hands dirty and join in the 2013 harvest… I’ll be keeping a close eye on my inbox, Ross.
p.p.s. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I will be taking a short break over the holiday’s in order to organise and finialise my January trip to New Zealand wine country where I hope to catch up with a few NZ natural wines, and hopefully jump off a tall mountain with some sort of winged apparatus… Thanks so much to all who have been reading this site over the last few short weeks – I hope to bring you many more stories, interviews, and insights into the world of natural wine in the new year… there may even be a festival or two! Have an awesome wine (natural or otherwise) filled Christmas and amazing New Year! xx