The Four Personalities of France- Part 2: Cotes Du Rhone

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The Cotes Du Rhone- not to be confused with the South African Wine, The Goats do Roam! The primary grapes used in Cotes Du Rhone (if you remember my uber blog on Australia) are Syrah, Carignan, Mouvoudre, and several other grape varieties. Interesting fact about the Cotes Du Rhone- back in the 18th century or so the king from that region insisted that wines from that region be labelled CDR in order to guarantee that those wines were from that region and therefore of high quality… and that’s were the French Appellation Controllee system originated from! Wines from this region are generally quite full-bodied, but with silky smooth tannins- which makes them very drinkable! Hmmm a mix of brawn and smoothness…. its got to be James Bond! And its Sean Connery bond- not Roger Moore, or Pierce Brosnan, and definitely not Daniel Craig! Not that I have any problems with the other Bonds- its just Sean Connery was the man!

Now I’m not Suggesting James Bond drank anything but vodka martini’s… but if he was to drink something else- when then it would have to be a Cotes Du Rhone, and not just any CDR but the big dog of all the CDR… that’s right- he’d be drinking the Chateaeu Neuf Du Pape… neither shakin nor stirred!It translates as the Popes new house- comes from when there was popes ruling in Avignon… Out of all the regions in France Chateau Neuf Du Pape is probably one of the more interesting. They allow roughly 18 grape varieties to be put into wine- and there is no regulations about which grape varieties belong in a particular blend. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. But there is only one vineyard that grows all of these grapes and utilizes them regularly- Chateau De Beaucastel. So how exactly are they like Sean Connery/James Bond? Well when they’re young they are generally tough and tannic… but as they age they smooth out- but keep their spicy edge!

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The Four Personalities of France- Part 1: Burgundy

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At this stage I’m sure everyones sick of hearing about it, but when you talk about French wine… you’re not really left with much option but to mention it. I am of course talking about the all important terroir! Now for me terroir is a bit like personality- Everyone’s is different! So what personality would Burgundy have? Well Burgundy is a tricky one… because you’ve not only got some truly great Pinot Noir’s, but you also have a brilliant white-Chablis! So one person isn’t goin to cut this with regards to Burgundy- for this we need a Hollywood Couple… but who could it be? What couple could represent the smooth, self-indulgent personality of the Pinot Noir Grape, and also the voluptuous nature of Chablis???

Thinking…
Thinking…
Thinking…..
Ive got it!!!!

Yes he may be old, and she may be not a particularly good actor- but that does not mean they don’t fit the bill perfectly when thinking about Burgundy. Michael Douglas in Wall Street- and intense, feisty, pitbull, wraped up in his comfortable Millionaire lifestyle… A bit like Pinot Noir which is difficult to cultivate and grow, but when its battled its way to the top, its the Pinot’s elgeance and Finnesse which shines through! And as for the Chardonnay… I mean Chablis… (for anyone who doesn’t know, and all those people who think they don’t like Chardonnay but love Chablis… they’re actually the same thing!) She may not be a good actress, and she may be way too hot for Michael Douglas- but its the fact that her and Michael Douglas are polar opposites that makes them the perfect choice for this! Think about it- the nice refined Pinot Noir reds, counter-balnced by the Big voluptuos Chablis!

Now a bit of general info on Burgundy- Reds use mostly Pinot Noir, but Fleurie, and Brouilly use Gamay which is a very very light Grape. So light in fact that it can even be chilled for about 20 minutes! The reds are like the anti-Bordeaux! The Pinot Noir is very expressive and full of flavour- but nowhere near as full-bodies as Bordeauxs! Now the whites are Chardonnay… sorry to break it to you… but they are! Now their one saving grace is the fact that about 99% of Whites from Chablis are unoaked! Which explains why they do not have that butteryness or vanilla notes that so often get associated with Chardonnay! So for future reference its not the Chardonnay ye hate- its the Oak!

An Introduction to Australian Wine- Part1

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Maybe its coincidence, it could even be something far beyond anyone’s understanding but the way it has worked out… our 99th and 100th blogs are going to be the longest yet! Don’t say we don’t spoil ye. Now… From the get go- DO NOT FEAR!! This will be kept as easy as possible, wine can be a surprisingly easy thing to come to terms with- once you know where to start! For me it was starting working here- I’m sure all of our regular customers will remember the terrified look in my eyes every time someone came, I was like a deer caught in the headlights petrified in case they asked me something which I would have no clue how to answer. Now I’m not saying I’m an expert at this stage, so so so so far from it, but the easiest way I found was to just pick a country, try some wines from the different regions (it doesn’t matter if you have a developed palate or not), and see what I liked myself. After all at the end of the day when you know what you like you can take it from there. So for the sake of these AWESOME blogs we’ll be focussing on Australia- and why wouldn’t we? With a history of amazing movies like Crocodile Dundee, and incredible facts like In 1954 Bob Hawke made it into the Guinness Record Book for sculling 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. Bob Hawke went on to become the Prime Minister of Australia. How could you not love this country?

Australia is brilliant, so many different regions, so many different types of wine, and so many winemakers (one in particular, O’Leary-Walker, who we will be talking about a lot!) who are willing to try out new techniques. It really does encompass a lot of styles, and the Australians do not shy away from taking on the old world at their own game. The main grape variety in Australia is Shiraz, sometimes you will see it written as Syrah, but they are essentially the same thing. Now one little argument which I think should be laid to rest, at this stage, is the origins of the word Shiraz… Yes I know there is a place in Iran called Shiraz too and therefore the grape has to come from there! I’m afraid that’s all just a coincidence, a pretty freaky one I might add- what the hell are the chances? But, yes from what I’ve read there is no evidence at all that that’s where it comes from. It’s more likely that the main reason behind the differences between the two words is down to good old English mispronunciation… Don’t believe me? Well look at the word whiskey…. Came from the Irish Fuisce Beatha (one of a few Irish words to enter the English language…). So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Syrah was mispronounced Shiraz- Long story short Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing!

Now Shiraz is a great grape- easily in my top 5! And what makes it so good? I hear you call… Well as I talked about at a great length above, the grape is popular in France, particularly the Cotes Du Rhone, where it goes by the name Syrah. It is one of the more important ingredients when making a top notch Châteneuf-du-Pape. So Syrah/Shiraz was takin from france in 1832 by James Busby- clearly a fan of wine but much more known for all the stuff he did for New Zealand… maybe they should have called him James BUSY…. Cause of the wine… and the stuff with New Zealand… anyyywayyssss…. Aren’t we all glad that he did bring it with him, because around the 1970’s the Australians were getting pretty thirsty (like our little squirrel friend here!)- and more than anything else they wanted a nice big full-bodied red, that would quench this insatiable thirst. So of course they turned to Shiraz. It took off in a big way; all those vines that had been left lying around sine Busby’s time were now producing some of the greatest wines the Australian’s had ever tasted. But this wasn’t enough! They looked back to the old world, at what France were doing and they started creating some classic Côtes-du-Rhône blends. The possibilities were limitless now- Shiraz and Viognier were a triumph together, Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre (GSM) Brilliant! Yes the Shiraz Grape really won the affections of the Australians, but the key to it being so popular in Australia was not its dependability…. On the contrary it was how different it would be between the regions. The Australians had this brilliant Full bodied Grape- but whats more they had variety like no other country could have in the world! Shiraz produces wines with a wide range of flavour notes, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, as well as other viticultural practices chosen. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, espresso and black pepper. No one aroma can be called “typical” but generally blackberry and pepper are the most pronounced. But at the heart of all this success the Austrlians had, not just with Shiraz but with other grape varieties too, there was one defining atttribute which set them apart from the old world- basically it was the lack of rules and regulations. Most if not all the old world regions have a fixed set of rules which determines what grapes are to be grown and where- France with their AOC, Spain with its DOC, Italy with their DOCG’S, and while these do ensure a certain level of quality… they confine producers to an old way of wine making. But in Australia those rules don’t exist- it’s a playground for winemakers. Look at the O’Leary-Walker Shiraz. They take 70% of their Shiraz grapes from the Clare valley, and the other 30% from the McLaren vale- and because of this blend you get a shiraz which is truly unique to not only to O’Leary-Walker wines, but also Australia! Now in the next Blog we will be going a little more in depth with regards Regions (it’ll be better than it sounds trust me!) which are really important for anyone looking to further their knowledge of wine!

Que? Reserva? Que?

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In Yesterdays post I mention very breifly the subject of the word Reserve or Reserva on wine labels. Now the assumption we all make when we see this word and the accompaning price increase is that the quality of the wine must have increased and in many cases it will have however there are no rules governing the labeling of Reserve and Reserva wines, with one notable exception Spain. The Spanish are particularly ruthless in their labeling of wines as reserva and gran reserva, with a long established system. I know not what you thinking when you see Manuel in Fawlty Towers, yet its true. The Spanish system varies slightly from region to region but the basics remain the same.

  • Joven sees absolutely no oak at all. Joven means young and the style of the wine is fresh and fruity.
  • Crianza must be aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrel and at least one year in bottle before release
  • Reserva must be aged a minimum of three years in barrel and bottle with at least one which must be in oak;
  • Gran Reserva has to be aged for a minimum of five years, a minimum of two years in oak followed by the remaining years in bottle before release.

The Spanish are so serious about this system that even if the producer doesn’t display the level of aging of the bottle ( a very rare and unlikely occurrence), that the authories will, next time you have a Rioja or Ribera del Duero wine look at the back of the bottle for the Government Seal, a hologram which tells you the region from which the wine came and the aging, they are even colour coded. And we think the Germans are crazy about rules, well maybe their labels are so complicated you need a code book to crack them.

Old Enough to Drink: Old Vines

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Many bottles of wine particulary from Australia and France have the short phrase ‘Old vines’ or ‘vieilles vignes’ on the label, this is to let us know that the vines from which the wine has been produced are consider of an Old age, the problem is, that in general, there are no real rules about how old vines must be to be called Old Vines. This is similar to the problem with calling a wine reserve, which with the exception of Spain, also does not have any real guidelines. But why bother with adding this information is it just another line to bamboozle wine drinkers or is their an actual reason for it. Well yes their is a belief that becuase older vines yeild less fruit the flavours and expressions of terrior will be greater. But the question of how old is old no rears itself again.

If most people had to guess as to where the oldest vines are, we would naturally say france however we’d be wrong, most of French and indeed other European vines where destroyed by that most devious of bugs Phylloxera (if what they did wasn’t bad enough, their name is hard enough to pronounce with out feeling like you made it up, “fill-oxer-a”). Any way back to the old vines some of the recognised oldest vines still used in production are in the Barossa Valley in Australia, and there would be more if during the 80s the Aussies hadn’t ripped them up to plant fruit!

Now the Aussies appreciate their Old Vines and in the The Barossa they have established their own classification based on vine age. A specific name applies to the vines based on their age:

  • Old vine: 35 years or older
  • Survivor vine: 70 years or older
  • Centurion vine: 100 years or older
  • Ancestor vine: 125 years or older

So next time you open a bottle with Old vines on the label consider the fact that those vines maybe older than you!!

Terroir V.S Regionality

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It seems only fitting to follow up the last post on terroir, with an fine example of Australian Terroir, because it’s not just the French, much as they would have you think so, that have terroir. In Australia they jsut tend to call it regionality. Both idea accept that wineproduced in differnet climates within one country can show differnt aromas and flavours, the Aussies however are slightly more generous when it comes to letting you know whats in the bottle, and where the wine is from.

The Clare Valley is Australia‘s premier riesling producing region, although it is only the third most planted the region after Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Riesling loves diurnal temperature changes, ie, warm days and cool nights, the Clare Valley is perfectly suited to this. Clare valley riesling is approachable when young but still delicous when ten or twelve years old, a real gem when one considers many whites fade after a year. Another great example of Regionality from Clare is Cabernet Sauvignon, oddly the most planted red in the area, Clare Valley Cabernet has a has a wonderful mint and euculyptus edge which is indicative of all Clare Valley reds. O’Leary Walker do both a Clare Valley Riesling from the sub-region of Watervale and a straight up cabernet from Clare, both of which demonstrate these terroir expressions in full.

Terroir…rific?

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Yes Yes this Blog will be focusing on that brilliant little word the French coined- Terroir! Even just saying aloud fills me with a sense of knowing exactly what I’m talking about! If you ever want to impress someone, try saying it about the wine you’re drinking, ie- oh my you can really taste the terroir from this wine OR mmmm this wine is really infused with its terroir, but this is the most important part- you have to say it in your most pompous french accent, otherwise whats the point? There’s a very strong chance they won’t know what you’re talking about, but should they ask won’t you be glad you read this Blog! So the word itself was coined in an attempt to account for the subtle differences between the varying regions, within France. Basically the french see the wine they produce as an expression of the area- they aren’t just making Pinot Noir, they’re making a wine with a grape that best exudes the sense of Burgundy. And because of this that’s why French wines don’t put the grape on the bottle- because as far as they’re concerned its not about the grape, its all about the region! Its because of this idea that the region is whats important, and not necessarily the grape, that the french Apellation Controle system came about- a unique region will have a unique wine that cannot be replicated! So at this point it would only be natural to assume that french view the wine making process as entirely up to nature… wrong, in fact the wine maker can do certain things which will bring out or suppress the terroir. For example things like flood irrigation, or excessive oak aging would kill the terroir, whereas pruning so that they get low yields or using old vines are all things that would enhance the terroir in the wine. Basically land has always been viewed as something that had to be works in order to get the best results from it- the idea behind a terroir is that it has to be worked WITH in order to get the best unique product from it!

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