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Monthly Archives: August 2017

  • Alternative Australia 

    heartland

    For years, Shiraz and Chardonnay have sat contently on their thrones as the King and Queen of the Australian wine growing scene. Back when the New World wine country was finding its feet in an industry dominated by Old World estates – with vines even older than Australia – it was the likes of Shiraz and Chardonnay grapes that made people sit up and take notice of the new kid on the block. However, the landscape has evolved in the past few years, and modern Australian wine is a far cry from where it first began. In Australia, it’s all about diversity – new wine regions are emerging, new winemakers are breaking through, and new styles are being pursued.

    But perhaps the biggest change of all is with grape varieties. At present, there are more than one hundred commercially planted grape varieties in Australia; however, a new wave of Mediterranean varieties are making a name for themselves Down Under. From Nero d’Avola to Vermentino, Australia is bursting with new arrivals and lesser-known grape varieties which are grabbing the attention of critics, sommeliers and wine drinkers around the world.

    There’s no doubt the Australian wine scene is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, but the reasons behind the varietal explosion are far more complex.

    For one, climate change has had a major impact. With many of Australia’s classic wine regions becoming warmer and drier – and growing seasons becoming shorter – winemakers have turned to vines that are better suited to their soils and conditions, as a means to future-proof the industry.

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    Of course, commercial objectives are not missing from the equation, and investing in alternative varietals helps Australian producers find a new USP in an increasingly crowded market.

    The third piece of the puzzle boils down to the people behind the labels and their inherent pioneering spirit. Aussie winemakers are curious and willing to challenge convention, keen to try new things and discover how different varieties express themselves in Australia’s distinct terroir. However, many winemakers felt that such a hegemony of international varieties was squandering Australia’s potential and so, without laws restricting what can be planted and where, Australia has become a hotbed of innovation and experimentation.

    Under the care of our passionate Australian Buyer, Maggie Macpherson, Enotria&Coe’s portfolio has evolved over the years, and now reflects this new diversity in Australian wine, with producers such as Chalmers, Heartland, d’Arenberg and Henschke forging the path forward.

    At Heartland, Mediterranean varieties have always been on the radar, with vines planted with Fiano, Malbec, Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Lagrein and many more.

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    “All Australian wine regions remain young by international standards. Both Barossa and Langhorne Creek are well over a hundred years and running, but we’re not closing the gap on Burgundy any time soon. It takes a while to understand a terroir and work out what varieties work well in which soil, aspect and climate. As a nation, we have worked out that there are lots of varietal options for the thousands of different facets of our landscape,” says Ben Glaetzer.

    For Heartland, the pursuit of alternative varietals has a lot to do with flavour and, as Nick Keukenmeester says, the fact that “we like to make them, the journos like them, we get medals and they sell. Why argue?”

    For influential wine writer, Matthew Jukes, who’s been working with Australia’s best wines for more than three decades now, the groundswell can be put down to sheer curiosity.

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    “It is easy to sell the first bottle. But the more interesting thing is, do customers come back for a second glass, bottle or case? These wines are often part of a ‘diffusion brand’ within a winery’s range which, like in fashion, a second label can divert the eye for a while, before you return to the classics. We are riding a fashion wave at the moment and only the best versions of these wines will survive," he says.

    While the interest in alternative varieties is certainly picking up speed, Matthew warns that before we too quickly jump ship from the country’s tried and tasted grapes, it’s worth taking a step back and assessing the broader picture.

    A decade ago, when Matthew co-authored his third book on Australia, Taste Food & Wine 2009, he was decidedly nonplussed by the shortlist of 200 alternative reds. Ten years on, although he notes the situation has evolved slightly, we’re still not experiencing the avalanche of fascinating, great new wines everyone expected.

    “There are certainly some new wines, but few of them compare to the level of skill and flair shown by the Rieslings, Chardonnays, Semillon, Shirazes, Cabernets and so on.

    “Granted, a decade on, I have more wines in my 100 Best Australian Wines Report, which are made from alternatives, but they are window dressing on the main act – the founding varieties. My main issue is that wineries which grow alternatives are often looking for a quick fix or a trendy angle to get their wines in front of you.

    "There is however, a strong band of wineries making smart wines, but as Matthew points out, they’ve been at it for years. “They know that these wines are not the mainstay of their businesses, but they provide something a little different.”

    So where does all this leave us?

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    If we know one thing for certain, it’s that over the past few decades Australian winemakers have matured, and so too have their wines. No longer are wines from Down Under stereotyped as ‘sunshine in a bottle.’

    As for the future of Australian wine, Ben rightly points out that the industry’s survival and success has always hinged on innovation and so, moving forward, we should look for more of the same. By which he means not more of the same, but rather constant change.

    In contrast, while Matthew doesn’t foresee huge change in the industry in the coming years, he believes that “great wines will continue to capture hearts and palates, while the alternatives will surf the waves of fashion around the outside, bringing you into the vast ocean of choice which is the Australian wine world."

  • National Rum Day

    fresh mojito in the bar

    Words: Ben Gibbins

    It’s August, which means it’s nearly International Talk Like a Pirate Day [19th September if you’re interested] but more importantly it means that National Rum Day is almost upon us, with August 16th giving us an excuse to raise a glass to the spirits behemoth that is rum in all it’s forms.

    Bartenders will use Wednesday to pronounce that rum is the next big thing, which it is, but also has been for the last decade. Rum is still big – in 2015 the mojito was the most ordered cocktail in the UK – but specifically spiced rum is the next big thing, with growth up year on year whilst the rest of the rum world remains relatively flat. But more on that later.

    Rum has a long and interesting history mixing myths and truths dependent on who you talk to. Sugar as first discovered in South East Asia; brum (sugar wine) was noted in 14th century Iran; and later distillation became commonplace on the Caribbean sugar plantations in 17th century as the Western taste for the grass ‘that brought forth honey without the need for bees’ grew. The first taste of sugar spirits would have come in the Caribbean from molasses being cast aside in vats, they are produced as a by-product of sugar production, where it was watered down by rain and naturally fermented, creating a low-wine drunk by the workers. The Spanish were the first to distill this ‘wine’ into a spirit, nicknamed Kil Devil as it would ‘kill the devil inside you’! Rum’s big boom followed that of the sugar industry, growing in conjunction with the slave trade, a trade triangle being established between Africa, the Caribbean and the American Colonies exchanging sugar for rum, and rum for slaves. This currency value was hugely important, with rum used as legal tender across America and Europe for a number of years across all levels of society – in fact George Washington insisted on a barrel of Barbados rum at his inauguration.

    Rum became linked to naval tradition at the same time, with Lord Nelson’s body reportedly transported home in a rum barrel after Trafalgar, and the Royal Navy’s daily rum ration only coming to an end in 1970.

    Most rum is produced in sugar cane growing countries, with the Caribbean and South/Central America producing the most well-known brands, with most using molasses as their base ingredient. The production methods are generally similar, but the location plays a key part in the final taste, and this can crudely be defined along the lines of language and colonialism.

    Old rum distillery, factory in St.Lucia. Old rum distillery, factory in St.Lucia.

    English Speaking Island (Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica…): Tend to be distilled in a pot still and column still resulting in a darker rum with a fuller-bodied style.

    Spanish Speaking Islands and Latin America (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela…): Usually column distilled for a lighter, more mixable rum ideal for cocktails.

    French Speaking Islands (Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique…): Produce a different product – rhum agricole – made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than molasses for a zesty, herbal note.

    The diversity of rum has spread the world over though with India producing a drier version, Cachaca made in Brazil, anise-infused Aquardiente from various points in South America, Tuzemak in the Czech Republic, Ron Miel from the Canary Islands and Stroh in Austria.

    Yeast, ageing and blending are vitally important in rum production having a profound impact on the taste profile and style of the final product. Producers of lighter rums use fast acting yeasts to keep the number of esters (flavours) lower, whilst fuller, richer rums use slower yeasts for added flavour. Ageing varies from one location to another, with many countries requiring at least a year. Bourbon casks are a popular choice but rum producers are now experimenting with ‘finishing’ in different casks to alter the flavour. There is a downside to long ageing though – the angel’s share in the tropics is usually 10% of the total volume a year (compared to 2% in Scotland) – meaning long-aged rums are incredibly expensive with only a fraction of the original liquid remaining. Blending is common in most rums, ensuring consistency and maintaining the quality of rums produced.

    High angle view of two glasses of rum-cola cocktail with ice served on the bar. Vintage colour look.

    This longer ageing has become increasingly popular with the use of aged rum on sipping and digestif menus across the country.

    Then there is spiced rum, which now sits as its own category and is almost solely accountable for the rise in rum sales in recent years, its popularity growing as a characterful base for cocktails and mixed drinks. The additional flavours of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were once used to mask inferior spirits but now serve to enhance quality base spirits.

    Across all these categories and variants rum is a greatly versatile product working perfectly in classic mixed drinks such as a Cuba Libre or a Dark ‘n Stormy (a drink even trademarked by Goslings Rum); the eponymous Pina Colada – the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978; in tiki drinks like a Mai Tai or a Beachcomber; and in re-worked classics like a rum old-fashioned.

    So this National Rum Day, why not try something summery and exciting, or revisit an old favourite, but swap in rum for a new take on the familiar? Agricole is a great alternative to tequila, light rums for vodka and gin, and darker, aged rums in place of bourbon and whisky.

  • African dreaming

    In a bid to shake off the doldrums this gloomy British summer has brought on, Kathrine Larsen MS reflects on her trip to South Africa earlier this year – when blue sky abounded – and shares eight lesser-known facts about this New World wine country and our producers in the region.

    1. Around 75 different grape varieties are authorised for planting in South Africa, the majority of which are white, with Chenin Blanc taking the clear lead.

    2. Chenin Blanc, native to France’s Loire Valley, first arrived in South Africa in 1655, when Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company founded Cape Town and planted its first vineyard with the variety. Today, 20% of South African vineyards are planted with Chenin Blanc.

    KLarsen 399 3. The most planted red grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. Lesser-known, on-trend varieties include Cinsault, especially when produced in a slightly natural style, and Tinta Barocca when crafted from old vines in Swartland.

    4. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester’s sparkling wine, Sparklehouse, is named such because Ken thinks of Chenin as the workhorse of the South African wine industry.

    KLarsen 3395. Leaves on vines can act a sunshield, and help prevent grapes from getting burnt. “Due to the Sparklehorse vineyard’s exposure to sun, we ensure the leaves on the afternoon side of the canopy are not removed. If the vines get burnt, this is an easily noticeable flavour in the finished wine”, said Ken.

    6. Bush vines produce lower yields and more concentrated clusters with smaller grapes and thicker skins than their trellised counterparts.

    7. One of the main purposes of Ken Forrester’s Petit range of wines, is to provide work for people who desperately need it. But Ken’s social philanthropy doesn’t stop there. He’s also donated a van to a member of the community, who then went on to successfully set up their own business driving the vineyard staff to and from work each day.

    8. While visiting Thelema, I began to truly understand just how important social sustainability is in South Africa. While driving through the vineyards, we pass by the staff housing and Thomas Webb explains to us that when his parents started Thelema back in 1983, workers were paid in envelopes. Over the years, they’ve helped all the staff set up bank accounts, and to become properly integrated in the system.

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  • Australian wines come up trumps

    The godfather of Australian wine writing and judging, James Halliday, has announced his scores for the 2018 edition of The Australian Wine Companion, and we’re delighted there’s such a strong showing of producers from the Enotria&Coe stable.

    The pinnacle of these annual awards is the coveted title of Wine of the Year, which this year was taken out by Henschke Hill of Grace 2012.

    Following the announcement, Halliday commented that Henschke is the best medium-sized producer in Australia, and has gone from strength to strength over the past three decades under the guidance of winemaker Stephen and viticulturist Prue Henschke.

    “I would really like for the Henschke vineyards to be seen as Australia’s first grapes … I would like people to perceive that’s what this is about; there’s no other wine in Australia that’s made from vines that are 100 years old and then made from them for another 50 years,” Halliday said.

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    Tasting and whittling down nigh on 10,000 wines for the guide is no mean feat for Halliday, and this year more than 1200 wineries across Australia have been featured.

    Inclusion in the renowned guide is one thing, but several of our producers went one step further raking in 90+ scores for their wines: Henschke and d’Arenberg both received 33, Howard Park 27, Kooyong 15 and Fowles 14. Other Aussie estates to feature include Glaetzer, Heartland, Stargazer, Skillogalee and Tempus Two.

    Enotria&Coe’s star-studded Australian portfolio is nurtured by our passionate buyer Maggie Macpherson who, and under her guidance the portfolio has grown from strength to strength with each passing year..

    “As a buyer, nothing makes me prouder than to see my producers gaining this sort of recognition from such esteemed people as James Halliday. I’ve gone through the hard yards with each of these producers – I know first-hand how incredible these wines are and, what’s more, how passionate the people who produce them are – so it’s incredibly rewarding to see them enjoy some time in the spotlight.

    “Australian wine is going from strength to strength, and now these producers can confidently share the world stage. Australian wine is in a really good place now, but I’m even more excited for the future,” Maggie said.

  • Behind the scenes with Cecchi

    Words: Leonardo Bassano

    The story of the Cecchi family began in 1893, with Luigi Cecchi and his formidable tasting talent. Fast forward to the 1930s, and Cecchi wines were being exported outside Italy. In the 70s, the family moved to Castellina, the historical Chianti Classico production zone. In the 80s they invested in San Gimignano, and then in the 90s, they purchased the vineyards of Val delle Rose in Maremma. At the turn of the century, the estate crossed regional borders and invested in Umbria, with Tenuta Alzatura in Montefalco. In 2015 Cesare and Andrea, the fourth generation, returned to Castellina, with the purchase of Villa Rosa.

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    The oldest of the family estates is Villa Cerna, the vineyards of which stretch across the first hill that you come across when arriving from Siena. The historical estate is 280m above sea level and the exposure of its vineyards, the diversity of the soils, and the micro-climatic nuances create the particular features of the wines crafted here. The estate now comprises of 80ha of vineyards planted with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colorino Toscano.

    At Castel Montauto the vineyards are densely planted, allowing for lower yields. Twenty of the estate’s 48ha are planted with Vernaccia at 300m above sea level. In Maremma, the Val delle Rose now consists of 150ha with a new cellar equipped with the latest technologies in winemaking for the production of fresh Vermentino and Morellino. Tenuta Alzatura, in the Sagrantino di Montefalco production zone, has three vineyards, and the terroir of each expresses unique social and cultural roots of local viticulture.

    I met Isotta, from the Cecchi Marketing team, who showed me around the main winery in Villa Cerna. A wonderful place where tradition, history and modernity combine. Isotta is young and smart, and when I was asking my usual questions about soil/winemaking, she showed off her knowledge and business acumen. This demonstrates how this family business combines a passion for great wines produced from unique terroir, with a market-driven approach and consumer focus. I was then treated to a wonderful lineup of wines for our degustazione.

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    Vermentino Litorale 2016, Val delle Rose: smell of sea breeze, herbs, apples, pears, beautifully easy to drink, but with great character, perfumed, crisp, fresh and dry. Aurelio 2015: on the nose, lots of ripe red and black fruit, pepper, cedar, tomatoes and rosemary. Fantastic balance between acidity, tannin and fruit concentration.

    Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2011, Poggio al Leone: perfumed nose (roses and violets), a crisp palate, quaffable but with great structure.

    Ciliegiolo 2015, Maremma: this was the unusual one. Good red fruit, very cherry-like, medium tannins, good acid, very singular and characterful with hints of dark chocolate.

    Chianti Classico 2014, Cecchi (6 months in oak): vibrant nose, lively, flowers, cherry. Lovely drinking, smooth tannins, good acidity, easy to understand, crushed red plums.

    Villa Cerna Chianti Riserva 2013: Primary, secondary and some tertiary aromas too. Earth, mushrooms, sweet spices, cloves on the nose. Very soft tannins, subtle, crushed ripe cherries, crisp. This wine is very enjoyable now but can also age 10 or 20 years. Elegant and expressive.

    A big thank you to Isotta and the Cecchi team. Great wines, great people. This brief visit was inspirational and makes me want to return to Tuscany.

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