Such was this Masterclass held by Andrew Jefford last March in our opinion. For us it had the added effect of altering our perception of Australia and Australian wines for which we are extremely grateful.
The wines selected for the tasting which was an integral part of the masterclass told a different story from the one we had learned from our own experiences. Andrew explained the move away from 'Fruit Bombs' in recent years and these wines reflected that. We always love to have our preconceptions either re-enforced or overturned. This time they were well and truly shattered. Such a pleasure.
Without discussing the wines here, suffice it to say they were selected by Andrew through long experience having lived in Australia for a year and no doubt having visited many times. Some of them are not available outside Australia thus giving credibility to the saying that the Australians keep all their best wines for themselves. Most were at the high end of the price range of Australian wine (£30 - £45).
1. Mitchell Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia 2012
2. Pewsey Vale, The Contours Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia, 2007
3. Cullen, Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia 2010 (13.5%)
4. Giaconda, Chardonnay, Beechworth, Victoria 2010
5. Grey Sands, Pinot Gris, Tamar Valley, Tasmania 2009 (14.6%)
6. Curly Flat, Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges, Victoria 2010
7. Yabby Lake, Block 2 Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 2010
8. Philip Shaw No.89 Shiraz, Orange, New South Wales 2006
9. Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz, Frankland, Great Southern, Western Australia 2009
10. Tapanappa, Whalebone Merlot-Cabernet Franc, Wrattonbully, South Australia 2008
The title of this masterclass, 'The Great Australian Terroir' might be a little provocative to Old World ostriches with their heads in the sand but Terroir there is even though soil diversity is not nearly as rampant as in Burgundy for example. Indeed Andrew told a story of how he has journeyed 400 miles and found the soil was the same as at his departure point. Laterite, a red soil rich in iron and aluminium dominates in Australia.
He pointed out that the soils of Australia are the oldest you can find. The landmass is particularly ancient with massive erosions already having taken place over milennia. The Winegrowing areas are therefore smaller, more limited than one might have imagined and are rarely far from the oceans which have a decisive effect on the climate in these areas. That climate is very continental. Altitude in Australia has as crucial an effect as latitude elsewhere with higher altitudes being beneficial.
We also learned that there are not many sites in Australia which are really suitable for Merlot although quite a lot is grown there. Much more frequently found are good sites for Pinot Noir. Chardonnay does well in the Margaret River region where winter rainfall is twice that of London. In general it is warmer than Burgundy but without the heat spikes and being on the Indian ocean wines can take on a tropical note.
The Great Dividing Range offers opportunities for cooler vinegrowing. The Clare Valley is the most northerly, high in altitude and the furthest area from the ocean which explains why Riesling does well there. Tasmania's climate was likened to that of Baden; cooler than Colmar and Burgundy.
Andrew also introduced us to the two regions of the Mornington Peninsula (Up Hill and Down Hill) as well as those of the Hunter Valley (West and East Slopes). The West Slope is much more continental and better for viticulture. Where is our darling Hunter Valley Semillon grown? The East Slope of course, where apparently everything is against it. The great Southern area of Western Australia is the most continental of all Australian regions.
The wines on offer fell into place as a result of these explanations. At least we understood in the generalized way of soil ignoramuses that we are, that there are reasons for how the various regions came into being as wine-growing areas and what influences these terroirs have on the wine made there.
Andrew even had time to make mention of quite a few clones that are used in these wines and how another problem with Merlot in Australia is poor clonal selection. We also learned that some of the wines were organic or biodynamically produced with natural yeasts and in the case of No. 4, the Giaconda Chardonnay, the cellar where it was produced is only one of two in the whole of Australia that play Classical Music to the sleeping wines, the others tending to play Heavy Metal. We think that has to be significant somewhere along the way and should be included in any definition of Terroir.