The ever unflappable and perceptive Jancis Robinson (who is my favourite wine writer) published a typically stimulating article up on her website www.jancisrobinson.com yesterday, focusing on the move towards ‘lighter’ red wines (read it here) a trend that is, to a certain degree, being echoed around the world, even though Australia is largely perceived to be lagging behind.
Of particular note is this paragraph describing a presentation from a Spatburgunder (German Pinot Noir) producer:
He therefore showed us not just the highly successful 2005 vintage of the top bottling from his Ihringer Winklerberg vineyard and the transitional 2001 vintage, but also a 1999 that was probably quite flashy in youth but had already lost its fruit, and the really dried-out 1993. He admitted that in the 1990s, at the start of the Spätburgunder renaissance, he and most German winemakers had tended to pick too late, a hangover from Germany’s worship of high must weights for their white wines. They also tended to over-extract what was in the fruit, and used oak heavy handedly, too much like a seasoning rather than as a vessel with useful physical properties. ‘We used hi-tech methods then,’ he told us. ‘Today we use lo-tech methods, more or less like the way that 1959 was made.’ The other winemakers nodded in agreement.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s a similar story to that of many small Australian producers, particularly in the cooler climes, who have realised that restrained and delicacy are indeed desirable characteristics, even for Shiraz.
Personally, I’d argue that a little bit more of this ‘moderation’ with regards to said picking dates, ripeness levels, oak use and extraction rates could do wonders for the image, age-worthiness and indeed raw quality of many Australian wines, particularly from the warmer bits of South Australia, where dried out, prematurely aged wines are rampant.
But I’m hardly breaking new ground with those sort of comments (I can just hear the sounds of your eyes glazing over), as any Australian wine lover has already had this ‘lighten up’ message rammed down our collective throats by condescending foreign wine writers ad nauseam over the last 12 months. Still, just have a read of some of my recent wine reviews for numerous examples of current release wines that could really do with a lighten up.
Just to further complicate the issue, have a read of the response to Jancis’s article by another smart commentator, David Schildknecht, who touches on the need to maintain your own style & not blindly follow trends if you (the producer) are already making a balanced and distinctive wine.
The extension of this is that we don’t want terroir driven styles to change in response to a perceived ‘lightness’ fad: Reds from Chateaunuef du Pape or McLaren Vale, for example, are really at their best when they are ripe and full, and any meddling with the style is just that – meddling.
Beyond the assertions, I think that both views are arriving at the same conclusion – that the best wines are produced from perfectly ripe grapes. The challenge is actually working out when a grape is perfectly ripe, when the answer is elusively subjective as perfection itself . . .