3 faces of the Pyrenees
It’s never actually clicked for me, but the Grampians and the Pyrenees wine regions are neighbours. That may seem an odd thing to say for someone who is meant to be down with this whole Australian wine caper, but given how divergent the two regions wine ‘images’ are I’d always assumed them to be further away from each other (geographically).
Calling the two ‘neighbours’ however is not all that accurate, purely due to how large/spread out both regions are (which means I covered plenty of kms whilst down there), with a suitably large variation in terroir to match.
What both regions share though is a focus on Shiraz, with the variety heralded as a speciality by nearly everyone (in both regions). I’d personally argue that the finest wines of the Pyrenees are largely Cabernet based, and the fixation on Shiraz is as much due to consumer popularity as varietal suitability, but I’m an outsider (so what do I know).
The focus of this post though is the producers, and I’m following here a similar ‘3 faces’ format (debuted here) that deliberately attempts to compare, contrast and examine 3 different Pyrenees producers, each offering a different – and equally valid – interpretation of good Pyrenees wine.
If you were to chart Pyrenees subregions, then Moonambel would the logical place to start. Think Dalwhinnie, Taltarni and Summerfield (with Warrenmang also in the mix) and you’re talking about the tiny hamlet of Moonambel, with all three estates essentially neighbours. Interestingly they make quite different wine styles too, albeit within the same Cabernet and Shiraz frameworks.
Dalwhinnie, arguably, is the most renowned of the trio, or at least the one enjoying the most acclaim (with the most expensive wines). Yet from the road Dalwhinnie looks little different from it’s neighbour, the equally well situated Taltarni. It’s in the flesh (of the wines) that the real differences lie (for the moment at least).
|The beauty of Dalwhinnie|
|Dalwhinnie – Note the vine clearing on the far hill (middle)|
It’s lucky then that the wines really are that good. There is a certain balance and understatement here that I very much like, and I couldn’t help but notice the lowish alcohols (less than 14%, which is lowish in full bodied Australian terms) that appear to come without any sacrifices in intensity. Can’t help but applaud that.
The wine highlights
Dalwhinnie Shiraz 2008 ($55)
13.5% alcohol and all the better for it. Highly perfumed, spicy, peppery and elegant Shiraz though with a solid core of mid palate fruit. It’s quite a velvety wine actually, full and ripe, with long soft tannins. Just a perfect cool climate Shiraz really.
Dalwhinnie Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($55)
Line and length makes this the pick of the two wines. Blackcurrant and Pyrenees mint on the nose with a medium weight, elegant and with dry tannins. I think what I like most about this wine though is how varietal it is. Cigar box, cedar, it’s like a grab bag of Cabernet goodness. I’ve bought some..
Mitchell Harris/Mount Avoca
I’ve bunched Mitchell Harris and Mount Avoca together purely due to the man in the photo above. That man is John Harris, winemaker at Mount Avoca, 2010 WFA ‘Future Leader’ and the ‘Harris’ in Mitchell Harris. The ‘Mitchell’ in this duo is Dr. Craig Mitchell, John’s brother in law and an anaesthetist in nearby-ish Ballarat. I like them both, and not just because they bought lunch (at the fabulous Avoca Hotel). No, I like them for that genuinely open, love-of-the-juice, let’s all have a drink attitude that the good guys share.
Speaking of juice, it’s interesting to note that what brought the pair together (besides their wives) was actually a desire to make bubbles. John spent some 8 years as a sparkling winemaker at (Domaine) Chandon you see, so fizz in his blood. The Mitchell Harris fizz is a little way away yet, but if the precision of John’s white wines are anything to go by, it’s something to look forward too.
In fact all of John’s wines carry the touch of a sparkling winemaker, the reds built lighter, more elegant and even with some herbaceous varietal purity – which makes for a welcome change of pace if done properly. The only challenge is that, in John’s own words, it’s all very much a work in progress (so not everything works), as John’s still trying to make his mark with the Mount Avoca wines, whilst simultaneously playing with the Mitchell Harris styles.
The net result is a brace of wine that wines get better as they get younger, if that makes any sense. The older wines are good, the new ones are very good.
Or in other words, watch this space….
(for a full review of the current Mitchell Harris range click here)
The wine highlights
Mount Avoca Reserve Shiraz 2007 ($59)
In something of a contrast this is quite a ripe, full and chocolatey style with prominent sweet oak and quite a deal of rich fruit. The attraction lies in the balance between generosity and elegance, which sits very well here. The result is an attractive, affable wine that is smartly built, if fully priced. Sure to win friends.
Mitchell Harris Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (unfinished sample)
Lots of enthusiasm for the 2009 vintage in both the Grampians and the Pyrenees and it certainly seems justified here. This is a powerful, herbaceous dry red that at this stage is all about structure, but carried by some beautiful blackcurrant fruit. Impressive length bodes very well for the future too. Lots to like here.
|View from the DogRock winery|
Whilst the DogRock winery technically sits within the boundaries of the Pyrenees wine region, it (by DogRock’s own admission) tends to share more with the Grampians in terms of it’s wine style.
Given the somewhat split personality then it’s perhaps fitting that the DogRock range is one of the more eclectic and interesting in the area, produced by a suitably interesting winemaker.
Allen Hart is that winemaker, a man who has spent much of his wine career within different sections of the Fosters empire, finishing his most recent tenure in a research based position at Seppelt in Great Western. Hart is, by nature, a scientist, carrying with him the questioning air of someone wiling to experiment. An attitude which(perhaps) explains why his wines are so challenging (and occasionally brilliant).
To see evidence of this experimentation you only need to walk around his winery. In a far corner lies one of the new wine flextanks (which is a clever and flexible piece of winemaking kit), in another, boxes of some particularly novel micro oak staves. The whole place smacks of a restless mind, of truly intelligent winemaking.
It’s unconventional thinking in the vineyard too, as Hart believes that climate change is going to make this ‘cool’ climate not so cool in years to come and has responded accordingly, planting vines more suited to somewhere warmer in a proactive attempt to ‘head it off at the pass’. So in went Grenache, Tempranillo and Marsanne, all of which are oddities in this part of the world.
The resultant wines are slightly odd too, not the least of which is the wineries flagship, an angular and musky Grenache, Shiraz Tempranillo blend that is a world away from the rich and fleshy Rhone style GSM’s that are the norm. I wasn’t personally convinced, but it did pick up the Trophy for Best Grenache Blend at the 2010 Winewise Small Vigneron Awards, beating a slew of Barossan wines in the process (so it’s clearly a polarising wine).
Elsewhere in the range though lies more harmony, such as the 2007 Shiraz and 2010 Riesling which are both complex and intellectual, quasi-conventional wines that I rather liked.
Regardless of what I like though, there lies much interest here (and more to come).
The wine highlights
DogRock Riesling 2010
I’ve got a bottle of this to review so this consider this to be a snapshot. Built dry with just a smidgen residual sugar, this underwent partial wild ferment and had extended time on lees, making for a wine that was clean, dry and pure, but also rather layered and soft. It’s crystalline at this stage of proceedings, yet still with much to come in the bottle. A success.