Umbra Method Ancestral 2014
Here’s a peek into the world of Australian sparkling wine beyond methodé traditionelle.
Made by Mark Matthews at Caledonia Australis in Gippsland, this 100% sparkling Chardonnay based fizz is nothing if not interesting. I tried a bottle about a year ago, but a pleasure to check in here again.
First started as a trial in 2012, then finalised in 2014, this pet nat/method ancestral fizz comes off a late ripening patch of the vineyard that sees a creeping shadow from two sides around summer solstice time. The point where the shadows intersect is ‘super dark’ according to mark, hence the name Umbra.
Fermented cold, it’s given a very cold settling to ‘bring about maximum tartrate precipitation prior to bottling so it won’t gush on opening’.
As Mark explains, it’s a tricky wine to get right:
‘I think for this style of sparkling to be crisp and refreshing it needs high pressure and a deeply set bead so the combination of high pressure and low solids definitely presented risks’.
To combat this required something simple – manual labour:
‘We shook each bottle by hand many times over the next 20 months to maximise yeast autolysis input and break up and chunks and crystals in the bottle. I opened a few bottles when the wine was 18 months on lees and they gushed intensely so I decided to riddle down the lees and disgorged at 20 months’.
It even comes with a label made from ‘post consumer waste recycled paper’ with Mark and team planting 10,500 trees ‘as a future off-set for our endeavours’.
There’s that seriously exuberant bead that marks so much method ancestral styles, but within reason. The nose is unmistakeably Chardonnay too, with leesy autolysis characters and grapefruit on the next tier down. There’s real complexity here though, with a faint oxidative edge that just adds more layers, complete with a little bees wax, If anything it’s more like ripe grower fizz, but definitely not Champagne. Instead, this is vinous sparkling, driven by richness and balanced out by enough fresh acidity. A good drink.
Best drinking: Now. 17.5/20, 91/100. 12.2%, $50. Would I buy it? A few glasses.