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Alto Adige 2016 – red varieties

A small group of five MWs and two MW students recently travelled to Alto Adige to experience the region’s wines over three days in September. The focus of the trip was on the red wine grape varieties of the region with an emphasis on Lagrein, Schiava and, very interestingly, Moscato Rosa of which young and mature examples were sampled. In addition, the region’s expressions of international red varieties such as Pinot Noir and Bordeaux varieties were also examined. Inevitably the region’s white wines were also sampled with some strikingly good expressions of Pinot Bianco presented throughout the trip.

The visits to the wineries were against the beautiful backdrop of the Adige valley, the Dolomites, apple orchards in the plain and vines on the slopes. Although we had moments of clear blue sunny sky, most of the trip was marked by overcast and slightly rainy weather for which the producers were grateful, given the very dry summer they had just experienced. It was encouraging to see the magic that roaming MWs (and those to be!) can wield!

A visit to the Castelfelder Wine Estatekicked off the first full morning with a visit to their Pinot Noir vineyards and a glass of 2015 Doss Chardonnay from the estate on a bridge on the Montagna overlooking the valley and the vineyards.

The trip progressed through a variety of producers some of whom showed us their specific interests in local varieties. Waldgries Winery showed Schiava in the form of Santa Maddelena (where it is typically blended with a small proportion of Lagrein) whilst the variety’s unblended form at Lago di Caldaro was shown by Cantina Kaltern which also manages an experimental vineyard of 50 different clones of Schiava. Cantina Muri Gries with its monastery cellar showed us the quality and ageing potential of Lagrein.

Castel Salleg at Caldaro presented Moscato Rosa. An Alto Adige interpretation of Bordeaux varietals was seen at Cantina Kurtatsch in Cortaccia. Quite apart from the visits to these producers, many other very generous and hospitable producers very kindly showed their wines at the meals that they hosted for the group. Dining was excellent with the final dinner culminating at the idyllic alpine restaurant Gostner Schweige 1,900 metres above sea-level where the chef makes his own butter and cheese. Dishes were liberally scattered with mouthwatering fresh alpine herbs and flowers. Well fed and well marinaded, the happy band of visitors dispersed in the morning of 18 September doubtless with many fond memories.

The Consorzio Vini Alto Adige did a superb job of organising the trip and herding us through the itinerary punctually. Many thanks are due to them, the wineries we visited and the following wineries who also showed their wines at the meals: Kettmeir, Cantina St. Michael Eppan, Elena Walch, Rottensteiner Winery, Cantina Schreckbichl, Cantina Megan Burggrafler, Glogglhof, Egger Ramer and Cantina St. Pauls.

Ying Tan MW

The Golden Age of Australian Chardonnay?

This year’s pre-Annual General Meeting tasting focused on only one grape variety from just one country. But when the variety is Chardonnay and the country is Australia there was no chance of it becoming a one-trick tasting. Instead, the wines were chosen to showcase the diversity of styles and regional differences in this vast country. With the tasting booklet asking two incisive questions, the task was on for the attendees to see for themselves: Has the search for restraint led to market-unfriendly austerity? Or, has the reaction against the bold, rich styles of the 1990s led to generally greater complexity, terroir expression and age-ability?

Alongside Shiraz, Chardonnay was one of the grapes that put Australia on the global wine map back in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time the style was all about ripe, tropical fruit flavours combined with sweet oak and a buttery texture. Consumers worldwide embraced this new style and Aussie Chardonnay production sky rocketed from less than 40,000 tonnes in 1990 to 340,000 tonnes in 2015.

But of course trends change with time, and a decade or so ago consumers started to move away from the rich, buttery styles of Chardonnay – looking instead for more restrained, crisp styles of white wine. And so the pendulum began to swing. The focus shifted to cooler climate regions such as Yarra, Mornington and Tasmania and to earlier picking, older and larger format oak, no MLF and increased use of indigenous yeast fermentation. For some winemakers this was what they had been doing quietly all along, for others it was breaking new ground.

It is fair to say that in some cases the pendulum swung too far and the wines became too skinny and acidic, lacking a core of fruit. But that was perhaps an understandable result as winemakers spent time experimenting and perfecting their styles. Which brings us back to the pre-AGM tasting and the chance for the attending MWs and MW students to taste and compare a selection of today’s Australian Chardonnays.

The wines in the tasting were arranged regionally, allowing attendees to pick out the stylistic differences from each of the 15 regions featured. These crossed the breadth of Australia from Margaret River in Western Australia to Hunter Valley in New South Wales and featured cool-climate regions such as Tasmania alongside warmer, inland Riverland. Established names such as Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Shaw & Smith M3 shared the spotlight with lesser-known newcomers like Ochota Barrels The Slint and Ministry of Clouds: a true cross-section of contemporary Australian Chardonnay.

For me, and others I talked to, the tasting more than demonstrated Australia’s credentials as a producer of world-class Chardonnay. Where once there would have been lashings of tropical fruit, now there isn’t a pineapple in sight. Instead lemon, peach and apple form the ripe fruit core of the wines, surrounded by layers of mealy oak – occasionally smoky, but never buttery – all wrapped up with bright, zesty (and, importantly, natural) acidity. Indigenous yeast and high solids ferments certainly lent a funky, textural edge to many wines and the reductive, struck match note on some wines added a controversial element, splitting opinion in the room. But this just served to underscore how far Australia has come from the ‘sunshine in a glass’ one-size-fits-all type of Chardonnay. Instead there were wines to suit all palates and all occasions.

So, have we entered the golden age of Australian Chardonnay? Certainly this tasting showed the pendulum has settled and found its sweet spot between ripe fruit and bright acidity. But with winemakers continuing to search out the best vineyard sites in their respective regions, with vine age getting gradually older and with continued experimentation in the winery who knows what else Australia has got to come in the future. We will just have to wait, watch and taste.

Emma Symington MW