ITEM: from a recent seminar in the Barossa, sent by a reader, quoting the great Wolf Blass:
“Wolf also revealed the burden of being one of Australia’s biggest wine businessmen. ‘I used to be six foot when I came here 40 years ago, now I’m only four foot two—talk about bloody knockers in Australia. That bloody Philip Vite and those other writers said I couldn’t do it, but I showed them all and I’m bloody proud of it’.”
This arrived while I happened to be browsing the April 1983 issue of Winestate, which I edited. I had invited Wolf to be a judge at a tasting called “Dry White Blands”. It’s worth perusing some of his quotes:
On the blends then called “riesling and hock” (“riesling” was usually semillon, crouchen, or both, in those days, mixed with only Bacchus remembers what; real riesling was generally called “rhine riesling”):
Blass: “I’m amazed at some of the leading wine companies ... so many winemaking faults that show not only in the bottle here today, but will show in their balance sheet next year and into the future. They’re just not competitive and it will be absolutely detrimental.
“It’s in the media’s hands at the moment to slander the wine industry because we are not truthful enough about what we are putting on our labels.
“I don’t think we should use the word ‘riesling’ – I honestly believe it’s a bastardisation of the real variety. For this style ‘hock’ or simply ‘dry white’ are better.”
On the blends then called “traminer riesling” (which often contained neither gewurztraminer nor riesling, but were blends of semillon and fronti):
Blass: “This has become a very popular blend with wine-makers recently, but it isn’t an easy one to market, so only the fittest and best will survive. To say this is a style of the future is wrong.”
In those days, Wolf was determined to prove that chardonnay would never become popular in Australia. He fought the new chardonnay trend with his Classic Dry White, which was usually colombard and crouchen, sometimes with trebbiano, whacked with overt oak, usually American. Wolf contributed to the following tasting notes:
Wolf Blass Classic Dry White 1982: “A top wine by all standards, showing a ton of fruit amongst the strong wood characters imparted by both American and French oak. The wood has given the palate a lot of flavour without overbalancing the fruit, and when left a few more years the bottle, this one should become a true classic.”
Wolf Blass Classic Dry White 1981: “Another very clean dry white from the Blass stable, showing similar wood treatment to the 1982, but perhaps in restrospect lacking the flavour of chardonnay that the 1982 features. Still, a well-balanced and integrated wine in a style that improves with short-term cellaring.”
And finally, to summarise the class then called “white burgundy”, which could quite literally contain anything:
Blass: “I’m sick and tired of the dishonesty of many companies putting chardonnay on their labels – it’s a bastardisation of the grape variety.
“We cannot make top class burgundies without blending, however I think we need to explore new winegrowing areas and new varieties at this time.”
As I continue perusing such ancient writings from the archive, perhaps I shall occasionally publish Herr Blass’s astute observations here as Blasstardisations.
Wolf Blass’ recent derisory volley, fired, I think, at my repeated suggestion that Australia should be experimenting with new varieties and new flavours, pushed me further back into my old tasting notes.
Wolfie summoned me to a tasting of his Classic Dry Whites in September 1982, delighted to point out how these wines were generally defeating the chardonnays at wine shows.
Always averse to chardonnay and the idiotic marketing extant in those days, he said that day of his white blends “I refuse to call it burgundy or chablis because we’d confuse the marketing issue overseas ... the law will prohibit the use of these words anyway”.
In those days, every company had a burgundy or chablis, made from whatever entered their little crushers. Generally, burgundy meant oak; chablis, none. The oaking was terrible. Wolf used mainly American, a little French, and mainly barrels rather than chips.
“What’s being done with chardonnay in this country is parallel only by the stupidity of the red wine manufacturing in the ’sixties”, he said. “I think the chardonnay belongs in the champagne. There’s a few companies who can make good chardonnay. Those should specialise. But at the moment, every company in Australia, in every region and every state, is trying to bring a chardonnay out. There’s no room on the shelf. The public is so confused that in a couple of years chardonnay is just a joke.
“If chardonnay of sufficient quantity and quality becomes available, we may replace the tokay [which was actually muscadelle] in the Classic Dry White with it” he concluded.
Also present at this tasting were Brian McGuigan, Brian Barry, Peter Fergusson, Ian Mackay, Paul Lloyd and George Truby, whose scores I have averaged with my own.
The wines were as follows:
Wolf Blass Dry White 1974 - 60% sauvignon blanc; 40% riesling
Wolf Blass Dry White 1975 - 100% trebbiano
Wolf Blass Dry White 1977 - 40% muscadelle; 30% riesling; 30% crouchen
Wolf Blass Dry White 1978 - 50% crouchen; 25% muscadelle; 25% sylvaner
Wolf Blass Dry White 1979 - 50% crouchen; 40% colombard; 10% muscadelle
Wolf Blass Classic Dry White 1980 - 40% colombard; 40% crouchen; 20% muscadelle
Wolf Blass Classic Dry White 1981 - 40% colombard; 40% crouchen; 20% muscadelle
Wolf Blass Classic Dry White 1982 - 40% colombard; 40% crouchen; 20% muscadelle