“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”


DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)


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30 January 2010

BAROSSA FINALLY GETS ROCKS IN ITS HEAD

LOUISA ROSE, CHIEF WINEMAKER AT YALUMBA, HOST OF THE 2010 BAROSSA TERROIRS TASTING: A RE-ASSURING CONFIRMATION OF LAST YEAR'S INAUGURAL SHIRAZ TASTING BASED ON GEOLOGICAL TERRANES

Getting Below One's Roots Rockstars 2nd Year Hit Yalumba Tasting Bites Paydirt

by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly ... an expanded, more inclusive and detailed version will appear in place of this piece soon.

Barossa staged a tasting last week that history will regard more profound than most attendees will realise.

This year, hosted by Yalumba - who loaned their beautiful tasting chamber and numerous inestimable members of their staff - sixty wines were served blind in eight groups, according to their geology. A similar event was held at Seppeltsfield a year ago, but to garner support from the region’s constituents, that nervy exploratory fixture was held mainly for famous wine critics from around the world, some of whom got the point.

It's a tragic reflection on Australia's dumb forelock-tugging mentality that it seems no wine region can get a project up unless there are humans from foreign shores to endorse it before it starts. This happens too, in McLaren Vale, where local press, who understand the detail of the deal, are forced to take back seat to, or be replaced by, overseas hacks, or peanuts from dumb glossies, because such humans impress the paying members sufficiently for them to agree to proceed, regardless of whether anybody understands it or not.

The winemakers who observed last year’s Barossa event, but didn’t participate, have had twelve months to ponder. We then tasted shiraz wines from 2008, from older, neutral barrels. This year it was 2009s, to establish the foundations of a database which will, after further decades of tasting, suggest descriptors unique to each vague sub-region. Twelve tasters, including twitchy industrialists, ticked four pages of boxes for each wine, covering its spectrum of flavours, aromas, styles and strengths. This will be compiled statistically by the astonishing Louisa Rose and her crew at Yalumba, isolating words that re-occur frequently for future use in describing each zone’s characteristics.

In spite of vintage variation, my responses almost identically matched last year’s.

TOPOGRAPHICAL MAP OF THE BAROSSA, WITH THE ALTITUDE GREATLY EXAGGERATED TO MAKE THE HILLS APPEAR SUDDENLY TO RESEMBLE THE SWISS ALPS ... AN ACCURATE GEOLOGY MAP IS BEING PREPARED BY THE TEAM WHO HAVE FINISHED THE SAME TASK IN McLAREN VALE, AND AWAIT PUBLICATION. CLICK ON IMAGE TO MAKE HILLS EVEN BIGGER.

The first set came from the higher vineyards between Williamstown and Lyndoch, and a few from the older country over the Para around Gomersal. These are largely in alluvial sands laid down in the last million years or so, overlying the micaceous schists, siltstones, calcilicates and quartzites of the Upper Burra group, all older than 540 million years. These were perfumed and fragrant delicacies with hints of fennel, aniseed and wintergreen over their elegant cherries and dark berries. They were generally of moderate alcohol and acidity; concentrated, yet modest and pretty, reminding me of the floral cuties from the schist of northern Beaujolais.

Next, the western piedmont of the Barossa range, from Rowland Flat north through Bethany and Vine Vale, along the Stockwell fault to Saltram. Most of this is sediment of sand, gravel and clay, younger than 1.8 million years. These, too, were perfumed, elegant wines, musky, juicy and delicate over their cherries and blackcurrants. Fleshy rather than mineral, with meaty charcuterie hints.

The bracket from north of there, in similar geology, from Nuriootpa past The Willows and Light Pass, was quite different, with a touch more acidity and alcohol, and classic Barossa chocolate adding to their rich fruitcake and leather. In these ethereal, juicy, wines, dried apple, an aroma typical to the more westerly vineyards, began to emerge. Some showed the minty influence of eucalypts.

Across the range, the wines of the High Barossa - from McLean’s Farm atop Mengler’s Hill, south past Mountadam to Eden Springs and east to Craneford - rocked. This geology - metasiltstones, metasandstones, slates, gneisses and granites - is 490 to 545 million years old, when sluggy critters, arthropods and trilobites were evolving. With stony mineral basenotes perfectly reflecting their source, these were stacked with marello cherries, blackberry jam and prunes, in ethereal, juicy, bouquets; below lay charcuterie meats and earth. The alcohols seemed modest, as did the acidity, but the latter looked natural, which always beats shovelled tartaric!

The wines from north of Eden Valley town, out past the Henschkes, were more boisterous, minerally and stony, with blackcurrants, blackberries, dark cherries, prunes and sinblack jams abundant. Milk chocolate appeared here, and more charcuterie; even metwurst. The tannins were earthy, yet sinewy.

Back to the Moppa: the flats north of Nuriootpa, where the great old vines of Ebenezer and Kalimna somehow live in dry alluvial sands deposited 1.8 to 50 million years ago, with bits of more recent wind-blown sand on top. These were what I’d call classic, mighty, fruitcake Barossa: black and thick with prunes, cherries, mulberries and cassis, with dark chocolate, and meaty, leathery tones glowering below, and higher alcohols to match. The tannins were soft, yet earthy and mineral.

South then, and west to Greenock, Seppeltsfield and Marananga, and the Valley’s strongest, most complex wines: packed with jams and fruitcake, prunes and figs, dried apple and pear, leather, cooking chocolate, and walnuts. The rocks north of the Marananga Church to the by-pass highway are schists, siltstones and quartzites from the Upper Burra Group, from away back in the Neoproterozoic (545-1200 million years), when multi-cellular life was beginning. Climate and altitude aside, this is where I dream that the older, more complex rocks give flavours to match.

THE NEOPROTEROZOIC ROCKS IN THE HILL AT GREENOCK CREEK VINEYARDS AND CELLARS' ROENNFELDT ROAD VINEYARD ARE MUCH OLDER THAN MOST OF THE BAROSSA FLOOR GROUPS - LEO DAVIS PHOTOGRAPH

And so to Stonewell: the ironstone south from Marananga to Tanunda. Some of these wines smell like a blacksmith’s shop, with hot coke burning below horseshoes glowing on anvils. You’ll find aniseed, walnut, fig and leathery aromas here, with much of the Greenock character, contrasting in a more elegant, creamy structure, somewhat akin to chocolate crême caramel, towards the softer custardy textures of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

While the winemakers who entered wines in this event were brave, showing unfinished produce to so many fusspots, I bow to them, very, very deeply. They will be remembered. Too many others failed to attend the next day’s event, when everything was on display. They’ll slip off the map.

7 comments:

Alontin said...

I attended this tasting the following day. I agree, it was very significant. The sub-regional differences were remarkable, even though there was still some distortion through vine age and oak treatment. I predict we will see many more Eden Valley Shirazes and sub-regional wines in general. I am currently researching the sub-regionality in the Barossa. I would be greatful if you could point me to any more articles on the subject. Thomas

Philip White said...

Thomas: for starters, go to PIRSA and get yourself a copy of The Geology Of The Barossa Valley, a Minerals and Energy Resources publication by W. A. Fairburn.

Bill Fairburn and Wolfgang Preiss have since done more work to tighten the geological mapping; once the McLaren Vale map is published - happening soon - we will replace this Barossa brochure with a full-bore geological map.

Nick said...

I look forward to McLaren Vale doing it's 'terrior' thing soon!!

Dennis said...

Sounds like a cracker of a tasting Mr White, sir. Did the Willows Shiraz make an appearance ... how did it measure up. I love their riesling. As I do one I found the other day at Vintage Cellars from the Hills, Dandelion I think it was. Pleasant Valley Saturday to you all.

Philip White said...

Dennis, because the wines were unfinished barrel samples we promised each other from the start that we wouldn't be judging the wines on their quality, as that would have been unfair to the winemakers who were brave enough to show their half-made babies. Instead we set out merely to search each class for similarities, in an ongoing attempt to nail such characteristics to add gradually to the database for each terrain. So while I have a list of the entries, I have promised not reveal it, or to make particular comment on individual wines.

Zar said...

Dennis, I reckon the wien you are refering to is the Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barosssa Shiraz which is made from Carl Lindner's Gods Hill Vineyard near Lyndoch (at the cooler wetter end of the Valley floor) by my wife.

Alontin said...

I want to respect Philip's position, but it is safe to say there were no such samples in the line-up.