Heather D had the pleasure of meeting quite a few of them as part of a “speed tasting” event recently. Each producer had just three minutes to talk about their winery and to conduct a tasting of one of their wines for a group of wine writers and bloggers. It wasn't relaxing for anyone involved, but certainly forced us to talk to many more winemakers than we normally would in one day, never mind in 45 minutes.
|Ross Brown of Brown Brothers|
Luckily, there then followed a much more leisurely lunch, courtesy of wine bar/restaurant Vinoteca at foodie hotspot of Smithfield market in the city of London – accompanied of course by more of the First Family's wines. As the saying goes, it's a dirty job...
Far too many of us wine drinkers think that Australia's wines are nothing more than over-oaked and over-here chardonnay and cab-shiraz produced by big brands with no real connection to a particular place. The mission of the First Families is to encourage us all to explore the wealth of wines made by family-owned wineries, who have a real connection to their region, giving their wines a sense of place. In short, they are not simply the wine equivalent of an alcoholic fruit jelly.
That's not to say that these are micro-wineries, lavishing attention on tiny quantities of hard to find wines that they make in their garage and then sell at astronomical prices. Many of the names involved are well known to UK drinkers and represent sizeable concerns whose wines are widely available in this country – the likes of Brown Brothers, Yalumba and d'Arenberg. So get thyselves to a wine merchant and seek out these blue-blooded Australians.
Standout wines from the tasting:
McWilliams Lovedale Semillon 2005, £25 from The Wine Society, Berry Brothers & Rudd
Semillon from the Hunter Valley can rightly be claimed as a unique Australian wine style. In its youth, dry semillon resembles nothing more than (lightly) alcoholic lime juice and you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Give it around five years in bottle, however, and delicious honey, toasty and lanolin aromas and flavours emerge – this one is like tropical marmalade on toast. Sauvignon blanc lovers looking to widen their drinking horizons could do far worse.
Tahbilk Viognier, 2009, £11.99 from slurp.co.uk
The Tahbilk winery, north of Melbourne in relatively cool-climate Victoria, has long been famed for its delicious marsanne. To show they are no one-trick pony, this great value viognier is a wonderfully characterful mouthful, balancing the natural weight of the grape with lovely hay-like freshness. Many viogniers can be too weighty, not to say obese, and offer little refreshment – this one is different. Great for summer lunches in the sun.
d'Arenberg Money Spider Roussanne 2009, £11.99 at Bibendum or www.everywine.co.uk
Chester Osborn, fourth generation of his family to make wines at their McLaren Vale winery, is no shrinking violet, famed for his loud shirts as well as his esoteric (but also cannily memorable) wine names. Their reds are an exuberant expression of McLaren Vale terroir, but I was captivated by this deceptively delicious wine. There is no oak (in fact none of these whites has seen any oak) but instead many layers of flavour, from greengage plum to herbs to wax crayons. Lots going on, but light on its feet.
Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Riesling 2008, £9.67 from slurp.co.uk, Hennings Wine Merchants (branches in Pulborough and Petworth)
Calling all sauvignon blanc drinkers – get your chops round some Australian riesling and you'll wonder why you got so excited about the two-dimensional charms of most Kiwi sauvignons. Riesling shares the lively acidity and fruity-floral combination of sauvignon – but most sauvignon needs to be drunk up within a year of the vintage (not a problem in our house I hear you cry) before it becomes more like cat's pee and tinned peas than gooseberry. Riesling, by contrast, becomes only more interesting as it ages – this is beautifully fresh for a three year old wine, with limey, mineral acidity. Mouthwatering stuff.
Yalumba The Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz 2008, £12.95 at www.slurp.co.uk, www.everywine.co.uk, Berry Brothers & Rudd
Generally I find Yalumba's red wines too much in the mould of the typical Aussie fruit bomb, which have so much ripe, sweet fruit and alcohol that I can't imagine what you could possibly eat with them. Blackcurrant jam on toast, perhaps, though that could make for a hardcore breakfast.
This wine, though, has much more than just fruit going on – there is a medicinal edge, going towards mintiness, and a leathery whiff about it. The tannins are soft and there is a welcome herbal lift. Definitely a three-dimensional wine.
Campbells Bobbie Burns Durif 2006, £10.26 from New London Wine
Campbells are famous for their glorious, sticky, “dates in liquid form” liqueur muscats – but they are best saved for the winter months. If you are toying with the idea of a venison casserole, or looking ahead to the game season, then this durif could be your man. Durif sounds French and it was indeed created by a Dr Durif in Montpellier by crossing syrah (shiraz) with the little-known peloursin grape. It's rare in France, but seems to thrive in the hotter climate of Australia, where it transforms into a kind of über-shiraz. Dark, brooding, herbal and medicinal, reminiscent of port, though not overtly fruity. Its savoury style would make a great match for something seriously meaty.