Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Shaw + Smith = Delicious Wine!

Michael Hill Smith wears many hats in the wine industry, among them as an international wine judge, wine writer and wine consultant. But perhaps his proudest achievement is the Shaw + Smith winery, jointly set up in 1989 with his cousin Martin Shaw. His annual luncheons in Singapore to celebrate the winery’s latest release are packed affairs attended by the cognoscenti of the wine trade. This year's luncheon, held at the Jade Palace Restaurant, featured four Shaw + Smith wines paired with a selection of dim sum.

Shaw + Smith is located in Adelaide Hills, a cool-climate region located thirty minutes away from Adelaide by car. I first visited the winery in January 2009 and was impressed by the quality and fruit character of the wines. Tasting the wines again reinforced my perception, despite the fact that 2011 was a challenging vintage. In particular, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was memorable for its pure varietal character and zingy acidity. Imagine a bowl of tangy passion fruit with fresh lime squeezed all over and you'll get an idea of how it tastes like.

During the past twenty years that Michael has been visiting Singapore, he’s noticed that there has been an “explosion in the interest, understanding and appreciation of wine in Singapore.” He commented that “In Australia, we are struggling somewhat because the younger generation is all drinking spirits, because they drink what their parents didn’t. Whereas in Singapore, you have the opposite; the parents are drinking spirits and beer, and the younger generation is embracing wine in a really exciting way.”

The increasing competition in the wine trade in Singapore means that producers have to find ways of differentiating themselves from the rest of the crowd, or risk disappearing amidst the multitude of labels on retail shelves. In particular, the big Australian wine companies are struggling to differentiate between the brands that they have. "In the old days," says Michael, "they used to pick a winemaker, and the focus of the brand was the winemaker. So if you tasted Seppelts, it was always Ian Mckenzie, if it was Penfolds it was John Duval.. so there was always a very likeable, very skilled winemaker who you liked and therefore you reacted well to whereas now, it's just a sea of wine."

Having a winemaker such as Michael, who is also Australia's first Master of Wine, at the helm certainly helps Shaw + Smith. In many ways, Michael is the public face of Shaw + Smith, and people come to the tastings not only for the quality of the wines, but also to hear Michael's opinion on all thing vinous. It really illustrates the two factors that come into play when choosing wine; the reputation and skill of the winemaker, versus the sometimes abstract notion of terroir. A discussion for another day perhaps.

Tasting notes:
Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2011 - A pale, silvery lemon robe with notes of lime and passion fruit on the nose. A fresh and lively palate with mineral notes and intense fruitiness. Long and juicy finish. 2011 was an unusually wet and cool vintage, with above average rain in February and March. Winemakers had to contend with botrytis and downy mildew. Shaw + Smith was able to maintain quality by hand picking grapes which were not affected by disease.

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills M3 Chardonnay 2009 - The wine takes its name from the M3 vineyard which represents the owners Martin Shaw, Michael and Matthew Hill Smith. Pale straw colour. Lovely aromas of cashew, butter and citrus fruit. Medium bodied, silky texture with a lasting finish. The Adelaide Hills style of Chardonnay is a departure from the oaky, heavy flavours that dominate Australian Chardonnay. Clonal selection, whole bunch pressing and hand harvesting is done to produce wines of complexity and restraint.   

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2009 - Deep ruby with aromas of dark chocolate and black fruit. A punchy palate with notes of blackcurrant, dark chocolate, graphite and a dash of white pepper. There will be no Shaw + Smith Shiraz for the 2011 vintage as the fruit was not judged to be up to quality standards.

Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2009 - Pinot Noir is often known as the heartbreak varietal because of its fussy growing requirements. This wine had varietal characters of raspberry and red cherry. Ripe, but with sufficient acidity to prevent it from being soupy. Shaw + Smith recently purchased the Tolpuddle vineyard in Tasmania, and will start bottling single vineyard Pinot Noirs from there in 2013.

Many thanks to Christine Wee of Monopole Pte Ltd for extending an invitation to this event.

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