Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Largest Wine Region in Australia is One You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Region: Great Southern

Think of Western Australian wine, and perhaps the region that comes to mind first is Margaret River, a disproportionate source of fine wine (it produces nearly a quarter of the country’s premium wine from about 4% of its total crush), or maybe Swan Valley, the oldest wine region in Western Australia. But there is another region on the up-and-coming, a vast and remote hinterland of vinous possibilities. In recent years those in the wine trade have been whispering about the potential of the Great Southern wine region, located at the southernmost corner of Western Australia. This roughly rectangular region spans 150km north to south and 100km east to west, making it Australia’s largest wine growing region in terms of sheer size. Yet for all its immensity, there are only around 70 producers here (by comparison Margaret River has over double that number).

The Great Southern wine region includes five sub-regions (see map above). The climate, while generally cool, is affected by proximity to the Southern Ocean. Denmark and Albany have a coastal, maritime climate while Porongurup, Mount Barker and Frankland River are more continental. The soil type is mainly either lateritic gravelly and sandy loams, or sandy loams derived from granite bedrock. Being the coolest wine region in Western Australia, Great Southern is a source of fine-boned Riesling and elegant Shiraz. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are also grown here.

A short summary of each sub-region is included below, courtesy of the Great Southern Wine Producers’ Association.

Albany:  Vines established around 1978 with the first planting at Redmond vineyard. Broadly Mediterranean climate with wet cool winters and warm dry summers and a moderating sea breeze. Main grape varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Riesling is developing a reputation.

Denmark: First vines planted along Mt Shadforth Road in 1974. Climate similar to Albany with more steep hills and valleys creating unique microclimates. Principal varieties are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, with sparkling wines gaining popularity.

Frankland River: First contemporary vineyard planted in 1967. An important supplier of grapes for many wineries in Western Australia. Mediterranean climate with cool nights and warm days with long sunlight hours. Premium Shiraz and Riesling produced here, also Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Developing interest in experimental varieties such as Tempranillo and Gewurtztraminer.

Mount Barker: The town of Mount Barker is a popular tourist destination. First experimental grapevine plantings at Forest Hill in 1965. High daily temperature fluctuations and strong continental aspects. High-class Riesing, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir grown here.

Porongurup: Has the highest elevation of the Great Southern subregions, with forests of giant karri trees. Wine grape production began with plantings of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon at Jingalla in 1978. A special climatic feature is a nocturnal thermal zone created by warm air rising above the denser cold air sliding down the hillsides and settling on the valley floor. Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the key grape varieties here.

Several producers from Great Southern were in Singapore in August to present their wines. It was one of the smaller tastings but quality was high and consistent.

Tasting notes:

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling 2015 – Situated 256 metres above sea level, the vineyard is planted with two different Riesling clones on soils of ironstone gravel over a clay sub-soil. Organically farmed. The wine shows a taut minerality with light kerosene notes and delicate fruitiness. Well-balanced and rounded.

La Violetta Yé-Yé Blanc 2015 – From the sub-region of Denmark. Winemaker Andrew Hoadley could rightly be described as maverick, using creative wine labels and unusual blends. Yé Yé is not, as I first assumed, an attempt to appeal to the Asian market using Chinese characters, but rather named after a song by French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. Mostly Riesling, with some Gewürztraminer and Viognier added in. As a result, it is exotically aromatic with floral notes, with a palate that shows the freshness of Riesling with joyful stone fruit flavours.

La Violetta La Ciornia 2013 - Ciornia, meaning ‘dark’ or ‘black’ in Russian, is Andrew Hoadley’s attempt to make a wine that best expresses vineyard character, inspired by his time working in Barbaresco. It’s also the first wine released under his own label. The wine exhibits a jammy nose of blackberry, while the palate shows ripe and sturdy tannins with fleshed out flavours and an extended finish. A delicious drop.

3drops Chardonnay 2014 – Headed by the bubbly and energetic Joanne Bradbury, 3drops was named for the confluence of water, wine and olive oil. The vineyard and olive grove are irrigated from a large wetland on the property located in Mount Barker. This is a brilliantly poised wine with lots of character, showing cashew and nectarine notes interspersed with grilled nuts. Juicy fruit extract with precision and balance.

3drops Pinot Noir 2015 – The newest addition to the 3drops portfolio with fruit coming from the Patterson vineyard. Approximate vine age 30 years. Deeply perfumed with rich mouthfeel and texture, this is a gloriously plush Pinot that is immediately accessible.

3drops Shiraz 2013 – Showcasing cool-climate fruit quality, this wine is softly-textured with smooth tannins and expressive notes of spice and black cherry. 18 months aging in French oak.

Rockcliffe Cabernet Single Site 2014 – Rockcliffe is named after the stretch of 100m high granite rock cliffs that dominate the eastern end of Denmark’s main bay. The same granite lies under the vineyards. Owned by geologist Dr. Steve Hall. This is a remarkable effort showing sweet fruit and a hint of tobacco backed by structured tannins and a warm finish.

Wignalls Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – Family-run estate based in the sub-region of Albany. A strong, confident Sauvignon Blanc leaning towards fruitiness rather than herbal or grassy notes. Full-flavoured with an element of gooseberry on the finish.

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