BBC2 Australia

Two new challenges for the unwary wine taster:

  • The Overton blind tasting group has decided to meet a second time in the month and this time on a theme. As the group is known as the BBC (bring a bottle club, of course), the new evening has to be known as BBC2.  And the first theme is Australia – a pretty big theme.   But just to make it more of a challenge the rumour is put around that no Caviste wines are to be brought (on the shaky grounds that we are too familiar with its stock), even though this wine shop is something of an Australian specialist, due to David Thomas’ connections and wine making experience in Barossa.  It is also a challenge to me as I have a total of two Australian bottles in my collection, one from Caviste and one which I have taken to the group before …
  • For me, an attempt to tackle the very difficult lighting conditions for photography in the Red Lion.  Muted, rather yellow light might make for romantic dining or pub bonhomie, but it is about as difficult as it could be for the photographer.  I tried to use a tripod (to avoid setting a very high ASA number which reduces depth of field, for the photo geeks) to give longer exposure times but its not easy to manipulate the camera to exactly the right position for this. In summer, the answer is easy for the first half of the evening, even if it means rearranging bottles and glasses by the window.  The struggle goes on.  Next time, improving the white balance – I bet you can’t wait!  Then, having thought I was properly prepared, the battery went flat in the camera and the recharged spare was in the other bag … trusty IPhone 4 to the rescue. It’s definitely time for some wine. 

There are two advantages to a themed blind tasting. First it focuses on a smaller range of possibilities – if you think you have Chardonnay in front of you, you can forget Burgundy and California and take a stab at an Australian region.  Second, given that there are only so many classic styles in a country, there is the chance of illuminating side-by-side comparisons. So, for example, we ended up tasting the first three wines side-by-side.  Did this help with identification?  Not a lot! 

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What do you mean it’s early late harvested Sauvignon Blanc? 

To return to the first three whites. It transpired that two shared a grape variety – but were so different that no one spotted this, and two more or less shared a vintage which was easier spot, except that they were different grape varieties.  The consensus for the first wine was a Chenin Blanc with some bottle age, while all thought that the second was Riesling, because of slight whiff of petrol.  Oh dear, they were both Hunter Valley Semillon, only five years apart but completely different in aromas and taste.  Take a bow, Meerea Park Semillon 2000 and Mount Pleasant Semillon, Lovedale Single Vineyard, 2005.  The first was a beautifully dense gold, with delicious ageing notes of mature apples, wet wool and pear drops, which in time became positively marmaladey, underpinned with a seam of refreshing acidity.  The second was pale in colour, with a strong lemon character on the palate, that strange petrol note, same high acidity but more noticeable still in the younger wine and quite long.  Wine number three had some oak in tandem with good Chardonnay fruit (apples and pears), an attractive richness, though apparently not as good as other bottles of the same:  Petaluma Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley (Adelaide Hills), 2001. Here they are in nice soft natural light by the window:

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The next bottle was a real disappointment – a potentially fine 25 year old bottle of Penfolds Bin 389, Cabernet-Shiraz, beautifully decanted whose ‘wet cardboard’ aroma shouted ‘corked’.  Being bold we tasted it and found a super palate, soft and rich  with good red fruit – if you ignored the dastardly cork taint. What a shame. 

Three Cabernet-based wines were in better, much better health.  Bethany, Schrapel Family Vineyards, Barossa Valley, 2006, Grant Burge, Cameron Vale, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and, er, Spinifex Esprit 2006, which has no Cabernet 

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it The first, a 70/30  Cabernet/Merlot blend, has excellent blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, some mint, well balanced and refreshing The second is 100% Cab and has great depth of fruit, a rich perfumed nose with some pepper and a velvety palate.  The third had a big bold nose with a real richness on the palate and was very persistent.  We thought it was a Cabernet blend but in fact it is mainly Mataro, Grenache and Shiraz, with a touch of Cinsault.  I blame the spicy Mataro for misleading us!

The final pair of the evening were presented as dessert wines but could hardly have been more different. We tasted them in the wrong order to start with but that did not 

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matter. On the left, finally the Riesling which we all expected somewhere in this tasting and, on the right, a late harvest Muscat.  To deal with the latter first, Grant Burge Lily Farm Late Harvest Muscat 2004 did not give up its identity easily – no characteristic ‘grape’ aromas, rather, lemon and that petrol whiff again, and a searing lemon, even lemon sherbet, acidity. I wondered about sweet Semillon but this was barely sweet at all.  To my taste buds, interesting rather than that enjoyable.  By contrast, the star wine of the evening was Lindemann’s Coonawara Botrytis Riesling 1994 with its layers of interest: butterscotch, caramelised raisins, marmalade, mushrooms, and then lots of acidity and fruit on the palate.  Superb.

And the photographic challenge?  The IPhone 4 is fine for basic shots but note the strong yellow colour cast which is what I am trying to get away from.  It might be worth trying a table-top tripod.  Here’s one photo that half worked (two ages of Semillon), to see the potential. It’s not just the blind tasting which needs more practice.

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