John Hoskins MW believes that the world’s wine styles are converging. In the context of the extremely demanding Master of Wine tasting exam, this means that it is yet more difficult to tell your Burgundian Chardonnay from a wine from Tasmania or the coastal strip of Victoria. Climate change and better viticultural practice in Burgundy means that riper fruit is being picked. At the same time, in Australia, there has been a rowing back from the full-on, super-ripe fruit from a moderately hot climate and a reduction in the amount of new oak being used to mature wines. The aim is precisely to produce a leaner, more elegant, European style, yet with underlying fruit ripeness. The difference is that even in ‘cool’ Australia there is every chance to ripen grapes. To take the Yarra Valley as an example, it is a massive 3º C warmer on average through the growing season than the Côte d’Or. But then top-level winemakers are doing their best to hide that difference in the climate.
The phenomenon of ‘cool’ Australia is perfectly exemplified by Mac Forbes, one of the rising stars of Australian winemaking. Forbes came to fame as the winemaker at Mount Mary in the Yarra but then spent some time in Europe before setting up his own winery in 2004. The most obvious feature of his wines is the relatively low level of alcohol. His Chardonnay and Riesling are just 12%, his Pinots reined in to 12.5-13%. His Bordeaux blend is 12.5%. This is a small winery which works in traditional ways with no recourse to high tech to remove the alcohol. As a result, the only option is to pick early which he prefers anyway on aesthetic grounds. He is happy with a touch of greenness in his wines and for them to major on mineral and savoury themes, not just ripe fruit.
The result is restrained versions of new world wines. Yes, there is ripeness there but little by way of immediately seductive fruit. Woori Yallock Chardonnay 2009 leads with a struck-match, mineral note and green fruit on the nose and then opens out on the palate which is richer and rounder. There is a little, grippy, phenolic touch in the mouth, due to short maceration of the juice on the grape skins and later time spent in oak barrels. It is an austere, even intellectual wine. Similarly, Gruyere (the vineyard name, not the cheese) Pinot Noir 2012 shows cool red fruit and mineral themes but has real concentration and length. It really needs to be kept for 5-10 years to see how it will develop.
If you did lay these wines down, you could then compare them with fully mature Burgundy … and see how the stylistic differences have developed in the bottle.
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