What a sensational game of footy for the AFL grand final?! Pretty happy to see a tussle fitting of the occasion, while joining the rest of Australia in having several drinks too many and getting off to a slow start this morning…
But I’m not here to relay my hangover, and thought I’d talk about the much maligned 2011 Australian vintage and why writing it off is at best foolish and at worst will out you as ignorant, not a connoisseur.
In order to set-the-scene, let’s start in Europe (just run with me for a minute here). The ‘old world’ (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc) have been doing this wine thing for a whole lot longer than we have and cellars in places like champagne have been around for longer than our country has been settled. Quite incredible when you think about it…
Over the last couple of thousand years they’ve taken care to work out which grapes grow best in which region – and hence the rigid classification system found in many of the best known regions. This also leaves them open to the complete failure of a vintage; if they have a horrible growing season in a region that only grows one type of grape it has a huge impact on the ability of that region to produce any decent wine at all. An example of this was the disastrous 2002 growing season in Piedmont, Italy. A poor summer and a spare-no-one, sent-from-the-venegeful-gods hailstorm ripped through the region and wiped out pretty much the entire vintage to the point where most producers couldn’t release any of their top wines. And even in this case there would surely have been some producers who were able to make something decent. The take home here is that homogeneity means you could feasibly have a total ‘write off’.
Australia is not homogenous, far from it. We haven’t spent hundreds of years finding out which grapes grow the best in which regions – all we have is a general idea at best. For example, whilst the Barossa is now known for its shiraz, we may well discover over time that other varieties are even better suited to its hot, dry climate. The Mornington Peninsula may be well known for Pinot and Chardonnay, but producers are starting to find that it can produce some exceptional Shiraz (and potentially Viognier); who knows whether this will be the future for the region but experimentation drives variety and knowledge.
2011 was exceptionally cool and wet; this cannot be denied. Climatically, this means that many of the grape varieties typically associated with our regions will not have performed at their best – creating opportunity for the focus to shift to varieties that are typically less well known in these regions. The weather brought disease to the vineyards and yields were down, but this too can be managed and is no reason to declare ‘anything from 2011 to be undrinkable’ as I heard some tosser declare at a recent tasting. He’d obviously made his decision before actually drinking the wines because from where I was sitting there were some very interesting things indeed! Keep an open mind, be willing to try new things, and most importantly, get some good wine service (cough) to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. 2011 wasn’t as great as the vintages either side of it, but there is plenty to love if you’re willing to keep your eyes open.
Here are a couple of recent examples that I’ve been particularly impressed with (prices are approximate):
2011 KT Tinta Tempranillo ($25ish) – In a word, delicious. Packed full of savoury fruits and dark spices. A little bit chewy and absolutely lights up with some spanish food. Very impressive.
2011 A Rodda Chardonnay ($40ish) – Made in the Yarra Valley (it’s usually from Beechworth), where chardonnay is looking great from 2011. The cool weather has ramped up the acidity and gives this wine a lovely drive and minerality while still retaining some peach/stone fruit and balance.
2011 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris ($30ish) – From the Mornington peninsula, this wine is not as generous as the 2010 was but it makes up for it with a slightly nervy acidity to complement the gris textures. A gris with real character as opposed to many which show very little.