• The Rise of Riesling

    While Riesling is never going to threaten Chardonnay’s white wine dominance, there are signs that this varietal is reaching a new and younger audience. Millennials are on the lookout for full-bodied dry alternatives to Chardonnay. And they are just becoming aware of how good Riesling can be.

    The simple, sweet, mediocre days of the 80’s are long gone. All that remain are the foggy recollections of our parents who’s introduction to Riesling was mostly drinking “Australian Rhine” out of the bag in the box or the German liebfraumilch in the form of Blue Nun. The lasting perception was unfortunate.

    Today, however, is a completely different story. Riesling is well and truly on the rise. And Mudgee is perfectly situated to take advantage of its’ increasing popularity. The region has many similarities to the Clare Valley, famous for producing exceptional Riesling styles. Clare Valley is 33o89’S and Mudgee is 32o35’S. Both falling within the distinct ‘temperate’ latitudes of 30o and 50o from the equator. Clare Valley’s altitude varies from 190m to 609m as Mudgee’s does from 450m to 1100m. Both have a continental climate and large daily temperature change where temperatures at night can plummet. This combination of elevation, cool afternoon breezes and cold nights produces Rieslings with well integrated acids and ripe flavours.

    Mudgee has a great ability to produce Riesling styles ranging from dry to off-dry to sweet botrytised wines. Winemakers are totally at the mercy of the season when making decisions on what will be the best outcome.  But whatever the option, the quality of the result will be determined by the fine sugar and acid balance in the finished wine.

    As Riesling lovers, not only do we enjoy drinking young examples of the variety where the fresh lemon and lime rind and florals abound but also when age has taken effect and we see the development of a golden colour; with lanolin, kerosene and honey aromas.  Palate structures become more unctuous with age and the best wines retain fresh acid on the finish. You will rarely see an Australian Riesling bottled under cork as screw caps ensure longevity in the cellar for 30 years.

    Currently, we have both off-dry and dry base Riesling juices fermenting in the winery.  Vintage 2021 has delivered Riesling fruit with vibrant natural acid and perfumed lemon, apple and white peach aromas.  Due to the mild Summer, flavours have developed at lower sugar levels than normal and we are looking forward to lower alcohol European styled wines this year.

    Continuing the renaissance of Riesling in Mudgee is an exciting prospect. Be part of the journey with us to progress the variety. Wines that will be remembered for the right reasons, and not the fashion faux pas of the past.

  • In Retrospect – Mudgee Chardonnay

    Chardonnay has been growing in Mudgee since 1930 – but amazingly, nobody knew it for about 40 years! The story begins at Craigmoor Wines, wherein 1930, cuttings of several unidentified white grapevines were planted. At the time, local wine drinkers were a lot less sophisticated, and these vines were used to produce what was sold simply as a dry white wine. In around 1960, one of their employees named Alf Kurtz decided to start his own winery, and asked if he could have cuttings from one type of the mystery white vines he had taken a fancy to, believing they produced a particularly high quality wine. He planted about a quarter of an acre of these vines and started producing a single varietal wine from it. Not knowing what it truly was, he called it White Pineau.

    A few years later, Alf found some men in his vineyard. Turns out they were scientists from CSIRO, and a visiting French professor who was a specialist in identifying different types of grapevines. They had been intrigued by some of his vines and decided to have a closer look. Alf invited them back to his winery for a tasting before they continued on their way. Only later did he find out that they had determined that his vines were actually Chardonnay – and a rare disease-free example at that! Both Alf and Craigmoor released wines correctly labelled as Chardonnay for the first time in the early 1970s, and cuttings from these Mudgee vines were used for many plantings of Chardonnay across Australia in the 1970s.

  • Know Your Sparkles

    By Winemaker – Rob Black

    Pleasure without Champagne is purely artificial – Oscar Wilde

    All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Champagne can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in Northern France.

    So, here a typical Australian Sparkling wine is a blend of three grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. A “blanc de blanc” is made exclusively from Chardonnay. A “blanc de noir” is made exclusively from pinot noir.

    Most Aussie sparkling wines are made using the traditional sparkling method or “methode champanoise”.  This method involves creating the bubbles in the bottle as it undergoes a secondary fermentation. It is a complex process but it provides the best results in balance and complexity. Prosecco and some other sparkling wines get their bubbles by having the secondary fermentation occur in a giant tank of wine (called the Charmat method), then the sparkling wine gets put into a bottle.  The cheapest sparkling wines have carbon dioxide pumped into the giant tank (like a soft drink), then get transferred into a bottle.

    Most sparkling wine (including Champagne) is non-vintage.  In other words, the makers take base wine from several different years and blend it together to make bubbly.  This allows the producer to keep a consistent flavour profile from year to year.  If you see a vintage sparkling wine, it means the makers thought that year was a spectacular year and will represent their winery’s highest quality.  This comes with a change in price though.

    To achieve higher levels of quality using the traditional method, once the secondary fermentation is complete the wine is left on the lees from the fermentation for long periods of time. The length of time varies from several months up to 10 years or more.  The lees are the yeast deposit and are used to develop bready or doughy “yeast autolysis” characters.  Usually longer periods are necessary for the best results. Achieving complexity, balance and length together is the trifecta.

    This month’s offer is a very attractive sparkling wine deal. Included are the Bunnamagoo 2015 Blanc de Blancs and Bunnamagoo 2014 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay. Both are vintage wines and can boast extended lees maturation of 40 months for the Blanc de Blancs and 54 months for the Pinot/Chardonnay.  The minimum time for vintage French cuvees on lees is 36 months so these wines are in grand territory.

    The Blanc de Blancs retains crunchy apple and pear notes and the lees contact has developed a creamy mouthfeel to the palate.  The 2014 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay is pinot dominant and after aging on lees has a lovely bright gold colour with pale straw hue.  Secondary aromatic characters of lemon curd, butter, honey, and biscuit lift out of the glass and the palate carries gentle acidity for a refreshing persistent finish.  At this age both wines are ideal with mild and soft cheese, shellfish, and rich fish (salmon or tuna).

    Drinking sparkling wine is one of life’s simple pleasures. Enjoy them as young or old wines.  Expect interesting characteristics in both and appreciate the detail. Most importantly, just enjoy it.

    In these times especially, popping Champagne is a good campaign!

  • Heads for Gris, Tails for Grigio

    Pinot Gris (or Grigio) is the variety to come from almost total obscurity 40 years ago to now the fourth most widely planted white variety in Australia. It has actually been here for much longer.  Arriving in 1832 as Pineau Gris from the Cote-d’Or by the father of Australian viticulture, James Busby. Pioneered both in the vineyard and winery in the early 80’s at T’Gallant, it has been on the rise ever since. Sometimes copping some flak along the way because of vines that were over-cropped and picked too early hence making wines that were hard, acidic and flavourless. The other issue at the time for new Aussie winemakers adopting the variety was that it was hard to explain the differing styles to wary consumers, whilst at the same time trying to master an understanding themselves.

    Fast forward to 2020. Much work has been done to better understand the variety and the styles produced from it. As an industry we now agree on sensory attributes that constitute Gris and Grigio styles. Gris wines have a higher viscosity, oiliness, hotness and sweetness. They also exhibit leesy/solids/yeasty characters, spice, higher fruit intensity, deeper colour and some bitterness. Grigio-like characters are higher acidity, fresh citrus, tropical fruit, estery notes and pear. Gris is at the ‘luscious’ end and Grigio is at the ‘crisp’ end of the Pinot G spectrum.  Most Australian Pinot G wines produced are somewhere in the middle and rarely at the extreme of either end of the stylistic range ie. they have some degree of both crisp and luscious attributes.

    As winemakers, we can manipulate finished alcohol by picking earlier or later. We can ferment on skins or off skins, with varying levels of solids to affect mouthfeel, colour and flavour. Ferments can be stopped early to retain residual sugar for balance. And we can utilize natural or selected yeasts to form varying levels of ‘oiliness’ and different fruit characteristics and intensities.  So, now we can confidently drive the style along the spectrum towards the ‘crisp’ Grigio direction or the ‘luscious’ Gris alternative.

    My personal preference is to make a Gris style because of its’ textural richness and complexity; ability to take barrel fermentation well; and structure a palate with both sweetness and phenolic bitterness. The 2019 Bunnamagoo Pinot Gris sources fruit from Mudgee. It shows pear and quince fruit offset with textural warmth from barrel fermentation with gentle acidity and chew from the fine phenolic line. It is my best result using the variety since my first foray in 2004. The vintage conditions had much to do with that.  The fruit was perfect.

    2020 was a struggle. Heatwaves and drought were by now par for the course for grape growers. However, fires over summer and the pall of smoke that followed made the challenge insurmountable. We decided to source wine from out of the area to maintain the product along similar lines. The aromas and flavours of golden delicious apple and poached pear flow gently along an off dry palate with subtle spiced oak infusion. It happily satisfies and encourages us to keep the faith for our own fruit again in 2021.

    So I hope that you have a better understanding of Pinot G styles and what drives them.  As a consumer, you should be able to discover the style of wine in the bottle with the spectrum in mind, rather than trying to draw a conclusion from the choice of name on the bottle. Hopefully the name on the label becomes a lot less relevant and you don’t have to toss a coin to decide – Gris or Grigio??

  • Origins Of The Mudgee Wine Industry

    Mudgee’s wineries offers wine enthusiasts a wide range of different wine styles and tasting experiences to enjoy – but did you know that Mudgee’s wine industry is over 160 years old?

    While early European settlers in the Mudgee region planted grapes and made their own wine for personal consumption, the industry began in 1858 with the arrival of Adam Roth, who planted a number of different varieties including Muscat Hamburg, Shiraz, Frontignac, White Sherry and Verdelho.  His vineyard, which he named Rothview, was located in Eurunderee, adjacent to the Bunnamagoo vineyards.  Very shortly thereafter, Frederick Buchholtz Snr. planted his vineyard, which he called Fredericksburgh, in Eurunderee on the banks of Pipeclay Creek.  He and his son, Frederick Jnr., went on to produce fairly sizeable volumes for the time, 500 to 2400 gallons per year and won several prizes in Australian and international competitions.

    The fledgling industry was helped along tremendously by numerous gold strikes in the areas around Mudgee. Thousands of thirsty miners flocked to the area, traveling from one strike to another as new discoveries were made and they created a ready market for local wines.

    By 1881 there were a total of 13 wineries in the Mudgee area.  The end of the gold rushes, coupled with a period of severe drought in the 1880s spelled doom for almost all of them and only two were to survive by the 1890s. One of them, now known as Craigmoor, survives to this day and includes the site of Adam Roth’s pioneering Rothview Vineyard.

  • Miles Of Merlot

    When Merlot is mentioned, I think of the movie Sideways when Miles steadfastly refused to drink Merlot while holding his prescription of Xanax in his jacket pocket. Paul Giamatti’s character hated merlot precisely because it was so easy to drink. He wasn’t making a comment on the quality of merlot per se but his own antagonistic contrarian tendencies.

    Happily, I don’t share the same insecurities and anxieties over merlot as Miles. Some of the most successful and pleasurable wines I have made during my career to date have been Merlot. Relatively recent as a variety, it is one of the most widely planted vines around the world. And responsible for some of the most expensive wine made in the world. Chateau Petrus has a cult-like following. Chateau Trotanoy also in Pomerol is outstanding.

    Often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc or Malbec for its suppleness. As a standalone wine, it can range in style from structured and concentrated to aromatic, with fresh acidity and a medium body. The best Merlot wines I believe are riper, textural, silky with seamless tannins; a mix of chocolate and plummy fruit richness and floral aromatics with oak taking a back seat. Young Merlot (<5yo) benefit from decanting for a few hours to open the perfume and release the fruit.

    This month, we are showcasing the 2015 and a teaser of the 2016 Bunnamagoo Merlot.  Both were tasted for this article. The 2015 is showing the transition into secondary bottle age characters – spicy notes elevate over mocha/chocolate and fruitcake characters. The tannins are very fine and are carried well within the fruit on the palate. The 2016 brings raspberry and cherry fragrances that follow into the medium weighted varietal palate. Both wines have the proportion, friendliness and drinkability that we hope you will enjoy and associate with merlot.

    So don’t be a Miles. Be his mate Jack and say, “If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot”.

  • Making Top Tier Wines – What It Takes

    I’m often asked my thoughts on what makes a great wine ‘great’.  Reflecting, I think back to the rowdy discussions at university and the many boozy winemakers’ dinners since. Taking part in these tastings is always fun and in time you learn to filter the namedropping, personal preferences, and general bluff to formulate an idea of quality. I realised that in winemaking, to elevate a wine in quality to ‘iconic’ status is very esoteric just as it is in film or literature. For me, the challenge of recognising, enjoying (and sometimes making) a truly great wine is a result of nailing just the right combination of “Art versus Science”. It is what attracted me 25 years ago to study and become a winemaker in the first place. I think it was perfectly explained by Robert Mondavi when he said, “Making good wine is a skill, making fine wine is an art”.

    So how is it done? Firstly, we should all agree that growing beautiful grapes is the start of the journey. That relies on a great vineyard site and fluking a top vintage. Growers must know how the soil and climate will affect the fruit and how to manipulate the vines in varying conditions. Plant physiology, entomology, microbiology, and chemistry are the sciences and an integral part of making an iconic wine. And the art?? That is the personal signature of the winemaker. And each winemaker has their own idea of what they want reflected in the glass through their choices of oak, yeast, and fermentation technique. Finally, we cannot ignore that indescribable x-factor that makes a top wine. Magic.

    With that said, we are presenting you a special offer on our ‘1827’ range of red wines. I re-tasted both the 2015 Bunnamagoo ‘1827’ Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2016 Bunnamagoo ‘1827’ Shiraz for this article. These wines are the top-tier of our range. Flavour, balance, extract and style are the criteria to assess. The Shiraz remains bright violet red with no sign of development. Aromas of cherry, blackberry and dark chocolate fill the glass. The tannins are very fine and give the palate persistence. The deep red Cabernet Sauvignon retains varietal detail with blackcurrant, mocha and classic earthy Mudgee character. Rich but soft vanillin oak adds to the gentle finish. Both wines maturing in typical unhurried Mudgee fashion.

    So, while the popular cult wines may be terrific for your cellar, also seek out perhaps lesser known, iconic wines of a region, and drink them! They tell a pure story, being emblematic of the winemakers and their vineyards. Otherwise you might be missing out!

     

    by Winemaker Rob Black

  • Cabernet Sauvignon – A Team Player

    What did the Cabernet grape say to the Merlot grape? I’ll never get Bordeaux of you…

    June is here and winter is upon us once again. So, time to embrace the warmth of Cabernet Sauvignon together. One of the most noble varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon confers its qualities easily and produces wines with strikingly similar characteristics right around the world.  We have all tasted it showing a range of personalities from concentrated and extracted, through firm, to elegant and soft.

    To blend or not to blend? That conundrum is equally attributed to the fundamental deficiencies of the variety as well as the many virtues that Cabernet Sauvignon is blessed with. And the success of blending relates to the techniques a winemaker has chosen to overcome these palate pitfalls.

    The greatest duos of all time can exist independently of each other, but they shouldn’t. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are natural partners like bacon and eggs or Kermit and Miss Piggy.  Their whole value is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

    In Mudgee, classic Cabernet Sauvignon has a medium structure; a solidness with wonderful length and floral, cassis aromas with fresh acidity suitable for blending. Merlot’s sweet fruit flavours of blackberries; the earthy, chocolate, and faintly tobacco/herbal notes lend richness to a palate without adding excessive tannic weight. Shiraz has great berry fruit lift without being spicy or peppery. Lively fruit sweetness of raspberry, blueberry and fruitcake slots neatly with Cabernet’s impact of fruit at the front of the mouth and long, tannic finish.

    Bunnamagoo Cabernet Sauvignon travels on three different paths in this latest offer. Whatever your preference, these wines show that with thoughtful blending Cabernet Sauvignon can transform from elegance into burly red styles with a reliable structure for long term aging.

    So, where do you store these wines?? In the cabernet.

     

    by Winemaker Rob Black

  • Thoughts On Mudgee & Tempranillo

    Mudgee has been growing grapes for over 160 years. A mixture of backgrounds both German and Italian. Powerful words come to mind. Pioneers. Establishment. Proven. Dynasty.

    Some established winegrowing regions can be framed by a single variety. Others are a diverse collection of grapevine DNA and global winemaking ancestry harvested over successive generations. Mudgee sits happily in the latter. That quality places the region in a small but exceptional class.

    Why is it so? The Mudgee Appellation was established 40 years ago. Our esteemed winemakers at the time rightly agreed that Mudgee had a pedigree that required protection. It is a defined boundary that takes in altitudes from 450m – 1100m with no uniformity in either soils or aspect. This provides a wholly unique winegrowing region unlike any other in Australia. And it provides local producers an ability to grow both cool and warm climate varietals and wine styles.

    Avant-garde (both young and salt and pepper) winemakers have for the last 15 years in Mudgee initiated a renaissance. Replanting of new varieties and production of fresh wine styles and blends to be consumed younger have complimented the respected and tested benchmark Mudgee table and fortified wines still produced to this day.

    Perhaps, an appropriate time to introduce our 2018 Bunnamagoo Tempranillo. Planted 5 years ago, this variety will become a signature in time. Suited to the climate. Typically Mudgee with medium body and mid-palate acidity. The tannins have been tamed. Almost pinot-like cherry fruit and subtle integrated French and American oak. Equivalent to crianza Rioja. Can be served slightly chilled.

     

    by Winemaker Rob Black