Friday, May 1, 2015

Orange Wineries, Day 1

de Salis vineyard

I spent two days in the Orange district to explore and better understand this relatively new and diverse wine region. The vineyards here are at high altitude, between 600 and 1100 meters. Pretty much every popular grape in the book is grown here: from aromatic whites to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends, Shiraz, 'new' varieties, such as Vermentino, Arneis, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera, the list goes on. What is it all about?

My first stop is Philip Shaw. He is perhaps the best known proponent of the district today. His premium range is called the 'numbers' range. The numbers have no particular logic. They refer to birthdays, lucky numbers etc. I tried the most recent Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in this range. Overall, the results were disappointing. I did not find much interest in these wines. These wines lacked depth and structure (85 to 89 points). There were certainly shades of his commercial past (Rosemount, Southcorp) in these wines His most famous wine, the #11 Chardonnay, of which I tasted 2014, had reasonable stonefruit, but it was very young, with oak being quite prominent and the finish quite short. I was not off to a good start.

Thankfully, things changed when I arrived at my second stop, Ross Hill. Phil Kerney, the winemaker, has certainly made his mark here, and he is not shy to tell you about it. There is a style which cuts across the wines. The key characteristic is the wild yeast fermentation directly into barrel. The 2014 white wines are of high quality. The Sauvignon Blanc is quite lean, is based on whole bunches and does not taste like anything from New Zealand. This is a delicate wine, made in the Loire style, with a focus on texture, and made to last (93 points). The Pinot Gris is lean also, with a good balance between the pear fruit and acidity (91 points). The (very young) Chardonnay is more tricky. There is a fair bit of sulphur covering the grapefruit and nutty flavours, but I think it will develop nicely (92 points). The fruit for these wines is grown at the winery vineyard, more than 900 meters in elevation. The red wines come from a lower lying vineyard, just over 600 meters. Still, I found the 2013 Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz lacking in depth, while the structures were strong (88-90 points). The best of the red wines was the 2012 Cabernet Franc, which is a focus at Ross Hill. This wine, with a purple colour, had a huge aroma. The flavours were intense and unusual, mainly like provancale herbs, in particular lavender and rosemary. There was good depth in this wine and a balanced texture (93 points).

The third winery of the day was De Salis. The vineyard here is over 1050 meters high, one of the highest in Australia, with beautiful views across the valley. Most of the white wines (Fume Blanc and Chardonnay) did not fully convince me, but the 2013 Blue Label Chardonnay hit the spot. This is like a reserve wine, 100% new oak, with more intensity and power. The flavour spectrum is stone and poached fruit, and the taste is a bit oily as well (93 points). The focus of De Salis, however, is Pinot Noir. The intention is to make quite feminine wines, suited to the cool climate. Burgundy clearly is the model. I tried five Pinot Noirs, and three in particular were outstanding. The two based on the MV6 clone were darker, with sour cherry flavours, well structured, but not totally harmonious (90/91 points). The two based on the Dijon clones (the Lofty Pinot Noirs) were more in the strawberry spectrum spectrum, finer and quite elegant. In particular the 2013 had great balance and a smooth finish (94 points). The 2013 Blue Label Pinot Noir was a bit different. It was ethereal, not weighted, similar to the last two, but also had earthy and truffle flavours; quite a complex wine (94 points). The Bordeaux reds have a play on using stems, but also Saint Emillon. They are called St Em M (for Merlot) and St Em F (for Cabernet Franc), named after the dominant component in the blend. These are Bordeaux blends for Pinot Noir drinkers, quite light bodied, but with an attractive texture. There was also a 100% light and elegant Cabernet Franc. These were from the 2012 vintage, which was quite cool in Orange (all 92 points). De Salis has developed this style based on texture and an ethereal feel - best suited to the Pinot Noirs.

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