We had some fascinating wines at the Spectator Wine School’s penultimate class of term this week. The theme was wines of the New World and our poor students had drawn the short straw in that they had me hosting the two hour session. Usually each class is hosted in turn by an expert from one of our seven partner wine merchants with the final class on champagne and sparkling wines being hosted by James Simpson MW of Pol Roger.
Nevertheless, I’m happy to say I managed to muddle through and I like to think the students learned a little and I didn’t parade my ignorance too much (although a savage delivery saw me clean bowled when asked the name of the river that flows through Stellenbosch in South Africa)*. In any event, the wines pretty much spoke for themselves and were clearly greatly enjoyed since the spittoons were as dry at the end of the evening as they were at the beginning. As they always are after these sessions. In fact, I’m not sure why we ever bother to put them out. It is the Spectator after all, not the New Statesman.
We started with a mystery sparkling wine which I teasingly asked the assembled throng to identify. I was delighted but not surprised that nobody twigged that it was a 2013 Pizzato Espumante Brut Rosé Tradicional from the Vale dos Vinhedos in southern Brazil. A blend of 85 per cent Pinot Noir and 15 per cent Chardonnay, made in the Champagne method, it was beautifully coloured and deliciously tasty, if ever so slightly short on the finish. But it got a pretty sound thumbs-up proving that decent wine can come from very unexpected sources these days and that we in the UK, as the long-standing heart of the world’s wine trade, get to see, taste and buy them all. There is no better country in which to be a wine lover.
Our two hour time limit meant, of course, that it was an extremely superficial scamper through the New World but we got to taste some great wines all of which were perfect examples of grape variety, region and country.
From Australia we had the whistle-clean and bone dry 2014 Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock Riesling (£27.80; Yapp Bros), all petrol, honey and apples on the nose, and the utterly scrumptious ten year port-style Penfolds Father Grand Tawny NV (£19.99; Laithwaite’s).
From New Zealand we had the 2015 Berrys’ Own Selection New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£13.95; Berrys’) made by my old chum Sam Weaver in Marlborough and the 2013 CJ Pask, Gimblett Road Syrah (£14.49; The Wine Co), a remarkable Rhône-alike from the extraordinary Gimblett Gravels, a sub-region of Hawkes Bay that also produces exceptional Bordeaux-like blends.
California was represented by the big, bold and intense 2013 Bogle Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel (£13.95; Tanners) and South America by the clean, rounded and supple 2014 Viña Mar Chardonnay Reserva (£9.25; Corney & Barrow) from Chile and the fresh, vibrant and juicy 2013 Ique Malbec, Bodega Foster (£10.25; Private Cellar) from Argentina. Finally there was the exquisite Bordeaux-style blend 2013 Rustenberg, John X Merriman (£15.95; fromvineyardsdirect) from South Africa.
Six of the wines were sealed with screw-caps rather than corks, which caused a fair amount of discussion, whilst the two Aussie wines prompted a diversion on the issue of rationality.
It’s all too easy to wander into a wine shop, restaurant and bar, I pointed out, and ask for ‘a good Aussie red’. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been guilty of asking for same myself. But we would never dream of asking for ‘a good French red’. We would ask for a Bordeaux, Rhône or Burgundy.
With 65 recognised wine regions (with 22 in Victoria alone) and around 2,500 wineries, Aussie wines are a great deal more diverse than many of us realise. Just consider this: Margaret River in Western Australia, home to some of Australia’s finest wines (they make just 2 per cent of Australia’s wines here, but 20 per cent of their premium wines) is some 2,625 miles, not to mention three time zones, away from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales (home to fabulous Semillons and Shirazes). That’s almost three times the distance from London to Florence and with vastly different soils, climate and terroir, the wines are bound to be equally different.
Finally, as we raced through the wines and the regions we pondered whether it was fair referring to the New World as such. After all, vines were first planted in Chile by missionaries in the 1540s; many of South Africa’s top wine estates were founded in the 17th century (Rustenburg, whose John X Merriman we tasted was founded in 1682) whilst Penfolds in Australia whose Father Grand Tawny NV was such a hit with the class was founded in 1844. We agreed this didn’t sound so new after all.
The final class and graduation knees-up of the Spectator Wine School is next week. If you’re interested in enrolling in next term’s classes, starting in Spring 2017, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Apparently, it’s the Eerste.