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Mac's Notes from Australia 2015-02 and -03

Mac has again decided to spend some quality time in "The Land DownUnder" - a good time of the Ottawa year to do so - and his travel plans, while in Australia, include visits to some of the wine growing areas that not all of us have had the opportunity to appreciate... such as the higher elevations around the national capital, Canberra. Mac's comments on this area, and others, are provided below...

 

2015-02-18

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (26°C and 78% humidity)

Mt. Majura Winery is located on the eastern slopes of the mountain just a few kilometers north of the Canberra Aeroport (and the fifth Costco store in Australia).  

The soil is a unique combination of volcanic over limestone. The iron content is so high that some of the soil pebbles become magnetized.

Canberra district has about 30 wineries and is considered cool climate with elevations from 650m to over 700m.

 

Riesling, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Pinot Noir among other varieties are grown here. Mt. Majura is, however, best known for its Tempranillo. This variety is definitely on the rise in Australia and prices start at about $25 CDN per bottle.

(updated 2015-02-22)

2015-03-02/10

BAROSSA VALLEY, South Australia (Very Warm!!!!)

Borassa Seppelt palm trees

I have been coming to this Valley for 11 years and it remains my favourite wine region in Australia.  Located 60 km northeast of Adelaide, it shares the viticulture neighbourhood with the Clare Valley to the north and Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale to the south.  

Most of the grapes that make up Penfolds Grange (Australia's most famous wine) come from the Barossa. The total area is about 13km by 14 km. The Valley was settled by German speaking Silesian religious refugees and British settlers around 1840. Borassa Shiraz hanging - 2015-03While Shiraz is predominant (with many old vine vineyards) Reisling (Eden Valley) and Semillion, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon are well represented.

 

Barossa Harvest 2015

The Barossa Valley harvest has been early this year due to the warm growing season. There was only one rain event during the latter phase of the ripening process so flavours seem well developed at this point.

 

History has shown that early usually means good quality... and my landlord has a Shiraz vineyard that was harvested on 15 February 2015, the earliest on record. He sells to small, quality wineries and their vines cropped at just over one ton per acre. Grape growing may be the sexy side of farming... but it is still a tough business. The biggest returns this year will be in the bottle.

Vintages

 Borassa Valley

2012 was generally a good year for Australian wine. 

The wines I have been tasting on this trip have been exceptional. Unfortunately, none of the wines I have tasted will be coming to Canada... but you may want to check out those that do.

The 2012's are fast disappearing from local Australian shelves

The 2013's are generally rated as "good"... with some high notes but more low ones.

 

(updated 2015-03-25)

2015-03-10/17

CYCLONES... Australia's SERIOUSLY BIG STORMS

Cyclones, or hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, are violent storms centered by extreme low pressure. They usually form in tropical water that exceeds 25.5°C and unleash high winds and heavy rains to areas in its path.

 Cyclone Marcia 2015-02-25

The cyclone in the above image is Marcia, a Category 5 (winds more than 280 km/HR ) approaching the North East coast of Queensland on Feb 28 2015.  

Noosa Heads National Park, QLD

At that time, I was in Noosa Heads on the coast in the lower right hand of the picture in the blue area  just south of the last peninsula that juts out to sea. After landfall, the Category 5 reduced to 3 and the storm moved just to the west of Noosa, producing some flooding but sparing the area wind damage.

A few years ago, I was in Darwin in the tropical top-end of Australia. There were three days of torrential rain (over 500 mm) from a Category 3 cyclone that did not move off. All commercial aircraft had been flown out of harms way. I bussed over flooded roads to the closest point that the train service could function. Early the next day I arrived in Alice Springs, which hadn't had a drop of rain in months.

Each week, one of Australia's newspapers publishes a map of rainfall distribution over the country for the previous week. Most of the time, 80% of the country receives no rain and for much of the lucky 20%, not enough. The country as a whole has been going through a "Big Dry" the last few years with cyclones not penetrating far enough inland so that traditional dry areas are not receiving even intermittent relief.

What has this got to do with wine? Absolutely nothing... but the NASA printout (above) was held down by four bottles of Australia 's finest, one of which you can see at the upper left.

 

2015-03-18

GUMS AND GRAPES

Eucalyptus in the vineyardEucalyptus (gum) trees have long been suspected shedding the flavoured oil from their leaves to adjacent grape vines.  The resulting eucalyptus taste in wines made from these grapes has long been a feature of Cabernets and Shiraz wine produced in Australia and California. A few years ago the Australian Wine Research Institute proved that the proximity to vineyards and prevailing wind conditions contributed to higher levels of 1,8-cineole or eucalyptol oil in wines.

Red wines are particularly prone to oil tastes because of the long skin contact during fermentation.  White wines are not as affected because the skins, which harbour almost all of the oil, get discarded prior to fermentation. The yellow gum (eucalyptus) is the most culpable variety in Australia for this added essence.

So the next time you want some eucalyptus, mint or camphor in your wine, add some gum to your glass.

(updated 2015-03-18)

2015-03-22

TUMBARUMBA

Tumbarumba - Snowy Mountains

Tumbarumba is not a Latin dance but is an emerging cool climate grape growing region in New South Wales, Australia.  Located in the Snowy Mountains, at an average elevation of 2000 feet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the major varieties grown here for still and sparkling wine production.

McWilliams, a major producer of warmer climate wines, sources grapes in Tumbarumba… as do other notable wineries.

Australia has well over 4000 wineries and most would conclude, based on market availability in Canada, that it is a warm or even hot country that produces full bodied, highly extracted low acid wines.

There are however significant cool climate areas more akin to Niagara... without the winterkill.

All of Tasmania, southern Victoria, South Australia, west Western Australia, elevated areas of New South Wales and Queensland qualify as true cool climate wine areas.

(updated 2015-03-22)

 

2015-03-27

CASK WINE

Cask Wine or bag in the box was developed in Australia by Thomas Angove of Angove's Winery in 1965 as a means of cheaply packaging inexpensive wines including Fortifieds.

There have been many improvements since including the quality of wine over the years and one in three glasses of wine drunk in Australia today comes out of a cask.Watson's Red

 

At BYO restaurants, the locals can really lower their dining out costs when the cost per bottle is in the range of $2 to $5. For the quality minded, one can get NZ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for $6 a bottle and Maclaren Vale Shiraz at $7 a bottle. The latter wine, called "Cat Amongst The Pigeons Shiraz" Watson's Whitewas rated by Watson, pictured here, as scoring 15 doggy points out of 20.... and that was after he knocked a couple of points off because off the name.

 

 

 

 

 

Be home soon...

(PS - Mac is now safely home and, like most of us, watching the grape regions carefully for signs of Harvest 2015 in the northern hemisphere... )

(updated 2015-06-15)


view from Snowy Mopuntains cottage

in vino veritas,
(scene from a cottage in the Snowy Mountains)

Mac MacDonald
from Australia, late-March, 2015


 

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