Down Under catch up | Wine Australia comes to Beijing

By Jim Boyce | An hour after Grant Bellve, international manager for Tyrrell’s, patiently presented his portfolio at last week’s Wine Australia event in Beijing, I found myself baking on the city’s streets while futilely trying to flag a rush hour cab. Not fun. Then came the ping of a WeChat message, no doubt yet another missive scolding me for being late, uncouth or alive. Instead, it was Bellve.

“Jim, you have left your red book at Tyrell’s table #15.” Legend.

I can’t tell you how many times I have taken a slew of notes at a wine tasting and then, either in the rush to leave or due to a few too many glasses of, say, Hunter Valley Semillon, left them behind.

But thanks to the miracle of WeChat, through which Bellve and I had connected just an hour earlier, I avoided that fate. I zipped back to the Park Hyatt building, grabbed my book, and eventually made it home and had a wine-induced power nap to make a koala proud.

Anyway, back to the wine. For many consumers, Australian often means Penfolds, maybe Wolf Blass or YellowTail, and typically something big, red and jammy. Nothing wrong with that but wine-makers Down Under have been up to interesting things for decades now and we again saw it at this Wine Australia tasting. Australia has a sweet spot in the China market at the moment, sitting only behind France in terms of volume and value of bottled imported wines, and leading that nation in value per bottle. A free trade pact, a reputation for safe products, familiar grape names, and wines that appeal to novices and aficionados alike all help the cause.

Anyway, here are some wines tasted.

Thistledown: The “Courtesan” Riesling from Claire Valley had that tell-tale petrol aroma along with tropical and floral ones. This was a playful drop with grapefruit character. Wine-maker Petter Lessky spent nearly a decade at Grosset, well-known for its Riesling, so this wine should be no surprise.

What impresses about Thistledown is the purity of fruit. I liked the GSM—Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvèdre)—a pure dark cherry-driven wine with a slightly spicy finish. The grapes comes from 35-year-old vines in Langhorne, says Patrick Gilhooly. “Vagabond” Grenache from Blewitt Springs, at a higher altitude, has lots of vibrant berry character and is clean, juicy and delicious.

Vasse Felix: This iconic Margaret River winery offered the chance to compare and contrast three Chardonnays, each made with grapes from a different plot. Good fun but I also enjoyed the fresh and elegant Sauvignon Blanc (60%)-Semillon (40%) and new wine Tom Callity Cabernet Sauvignon (80%)-Malbec (20%), named for a guy who put the winery and region on the map (learn more about him here). Made by Virginia Willcock, this is a soft graceful wine, the kind you can spend hours drinking and finding aromas and flavors—red fruits, chocolate, red licorice, tangy plum and much more.

Tyrrell’s: And I can’t forget Bellve. The unoaked Vat 1 Hunter Semillion has lots of tight citrus character, particularly lemon. (Bellve say the company leverages plenty of older vineyards for its Semillon wines, with one dating to uses 1908. It had The Vat 8 Syrah-Cabernet is a different tale, with vanilla and smoke alongside dark fruit. According to my notes, this one is “elegant, savory, mineral, yeah.” I might have by then been well past the point of switching from tasting to drinking.

I also enjoyed talking to the team at Soumah and about the idea of using multiple clones from one vineyard vis-a-vis using fruit from multiple vineyards. The rep told me that over the last 10 years, they have harvested three weeks earlier, attributing that need to global warming. It was fun to try the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, by wine-maker  Scott McCarthy, but most intriguing was the dessert wine made with Italian grape Brachetto.

I also tried lots of other wines, from Dowdie Doolie, Chapel Hill, De Bortoli, Yalumba, Penfold’s, Wolf Blass, Santa & D’Sas and more. All in all a good day made better given I ended up with my notebook!


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