05 Dec 2011

 WHAT MAKES A CLASSIC WINE?
After I posted the piece below on Squitchy Lane's 2010 Pinot Noir, I started thinking about the making of this wine and that led me to thinking about other wines I had made over the years. There have been plenty, some good, a few excellent and some just downright normal and acceptable.
On this rainy Saturday, I began to compile a list of wines that live in my memory. Of all the wines I have made, these few stay with me, often for different reasons. Here's the list with an attempt to explain why each one is special to me:

1. Coriole Cabernet Sauvignon 1986. A great vintage in South Australia, a great old vineyard and some old-fashioned winemaking resulted in a wine suffused with the spirit of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the time, I thought it tasted like a top Bordeaux, so aromatic and structured without heaviness was it. The style went out of fashion in the 90's and later when enormously ripe and powerful wines became the goal. 
2. Poet's Corner Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/ Chardonnay 1991. Yes, now this brand is in the hands of a multi-national wine company and has long since lost any regional identity. But Poet's Corner started life in Mudgee at the Montrose winery. Brian McGuigan was in charge then and he asked me to create a white blend that would have wide appeal. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were the obvious choices but I decided to include some Chardonnay for extra richness on the palate. The first vintage was 1989 but in 1991, courtesy of what was possibly the vintage of the century for white wines, we produced a beauty. This had everything going for it--intensely fruity, long and flavoursome and full of passionfruit/citrus depth. The 1992 went on to wine gold medals in national wine shows and begin the brand's long march away from its Mudgee roots due to its success but I will always remember the 1991.
3. Montrose Chardonnay 1991. it was hard to go wrong in 1991 it seems. At this time, Montrose had a lot of Chardonnay planted and the variety was just starting to become really popular. The Stoney Creek vineyard always produced our best fruit and there was a lot of it this year. Harvesting took place over a few days in exceptionally good weather. Phil Laffer, Orlando's chief winemaker came to visit a day or so later (Orland had recently taken over Brian McGuigan's company so Phil was exploring his new winemaking assets). I think Phil's opinion of Mudgee wines was not all that high--he saw some value as a source of blending material for some of the weaker Hunter wines possibly but not much else. Then I offered him a taste of the freshly settled Chardonnay juice from Stoney Creek. He sniffed, he sipped and then he looked at me with a quiet gleam in his eye. "That's pretty good" he said in his understated way. And it was--even as juice we both knew we had someting special. The wine went on to win multiple trophies and gold medals, including best Chardonnay at the Royal Adelaide wine show. It's still the best Chardonnay I have ever made.
4. 1996 Montrose Cabernet Sauvignon. An intriguing wine, this. It looked good from the beginning but did not appear outstanding in its youth. However, it just grew and grew as it matured in oak so that when finally revealed after two years in barrel it had transformed into an absolute classic. I think this is a feature of wines from great vintages--they keep getting better and better in their youth until finally you have to admit the truth. Other vintages can look wonderful early on but lose their vigour and don't grow. The great wines do grow. And this 1996 Cabernet did just that. 
5. 2010 Squitchy Lane Pinot Noir. Fourteen years since his last good wine, I can hear you say. In my defence, I had taken another winemaking direction during that time. No longer hands-on but in a consulting role advising others. So while there were several great wines i was involved with, I can't say they were mine. But this 2010 Pinot Noir is.