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Archive for August, 2014

It’s no secret that for years Riesling suffered a bit of a PR nightmare, with an undeserved reputation for too much sweetness. It seemed for a time that only winemakers appreciated its true beauty.  But as you probably know, here we’re pretty crazy about this elegant white, which ranges in style from deliciously fruity, to crisp and dry. To understand the complex aspects and rich history of the Riesling, we thought we’d start with a wander down the Rhine…

A brief history

When not praying devoutly, monks across the ages have been well-known makers and imbibers of good wine. So it’s probably no real surprise that a medieval Cistercian monastery in the Rheingau region of Germany is generally recognised as the starting point of the aromatic Riesling varietal. As the Rhine winds its way northwest across Germany, its steep sloping banks with rather questionable soil produce a white wine of notable clarity, zest and longevity.

The 15th century saw this popular wine pop up in Austria and across in Alsace, with the latter wine district adding a little French-infused je ne sais quoi to the production of the popular white. The grape continued to grow in popularity across Western Europe, as vintners discovered and celebrated Riesling’s characteristic freshness.

The parentage of the Riesling grape is not entirely clear – a form of  Traminer might well have bred with a local wild German vine, but there’s also the theory that the rather obscure Heunisch grape plays a part in Riesling’s DNA. In any case, a white of gentle acidic balance and light floral distinction luckily came about.

Riesling arrives in Australia

Riesling grapesA bit like our monks, pioneering travellers from the Middle Ages and beyond also tended to take their wine pretty seriously. Vine cuttings were often transported to parts of the New World to ensure the quick establishment of wine in new climes. And aren’t we lucky in Australia that Riesling was one of the originals?

German immigrants brought Riesling vines with them when they arrived in Australia in the 19th century. With travel of course comes new terrain, and Riesling began to show an extraordinary tendency to absorb and reflect the unique mineral characteristics of local vineyards. The Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia were found to be particularly suited to Riesling’s requirements.  As for those soft mineral tendencies, there’s one theory that the poorer soils upon which Riesling thrives tend to lead to more probing root systems, ensuring that the local terroir is never forgotten in the subtle Riesling palate. Beautiful stuff.

Complex and vibrant

Often loved for a dominance of citrus and floral notes while young, one of the best features of the Riesling is in the fantastic rewards of cellaring.

Depending on the vintage, it’s not unexpected to discover musky rewards of smoke, honey and warm spice in the older Riesling. Give it a couple of years and you’ll find the earlier pale straw hue will tend to relax into a peachy, autumnal affair – yet still with a refreshing lift.

Some people get famously put-off by the idea of the ‘petrol’ or ‘kerosene’ – these words often used to describe the character that can come in the latter years of a fine Australian Riesling. We prefer to describe this lovely aged character as ‘toasty marmalade’.  It’s the reward you get at the end of a well-cellared Riesling and we think it’s fantastic.

A quick note on cellaring

The key to sourcing an excellent Riesling for cellaring purposes is in the quality of the vintage while still young. As the Riesling Report notes, ripeness at bottling combined with a fundamentally sound acidic structure can both help to ensure a “wine for the ages.”

Food matching

Riesling should certainly be put centre stage, especially when food pairing calls for a dexterous and adaptable number. When sweetness and acidity are in balance, the refreshing citrus tones of a Riesling that is less than two years old are hard to beat for even the most challenging food partners, while older Rieslings can impart a wonderfully deep flavour and aroma.

Taylors Estate RieslingThere’s no vegetable dish known to man that can fail to pair perfectly with the clarity of a lovely Riesling – think antipasto, stuffed capsicum, spicy tomato soup or vegetable moussaka – all perfect cool weather matches for this versatile white. Our Taylors Estate Riesling 2013 puts forward fresh lime and lemon notes that will compliment antipasto, or even a spicy winter curry to perfection.

And when summer rolls around again Riesling, no matter its age, tends to provide a perfectly refreshing foil to the Australian heat, whatever the menu. We think that maybe somewhere, the heavens must have foretold of the long Aussie verandas, the pan-Asian table influences and of course the easy-going outdoor life that was to typify modern Australian summer weekends – and solemnly declared: “This place shall have Riesling!” Let’s picture a seared and spicy pork number…  Or your favourite chilli chicken salad… Maybe that whole ginger snapper? These and so many more summery dishes all fall beautifully under the spell of Riesling.

About those rumours

Just in case you’re still undecided about the brilliant balance of modern Rieslings, a brief word on the famed sweetness rumour. Yes it’s true that Riesling was once undeservedly mauled and modified in the bad old days. All that inexcusable residual sugar weighed down any possibility for pure citrus tones and luscious acidic complexities to arise.

But we’re so very glad that the times of getting Riesling wrong in production are long gone. And we’re proud to be part of Riesling’s well-deserved resurgence as a noble white.

Whether sipping a crisp, lime-inspired refresher beside the Spring Racing track, or nibbling antipasto by your winter fire with a soft, smoky older number – we’re pretty sure that Riesling will become one of your new best friends – if it isn’t already! Enjoy…

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In 1969 when Bill Taylor Senior went searching for land to fulfil his dream of crafting Australian wines that would rival the best from France, he knew from experience that the Clare Valley was something out of the ordinary. High altitude, limited rainfall, warm days, cool nights, plenty of limestone underpinnings, and not too close to the big smoke… an excellent mix all round for a winemaker. At first, the Taylors were able to source 440 acres of prime land in the beautiful Auburn region of the Clare. Following this initial acquisition and with great enthusiasm, the pursuit of excellence in winemaking began in earnest.

A quiet yearning
And yet… the original Taylor family dream had always been to secure a substantial landholding of around 1,000 acres.
It had been a core vision of the family to create an old-world style ‘estate’, featuring contiguous vineyards surrounding the central winery cellars. With this flame continuing to burn across the years, neighbouring property owners were approached by the Taylors for a first right of refusal should selling their land become an option. And at times fortune certainly smiled upon the Taylors; bundles of adjoining land eventually became available and these were divided into blocks known as Promised Land, Broadway, Lodden and Wakefield and quickly planted with vines. Land acquisitions now crept well into the several hundred acres. But one particular, most desired property to the north – St. Andrews, remained out of reach.

The long, long wait

St.Andrews Original WineryFrom the very first day that brothers Bill & John Taylor strode onto their newly acquired Clare Valley property in 1969, they knew that the adjoining St. Andrews land (firmly held for decades by one local family) presented some of the best wine-growing potential around. Yet trying to persuade the owners to offer St. Andrews for sale… well that was a job for a very patient family! Bill would politely enquire every now and then – but no deal. It wasn’t until,more than a quarter of a century later, the northern neighbour agreed on a price and finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Of course, when the opportunity finally arose for the Taylor family to acquire the St. Andrews property there was no debate about what to do. Never mind that funds had dwindled.  The family just had to find a way and thanks to an understanding bank manager, were finally able to add the crowning jewel to their estate vision!

The pinnacle
In terms of potential grape growing, winemaking and sheer beauty, St. Andrews was destined to be worth every penny – and every minute of the wait. St. Andrews really has become something very special to the Taylors – a chance not only for the family to resurrect a piece of Australian winemaking history, but also to showcase all that they’d been able to achieve over the years, via a select range of ultra-premium wines. These wines have become exemplars not just of the signature winemaking style, but also of the overall philosophy at Taylors. And it all started when Bill Taylor got the keys to the entrance gate of St. Andrews.

 Understanding the past

Historic St. Andrews winery
Part of making great wine is understanding the history of a wine growing area, which means getting your hands dirty – literally! When the boys were first wandering around the St. Andrews paddocks, there was plenty of rock kicking and soil sifting – getting a feel for the land as it trickled through the palm.  The beautiful old winery buildings were a site to behold as well and we were struck by the ability of our forefathers to create these amazing structures that stand the test of time.

The St. Andrews property is truly blessed with the rare terra rossa soil that is coveted by winemakers worldwide. This unusual soil type (literally translating as red earth) occurs most often in Mediterranean regions where prehistoric maritime landscapes once existed. Forming slowly across time, the original limestone eroded away and a rich red soil remains. Terra rossa-raised vines are able to balance perfectly on the knife edge where they are not too comfortable.  It is on this knife edge that the magic happens and the grapes that are produced display extraordinary character.

As well as paying attention to the soil, they also took their time to become deeply familiar with the topography, taking in sun paths, wind direction, rainfall history and frost patterns. These are all components that make up a wine’s unique terroir, or the subtle expression of its origin. Although the original vines had been removed by the time the land was purchased, Bill’s hunch as to why the historic owners had first chosen to plant grapes here back in 1891 proved spot-on, and the family now had the opportunity to create something special with their new plantings.

They were delighted to find discrete pockets of perfect growing conditions for a number of diverse varieties within the St. Andrews precinct. Rich, fertile soils for Chardonnay, sheltered east-facing patches for our cabernet and chill-loving riesling, and gentle western slopes for the sturdy shiraz – it was a vintner’s dream come true.

So it’s fair to say that before they got onto crafting any wine, the family gave these blocks a whole lot of quiet consideration. It’s a good idea to start at the beginning and let your winemaking journey evolve from there. And as they dreamed, they saw the growing potential for the St. Andrews range to become a true flagship of Taylors distinct winemaking capabilities.

Respecting the fruit

So much happens before the St. Andrews fruit arrives at the winemaker’s door. Precision pruning, careful frost monitoring and incredibly exact harvest timing are just some of the pre-vinification factors that ensure the delivery of pristine grapes for each variety and potential vintage. Even as the grapes grow, our winemakers are watching and noting pre-harvest factors to determine the very best and most nuanced manner in which to proceed with vinification.

Timing is crucial for fruit integrity and maintenance of flavours (we’ve been known to go like the clappers in order to get grapes from the St. Andrews blocks to the winery in about 10 minutes). Swift and gentle handling is the key preparation for a carefully composed fermentation sequence follow.

Our winemakers simply want to do justice to the grapes – plus to the land, climate and the hands that formed the fruit. For us, the grapes are royalty, and we greet them with the respect they deserve.

Quality and integrity

Sometimes we’re asked why certain vintages haven’t made an appearance in the St. Andrews range. The answer is simple – we just won’t skimp on quality. If conditions aren’t perfect, or a certain block doesn’t quite meet expectations, then a wine won’t be forthcoming from that year’s harvest. We insist on excellence and precision in the wines that we craft.

St Andrews RangeTo truly be our signature range, St. Andrews wines necessarily embody our philosophy: understand the past, know the place you’re in, and respect the fruit. If any of these factors aren’t honoured within a given vintage – well we’d rather wait and get it right. And if there’s one thing we have in spades, it’s patience! Whether it’s waiting for premium Clare Valley land to become available or holding off picking until just the right moment, it’s the Taylors way to allow all the time in the world whenever quality is involved. Via our flagship St. Andrews range of premium wines, we’re delighted to provide you with the heart and soul of the work that we’re carrying out here this unique corner of Australia.

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So you have a wine tasting looming on your social horizon. And you can picture it now – sparkling glasses on linen-covered tables, with people who seem to know a heck of a lot about what they’re doing. Odd swirling actions, strange sniffing, talk of bouquets, spitting – really, you could well ask what it’s all about!

But fear not, you’re certainly not alone! And by adopting a few basic strategies, not only will you blend in like a professional at your next cellar door tasting with friends, we think that you might also come to savour and appreciate different wines just that little bit more.

Keeping it simple

Taste Wine Like a ProfessionalSee…sniff …savour. These three little words are the simplest thumbnail sketch available on how to judge wine. Now, right away some pro wine tasters are pointing out that each of these stages could easily be broken into three or four more sub-stages. And we agree. But because we’re covering the basics here for you, how about we keep it simple? At the end of the day, a wine tasting is basically your chance to assess multiple aspects of ‘see, smell and savour’, in order to form your own opinion on the wine’s overall quality. Don’t let it be a stressful chore, because there are no definite right or wrong answers in wine tasting. For wasn’t 19thcentury artist Gellett Burgess right when he said: “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like?” The same might be said of wine too. Of course, when it comes to wine tasting, practice also makes perfect! Here’s a breakdown of the three stages.

 See here

So, a small amount of your first wine has been decanted into quality glassware, preferably tulip-shaped (it provides a better surface area). Visually taking in your wine can give you valuable initial hints as to potential varietal features and likely age. In general, whites will display their youth with paler hues, moving to denser yellows with age. Conversely, young reds can first appear in rich maroons and dark purples, while brick red and light ochres tend to signify a more advanced vintage. Take in the clarity or opacity, and examine for any problematic inclusions, such as cork or sediment. Give the wine a bit of a swirl to double check for these, plus to watch how it sits in the glass. If there are thick rivulets (known as legs) hanging down the glass, this shows a certain viscosity or thickness. Substantial legs can indicate high alcohol content and/or sweetness.

A thoughtful sniff

Perhaps the part of wine tasting that causes the most eye rolling among amateurs is the time spent by pro wine tasters smelling the beverage. Well, there are actually a few great reasons why aroma testing is crucial. Back to biology class… did you know the human sense of smell is 1,000 times more acute than taste?

And when we think of the mouth and olfactory connection in humans, these two senses often helpfully intermingle and send joint messages to the brain. Suffice to say – the nose is a champion tool in the assessment of any wine.

First, give the glass another gentle swirl to add a little oxygen and to release more aromatic molecules. Take a cursory first sniff and note your initial reaction. Now place your nose gently into the top of the glass and inhale more deeply, sensing how the aroma descends down to your mouth. This should begin to give you a greater appreciation of the aromatic characteristics that will potentially arise from this wine: hints of varietal make-up, vinification methods, structure and regional character can begin to take form. You might also detect aspects of acidity, sweetness and tannins at this olfactory stage. The mouth is now also becoming nicely prepared for the next step – taste.

And so to savour

Slowly take a mouthful and let it flow gradually across your tongue and throughout your mouth. This allows you assess the structure and texture of the wine, as well as to confirm or challenge earlier olfactory clues your nose picked up. In drinking and savouring, you can now let yourself experience the wine’s taste and overall mouth feel, again looking for indications of the wine’s grape variety, place of origin and age.

Older or oaked wines might present a more creamy or dense structure, while younger wines tend to be lighter or crisper. But it’s not just about feel. Your mouth and nose are working in unison to continually understand the wine’s nuanced flavours. Speaking very generally, flavours of fruit, nuts, plants, wood, baked items, minerals and spices could all arise throughout this phase. And these are just a few examples! In all, a careful examination of the balance of acidity, tannins, sweetness, heat and flavour in accord with the particular variety in question will be helpful in any taste assessment.

And then the last part of tasting is to have a think about how the wine finishes up. Is there a pleasant or unpleasant aftertaste? Does the aroma linger into a delicious finale, or do you have metallic barbs assaulting your palate?

Overall experience

So now someone turns to you and asks: “well, how was that – a good wine?” They’re pretty much alluding to your overall tasting experience, not just the technical aspects of it. Have a quick think about what you sensed in the broad see, sniff and savour categories. The cloudy Shiraz with light sediment (see) might be saved by delicious spiced mulberry aromas (sniff), and well-balanced tannins (savour) for example. Or the crisp pastel lemon Chablis (see) might be cleverly followed by faint lemongrass aromatics (sniff), tidied by a deliciously light mouth feel and nectarine notes (savour).

And so on. Your overall gut feel about this wine is important, and should inform your judgement. Use these basic categories to refine the way your express your opinion.

Follow the pros

So how do wine judges work out how to score a particular wine? Well, there are a number of wine scoring systems around the world, using total scores of anywhere between five and 100 marks. Generally, the largest portion of the scoring will go to what we’ve called the savour aspect, with remaining marks spread between the other individual elements. There is also an overall mark.

Red Wine Tasting
While it’s useful to be aware of how the professionals do it, don’t get too hung up on trying to be exact. If you give each wine the respect it deserves by providing a little thoughtful attention to each part of the tasting experience, you’ll be surprised at the way your whole approach to wine is enhanced. In so many ways, wine will start to ‘make sense’ more than before.

A tasting can also be great to get inside the head of your winemaker a little. Back to those earlier thoughts on art, research shows that a gallery-goer’s experience is enhanced if they know just a little about the artist’s life, times and techniques. We
think the same just might apply to winemaking. In understanding a little of our art, you might just find that there’s a pretty complex world going on in each bottle. Know some more about what we were thinking when we made the wine, plus where we made it – and your wine just might take on a new dimension.

Remember to be yourself

This is one of the most important things to remember at a tasting. If other tasters notice viscous legs on the glass and you don’t, just say it. If the word around the room is ‘grassy’ for this Chardonnay, but you get something else, then speak up. No two people are the same, and your nose’s perception might well have picked up the wine’s more subtle aromatics and associated terroir.

Finally, why not just have a little fun before that tasting looms? Perhaps run our Taylors Estate Merlot through its paces with a little wine assessment of your own? As always, we’d love to hear from you about this or any other tasting adventures that you might take, so drop us a line any time. Remember, there are no rights or wrongs – it’s about opening up new horizons and finding more to love!

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