Western Australia Tour 2017
Angels, last week, myself, the chief Greg Banbury and Head of Brand Stu Robinson embarked on a whirlwind 5-day tour of South-West WA to catch up, hear the news and press the flesh with every West Australian Naked winemaker… on their own turf.
And of course, to sample all their wines… past, present and future.
So, after 6,000 km in the air and 1,400 km in the hire car, here is my journal of our incredible week:
First up, Paul Nelson from Army of Grapes
Way down at the bottom tip of WA outside of a little town called Denmark. Paul has the oldest vineyard and cellar door in the area. It was cold!
From my notes:
We tried pretty much every single wine that Paul makes exclusively for Naked but also a single vineyard Pinot and Chardonnay from his home block that he makes in tiny quantities of about 50 cases of each for his Cellar Door.
Paul has really hit his straps with this vintage. The 2017 wines are seeing a continued increase in quality right across the board.
We then looked at the AOG Chardonnay that is hitting the Naked store next week. Wow, this wine totally over delivers! A portion of the wine has undergone malolactic fermentation which gives the wine a lovely creamy texture and added weight. Lovers of the bigger styles of Chardonnay will enjoy this wine because of that, but it still sings of its cool climate roots, because of the white peach and zippy acidity. Cracking wine.
Then we moved on to the brand new and exotic sounding ‘Nodus Tollens’ white blend, which is brand spanking new and already in store. Paul is a big believer in blending different grapes to get a well-rounded and ultimately a complete wine. This blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier is delicious. You can see all the varieties individually: the Riesling with floral lift and juicy acid, the Chardonnay adding some weight and back bone, the Pinot Gris adds texture and some acidity as well, and then the Viognier adds some weight and texture. Everything comes together to make a whole, and the wine is complete.
Then we moved onto the reds that are yet to be released…
First, the muchly debated Army of Grapes Pinot Noir. This wine wasn’t overly loved last vintage but Paul has taken a lot on board and this years wine has been left in oak longer, the grapes were thinned on the vine to reduce the crop and to increase the intensity, The resulting wine looks fantastic! Again, another wine that over delivers for the price.
A really exciting addition to Paul’s portfolio is the Nodus Tollens Pinot Noir. This is a barrel-select of the standard Pinot but then kept in barrel longer and with extra time in bottle. This wine looks AMAZING. Such intensity of flavour, still a few months away from release but looking very exciting.
Next, we tried the AOG Shiraz Grenache, which takes some Shiraz from the Frankland region and Grenache from Swan Valley near Perth. The quality of the Frankland Shiraz really sings in this wine. A lovely core of intense sweet Shiraz but then a touch of spice to keep it interesting. The Grenache just adds a little bit of sweet spice. A very tasty wine.
We then had a sneak peak at a potential Rose and a potential Arneis. This Rose under the AOG label is dangerously slurpable! The Arneis is kind of like a mixture between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. So, a floral/citrus flavour but then quite a bit of body weight and length of flavour. These will not come into play till next vintage but very exciting things are happening down at Paul’s vineyard in Denmark.
Next we visited Nigel Ludlow of Art by EVOI
So many stainless steel tanks and oak barrels crammed into such a tiny space at his shed in Margaret River! This guy knows where every single millilitre of juice is… amazing!
From my notes:
The 2017 vintage in Margaret River was a tricky one with two stories emerging: the Whites possibly being the best wines ever with Nigel considering them the best he has seen in the last 12 years. However, the rain came at the wrong time for some reds and some struggled. Nigel considers himself very lucky with his Cabernet and Malbec getting picked just before the rain really hit.
So firstly we tried the 2017 Art by EVOI Sem Sav Blanc. This is lovely intense, full of racy acidity, some tropical notes, great mouth feel and length. This is going to be a hit over summer! The perfect Summers day drink that would match perfectly with some freshly peeled prawns or cold ham and tomato sandwiches.
Then we moved onto the Art by EVOI Chardonnay from stainless steel tank. All I can say is WOW. This wine looks as though it has been fermented and aged in oak. The wine is so svelte! Amazing fruit showing through but the palate is full and long. A cracking wine!
He then showed us a portion that he had in new oak and this just lifted the wine to another lofty height. The combination of these two parcels is going to make for one heck of a wine. I personally can’t wait for this wine to be released as it is a rip snorter.
Then we took a look at the 2016 Cabernet which is about to get bottled. This is the pure essence of what Margaret River Cabernet is all about. So pristine, so pure, a real joy to drink. How we can sell this for about $15 is beyond me, such a tasty wine. I know this isn’t going to last long once it hits the store….
Next up was the 2016 Malbec. A bigger, darker wine than the Cabernet, but still very elegant. Not much of this wine to go around but I think people will appreciate this wine, the fullness of the palate will appeal to those who like a bit of oomph!
Nigel was teasing us saying that he would have some VERY exciting news to share with us soon, and that didn’t include his impending marriage, nor the impending birth of a child! No, there could be some great news regarding a new facility. So no longer working out the back of someone else’s shed. Stay tuned for some amazing news…
Back into the car and off to Cathy and Neil Howard of ‘Boots and All’
Inland from, and next to, Margaret River is the beautiful Geographe winemaking region.
They were knackered after having run their annual pétanque competition over the weekend.
Cathy and Neil are very much about sustainable viticulture, so they don’t get rid of any of the grasses and weeds in between the vine rows, which is great for pristine grapes but not so great for hay fever sufferers! Greg and I were totally smashed with runny nose, red swollen eyes and sneezing. Add to all this this their amazing sensory garden (full of herbs, flowers, vegetables, all flowering in abundance) and we were in a world of hurt. But, popped a zirtec and we were back in the game, just in time to try the soon-to-be-released Boots and All 2017 Shiraz and Cabernet wines.
Cathy and Neil source grapes from Frankland River and from their home block vineyard to create wines that are full flavoured and textured. They use a basket press to press the fruit in a back breaking, labour intensive workout, that means the juice is so very gently harvested. No harsh phenolic or tannic/sour flavours in these wines. They then put some into new oak, some into old and some into stainless steel tank. This way they can blend a really interesting wine once all the parcels are ready to come together. Both 2017 wines look delicious. They are not massive in-your-face wines, but more fruit forward wines, with a touch of oak in the background and some lovely texture and mouthfeel that means they are so easy to drink. Very exciting to see these wines hit the store in early February.
Cathy and Neil are also looking to get some big Concrete Egg fermenters for the next vintage so that they can get a little more complexity into their wines. Hopefully these state-of-the art storage tanks will hit the winery in time for next vintage. Stay tuned…
Next up we travelled to meet Gary Stokes of My Other Self and Rory Clifton-Parks of Left Hook
Back to Margaret River. This vineyard supplies some of the fruit for Rory’s Left Hook wines.
From my notes:
Gary had just come back from a trip to Spain and only had the soon-to-be-released Chardonnay to show us. This wine is a bigger style Chardonnay, so, great juicy fruit, good oak and some malolactic (secondary fermentation) characters that will be a big plus for the lovers of an old-school Chardonnay. He did also show us some samples of a Pinot Noir that he is looking to make but Pinot is a tricky beast, and with some constructive feedback from the three of us, he’ll keep working on that project for next year.
Rory had an interesting Riesling to show us from fruit sourced from the vast Leeuwin Estate vineyards. You don’t see a lot of Riesling out of Margaret River but this wine could be something that Rory looks to make in the future if we can get more people requesting more Riesling! We then moved onto a few samples of another Malbec that Rory had just been playing around with from Mendoza in Argentina. The colour on these wines is intense, almost black! The mouth is full of flavour and all upfront, but, it did seem to fall away at the end. This sample wine was from the very tough 2016 vintage over there, so he will continue on to the 2017 vintage to see if can make a follow up to his inaugural El Cazador Malbec which sold out last year.
Back in the car and up the road to see Brian Fletcher of Brian Fletcher Estate…
Brian greeted us at the homestead with his Prosecco, literally just off the boat from Italy! The wine not only looks impressive in the sexy skittle bottle, but, tastes fantastic. The wine is a ridgy-didge Italian-made Prosecco made from the historic Glera grape and made to the exacting standards of the Prosecco DOC rules and regulations from Treviso in northern Italy. This wine is a great addition to the Christmas Deluxe Collection and will absolutely grace the tables of so many Angel Christmas tables this year. Great on its own but would match beautifully to food as well.
Then, we had a look at his Brian Fletcher 2017 WA Sem Sav Blanc, which is an incredibly easy drinking wine. Full of flavour, fresh and juic,y all at the same time. A real bargain for Angels and, in my opinion, a wine to knock off the more highly publicised NZ Sauvignon Blancs.
We then had a look at his 2017 Chardonnay from Margaret River. This wine is also looking fantastic. Here, the strength of 2017 is really shining through. Brian has made a conscious effort to add weight and texture to this wine. Basically, giving it more new oak and some malolactic ferment characters. Still a racy little number but more oomph than previous vintages.
After the whites we looked at the reds, starting with the Cabernet Merlot, which again is a big step up on the last vintage. The palate is packed full of flavour without being overblown. Really delicious drink. This is the quintessential Margaret River red blend, a complete mouthful of wine.
Next up was the monster… the Brian Fletcher El Cid Tempranillo 2016. This is not apologetic in its brutal assault on the senses. Nothing about this wine is delicate. It is a monster. Loads of intense fruit, lashings of American oak. This is a show pony and bound to please. For the lovers of big reds… this is for you. We also saw the 2017 version but it is only a baby and from a not so good vintage the wine is more spice at this stage, will be interesting to see how it looks in about 12 months or so.
Finally Brian showed us a follow up to his Mano Rosso, his Nero D’Avola and Shiraz blend. He really loves this wine for its drinkability and compatibility. I have to agree, this wine is great with food, great on its own, powerful and yet elegant, enough tannin to add complexity and fruit coming out everywhere.
Quick drive over to see Stuart Pym of Hearts and Bones
Base in southern Margs with his massive irish wolf hounds. They are HUGE, but, overwhelmingly friendly, unless you’re a robber, in which case they will take you out… pronto!
From my notes:
Nothing too much to report on with Stuart in terms of wines to try… coz we didn’t try any! However he did drop into the conversation that he has won the BEST Chardonnay in the WORLD, with his 2008 Stella Bella Chardonnay and then with the same wine the BEST New World Chardonnay!!!! What a legend this guy is. He hadn’t told us this before! Why are winemakers so humble!?! We will be building this into his story ASAP!
Now, back up the coast to northern Margaret and Ben Gould of Blindside.
Totally sustainable viticulture, totally organic grape growing…this guy takes the notion of ‘care’ to another level.
From my notes:
We took a look at his delicious 2017 Rose first up, just about to hit the shelves. He told us a little secret, that this juice is actually sourced from a very well known Margaret River, um, institution. We can’t tell, ‘who’ exactly, but it’s something to have in the back of your mind. I mean, this fruit is of the best quality around! The Rose is a bright salmon colour, lovely strawberry and cherry fruit flavours, with some crisp acid. The perfect summer drink.
Next up his Blindside 2017 Chenin Blanc. Really smashing it out of the park. All these wines will be certified Organic/Biodynamic from next year but rest assured they are made using those principles right now, and, he also only uses about 50 parts-per-million sulphur in his wines. So, nothing more than that and the fruit. For those Angels looking for low sulphur here you go. The quality of fruit really sings in these wines.
On the final morning of our WA tour… Ben Rector of Westbound
From my notes:
Ben showed us some of the components of the Westbound Truffle Block Chardonnay that is coming next year. Some of the fruit is in tank, some in old oak barrels and some in brand new oak. Each component is looking very good and the complete wine is bound to be a cracker. I must admit I loved the new oak component, we might try and convince him to bottle this by itself!!
We then moved onto the new vintage Merlot Cabernet, which is a super intense wine. Loads of sweet fruit, really great fruit-weight in the mouth, LOADS of flavour. Big wine. Then in contrast, we had a look at the Tempranillo Touriga, which has a similar nose and fruit intensity but is a softer, juicier, much more subtle wine. Both are going to be great wines for different reasons and bound to please. My words here can’t really give justice to the quality or intensity of the fruit on these two reds.
Finally, we had a sneak preview at a potential Truffle Block Merlot, a wine to sit alongside the Truffle Block Chardonnay.
Made in tiny quantities, Ben is going to attempt to try and make the best Merlot in Australia!
The fruit is sourced from the Smith Brook vineyard in Pemberton, which can be a marginal region, but when it is on, WOW, it is on. This wine is thick and juicy, loads of intense inky fruit, lashings of oak. A while off as yet, but REALLY excited about this wine in the future.
So, there you have it, Angels. A five-day rocketing Naked winemaker tour around the south west of WA, catching up on all the happenings, sharing all the stories, and trying all the deliciousness that is coming your way, all because of your support!