17/06/2010 - 00:00

One foot in the Graves

17/06/2010 - 00:00

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BORDEAUX in France is the birthplace of cabernet-based reds.

One foot in the Graves

BORDEAUX in France is the birthplace of cabernet-based reds.

The wines from this region have an aristocratic structure and reservedness when compared to the ripe, generous, approachable examples made in the new world with the same varieties. But it doesn’t just end with the reds.

In the south-west corner of the greater Bordeaux region is the white wine producing appellation of Graves. The two dominant white varieties are semillon and sauvignon blanc; already you can see a parallel between this most hallowed of regions and our humble little Margaret River region.

The similarities don’t end there; the soil types, aspect and influence of the sea are strikingly similar, the grape varieties are the same but only recently have we started to see congruence in wine styles.

Traditionally, Margaret River wines have been fleshy, fruit driven, garrulous beasts when compared to their more aloof French cousins. It’s kind of like comparing Paul Hogan with British comedian Stephen Fry – one friendly, bubbly and immediately likeable compared to the austere and somehow chivalrous wines from France.

This point is no more clearly made than when comparing the white wines. Both are semillon sauvignon blanc blends. The Aussie example is zesty, fresh, summery and charming in its tropical simplicity, made simply and cleanly to maintain its affability. The French version on the other hand has undergone a lot more work in the winery, is fermented in barrel, and left on its lees to produce a wine of subtle depth and character. It’s not as immediately pleasant as the Aussie but has more levels of interest in a nutty, cultured, refined sort of way. As parochial as I am, our Margaret River SSBs just don’t come close to these nervy, feminine, alluring wines.

There are a few exceptions, however. There is a handful of producers in our South West who are making wines to challenge, rival and in some cases surpass these snooty French buggers. Cape Mentelle has been producing its excellent Walcliffe and Stella Bella its Suckfizzle for a few years, but the wine that excites me the most is a newcomer from the boys at Arlewood.

Winemaking team Terry Chellappah and Garry Gosatti have produced a stunningly exciting wine called Arlewood Sussex Loc. 3991. Gone is the focus on fruit concentration, replaced with a push towards texture, delicacy and mouth-feel. If other Margaret River SSBs are designed to be drunk super cold in a loud bar, then this wine shows best around a table with family and some rustic, broad flavoured, simple peasant-style food. It won’t immediately blow you away but after some time and some olives it will shyly open out in to a tight waisted, broad shouldered, finely chiselled and very welcome guest at the family table.

I reckon this style of family and food-oriented winemaking represents the future of the Margaret River wine industry. It seems that having one foot in the Graves heralds an exciting new chapter for our South West farmers and spells longevity and prosperity for the region.

 

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