Wine with Leslie Williams: Climate change affecting winemakers

There is no doubt our climate is changing and while weather shouldn’t be confused with climate the fires in Australia have focused a lot of minds.

Wine with Leslie Williams: Climate change affecting winemakers

There is no doubt our climate is changing and while weather shouldn’t be confused with climate the fires in Australia have focused a lot of minds. Grapes are a particularly sensitive crop so winemakers have been noticing changes in our climate for decades as vintages trend ever earlier and hail and heat become a yearly problem in places like Burgundy.

Most of Australia’s wine regions have not been affected by recent bushfires although some growers in the Adelaide Hills region have had severe crop reductions for the 2020 vintage as have many growers in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, but the Australian Wine Board says fires only affected around 1% of the country’s grape harvest. Sadly the Tyrrell family in the Hunter were badly affected and will lose at least 80% of the 2020 crop, bad news for lovers of their complex minty Shiraz and legendary long-lived Sémillon.

Remember how quickly the Yarra Valley recovered after they had devastating fires on February 7, 2009 (known as Black Saturday) so let’s pray the affected regions can recover quickly.

Australian wine is now second to Chile in sales here but for the real quality wines, you often need to look to Independent wine shops. I flew to London for the annual wine fair in late January this year and didn’t taste a badly made wine all day although many were not imported here. Highlights of those that are here included Cullen (Margaret River, Liberty Wines), Henschke (Barossa, Pembroke Wines), D’Arenberg (Mclaren Vale, Febvre) and Heartland (Langhorne Creek, Robb Wines).

Two excellent family-owned producers I also love are Tyrrells and Yalumba who presented some of their classic wines at a seminar here to coincide with Australia Day (January 26). Hunter Valley Sémillon is one of those wine styles you need to explore, even sub €20 bottles can age and improve for decades and the finest examples like Tyrrells Vat 1 will improve for 50-plus years. Similarly Yalumba’s Pewsey Vale Clare Valley Riesling was as good as ever as were their Viogniers.

For the diary: Thursday, February 27 at 7.30 pm, in the Everyman Theatre: Bubble Brothers Champagne and Smoked Salmon (Frank Hederman) tasting.

Price: €30; more info at: bubblebrothers.ie/events

Wines under €15

JJ McWilliam’s Chardonnay, New South Wales,Australia — €14.99

Stockists: No. 21 Midleton, O’Keefe’s St Lukes, Roches Whitechurch, Martins, Fairview, McHughs, Jus de Vine, Redmonds, Dalys Boyle

Yes, I know you don’t like Australian Chardonnay but have you tasted it recently? The Aussies learned we disliked flabby over-oaked Chardonnay and you will struggle to find that style these days. This has some oak and peach-pineapple aromas but also elegance and crisp lemony fruits.

First Creek Hunter Valley Sémillon,Australia — €14.99

Stockist: O’Briens

This is new in O’Briens and reduced from €20 to €15 this month and is a great introduction to the classic style. At 11% abv and from a family-run estate with careful fruit selection, this is exactly the type of wine you should watch out for from the Hunter Valley. Brisk citrus, lime and grapefruit fruits, honey and lanolin already creeping in, this has a long life ahead.

Exquisite Collection South AustraliaPinot Noir — €8.99

Stockist: Aldi

We think of Australia as being too warm for Pinot Noir but you will find excellent complex examples from cooler regions such as Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and the Yarra Valley (eg, Innocent Bystander, deBortoli, etc). This has classic earthy bright red fruits with soft plum and cherry notes. The Exquisite Collection Shiraz and Riesling are also worth trying.

Wines over €15

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2018,South Australia — €16.95

Stockists: Corkscrew, JJ O Driscolls Cork, O’Donavans, 1601 Kinsale, Worldwide Wines Waterford

Yalumba’s entry level range is worth exploring (Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, etc) and their top wines are worth laying down (eg, The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet, Samuels Collection Bush Wine). This Viognier is lively with aromatic lime and pear fruits, and exotic fruit and spice notes.

Willunga 100 Shiraz-Viognier,McLaren Vale, Australia — €16.95

Stockists: Worldwide Wines, Cinnamon Cottage, O’Donovans, Jus de Vine, Drink Store, www.wineonline.ie

This is classic full-bodied ripe Shiraz. Willunga are probably more famous for their old vine Grenache but they don’t make bad wine. Spice and floral notes mixed with blackberry and dark plum fruits, supple and textured with grip but also a pleasing luscious ripeness balanced by acidity.

Tyrrells Hunter Valley Sémillon,Australia — €29.95

Stockists: JJ O Driscolls Cork, O’Donavans, 1601 Kinsale, Worldwide Wines Waterford

Hunter Valley Sémillon starts life young and racy but with a couple of decades under its belt takes on a waxy, honeyed character. This is just 11.5% and made with natural yeast and no malo-lactic fermentation, lemon and citrus aromas, rounded and ripe with grapefruit and balanced freshness.

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