Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rolling and Climbing into Cumulus Wine

A Tasting With the ‘Young Turks’ of Winemaking in Orange, Australia

“The job of wine is to leave your mouth ready for another mouthful of food,” explains Rob Geddes – one of only a handful of Masters of Wine in Australia - and author of A Good Nose and Great Legs. If this premise is indeed true (I, for one, nod happily in agreement) there is no better place on Earth to experience the harmonious interlacing of food and wine than in Orange.

To get to Orange one must take a 30 minute plane ride in a double propeller sky hopper, or drive 200 miles West of Sydney, just over the Blue Mountains (which, incidentally, got their name because of a blue-ish mist emitted by the Eucalyptus trees blanketing the crags and peaks).

A paradise for both the foodie and wine-lover, Orange has 4 “hatted” restaurants amid a population of only 45,000. To be “hatted” means having been awarded at least one “Chef’s Hat,” an Australian means of ranking a restaurant (something akin to the Northern Hemisphere’s Michelin star ratings.) Quite a few respected chefs from Sydney, and other urban cityscapes, have left the hustle-and-bustle to set up shop in the region of Orange to enjoy life at a slower pace and live closer to the source of the high-quality produce supplying the upscale restaurants in the city.

The locals in this largely middle class region support the exploding culinary haven, as tourists are only beginning to trickle in. This, of course, makes it Australia’s best kept secret… and although a part of me wants to keep it to myself… the locals welcome visitors with open arms, and are some of the nicest, most naturally open people on globe.

Oft referred to as the “food basket” of Australia, the soil in Orange is rich in clay, limestone and volcanic rock. The town lies across the lap of Mount Canobolas – the highest point between Australia and South Africa. Its cool climate and nutrient-laden land makes it ideal for not only grapes but also cherries, apples, peaches, figs, pears, olives and more. At an elevation of 3,000, Orange's air is dry and crisp, allowing residents to enjoy each of Mother Nature’s four seasons. Adorable woolly sheep freely chomp their way across grassy knolls - making me wish I didn't look forward to the "spring lamb" who are born around May and fatten themselves on sweet spring grass, winding up lovely roasts only six months later...

I was in Orange, last week, and April is Fall down under, so I got to see first-hand why the town is aptly nicknamed “the colour city of Australia.” Colorful Autumn leaves burst like flames against the bright blue sky and sprinkled themselves over parks and streets like cupcake confetti.

The wineries had just finished harvesting the grapes for their 2008 vintages (more on tasting this year’s wines before American grapes are even plump enough for picking, in an upcoming post!) but that didn’t stop me from tasting the 2007 whites and 2006 reds with Cumulus’ winemakers Debbie Laurtiz and Andrew Bilenkij, the emerging generation in the enology of New South Wales.

Founded in 2004 by heralded winemaker Philip Shaw (left) and CEO Jeffrey Wilkinson, Cumulus has emerged as the largest wine producer in the region. Its 9 vintages won over 70 medals, last year, alone. Twice named Wine Maker of the Year, Philip Shaw’s decades of winemaking have earned him respect from the international wine community, and dozens of vintner protégés from around the world refined their skills under his tutelage, including Debbie and Andrew. Though Philip is still a “winemaking consultant” with Cumulus, in January of this year he turned over the reigns to the younger duo and turned his focus to his own label: Philip Shaw Wines, which is distributed by Cumulus.

Debbie and Andrew, both in their 30’s, have a wealth of experience under their belts and have already worked outside Australian borders. I sat down with them, Jeffrey Wilkinson (in photo, on right) and Rob Geddes for an exclusive tasting, a few days ago in Orange. If you are looking for wonderful wine – for under $20 – read on. The following is a run down of all 9 Cumulus Wines, and insights from the winemakers, themselves.

The two groupings of wine under the Cumulus label are “Rolling” and “Climbing” whose names reflect the vineyards from which the grapes come. The Rolling wines are from the rolling hills of the Central Ranges below 1800 feet and the Climbing wines come from grapes grown on the mounting hillside of Orange.

(Sidenote: In Australia, the "Rolling" label depicts a happy young woman riding a bicycle across a green pasture. In the U.S., Gallo forced Cumulus to change their label because they felt the illustration competed with their "Red Bicyclette.")

Upon sitting down to sample the line up, Rob
shared a few thoughts on how he approaches a wine tasting. I scribbled down notes from the tasting, which I’ll share with you here. (Be warned that this info is directly from my notebook, and not all written in proper sentences…)

Rob’s Tips:

-Good wine has fruit, a middle and a finish
-When tasting wine, I look at color, clarity, condition. Color should be bright. White should still have a little bit of green tint.
-Does the wine have qualities of fruit, vegetable or animal. If fruit, is it tropical or citrus? lemon? grapefruit? pineapple? Vegetables? If animal, is it dead carcass (laugh) or roast meat?

The Wines:

2007 Rolling Semillon – “zingy, citrus, tropical” 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Semillon. (Debbie: Normally it would be 70 % Sauvignon Blanc but in 2007 we had a draught.)

2007 Rolling Chardonnay - “expression of stone fruit / citrus, Fruit dominant, bright, good food wine, not much oak. (Andrew: “The grapes were in small bunches, small berries – we had a lot of freshness in 2007”)

2007 Climbing Chardonnay – more complex, more oakey, more subtle, restrained

2007 Climbing Pinot Gris - these are half way white and red grapes (Andrew: “I taste caramelized pear”)
honey color from touch of color in skins. (Debbie: “this wine grows into itself in 6 –12 months after bottling. It’s best drunk within 2 years.)

2006 Rolling Shiraz – good example of a cool climate wine. Good fruit expression, bright, juicy, a little bit of white pepper. “Has a Rhone structure but with bright fruit.”( Jeffrey Wilkinson: “This wine costs about $16 but has beat out wines costing $25.”)

2006 Climbing Shiraz – comes from rockier ridges, thinner soils, costs around$20, fruit and oak, won 8 medals, more elegant, more serious, darker fruit, more concentration, little creamier, rich aroma. (Ron Geddes: “Has a nice farewell.”)

2006 Climbing Merlot – (Andrew: “Even newly bottled, its fantastic!”) Plumminess, leafiness, approachable, soft palate, soft tannins, reflects region. (Andrew: “2008 was a perfect weather for Merlot. When the fruit arrived, it looked perfect.”)

2006 Rolling Cabernet Merlot – “Fantastic food wine!” not too heavy, bright fruits, good with meat, flavor of berries, cedar

2006 Climbing Cabernet Sauvignon – (Debbie: “This is one of our flagship wines. It’s a wonderful expression of the variety and the region. Its powerful without being ‘big.’”) (Andrew: “It is the first one I got really excited about. It was elegant from Day One.”)

What to expect from the 2008 harvest? A couple of surprises are on the way! Cumulus is coming out with its first rosé and its first sparkling wine.

Andrew says that the 2008 Rosé Climbing Pink Shiraz is “very juicy and has great length.” The first place it will hit our planet is in Germany in May, followed by an Australian release in August. With the popularity of quality rose finally on the rise in the U.S., hopefully we won’t be too long after!

The sparkling wine is a blend of Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. I know I will be stocking up and drinking it without restraint. As Jeffrey Wilkinson says, “Wine is to be drunk. It shouldn’t be set on a shelf as a trophy.”

To which I say: “Cheers, mate!”

1 comment:

V Ribbed Belts said...

Amazing post mate! Im going to be at The Food of Orange District (F.O.O.D Week) is an annual event held over 10 days - usually in April.
The Orange and Cabonne areas are known as 'The Food Basket' of NSW and each year F.O.O.D. Week supports local produce and 'fine food' showcasing the producers, their products, the local chefs and restaurants, and other enterprises that provide the region with its great reputation for fine food and wine.
Offering everything from wine tasting to farm gate tours, cooking demonstrations, cabaret, music, picnics and the Colour City Cup race meeting. Also a huge 'Night Market' and the Country Energy F.O.O.D Affair, plus a F.O.O.D Dinner featuring dishes made from local produce.

At markets, workshops, kitchens, restaurants, cafes, wineries and special celebration dinners and events you can meet all the people that make it happen.
There are over 60 events held at superb locations.