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Wine tastings bore me to death. Don’t get me wrong I love tasting wines. In fact, if it was up to me that’s probably all I would be doing. I’m talking about these general wine tastings where you need to push and shove through a mosh pit of wine drinkers, who stand there with the sole purpose of blocking you from having a glass of wine.
Then there is the awkward small talk - “Could I taste your wines, please?” - like there is any other reason I would be standing there all sweaty and completely hating the world. When the winemaker, importer or whoever does pour you a drop the spittoon is nowhere to be found, so down it goes. Reluctantly at first but then out of pure necessity to survive this ordeal.
However, there are always exceptions. In September I attended the Artisans of Australia tasting in London. The event exhibited a repertoire of wines that was nothing short of impressive. The tasting was organised in Shoreditch, the hipster epicenter of London, at a club called Cargo. Not your average tasting venue. The invitation promised “Aussie winemakers and some bloody good booze”. They delivered.
Wine is all about character and authenticity. The people behind the liquid are a huge part of the story. Even though it might seem like a given, many wine regions struggle to find a proper narrative. But there was no shortage of personality in the Artisans of Australia tasting. The organisers tried to lure wine enthusiasts by throwing around sexy keywords like “cool climate”, “terroir”, “natural” and “minimalists”. And it worked. There were plenty of interesting wines to go around. Some utterly delicious, others just plain weird. But at no point did I think to myself “oh God, get me out of here”, which was refreshing. Here is some of my picks from the tasting. If an opportunity presents itself don’t hesitate to drink these.
BK Wines has been up and running for nearly a decade now. The winemaker / DJ / skateboarder Brendon Keys takes a hands-off approach to making wine.
The relatively cool climate of Adelaide Hills is present in the wines as a lively freshness. You are just not cool these days if you don’t have any pét-nat bubbles in your portfolio, bro. BK Wines’s rustic yet somehow delightfully elegant Pétillant-Naturel Chardonnay 2016 was dangerously easy to drink. Also, their Skin n Bones White is something to look for if you are into some skin contact blancos.
This pinot noir from Ballart, Victoria is particularly tasty. The bottle is easy to spot with its fuzzy moss-like label. You do not see that very often. Whether you consider that a gimmick or not it’s the stuff inside the bottle that will ultimately win you over. Savoury and full of funk, the good kind. Expect to hear more from Byrne.
You might not have heard of David Franz yet but you most likely know his father, the Australian wine legend Peter Lehmann. Instead of continuing with his father’s brand David decided to go his own way, lucky us. I’m sure there is a shoemaker’s-son-always-goes-barefoot joke here somewhere but from what I tasted that ain’t the case.
David’s Long Gully Road Semillon from over 120-year-old vines is spectacular. Vibrant, razor sharp acidity and layers upon layers of flavour. Take it from me, Barossa whites are for real.
Winemaker David Bowley’s unique small batch wines combined with colourful artwork on the labels stand out even in the darkest of rooms. The energetic wine scene of Adelaide Hills is heavily present in the bottles. The TN/13 Touriga Nacional and PARK Red Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso are both great examples of what can be done in Australia outside the more traditional grape varieties.
Here is just a few picks but in all honesty there were plenty of interesting wines that I could have picked just as easily such as Chalmers’ spicy Schioppettino and Massena’s The Howling Dog with its eclectic blend of Saperavi, Petite Sirah and Tannat. Or perhaps the delicious weirdness of Sami Odi from Barossa Valley and the crisp McLaren Vale wines of Jauma. Ah, there were just too much goodness to choose from.
I left the tasting more thirsty than when I came in and if anything, the event taught me to never ever simplify Australian wine by putting it in one general category.