Matt Gant surprised me. Once the winemaker for St. Hallett Wines, the Barossa winemaker has shown big promise with the early vintages from his own First Drop winery. When I showed up for a tasting with him earlier this week, I expected to run through some of his unreleased wines. We did that, but he also brought along a bunch from other winemakers.
I can’t remember when a winemaker made a point to show me somebody else’s wines. But Gant had an agenda. He wanted to clue me in to what his peer group was accomplishing in Australia.
“A new generation of winemakers has worked around the world, not just in Australia,” he said as his United States importer, Ronnie Sanders, started opening the 13 bottles he brought. Gant’s bio notes that he has made wine in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the U.S. and New Zealand. “We’re bringing some innovation to Australian wines, looking for more minerality and nerve in our wines, showing a more regional focus.
“And it’s not just my generation,” he added. “I see a reinvigoration across the board.”
Gant, who makes a Shiraz called Two Percent for the dollop of Albariño he co-ferments in it, assembled a tasting of modern Australian wines that included an Arneis, a Pinot Gris, a Barbera (blended with a touch of Nebbiolo), a Montepulciano, a Pinot Noir, and a touch of Touriga Naçional blended into a Cabernet Sauvignon. He also brought two Chardonnays that aimed for minerality over creaminess.
Several of those wines were his. I liked his First Drop Arneis 2009, which showed crisp texture and vigorous fruit character against a mineral background, and his First Drop Montepulciano “Minchia” 2007, which has all the spice and attack on the palate of Shiraz but the tannin structure of an Italian red. I’ve liked previous vintages of Big Blind, the Nebbiolo blend, and this approachable 2006 we tasted was just as pleasant.
I also admired 24 Karat Chardonnay 2007 from Margaret River, tight in texture, with racy balance and appealing stony notes, and Ngeringa Syrah 2006 from Adelide Hills, with the classic black pepper nose and light texture of cool-climate Syrah around a supple core of plum and blackberry fruit. Neither wine is imported yet, but I would urge anyone to look for them as soon as they are.
I was less impressed with Prentice Pinot Gris 2008 from an area called Whitlands, in Gippsland, a cool-climate region in Victoria. It tasted stale to me. Gant agreed. “It took me three vintages to home in on when to pick my Arneis. This one probably should have been picked a few days sooner.” Woori Yallock Pinot Noir 2007, made in Yarra Valley by Mac Forbes, had the right structure and balance, but the flavors struck me as weird. And I dinged Cherubino Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River 2007 for its vegetal
character. I put these under the heading of “good efforts, needing revision.”
Much better was Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale Dead Ringer 2006, made by winemaker Samantha Connew. It showed sweet fruit and elegance, with just enough herbal character to remind you that it’s a Cabernet.
“What grape do you think McLaren Vale does best?” Gant asked. My answer was that the region seemed to fare well with many different varieties, but none stood out in particular. “I agree,” he said. “For me, it’s Portuguese varieties.” To that end, he has planted a vineyard there with Touriga for reds and Arinto and Antao Vaz, white varieties from southern Portugal.
So far, the Touriga has found its way into a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon he called Jr. Gantos. The 2006 was dark and focused, with a flavor that reminded me of A-1 Sauce and tomato leaf. Maybe it will be good with steak? Let’s reserve judgment on the Touriga until Gant has enough to make a varietal bottling on its own.
Aaron Meeker — Kansas City, KS — October 12, 2009 2:22pm ET
Bill Norrish — Groton, MA — October 12, 2009 9:47pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 13, 2009 1:07am ET
Greg Melick — Hobart,Tasmania, Australia — October 13, 2009 4:58am ET
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