Dan's Blog


Friday, July 21, 2017

This week we take a look at recent wine news from the northern hemisphere, both good and bad. From a growing wine industry in Ethiopia to some award winning wines in England and to the devastating effect on vineyards in France due to a recent freak hailstorm.

ETHIOPIA:   Is a rugged landlocked country of 1.1 million square kilometres, in the Horn of Africa, with its capital being Addis Ababa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north; Djibouti and Somalia to the east; Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. Not exactly the most serene and peaceful part of the world.

It has a population of over 100 million people making it the most populous landlocked country on the planet.

A decade ago, the then Prime Minister invited the massive French wine/beverages company, Castel, to come and examine the vineyard opportunities in his country, as they already had a brewery in the country. There was already one wine company there - the 100 hectare Awash Winery.

Castel set up its vineyard some 160km south of the capital in Ziway. The first vintage was bottled in January 2014. Since then the operation has grown to a 162 hectare vineyard producing around 1.5 million bottles of wine a year under its brands – Rift Valley and Acacia. Castel are currently exporting about 15% of its production, mainly to the USA and China. These wines are made from classic European varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and the popularly planted, (in North Africa) Cinsaut. 

According to the company, its exports are mainly targeted to the growing number of Ethiopian restaurants springing up around the world. So in the not too distant future you may well be able to taste/enjoy Rift Valley wines in your local Ethiopian Restaurant.

The Rift Valley wine range of blended wines is generally of a sweeter style and is aimed at the emerging wine-drinkers of Ethiopia, who usually drink spirits. As the wine market there is very new and young, their sweeter wines compete very well with the imported dry wines from South Africa, France, Spain and Italy, which have a significant import tax levied on them.


As in other countries with rising per capita income, such as China and much of Asia, the consumption of wine is becoming part of the rite of passage to middle-class life.  The result of this is that although still very small, the consumption of wine is growing at an accelerating pace. Today wine can be found on the shelves of the new supermarket chains which are popping up across the nation.

Hopefully this trend will continue and in a decade’s time wine drinking will be a part of the Ethiopian lifestyle and that they will have a vibrant dynamic wine industry. Soon, the only place where man will still not be growing grapes will be Antarctica, as grapes are now grown in all 50 states of the USA!!!

FRANCE:   As I reported a while ago during the northern hemisphere spring, much of the French wine industry was hit with severe weather, from windstorms, heavy rain to hailstorms, so that their 2017 production is going to be much lower than the average. Parts of Bordeaux and much of Burgundy have been severely hit with some vineyards reporting losses of around 80% of their potential crop.

Now just to prove that they must have either ‘broken a mirror’ or ‘walked under a ladder’, the vignerons of Beaujolais were hit with a freak hailstorm on July 10 (happy Bastille Day on the 14th).

This disaster follows a similar but slightly less destructive hailstorm in June last year. This year’s was bigger, stronger and much more widespread. One village which was particularly harshly hit was the picturesque Fleurie, where a number of houses and wineries were damaged as well as the vineyards.

It would appear that the Beaujolais Crus in the north were the worst hit despite some producers using ‘anti-hail’ canons. Well known areas such as Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent and Chiroubles were all affected.


ENGLAND:   At the recent Decanter World Wine Awards, Norfolk-based Winbirri Vineyards (northern England) won one of only 34 Platinum “Best in Show” awards, with its Winbirri Vineyards 2015 Bacchus white wine. It came top in the world (in the show), for “Best value white wine made from a single grape variety”.

Most Aussie drinkers have not heard of the Bacchus grape variety which is a cross between a Riesling-x-Sylvaner and a Müller-Thurgau (that was developed in Germany in 1933). It was accorded official varietal status/protection in 1970. The variety was designed to be more adaptable and flexible to cold climate than what Riesling is. Not a variety that we are likely to be planting in Australia. If ripened fully its flavours are quite pungent and described as ‘exuberant.’

This win goes to show that it is not just the English Sparkling wines that are shining, but also their white wines.


LEVRIER (GREYHOUND) SPARKLING MESLIER by JO IRVINE - Hands up those of you who have heard of the grape variety Meslier? There are actually two varieties – Gross Meslier and Petit Meslier.

No! Well don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t as there are only around five hectares of Meslier planted in the whole world. Four hectares in Champagne and just under one in the Adelaide Hills.

As far as I have been able to determine there are just three varietal sparkling Petit Meslier made in the world, two of which are made here in South Australia – Levrier and one other winery. In France, only Champagne Duval-Leroy make a varietal one and only in those years when the grapes can be ripened enough. The other miniscule amounts grown are trickled into other Champagnes without declaring its existence, making it as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’.

So, it is not surprising if you haven’t heard of it. When Jo’s dad Jim owned Irvine Wines they used to produce it under their label. It was a corker of a wine which I have reviewed with great praise in the past.

So this is the first Sparkling Meslier under Jo’s own label, LEVRIER, and it is a ripper!


I was mildly surprised by the slight pinkness in the bright vibrant colour. The wine has a consistent and lively bead, with oodles of green apple aromas.

On the palate it has zesty, fine steely acidity and intense green apple flavours. This wine tastes very, very young, flinty/steely and austere, but with delightful underlying flavours. It reminds me somewhat of some of the bigger style austere Champagnes.

Have “patience grasshopper” as this wine will develop for a bloody long time and turn into an even more sensational sparkling wine, like the Irvine Wines 1999 Meslier Brut, that I lined it up against, has.