The first time I was aware that I was drinking a wine from the Clare Valley was in 1986 when my great mate, PK, brought a bottle of 1971 Seven Hills wine over for dinner one night – I think it was designated as “Claret” or maybe “Dry Red”. It was in fact the last vintage made by, Brother John Hanlon, before he passed away on the job and was succeeded by, Brother John May, who was the seventh winemaker for the order since they arrived there in 1851. I loved the wine, despite being very old fashioned and tasting more like a very dry old port. It kindled an interest in me for the Clare Valley. Not long after that I discovered the delightful wines of, Taylors Wines, at my local Grace Bros department store, and I was well and truly hooked.
Since those days the Clare Valley has gone on to have several high’s like Leasingham winning the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1995, and probably even more lows, with things such as the closure of the venerable Quelltaler Winery, Lindemans pulling out and selling the famous Florita Vineyard, Leasingham winery closing, etc.
Towards the end of last century, a band of new, adventurous, young winemakers entered the scene and gradually transformed the region. People like Jeffrey Grosset, Tim Adams, Justin Ardill (Reillys Wines) Neil Paulett, Leigh Eldredge, etc. These were later followed by excellent wineries such as Claymores (with their unique association with the Liverpool football Club), Kirrihill and O’Leary Walker.
At the turn of the century the winemakers of the Clare got together and started a worldwide revolution by adopting the use of screwcaps, for their wines due to the poor quality of the corks that they were able to buy at the time. Today, thanks to the foresight of the Clare winemakers almost all Australian wine, and a growing percentage of the world’s wine is bottled under screwcap rather than the unreliable and inferior cork. Even the ubber conservative French are slowly starting to use screwcaps. Last year I visited a winery in the Loire Valley which now bottle all of its wines under screwcap, so as to avoid closure failure. Sacré Bleu!!
Recently, there has been another injection of more new blood into the Clare, with the likes of Matriarch & Rogue, Sussex Squire, Velvet & Willow, Koerner, Artwine and Stonebridge, bringing new ideas and new varieties to the region.
With around 60 wineries in the region, the Clare Valley produces some sensational wines from the ultra-conservative, A.P. Birks Wendouree, through to the experimentacious, Matriarch & Rogue, which produce some cracking emerging variety wines such as Fiano, Saperavi, Malbec and Montepulciano. Unfortunately unlike some other regions, they do not currently seem to be getting the exposure and publicity that their excellent wines deserve.
Also, sadly the famous, world-renowned and brilliant, Clare Gourmet Weekend, which is on in May each year has had to be cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus, which has also led to the closure of restaurants and cellar doors. So it is up to us to keep this adventurous gaggle of winemakers ticking along until the world returns to “normal”.
Therefore, I would ask you to “Declare for Clare” and buy some of their outstanding wines so as to discover or rediscover the gems that this underappreciated region has to offer.
THIS WEEK’S WINE REVIEW:
I have always been a huge fan of Saperavi since I tasted the Patritti Wines 2008 Saperavi when it was first released. Since then I have tasted a raft of Georgian Saperavi (the home of Saperavi) and even some US Saperavi for my “Saperavi the Sensational” article which appeared in the March/April 2017 Edition of WBM Magazine.
Furthermore, I assisted Hvino News in Georgia, to source Australian Saperavi for the inaugural SapPrize Contest in 2017 (Saperavi World Prize). SapPrize was a worldwide contest for Saperavi made from outside Georgia. Every Australian Saperavi producer (at the time) entered and Australia won all eleven Gold Medals awarded, including the “Cirami Estate 2015 Riverland Saperavi” winning the “Gold Azarspesha” (Grand Gold Prize), for the Best in the World (outside of Georgia).
As part of that process I encountered the sensational (which I recently re-tasted), GAPSTED WINES LIMITED RELEASE N/V SPARKLING SAPERAVI (which won one of the Gold Medals at the SapPrize awards).
This wine has masses of vibrant, deep purple colour, great fizziness, a soft, gentle bouquet of baked beetroot and some florals, with just a trace of violets. It is gorgeous, mouth-filling, bursting with divine berry flavours and a dollop of sweetness, not OTT but not dry. It is silky-smooth and the flavours explode onto the palate before leading to a nice, clean, dryish finish. Whilst I would personally prefer 1-2 grams/litre less residual sugar, it is bloody gorgeous and EVER SO DRINKABLE.
As this cracking sparkling red wine is fruity and ever so slightly sweet it is ideal for celebrations or as an accompaniment to a meal such as roast turkey or roast duck.
It is just one of the range of excellent wines that Gapsted produce, which you can check out at www.gapstedwines.com.au
I have recommended each and every one of their wines that I have tasted thus far. Cheers!