Dan's Blog


Friday, May 26, 2017

This week’s news is mainly snippets from Europe that I thought you might find interesting plus a move/change from one of the most under-appreciated wine regions in Australia – Canberra. They make some sensational wines these days.

ITALY: For some time now I have been banging on about how good the wines of Mt Etna are, especially after attending the sensational Gambero Rosso Italian wine tasting in Sydney earlier this year. Well, it seems like I am in pretty good company, as recently it was announced that Angelo Gaia (the superstar and legend of Piedmont who has been leading the way in ubber premium Italian wines for 5 decades), has just formed a joint venture with an Etna vigneron to produce a “super Etna” wine. They have purchased 51 acres of land on the slopes of the famous volcano which includes 27 acres of vineyard planted to the Etna native varieties of Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. They plan to plant another 10 acres or so and produce super-premium wines from the unique micro-climate of the volcano. The vineyard’s soil is all volcanic ash.

Given the outstanding quality of every Etna wine I have tasted so far, I can’t wait to sample the fruits of this exciting joint venture.

RUSSIA:  Despite its annexation of the wine growing Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine, Russia’s wine production dropped by 10% last year to 370 million litres. It is only the mega wineries such as Massandra in the annexed Crimea that are growing. This is mainly as a result of the State’s plan to consolidate wine production in the Crimean Peninsula and so they are focusing most of the state funding on these large wine estates (factories), at the expense of the small individual growers. Hmmm! Sounds a bit like the rolling back of 100 years of history – doesn’t it?

The production volumes from the smaller producers have declined significantly and this is well below the planned levels. Quite a number of smaller producers have “withdrawn completely” (closed down) of their own accord.

There is considerable concern that Russia is/could be returning to the Soviet Era management of its wine industry, where almost all the wine production within the Soviet Bloc was generated by massive state wine factories. It has taken some of the Soviet satellite states over two decades to overcome this industrial attitude and quality of wine. Now it looks like Russia is charging head-long back to the “bad old days”, with the former satellite nations having to seek other markets for their much improved wines. Their main focus is on China and Europe, with some like Georgia, targeting the USA as well as South East Asia (including Australia). Some of the gorgeous wines of Georgia are available and becoming more popular here via   and


FRANCE:  In late April, France was struck with the worst frosts it has suffered in at least 25 years, with their better known regions of Bordeaux, Champagne and Burgundy all suffering major damage. In Burgundy this is the second year in a row of severe damage as last year they suffered from black ice and massive hails storms. Estimates put the damage at around 2,500 acres having had total bud destruction plus another 1,000 acres where there has been considerable damage.

In Champagne, they suffered extreme frost on two consecutive nights but were better prepared and many irrigated to give the buds a protective coating of ice, so there was less damage across the 80,000 or so acres of the region. However, they are still estimating a loss of at least 25% across the region. Seems to me, to be an appropriate time to switch to drinking the sensational bubbles that Australia and particularly Tasmania are making!


In Bordeaux, only the higher up properties escaped damage, such as the chateaux around St Emillon that came through unscathed. Given the falling demand for Bordeaux wines in China, the shortfall this vintage will help to maintain their too high a price for a while longer.

So, the moral to this news item is that if you want to enjoy French wine, focus on the Vin de France appellated wines which usually come from the less frost affected southern regions, where the grapes ripen more fully and where the winemakers are more adventurous, producing wines that the old stuff-shirted appellations would not allow.

CANBERRA:  One of my favourite Canberra wineries, Eden Road Wines, has just announced that they have secured the services of super talented winemaker, Celine Rousseau, to take over from their long standing Nick Spencer who has left to go and do his own thing. Bordeaux trained Celine joins Eden Road from being the inaugural winemaker at the Southern Highlands winery, Chalkers Crossing. Over the last 18 years she has achieved an enviable record, including making the winery a Halliday 5-Star winery, being a Qantas Young Winemaker of the Year, winning 5 trophies at last year’s Royal Sydney Wine Show, plus to cap that off, 4 trophies at the National Wine Show!


Earlier this year at the fabulous “Taste of Sydney” event in Centennial Park, at the “Secret Bottle” stand I tasted several of the Chalkers Crossing wines including the Tumburumba Sauvignon Blanc and the Hilltops Shiraz and they were very good wines.

Methinks that the future of Eden Road Wines is in a very capable pair of hands!!!

PS: If you get to Canberra, you MUST find time to visit at least – Eden Road Wines, Lark Hill Winery (whose winemaker Chris Carpenter has just being selected to be one of Australia’s 12 Young Gun winemakers for 2017) and Shaw Vineyard Estate. There are also plenty of other great wineries there, like Helm’s, Clonakilla, Lerida, Yarrh Wines, Collector Wines and Mount Majura Vineyards, just to name a few..




I was recently invited to attend the May meeting of the Blackwood Winemakers and Brewers Club Inc. here in Adelaide, for a combined chocolate and red wine tasting.


It was a sensational evening with Gary Bracegirdle and his charming wife Sue, explaining all about Bracegirdle Chocolates, from their humble beginnings through to today as the most awarded chocolatiers in Australia. They are carefully expanding their operations across the country.

Gary explained the difference between Couverture Chocolate (pure), which Bracegirdle uses and Compounded Chocolate (where the Cocoa butter is replaced with other fats such as palm oil) which the big chocolate makers use. He also went on to explain the difference between “Fair Trade” and “Sustainable Trade”.

The little sample buttons of the Bracegirdle chocolates were paired with some of the lovely wines from Adelaide’s, Patritti Wines. These wines included the new Patritti 2016 Pet Nat (naturally spritzig) Trincadeira, the conventionally made 2012 Trincadeira (the first vintage of this innovative Portuguese red variety Patritti has produced), one of the Patritti Cabernet/Shiraz blends (Sorry! I was too busy “test driving” chocolate to get the details of this wine) and the delicious Patritti 2015 Section 181 Grenache.

’Twas a great and very educational evening, however, for me the most sensational part was when I was given a taste of Gavin Pennell’s homemade, “The Alternatives” 2016 Durif. This wine which was made from grapes grown in Nangkita, was outstanding! It had masses of deep, deep, purple colour, a big nose with some interesting beefy characters and a hint of chocolate – so appropriate on the night! On the palate it was big, brambly, smooth, rich and yet very elegant for such a young Durif. No wonder it won a silver medal in the 2016 ANWABS – the National Amateur Winemaker Show. I would have given it a gold medal as I believe that it would give quite a few of the Rutherglen Durif (other than the real BIG-styles, like Warrabilla) a bloody good run for their money.

So the moral to the story is, chocolate and wine can be “best buddies” IF you have high quality chocolate paired with quality wine. Plus, experimenting with the different combos is great fun! Also, do not dismiss or scoff at amateur winemakers. They are not the old, Italian stereotypes. Today, most make bloody good wine as Gavin Pennell so ably demonstrated with his sensational “The Alternatives” Durif.