Dan's Blog


Friday, July 07, 2017

Welcome to the new financial year! Let us hope that it is kind to all of us in the Australian wine industry and that more people than ever around the world get great enjoyment from our wines. This week’s blog covers some interesting changes coming up in the wine industries of Spain and the USA.

SPAIN:   Unlike in the famous regions of France, such as Burgundy, in Spain’s best known wine growing area, Rioja, it has been until now illegal to mention the name of a single vineyard, or a particular village on the label of the wine.

In what has been long overdue and described as “real progress” their regulatory body has just approved the use of single vineyard names (viñedos singulars) on their wine labels. However, in typical European style, they did not rule on permitting the use of the name of a single village on the label. Instead they said that a ruling would be handed down “imminently”. This ‘progress’ is the result of a long standing battle between the regulators and local producers who have been calling for both changes, for a very long time. The issue came to a head early last year when over 150 winemakers, wine writers and wine retailers signed a petition calling for these changes in order to maintain and enhance Rioja’s relevance in a rapidly changing wine world.

So change is happening! However, if I read the release correctly, the single vineyard change will not come into effect until January 1, 2019 – can’t rush these things!!!

USA:  There is currently a push to have a number of grape varieties added to the TTB (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) list of approved wine designations. The TTB is currently considering whether 21 new grape variety names are to be approved “for use in designating American wines”. These names were submitted by growers in 10 states east of the Rocky Mountains and are mainly hybrids that have been engineered to withstand the severe winter cold temperatures of their states.

For example, New York State has three hybrid varieties on the list. These are one white variety, Aromella, and two red varieties, Arandell and Geneva Red. It was not that long ago (2013) that New York Finger Lakes wineries received approval to use the name Saperavi on their wines – mainly due to the efforts of the Standing Stone Vineyard. Prior to this approval Dr Konstantin Frank Wines, that had been growing Saperavi since 1962 called the resultant wine ‘Cuvée Rouge’ – as it was not legal to call it Saperavi despite the fact that the variety has been grown in Georgia since before the America’s were discovered!!

Other names ‘under consideration’ include Crimson, Pearl, Petit Pearl, Blue Bell and Verona – Won’t that please the Italians? And my favourite name, Chisago – Boy! That is sooo creative – might sell well in Chicago! Chisago is a cross between Swenson Red and St Croix and is cold resistant to -40oF. There is also a Vitis mustangensis variety which has been called Mustang on the list.

One which was of particular interest to me on the list is the Jacquez, a red hybrid between Vitis vinifera and Vitis aestivalis, which has been around since about 1829 – but as yet is still not approved by the TTB. Meanwhile here in Australia, Ridgemill Estate has been producing an excellent wine from Jacquez for a number of years. So if they were based in the USA, they would not be able to varietally label it as such. Wow, ‘the land of the free’ and red tape!!!

So whenever you are thinking about or complaining about the bureaucracy in the Australian wine industry, consider the amount of ‘red tape’ and onerous rules and regulations that other wine producing countries have that we don’t.

Let’s thank our lucky stars for Aussie common sense and minimal bureaucracy and the competitive advantage it gives us in the world of wine.  Cheers!


SPANISH BIERZO & PRIORAT:   Last month Adelaide’s Edinburgh Cellars conducted a sensational and very educational (eye-opening) tasting of some of the Spanish wines imported by “The Spanish Acquisition”.

There were eight red wines on taste; four from Bierzo (Mencia variety) and four from Priorat (Garnacha – No, it is not the same as Grenache).

The wines were all made by two cousins, Ricardo and Alvaro Palacios, originally from Rioja, who have basically resurrected the region of Bierzo from oblivion and significantly enhanced the reputation of Priorat several fold.

The Bierzo tasting started with the regional blend ‘Descendientes de Jose Palacios “Petalos” 2014’ which is a fabulous wine to introduce people to the joys of the native Spanish red variety, Mencia. Parts of the blend came from the lower lands where the vineyards are planted on alluvial soils (which have higher yields) and parts from the various hillside elevations across the region, where yields are lower and the parcels are more distinctive, making more intense wine. This is a great melange of what the region has to offer.

Next was the ‘Descendientes de Jose Palacios ‘Corullon’ 2014’ which is an amalgam of 200 small little parcels of premium Mencia scattered across some of the hilliest parts of the region that they have access to.

This was followed by two 2014 single vineyard examples called ‘Moncerbal’ and ‘Las Lamas’. Both of these were ‘top shelf’, very classy wines with much greater depth of flavour and character. They are each the unique expression of their little patch of the magic that is Bierzo/Mencia.

As Mencia is very resistant to oxidation, it was recommended that in most instances one should double-decant these wines in order to bring out their best characters.


The second half of this brilliant tasting was for the wines of Alvaro Palacio, from Priorat. These wines are predominantly made from Garnacha with some having some Samsó (Carignan) added. We started with the 2013 Alvaro Palacio ‘Camins (paths) del Priorat’ Garnacha Samsó, which was a regional blend and a brilliant introduction to the potential of the region. It was a smooth, elegant, very tasty wine with some divine savoury characters and tight, grippy tannins on the long, lingering finish. Lip-smackingly good!

Then we tasted another regional blend, in the 2014 ‘Les Terrasses’, with the fruit source from the higher up terraces of the region. An excellent wine with great balance and poise, which being from higher altitude was bigger and rounder in structure with more depth of flavour.

This was then followed by the 2014 “Gratallops” a Samsó wine from the village. It had some alluring herbal and meaty characters, with a gentle hint of smokiness on the bouquet. This is a very classy wine with lovely depth of flavour and great complexity – truly superb!


Finally, we tasted the 2014 ‘Finca Dofi’ – the single vineyard Garnacha flagship of their range. Given that it was not as deep in colour as the ‘Gratallops’ and with gentler aromas, I was not expecting such a complex, multi-layered, elegant, powerhouse of a wine. Whilst quite gentle on the palate, it has a steely minerality in the background that makes it a svelte but powerful wine. Totally Divine!

What a perfect way to prove to ‘the doubting Thomas’ that there is a heck of a lot more to Spanish reds than just Tempranillo wines from the Rioja. The reds of both Bierzo and Priorat are smooth, sophisticated wines with a steely core and great balance. To sum it up, they are bloody brilliant! So if you need to, find an excuse to go out and grab a bottle from fine wine retailers such as Adelaide’s Edinburgh Cellars and discover the joys of Spanish wines beyond the Rioja.  

Ole y Saludos mis amigos!