September 4, 2020

Just about everybody who drinks wine in Australia has heard of Max Schubert – the creator of Grange and the story of its creation. He is one of what I call, the “Milestone Men”, in the history of wine.

Another such Milestone Man was, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who in 1973 as head of Château Mouton Rothschild became the only person to successfully have their status in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification upgraded. Originally Mouton had been rated as a 2nd Growth (due to not being French owned in 1855) and after almost a lifetime of lobbying Baron Philippe got Mouton Rothschild upgraded to become the fifth First Growth Château in Bordeaux. There have been no changes since then!!

Other Milestone Men include Robert Parker, the American lawyer who thrust the 100 point wine scoring system onto the wine world as well as nudging a whole generation of winemakers into making “flavour bomb” wines with high alcohol, tannin and flavours. Also, Angelo Gaia, who helped create the whole ‘Super Tuscan’ scene in rebellion to the “status quo”.

However, the guy who was the original Milestone Man nobody would have heard of, unless they read my articles and blogs, as I sometimes refer to him – that is, Pliny the Elder (called this because his son, Pliny the Younger, was almost as famous). He was born Gaius Plinius Secundus in 23 A.D., and had a huge curiosity for reading and writing at a time when very, very few people were able to do so. In the military he served in Germany and Spain before being given command of a fleet to combat piracy near Naples. At the ripe old age (for those times) of 56 he sailed his fleet into the bay at Pompeii during the eruption of Mt Vesuvius to help rescue people. During this rescue he died from the toxic volcanic fumes.

Pliny lived during the best of times in the Roman Empire, at a time when Roman citizens usually consumed a bottle of wine a day. He developed a deep love for wine and through his military connections tasted and wrote about wines from all corners of the empire. Like people do today, he celebrated appellations, grand cru sites and specific estates, based on their quality and age-worthiness. His works included recording the best sites of what is now Lombardy, Venice, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany as well as the top vineyards south of Naples and around Pompeii. Among the estates he praised for their high quality was Mamertine in Messina.

His extensive writings on the “first Growths” of the time included the legendary, Falernian – Rome’s most celebrated wine. He wrote much further afield than just the wines of Rome, writing about wines from around the empire. This included commenting on such things as the planting of the variety e.g. the Spanish red variety, Balisca (ancestor to Petit Verdot), in Bordeaux, and the high prices being charged in Rome for the wines of Vienne (Rhône). Along the way he lamented the rise of cheap (in quality and price) wine within the empire that was tainting the good name of the noble vinum.

His best known achievement was the publication of his 37-volume, Naturalis Historia encyclopaedia, which was used as a reference guide up until the Middle Ages. In the wine book (Book 14) he even ranked the top vineyards of Rome, whilst in Book 17 he covered viticultural techniques and expounded his concept that vineyards had a greater influence on the wine than the grape variety did – the first steps towards today’s concept of Terroir.

What an amazing man he was. Today’s equivalent would be someone like Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Hugh Johnson and James Halliday all rolled into one! It is no wonder that even today wine writers refer to Pliny the Elder when talking about ancient grape varieties, etc.

He was the first and longest referenced of wine’s “Milestone Men”.

In these difficult times I will leave you with a quote from Pliny the Elder: “the only certainty is that nothing is certain” – which is certainly true!

Cheers and enjoy great wines!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about one of my favourite Italian native red varieties – LAGREIN. Originating from the cool Trentino-Alto Aldige region in Northern Italy, it is actually a descendant of another native Italian red variety - Teroldego. It is well regarded due to its ability to produce deeply coloured wines with good flavour and plenty of tannins. However, it needs plenty of TLC in the vineyard, as otherwise it turns feral with massive vegetative growth thus making thin, green, insipid wine from under-developed/under-ripe grapes.

In 2018 renowned European grape geneticist, Dr José Vouillamoz, rated it as one of the ten “potentially globally important” varieties of the future. Already here in Australia there are just over 40 Lagrein producers according to Darby Higg’s definitive website. See link:

Whilst the variety hails from the cooler region of Northern Italy where it produces tight, tannic, long-living wines, here in Australia it is achieving great success in less cool regions such as Langhorne Creek, Barossa Valley and the Riverland. In these warmer climates, the grapes ripen more and the resulting wine is a bit bigger, rounder and has softer acidity that those from its native land. This will assist in making it popular in these “instant gratification” days where people no longer cellar wine. Instead they buy it, take it home and usually (85% of the time) open it within 48 hours of the purchase.

So now to this week’s wine the HOFER FAMILY WINES 2019 LANGHORNE CREEK LAGREIN. This wine is very deep, inky, almost black colour, it has a gorgeous melange of aromas with dark cherries, ripe plums, a smidge of chocolate and a little dash of vanillin oak. The palate is divine and complex, with lashings of tight flavours of plums, black fruits, a dollop of spices all melded together and ending in a tight, yet elegant finish. This is a rich, round wine that is an outstanding Aussie version of this awesome native Italian variety.

Do your palate a favour and track some down at the Hofer Family Wines website link:

Or enjoy this cracking wine as part of a Hofer mixed six-pack through the Just Wines link: