2010 Salena Estate Ink Series Vermentino

Another variety that is now making waves and gaining momentum in Australia is Vermentino. That interest over the past decade or so has come from winemakers in the warmer regions primarily in the country's south-eastern corner. With average temperatures in inland wine regions predicted to rise 2°C over the next thirty years, emerging varieties suited to these climatic conditions such as Vermentino will become important to the consumer as other varieties struggle to adapt. 

A white grape variety grown extensively along the Mediterranean coast from Languedoc-Roussillon in France to Liguria and Tuscany along Italy's north-west coastline, Vermentino's status is also important on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The grape has a considerable number of synonyms among the most noted being Pigato in Liguria, Favorita in Piedmonte, Vermentinu in Corsica and Rolle in eastern Provence making it seemingly the quintessential Mediterranean variety. Commonly thought to have originated on the Iberian Peninsula and brought to Italy in the fifteenth century during a period where Spaniards ruled the waves, this theory has now been fairly well disproved with more credible evidence suggesting it was indigenous to Liguria, perhaps related to the ancient family of Malvasia grapes. The variety possesses large pyramid shaped bunches and when they ripen mid-season, produce big yellow flavourful berries with great natural acid, minimal sugar content and flavours of ripe pear and citrus.     

Salena Estate is a family-owned winery based in South Australia's Riverland Region and a certified organic production processor. The Ink Series of wines are produced to highlight particular varieties and are invariably limited in their availability. The 2010 Vermentino is pale yellow with a green edge in the glass. A lifted lemon and honey bouquet. Medium bodied that is heightened by good acid, peach and citrus fruit flavours. Dandelion floral aromas on the palate which I like very much. There is something rustic and unpretentious about this wine, yet it is mineral driven and its floral subtleties only confirm why I am enjoying the whole Italian dry white wine variety scene right now. Drink this wine while young and with seafood.

Source: Winery Sample. Alcohol: 11.0% Closure: Screwcap. 

Rating: 90+ Points. Website: http://www.salenaestate.com.au/

2009 Olssen Bass Hill Vineyard Carmenere

Carmenere Grapes
If you thought the Carmenere grape had some association with an opera by Bizet, you'd be wrong. However the drama behind the variety could well feature as the storyline for an opera itself ! It is a narrative of the nobility and the working classes, of death and devastation, of loss, triumph and eventual redemption. Perhaps all this is a little melodramatic, but it is as close to any epic human drama as any grape variety will even come to experience.

An ancient and noble variety, Carmenere is believed to be the progenitor of Cabernet Franc and therefore the Cabernet Sauvignon grape with known origins in Bordeaux's Medoc Region and wide plantations throughout the Graves Region. Prior to these facts, the Romans were instrumental in disseminating the variety from its origins in Spain to Italy and eventually to its heartland on the Left Bank . Considered the sixth member of the original vaunted Bordeaux red varieties, it was used primarily for blending purposes there, adding deep crimson colours and aromas to wines much like that other unsung variety Petit Verdot. Despite its aristocratic heritage, Carmenere's cantankerous nature as a beast of a vine in terms of its coulure (poor fruit set), late ripening and high methoxypyrazine content saw it fall out of favour with vignerons, especially in light of the cool, wet spring climates associated with this south-western region of France. 

Now to the story. A petulant variety prone to a range of debilitating conditions, our noble charge is spirited away in the dead of night by foresighted, enterprising migrants prior to the outbreak of the dreaded phylloxera plague. Devastating vineyards throughout France and Europe from the late 1860's, vines didn't stand a chance. Once the ravages of this mass-murdering root louse had passed, Carmenere was presumed to have emulated the way of the dinasaurs, obituaries flowed in tribute. What vines found were too difficult or too damaged to replant with vignerons opting for its hardier fellow Bordeaux varieties that would give them a return on their efforts rather than more misery and heartache. 

Fast forward to the 1990's and Chile. After being presumed lost and forgotten to viticultural history for almost a century and a half, our irascible Carmenere was discovered, thriving in the warm, phylloxera-free valleys of Central Chile amongst other Bordeaux varieties, most notably the hard working Merlot with which it was bended there. Indeed, Chilean winemakers believed it to be a variant of Merlot, the similarities between both vines and leaves were remarkable despite their very distinctive flavour profiles. In 1994 through DNA testing, French ampelographer Professor Jean-Michel Bousiquot revealed to the wine world that the earlier ripening grape of the two was in fact Carmenere. Often described as Merlot on steroids, the favourable Chilean growing conditions had produced a deep, dark and rich wine with smoky, earthy aromas and flavours of black plums, licorice and mocha. 

The story now had come full circle, there was a happy ending to this epic saga, the opera was over. Carmenere had been rediscovered 11,700 kilometres away and was now officially recognised as Chile's own separate varietal, its signature wine. Every grape has its own fascinating history, Carmenere's probably the most remarkable of them all. That kind of story is one of the reasons why I enjoy drinking wine.        

Australia's history with the Carmenere variety is very recent. Cuttings from Chile were imported in the late 1990's with the first vines planted in 2002 after the regulatory quarantine period. The Olssen family's Bass Hill vineyard in the Clare Valley had one of Australia's first plantings of Carmenere. This vintage is its second and the only single varietal to be bottled in Australia. Bright crimson purple in colour - the name carmin actually means crimson in French - with a violet tinge on the glass rim. I get red currents, dried herbs, green peppers and smoke on the nose with a hint of bittersweet chocolate. It's fairly low key and medium bodied unlike its richer, spicier, black fruit Chilean counterparts. Fresh, succulent red cherries, prune juice and light tannins on the palate with an aftertaste of granulated coffee. Had I not known this was a Carmenere, I would have thought, its Chilean comrade Merlot but sans the steroids, had made an appearance ! To paraphrase Miles in Sideways, "this is a well made but ultimately non-distinct wine, there is nothing wrong here, it just wasn't a transcendent wine experience". Nevertheless, kudos to the Olssen family for pioneering this variety in Australia.

Source: Retail Purchase. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: Screwcap. Rating: 86 Points. 
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