Rusty Mutt Catnip Viogner 2014 Region: McLaren Vale, SA. Grape Variety: Viogner Screw top Price: $22 (members cheaper) Tasted: September 2014 Best quaffed: Now until 2018 93+ Points.
Winter’s gone and spring has well and truly settled in. You might have noticed Wine of the Week has been on a fleeting hiatus with the launch of Sydney Scoop.
You might have also noticed a fair few Aussie Viogniers (pronounced vee-ohn-yay) in restaurants and on the shelves in recent months; although as a grape, it’s been growing here in a couple of spots for almost thirty years. It is a Rhone variety that moved over to Australia after it almost disappeared completely for a period in France.
Scott and I had a chat (over Pinot and Cabernet!) about Viognier and what he’s doing with Rusty Mutt wines. Aside from Rusty Mutt, Scott’s ‘day job’ is head winemaker at Geoff Merrill wines. Scott’s Rusty Mutt Shiraz is worth checking out too. I’m maybe most excited about a GSM in the pipeline, which I’m told will be out next year.
The Catnip Viognier smells exotic: rich, ripe, fruity, with lychee and orange blossom, both of which carry through to the palate. There’s a little spice, freshly cut apricot, a squeeze of lime and a nice acidic backbone; the wine’s somewhat cleaner than I was expecting. If you’re after a slick, oily number, look past this one.
It’s one for the sunshine, a Saturday afternoon without a worry. I’m wanting a snapper over coals – rubbed with lime, chilli, ginger – or a smoked whole chook, some spice on the outside, with a couple of generous tongs worth of homemade ‘slaw. Just be liberal with those herbs.
Rusty Mutt is coming to Sydney from the 8th to the 12th of August. I know when, what, just not where! I would like to put together an evening of friends, food, fun and fine - er wine!
Please help! I'm thinking easy food (gourmet pizza? Tapas? - food in one hand, glass in the other!) in a central location with quirky atmosphere. I would like to host somewhere around 40-50 people in mid-winter comfort.
Let me know! Lets make it happen. Please contact me with any suggestions.
I wish i'd remembered to bring a jumper...it was a beautiful but cold day in McLaren Vale for the Rusty Mutt member day. Friends and strangers came from everywhere and nowhere with one purpose. forget the week and sip relaxing wine dreams at the very source.
GSM and Viognier were singing fresh songs of fruit vibrancy and lively ambition all the while the single French puncheon Shiraz sang a complex melody of brooding desire and forbidden fruit. The ever popular 2011 Rusty Mutt Shiraz began to revealed its sophisticated style once hidden by youthful defiance.
Thanks to those that came and supported me. Without you I don't exist, so stay in touch and tell your friends because bigger, bolder and better are words to describe the next Rusty Mutt member day, and i'll remember to bring a jumper, or we'll do it in summer!
Come for a drive to McLaren Vale this coming Sunday the 8th of June.
I'll have my current wines for tasting with great prices on the day and you can have a look at the 2014 vintage wines. Taste my new GSM blend, the Rusty Mutt Shiraz, the Catnip Viognier and the new high end, single barrel Shiraz.
The 'Gourmet Entertainer' will be coming along with some great cheeses, chutneys and relishes to try with platters available for purchase.
It's free to come along but you will need to register so I can keep track of numbers. Please click the image or any of the links to go to the Eventbrite page now.
Oak use is so varied and personal amongst winemakers.
It adds complexity, tannin, structure, aroma, flavour and mouth feel to the wine and helps to steer your style to where you would like it.
Oak is a condiment. Oak is the little bit of mustard on your steak or a sauce on your fish. It's a complimentary flavour that enhances the wine. As with food, it’s always about the main ingredient, not the sauce.
Oak (for wine maturation) comes in two main species. American oak (Quercus Alba) and French oak (Quercus Petraea). American oak is a faster growing species which typically has wider grain and imparts a stronger flavour, and in the past has tended to be quite vanilla and sweet due to high oak lactone. French oak is much more subtle and creamy with pronounced fine tannin. However, new barrel making techniques have brought the flavour and aroma profile gap between American & French oak a lot closer together.
You can now buy American oak barrels where the American wood has been shipped to France and seasoned in France. After location and species, the seasoning process is the next most important factor in the flavour profile of a barrel. The timber is cut into lengths and stacked up and just left outside in the weather for at least two years. This leeches out a lot of the harsh tannins and resins in the wood, and makes it suitable for storing and maturing wine in. The repeated hot/cold/wet/dry cycle of seasons (hence seasoning) adds virtually a climatic fingerprint style to the process. The temperature and humidity will affect the growth of micro-organisms and rainfall intensity and duration will affect the leeching process. So seasoning in France will be quite different to seasoning in the US or Australia.
The cooperage that produces the barrel have their own ideas about the design and the shape of the barrel, and especially how it's fired. Many are now using water (steam) bending and immersion techniques to leech more tannin and bend the barrel without damage or blistering. But essentially, to help soften the timber so it bends easily to make the shape of the barrel, you need to heat it up. Most likely it was found that by heating the barrels a bit longer, the oak began to toast, thus changing the flavours and aromas in the product stored within. Hot, short toasts are very different to long moderate toasts. They have quite an effect on the flavour and aroma compounds the oak produces. A cooper can make a barrel that will produce more vanilla, more mocha or more spice, purely with the heating techniques.
Barrels can be made virtually any size but some sizes have been widely adopted and commonly used. In Australia (some names may be different in other countries) the most common are; Barrique (225 Litres), Hogshead (300 Litres) & Puncheon (500 Litres). Obviously, the smaller the barrel the more oak surface area you have to volume of your wine.
Another important parameter to steer the wine style is the age of the barrel. A brand new barrel will have a lot of oak flavour and tannin compared to a barrel which has been used for a few years. The oak tannins and flavour comes out into the wine quite quickly so, even within a few months you can have a lot of oak flavour in your wine, and if you’re not careful it will hide the fruit. But new oak contains ‘ellagic’ tannin which can help stabilise the colour in a young wine providing the basis for longevity. So the right balance of oak is required.
The Rusty Mutt Shiraz is made using the quite gentle winemaking techniques of hand plunging ferments and basket pressing. I would classify my wine in the ‘elegant’ part of the wine style spectrum so bombarding it with new oak will cover up all my hard work. I have chosen to use 4-5 year old French oak hogsheads. There is still some tannin and flavour in the wood but it won’t overpower my wine. The wine matures in the barrels for a minimum of 18 months before bottling which adds the most perfect ‘sauce’ to my McLaren Vale ‘rare’ Shiraz!
My philosophy of style starts with ideas that have been built upon over quite a number of years. Having completed 22 vintages with Geoff Merrill Wines and a few in the Barossa and my time at Roseworthy, I have seen a great evolution in Australian wine making. I would say that when I started properly making wine back in the early 1990’s, many Australian winemakers had formed their style ideas from the European wines they drank. French wines in particular were tight and highly structured and many tasted lean and green due to difficulties in ripening the fruit to levels we come to expect today.
Wine consumers of the world expected this style so that is what we tried to give them. Scientific education in wine production sorted out many winemaking faults but it was probably the wine show system that propagated the movement to riper flavours and fruit driven styles, until the Australian ‘Sunshine in a bottle’ style took over the world.
Many top Australian wines in the 80’s were extremely lean. Red wines were around 12% alcohol (due to early harvesting) which did in fact look quite European (without many of the faults!). That was quite an extreme of style, very green and quite tannic. The wines would age incredibly well, but really lacked that richness and ripe flavour that we've become accustomed to. So over the years the Australian style has evolved to become much riper and more fruit forward.
As with many trends, things head in one direction, go too far then have to come back a bit. Then we look back further and re-invent something so it’s ‘retro’. Wine is no exception. Over-ripe mono-dimensional styles were at their peak within the last few years. Now everyone is looking at ways to reduce alcohol, (while still retaining flavour) and make the wines more complex with the use of wild yeast and other techniques. Even trying to control and manage small amounts of certain ‘faults’ to enhance complexity and produce ‘funky’ wines.
Today, there seems to be three different red style ‘categories’ emerging. There are the very ripe and forward wines with high pH and low acidity, which are in-bottle at about a year to 18 months of age and designed to drink straight away. And then there are the highly structured wines with abundant new oak that are designed to age. And more recently, the unusual variety and/or ‘funky’ complex artisan style.
Each category comes with its own inherent difficulties. The really forward wines won’t age, you need to wait too long for the highly structured wines to drink well, and the funky ones are easily misunderstood.
On rare occasions I have seen wines which seem to cross these category boundaries. Wines which are complex, drink well on release and will really reward those who can wait.
This is my style. This is my goal.
To traverse these categories and achieve my goal I’ve taken a distinct approach. Firstly, the Rusty Mutt reds start with very high quality fruit from different vineyards. Importantly, this provides differing flavours and textures to provide complexity in the final wine. The quality of the fruit ensures great concentration and depth of flavour with very fine tannins and good acidity.
At the winery, I could easily produce a very tannic style requiring a great deal of cellaring by using ‘modern’ cap management and pressing but I have chosen to plunge the ferments by hand and press using a basket press. These techniques are both gentle and give me all the flavour without over extracting tannins which may harsh or bitter.
Maturing the wine in ‘slightly used’ barrels (4-5 years old) provides the maturation effect that only oak barrels can bring without adding too much oak tannin or flavour. This really allows the fruit to come forward and promote its subtle structure and texture, not the barrel.
There we have it. Complexity (but not necessarily funk!) from vineyard selection, fruit concentration from the fruit quality and an elegant restrained structure thanks to the winemaking techniques.
Why not buy one of my wines today conveniently online, or join my email list to find out where you can try my wines next?
Roseworthy Agricultural college in 1895 from pir.sa.gov.au
How did I get into wine making?
Well, I think I kind of fell into it. I didn't realise it was something I wanted to do until I got involved.
I grew up in the Barossa Valley which was a very good place to start! I completed year 12, and I really enjoyed chemistry, maths, and physics but I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I left high school.
Growing up in the Barossa had its advantaged. The easiest place to get a job was in a winery! I started on the bottling line, more specifically the ‘Tirage’ line at Orlando. Disgorging and refilling sparkling wine. It was work. Not really for me though. Probably the worst part was closing my eyes in bed at night and seeing thousands of green bottles whizzing past! That was OK, It was a start but I always wanted more. I wanted to see the different parts of the winery, so I moved into the cellar for a short time as well.
My first laboratory job was at Yalumba during the 1988 Vintage, testing the grapes as the growers brought samples in, or as the loads were brought in for crushing. I'd do some analysis on the grapes, and prepare a sample for the wine makers to come and taste every day. I had a small amount of interaction with the wine makers there, and that got me interested.
My next job was back at Orlando in the cellar. I met Sam Kurtz, who's now the senior red wine maker at Orlando. He was planning to go to Roseworthy College to do the wine making degree. I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. I like working in wineries, I really quite like the chemistry and the things involved, so I applied to go into Roseworthy College as well.
My first year at Roseworthy was 1989 and back then it was a three year degree. I met some wonderful people in my time at Roseworthy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Many have gone on to fantastic wine making careers such as Tom Carson (Yabby Lake), Sam Kurtz (Orlando), Andrew Locke (Rosemount) and Hugh Reimers (Kendall Jackson).
I’ve always enjoyed the technical side of wine making. The chemistry, biochemistry, physics and maths involved. Also how anecdotes and ‘old’ methods come to match with scientific studies. The in-depth studies at Roseworthy really appealed to my enjoyment of discovering the deeper understanding of what makes things tick.
So, I'm definitely more of a wine geek rather than an artisan wine maker. I have a clear ‘image’ of the style in my head. I use my knowledge, skills and experience to select the right fruit and influence and direct the wine through the various stages of its production. With some good weather and luck thrown in, the finished wine will resemble my image! Even if it doesn’t, it’s still my baby and I’ll love it just the same!
Sensory evaluation at Roseworthy in 1937 - image from http://adelaidia.sa.gov.au/
To say 2014 is an ‘interesting’ vintage is an understatement. The last seven or so years have seen some real extremes of climate in the McLaren Vale district and this is now beginning to dictate our styles and picking decisions more and more.
Generally, the soil conditions are not going to change very much from year to year. Viticulturalists might sow a cover crop, which will add some nitrogen and a few other elements and nutrients into the soil. You can prune the vine differently which may affect the crop level but really, if the vineyard is old, changes will be small from year to year. As a vine ages between 10 year old and 20 year old, it begins to settle down and mature and you'll start to see differences in the wines as the roots get deeper into the underlying geology. However, differences in the climate from year to year are great and this is really what we see in vintage variation.
This year was no exception. South Australia broke quite a few temperature records this year. Most significantly for the vineyards, we had ten days above 40 degrees, and then we had a whole heap of rain.
Thankfully, these events were, for McLaren Vale's sake anyway, timed reasonably well. The heat came early enough for most vines to recover well but it did cause quite a lot of sunburn. This caused significant yield losses in some vineyards.
Whites actually came off in very good condition with minimal damage. Mainly sunburn, but no other real issues. After most of the whites in the district were picked, we had a significant rain event. Some areas caught up to 80mm over a weekend.
Thankfully, as mostly reds were still on the vine, they were far enough away from being ripe that the bunches hadn't fully filled. The skins were also quite hard so this protected the grapes and they actually fared very well. We went out into the vineyards a week or so after the rain, and there were nice growing tips on the vines. This means the vines were working, ripening and recovering from the heat stress that it was under.
Then the weather became very pleasant from that point on. The ripening conditions were ideal with mid 30 degree days and the nights cooled down which is important for McLaren Vale, and for really helping slow down the overall ripening process.
The only thing we have noticed, particularly in reds in this vintage, is extremely low acid. The heat early on metabolized the acid in the grapes considerably. Basically three main things happen during ripening. The sugar increases, the acid decreases, and the flavour increases.
This vintage we have found that flavour ripeness has been achieved at somewhat lower sugar levels. This essentially means that wines can be produced with naturally lower alcohol. This, along with the considerable drop in acid, we've been able to choose exactly when we want to pick the grapes to maximise flavour in the fruit.
We are really seeing some exciting flavours and some incredible colours from all reds. The Rusty Mutt Viognier is also looking amazing. It has some fantastic aromas and flavour. Grenache for our new GSM has come in now, which again, has some beautiful fruit aromatics, really violet, spice, and musk. It's looking exciting.
Once we get all the reds pressed and into barrels, we'll have a much better idea of what they're looking like, but so far there will be some great wines come out of Vintage 2014.
On Sunday the 13th of April the historic Salopian Inn will be hosting a KIS (Kangaroo Island Spirits) Gin event. If you wish to fully partake in the KIS Gin event (food & entertainment) you will need to book - HERE IS THE FLYER. Bookings through the Salopian - firstname.lastname@example.org or (08) 8323 8769.
Apart from all of the wonderful Gin, the Vale Cru will be exclusively providing wine by the glass. Even if you are not a full paying attendee of the KIS Gin event you are more than welcome to check out the Vale Cru wines. We will have wine by the glass available and you can order wines for delivery if you like what you're drinking!
So call in to the Salopian on Sunday the 13th between 12 and 5pm for a great afternoon.