Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 2011 red wines revisited

James Halliday and Ben Edwards tasting for the 2014 Wine Companion

The 2011 Australian vintage was decidedly schizophrenic, with a typically warm and dry season in Western Australia, and a cool and rain-drenched spring and summer in the eastern half, the Hunter Valley and Southern Tasmania half-way points.

Wherever the region, the white wines were good to excellent, the sole proviso appropriate care in the vineyard to keep botrytis and downy mildew at bay. The cool season enhanced varietal aromas and protected natural acidity.

When it came to red wines, the contemporary reports were apocalyptic, no more so than those from the Barossa Valley. Growers were talking of abandoning their grapes, cutting their losses. And so the stories went across much of South Australia and Victoria, regions with shiraz and cabernet sauvignon in the centre of the cross-hairs.

Now that I am in the never-ending tasting grind for the ‘14 Wine Companion, its app, this website and the Wine Companion Magazine, a very different pattern is emerging. Many shirazs have far more colour, more tannins and higher alcohol than expected.
It raises the obvious question: were the contemporaneous vintage reports exaggerated, or generalisations with numerous exceptions? Or was it due to clever winemaking? I think the latter is the answer. So what happened?

First up, it is perfectly legal to add 15% wine from another vintage, the candidates being the very good ‘10 vintage (less likely) or the exceptional ‘12 vintage (far more likely). Next, the addition of coloured anthocyanins (red tannins) is also perfectly legitimate, and was in fact widely used in most South Australian regions. Thirdly, reverse osmosis can reduce the water content of wine without removing colour or flavour, thus increasing the alcohol.

Not only are these three processes legal, but disclosure of their use is not required, and are rarely mentioned in any back label or other marketing material.