Saturday, May 21, 2011

'Noble' grapes

I attended the 7th ANU Wine Symposium yesterday, which continues with Canberra District vineyard and winery tours today, concluding with a gala dinner tonight at which James Halliday is the after dinner speaker. The speakers at the symposium included Brian Croser talking riesling, Dan Buckle from Mt Langhi Ghiran talking shiraz, Nick Stock on why alternative varieties aren't a path to great wine, Libbie Tassie on alternative varieties suited to Australian regions and an excellent presentation on climate change (Andy Pitman).

Lots to think about and discuss, including content relevant to Italian grapes and wines in Australia. But to start, a few comments on some ideas threading through the day, as well as through discussions out of session. Brian Walsh from Yalumba tugged at some of the inconsistencies of wine thinking, especially that the arguments valuing single site wines of 'terroir' often advocate avoiding winemaking interventions that efface diversity, yet also hold that those single sites should be managed for consistency (rather than diverse expression across that single site, or over time). So managing for consistency to express vineyard terroir, then swinging round to avoiding managing for consistency in the winery to also express vineyard terroir.

Threading through some of the day, especially conversations I had out of session, were continuing ideas that some grapes are 'noble'. This can be an inherent claim to nobility (the genetic argument), a claim that only some grapes have made 'great wine' (the historical argument), and a muddy two-step starting with the idea that great wine is basically French wine so therefore the noble French grapes are the path to making great wine.

For me, when people argue for terroir expression as how great wines are made (akin to Andrew Jefford's 'wines of place' category) and argue that only some grapes are 'noble', there is a rift through the middle of their arguments. If great terroirs and wines are found and made through a lengthy process of trial and attunement, surely the starting point can be the broadest possible set of grape varieties capable of optimal expression of that terroir? Wouldn't starting with a small set of 'noble' grapes to try against and within a terroir actually reduce your chances of finding best fit?

My own small experience since 2005 has been that at Quarry Hill sauvignon blanc is less of a good fit that savagnin; shiraz a better fit in most seasons than pinot noir. The 'noble' grape thinking, for this specific site, has to me effaced what's positive and distinctive about our terroir. The ignoble, here, speak more clearly. Perhaps this means we can never produce 'great wine'?

[The Francophile list of 'noble grapes' is usually riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon & merlot. If the categorical belt goes out a notch, nebbiolo, sangiovese (Brunello mode) and shiraz might sneak in.]

1 comment:

  1. I always find it strange that Sav Blanc is considered a "noble grape". To me it is clearly not in the same class as Riesling or Chardonnay.
    Tying in to some of your comments Paul, Sav Blancs claims to nobility would seem to inextricably tied to the terroir of the Loire where it finds its best expression. Take the grape out of the Loire and it loses much of its nobility in my opinion.