Saturday, February 16, 2013

La Magia 1992 Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany)

Rosso di Montalcino as a 21 year old? These wines are often intended to be had while waiting for Brunello to mature. Good makers can turn out fine wines as Rosso di Montalcino, but even then they are not always intended to age. It can also be where declassified Brunello ends up, for good or ill.

La Magia is not an especially storied producer. The Schulz family, from Alto Adige, bought land for their fattoria in Montalcino in 1979 and are now on to their second generation of Montalcino growers, producing wines, grappa and olive oil. The La Magia vineyard is south of the centre of Montalcino, near the Sant'Antimo abbey. South of Montalcino can mean lower, hotter, earlier with sangiovese (not to mention the international varieties appearing in Sant'Antimo from the 1996 revision of the DOC rules). But that is not what shows here.

Sangiovese stars in this wine, in its aged form of leather and preserved meats. Cherried primary fruit is well and truly gone, but sour cherry acid and ripe, gripping, sangiovese tannins remain. So much to smell here, aged fruit and something verging on cola. Savoury the whole way along, but flecked with gentle spice. Fine drinking tonight with steak cut tagliata style. An eye-opener for me, in how modest Rosso di Montalcino can age.

Cork. Auction. $30 plus premium and shipping. 13% alcohol. Website here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Anti Anti Anti (alcohol)

Over the last three years, I have kept a bit of an eye on some of the Australian 'debates' about alcohol, harm and responsibility. A piece in Crikey by Bernard Keane last week seemed to spell out some of the strangeness - the sense of talking past each other - in what I have been reading and listening to.

There is a lot to like in the Keane piece. It plays out in fact-check mode. Asks for the numbers, for the evidence, then asks questions of the facts and the claims built on (or somewhat near) those facts. The summary line is that statements made by the 'wowser lobby' about the dangers of rising alcohol use in Australia do not match reality.

Keane uses FARE (the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) and the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol as sources and targets for his critique. A key point, made around a discussion of the National Health and Medical Research Council's changes to recommended daily alcohol intakes for men and women, is that part of the basis for these limits (two drinks a day for men and women) is in the statistical mindset of epidemiology and population health. Changes to lifetime risk of death or injury, in creeping increments of a 1.7% or 1% chance of death... that is the language, the thinking, Keane critiques.

As he points out, not drinking at all may be little to no marginal benefit compared to moderate drinking. And how risk-free a life do people wish to lead is a valid question to ask. I like butter more than statistics, and I really like statistics.

Keane goes on to ask questions of claims made that both alcohol consumption and alcohol harm are growing in Australia. There is data to support alternate claims, about declines in Australian daily average consumption of alcohol, for example. But Keane's dismissal of economic harm arguments seems to slump back into a lazier kind of argument (blame the models, there cannot be more harm if there is not more drinking).

The key point for me is that the desire, in pieces like Keane's, is more to dismiss than engage the arguments and different positions of others in a debate. They are 'wowsers'. They have a goal to tax alcohol back to economic prohibition. They started with tobacco and are coming for alcohol next, hunting down pleasures one plain-packaged suffocation at a time.

But this is caricature more than debate. You can be concerned about alcohol in Australian society and still like a drink. You do not need to be a wowser to point to real harms, such as cheap alcohol in remote Indigenous communities, or children growing up with an alcoholic parent. You can advocate reform of alcohol taxation (such as whether to tax by value or amount of alcohol) without wanting to tax booze back to a home-brewed, bathtub underground. You certainly do not need to accept (even if only by accepting a framing of the argument) an equivalence of tobacco and alcohol.

Arguing within a frame (set by others) of alcohol as akin to tobacco is a mistake. But an even bigger mistake, for me, is accepting the other frame of only debating how harmful is alcohol, how negative for lifetime risk of death, injury or violence. 'My negative is smaller than your negative' should be left for high-school debating.

Alcohol has benefits for societies and cultures, as well as costs and harms. Both. Always already, as soon as ferment, as soon as bottling - the promise is there of fun, of conversation, of 'human capital' even - but the other side of the promise also. A more sophisticated 'debate' about alcohol would face up to pleasure as frankly as to addiction. Responsible dinner drinking as well as port flagons in a remote camp, or being too drunk to drive a sick child to a hospital emergency ward.

If people want to argue back at new possible controls on alcohol, then limiting the frame to the negative, the debate to degrees of harm, denies the convivial pleasures of fermentation - the very thing that needs defence.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

S.C. Pannell Pronto Bianco 2012 (Adelaide Hills)

I have a fair bit of time for the Adelaide Hills as a region for Italian grape varieties. Reminds me of Canberra in some ways - the spread of the district, the diversity of sites and their particular climates.

This wine is a co-fermented blend of pinot grigio, riesling and sauvignon blanc juices. The marketing is a bet each way. The website talks the Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige regional talk of blocking varietal expression and going for neutrality of flavour, but interest in acid, texture and refreshment. The label walks the Dan Murphy's shelf talker line, speaking directly about reassuring fruit flavours of pear, lime and passionfruit.

This is a decent drink. Fruit first, texture later. Label over website. But the difference between the two versions of this wine points to where it does not really work for me. The riesling starts the wine out bright and crisp, the sauvignon blanc tries to bring it together, but the core of it is a muddle of passing-off. It tastes good, but like confusion at the same time.

The heart of it is that this is pinot gris, not grigio. There is a generous, creamy hit of ripe, sweet, pear flavour that swamps the mid palate. A 'smooth' texture in the midst of clear and sharp. Strangely, I'm reminded of a bowl of rhubarb and custard.

Could work well with something sweet and sour - perhaps caponata and good bread.

Screwcap, gift, 13% alcohol, $22 from the website here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso 2011 (Sicily)

A night out at Italian & Sons. A call for a red, something light, to go with the food. A section of the list as 'Pinot Nero & Others'. A blend from 2011 of Nero d'Avola and Frappato. Sicily. Occhipinti rings a bell. An asterisk to a footnote of organic, biodynamic or natural wine. Let's go then.

Beef carpaccio, garnished with fried capers. A beautiful dish, both with a 'wrong' negroni and then the first of the Occhipinti. Then a wet braise of lamb in the wood-fired oven, with peas, potato and globe artichoke. Pizza funghi on the table too. The wine so brightly red-fruited, so clean and clear. Raspberry and red currant from the nero. Sour strawberry from the frappato. So well stitched together. You don't even think about tannin, or analysis. You do think about a second bottle.

Hook in.

Cork. Purchase. Retails about $40 a bottle, more on a list. Brought in by Addley Clark. Occhipinti website here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ochota Barrels Surfer Rosa Sangiovese Grenache 2012

The 2011 vintage release of sangiovese from Ochota Barrels was outstanding. Lithe, nervy acidy, persistent flavour, sinewy tannins - a whole new face for South Australian sangiovese. The 2012 is sangiovese with makeup on. It really, really, wants to go to a party and have people say nice things about how it looks.

Taras Ochota has made wine from Puglia and  Sicily and there is perhaps a hint of Sardinian Cannonau going on here (though Sicily also grows grenache). The Adelaide Hills are the source of the sangiovese fruit in both the 2011 and 2012 releases. It is good fruit. The big difference here is the presence of grenache from the Onkaparinga Hills. The 2012 is still a red-fruited wine, about cherries and raspberries. The grenache adds a candied cherry and sweet-fruited raspberry to the crisp line of the sangiovese, as well as backing off the tannins and acid. Low in alcohol (12.2%) but ripe, nothing green, this is fruit-forward, acid second, tannins in the rear.

The result is more crowd-pleasing, easier to drink, than the challenging 2011. But take it to a party. Leave the 2011 for serious romance & a picnic rug.

Screwcap, gift, about $25, 12.2% alcohol, website here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Montevecchio Rosso 2011 (Heathcote)

Montevecchio is a new brand from the Chalmers family - one of the driving forces behind alternative varieties in Australia, both with their Chalmers Wines brand, their previous vineyard and nursery, and their support for the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

The Chalmers sold their original vineyard (from where I bought sagrantino fruit in 2007) to Macquarie. While much of the nursery stocks of rare clones, including the MAT clones imported from Italy, has since been bulldozed, the family also set up a Heathcote vineyard with a mixture of Italian and other varieties.

My first impression of the title 'Montevecchio' had me wondering if there was a chance of this being an exercise in passing off Australian fruit, winemaking and wines as if it were an Italian brand. But given the age of the Heathcote soils, the Mount Carmel range, and the clear badging of 'Heathcote, Victoria' on the front labels of the red and white blends and the moscato, I think this passes well.

The 2011 Rosso is described as a 'co-fermented field blend of hand-picked shiraz, lagrein, nero d'Avola and sagrantino'. The description has me wondering how many purchasers and drinkers would understand what 'field blend' might mean (not to mention co-fermentation)? Were the grapes picked at the same time and co-fermented as a single batch? Picked from one, mixed-block, or several mono-varietal plantings? Lots of room to move under that 'field blend' label, really.

Anyway, this is a wine of the cool, wet vintage rather than of the varieties involved. There is a bright, clean flow of light, crisp fruit all through the palate here. A pleasant, sour-fizz confectionery note is the main appeal. This is jug wine, in a good way, and has me thinking tapas as much as antipasti.

Purchase, $20, screwcap, 12.5% alcohol, website here.