Off-dry July Masterclass (Sommeliers, Melbourne)

Great concept nailing the July abstainers and the theme of not-quite-dry white wines – some residual sugar, but not overwhelming -generally in the range from 10-60 g/l residual sugar. A terrific assembly of wines, but alas not much useful discussion – nothing on any individual wine – not even preferences. We learned long ago that there was more to a sweet wine’s balance than sugar, acid and alcohol. The traditional (Australian Riesling) winemaking practice was low temperature ferment in stainless steel, with cultured yeast. The old world was more relaxed. Now we see more Australian winemaking experiments with wild yeasts, skin contact, fermentation in old oak, and more focus on texture rather than fruit vivacity.

Wines were revealed at the end of tasting each (masked) bracket; generally comments are on wines I liked.

Bracket 1 had some very “un-Oz” Riesling examples

  • 2014 Mac Forbes RS33
  • 2012 Mac Forbes RS 45
  • 2008 Mac Forbes RS37
  • 2015 Helm half-dry
  • 2014 Glaezer Dixon uberblanc
  • 2013 Smith-Cullam

The Mac Forbes (Strathbogie Ranges) fruit were all quite different, but each showed delectable “mineral” characters; each had plenty of vitality; the Helm had the intrigue of nettles and petroleum jelly.

Bracket 2 turned out to be OS odds and sods

  • 2013 Sebastien Brunet Vouvray demi-sec “la Folie” (loire)
  • 2010 Blanck Riesling Roesenbourg (Alsace)
  • 2012 Josmeyer GWT “les Folastries” (Alsace)
  • 2013 Heymann Lowenstein Riesling Schieferterassen (Mosel)
  • 2012 Clusserath Piesporter Goldtropchen Riesling Feinherb (Mosel)
  • 2010 Dr Loosen Erdener Trepchen Riesling Spatlese (Mosel)

Certainly some phenolics and bitterness from skin contact and some wild and funky bouquets that were a challenge; the Blanck angular – I always prefer their Furstentum site though; the Heymann rustic and its degree of minerality almost offset its general weirdness; the final two wines from the Mosel just had the finesse, balance and energy expected.

Bracket 3 was meant as a step up in class

  • 2010 Chidaine Moelleux Montlouis (loire)
  • 2014 Keller Limestone Riesling (Rhinehessen)
  • 2013 Keller RR (declassified Kirchspiel GG)
  • 2008 Egon Muller Wilitinger Brauen Kupp Kabinett (Mosel)
  • 2012 Balthazar Ress Hattenheimer Schutzenhause Kabinett (Rheingau)
  • 2013 Robert Weil Kiedrich Grafgenberg Rielsing Spatlese (Rheingau)

If you could forgive the cheesy bouquet, the Chidaine was startlingly taut, chalky with a mouth-watering texture; the Weil was unctuous with a filigreed feathered texture, and astounding persistence.

Bracket 4 showed wines with some age

  • 2005 Josmeyer Hengst Pinot Gris (Alsace)
  • 2001 Huet Le Mont Demi-sec Vouvray (loire)
  • 2007 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese (Mosel)
  • 2003 Gunderloch Rothenberg Riesling Spatlese (Rhinehessen)

The Josmeyer was an exercise in candied/glace fruits; the Prum still seemed like an infant, but lush, lovely, and beautifully balanced. 2003 was an extraordinarily hot year in Europe – there were a few terrific wines made, but generally they are now ready to drink.

Finally we tasted a NV Billecart-Salmon demi-sec. I have not been a fan of sweeter Champagnes, finding them so often propped up by inappropriate dosage levels; this wine converted me. I should not have been so surprised at this example from one of my 3 “go-to” mainstream Champagne houses.

While I always find these sweeter styles quite food friendly, there were certainly some suggestions made about not needing to match with desserts; I have certainly found good matches with fresh fruits, with roasted chicken/duck/pork, terrines and some cheeses – also some bad clashes. I will be more adventurous and try matching with charcuterie.