THEY called it a write-off. But they didn't visit, never witnessed the place when it was covered in smoke. They didn't touch the grapes, let alone taste them. They talked to winegrowers from a distance, over the phone, and with imaginations (agendas and ideologies) running wild they bleated out shrill and sensational hell-scape headlines - before a berry was even picked.
Such as this: "No vintage: Australian vineyards dump grape harvest as bushfire smoke takes its toll", published on The Guardian Australia website in February.
Nonsense. I was there. I smelt the air. I tasted the grapes and micro-ferments. I talked to the winegrowers, in situ, in person, beneath the smoke haze, while the fires raged beyond the Brokenback.
Sure, the smoky conditions of vintage 2020 hit many of the winegrowers of the Hunter Valley hard, but the drought and hailstones hit harder. Tyrrell's announced an 80 per cent crop loss, while Mount Pleasant decided not to pick a single berry. Both businesses were deliberate in making it abundantly clear that they were not speaking on behalf of the whole wine region.
But this was too much nuance for some.
La Trobe university professor and smoke-taint researcher Dr Ian Porter told me at the time: "It's not wise to dumb it down to just smoke presence equals smoke-taint, and that a vintage should be written off because of it. It's not that simple."
In spite of the sensational headlines, grapes were picked and wines were made. Good wines, too. Wines you should try, to see for yourself.
Despite the sensational headlines, grapes were picked and wines were made. Good wines, too. Wines you should try, to see for yourself. Here's five:
Andrew Thomas Wines
2020 Braemore Semillon ($35). At the time, Thomas said: "We're having a crack ... if it's not up to the standard I expect of Braemore, then we won't release it." Well, here we are: 2020 Braemore, and it's a cracker. Youthful and luminous, limes over lemons, line and length contoured by crunchy green apple acidity, all bracing and fresh, all power and drive, with that classic talc-like texture; the hallmark of Braemore.
Bottled contention with complete disregard for all those distant critics who dramatically declared "no vintage". Nonsense. Drink this.
2020Somerset Vineyard Pokolbin Blanc($30). So good to see a wine not named after its cohort of wine grapes, but rather the place it was born, Pokolbin. How do you say in French,remarkably defiant and utterly delicious? Pokolbin Blanc, certainly. Fresh soapy citrus scents redolent of grapefruit and peach, melon flesh and lemon pith, with a lash of zesty lime vibrancy to tantalise the tastebuds. Such texture and complexity, from a little solids and some skin.
A meditation on drinkability and the notion of rebellious candour during such a difficult season.
2020 Rosé ($28). What joys have come from 2020? Plenty. You've got to know where to look. Here's a hint: this rosé. Superb drinking. Pretty pink hues, scented-like strawberries and sour cherries. Enticing. Inviting. This is that fresh feeling. Must be the rarefied 60/40 split between the sangiovese and garganega grapes, perhaps? A candy crush of berries on ice, sweetness and light, pomegranate seed acidity; slightly savoury, for harmony, obviously. No signs of smoke. None at all.
Usher Tinkler Wines
2020 Rebirth ($35). Name a more prescient title for a wine. Rebirth; bottled 2020. A year of convulsion and chaos leads to a point of calm and convalescence. Crushed violet aromatics, and bright black fruit; mulberries and their stems. Distant, though discernible, distortions to the up-front fruit sweetness appears, surely, at first sip. Smoke? Perhaps. However, with persistence, these suspicions swiftly fade, yielding to the nonchalance of a nonconformist, while a patent trace of new wave energy and acidity propels an undeniable sense of pleasurable drinkability.
M&J Becker Wines
2020 Burnt ($30). A drinkable "up yours" to the doubters, haters and fly-by-night commentators. Smoked meats, smoked cheese, why not smoked wine? There's still plenty of up-front fruit and other ancillary scents to lure you in; blackcurrants and plums, purple olives, cindered peppercorns, etc. It's only as you swallow that the frantic taste of embers and ash, and over a year's hard work gone up in smoke, emerges. So what? This is an experiment of site, season, and sincerity. Open minds need only apply.
MORE FROM THE FOOD ISSUE:
- Making the most of a pandemic: Meet the Novocastrians who developed food products and businesses during the COVID-19 lockdown
- 20 reasons why the Hunter Valley is a foodie paradise
- The Family Hotel in Newcastle hosts Pino's diner, the Newcastle vegan kitchen making its own rules
- A toast to five great beer and food matches in Newcastle
- Lake Mac Brewing Co at Morisset: Where hops and dreams collide
- The best Newcastle and Hunter restaurants of 2020 as reviewed by the Newcastle Herald