Australia #4 Orange
Orange So, 24 hours in Orange. Which is a wine region about 5 hours drive North and East of Sydney. The key here is altitude and the region is defined as an area above the 600m contour with the 1,396m peak of extinct, volcanic, Mt Canobolas at its centre. Grapes are grown up to about 1,000m. Compared to the European Alps that does not sound much but the effect on the climate is marked. It certainly seemed that way yesterday. Our bus rumbled it’s way up winding roads through mist and at times pretty heavy rain with temperatures in the low teens. In the evening of the first day we met half a dozen local winemakers and tasted their wines. The following day gave us a chance to visit vineyards and wineries for the first time. All the winemakers spoke in detail about the effect the climate has on grapes here. The altitude has a number of effects. The air here is very clear as the prevailing westerly winds have travelled over the desert of the centre of the country before they arrive. This means that UV radiation is high and the grapes grow thicker skins to protect themselves – almost like a grape suntan. In reds this gives deeper colour, more ripe tannin and more complex flavours. The air is often dry and the region experiences an average of 9 sunshine hours per day in the growing season. That sounds unimaginable to a UK resident (unimaginably nice of course). As far as vines go it means plenty of time to photosynthesize and produce healthy and above all ripe grapes. There is also a big day to night time temperature change and this is thought to retain acidity on the grapes. Something that was clearly borne out in the wines. Unusually for Austrlia all the growers claimed to have only natural acidity in their wines. Lastly the proximity of Mt Canobolas does mean there is sufficient rain with 800-1,000mm per year for most parts of the region. On the first evening we had chance to taste white wines from the region, working through Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The following day we toured four wineries; 1. Ross Hill – really low intervention plus technical excellence and a really Eaurpopean style, some of the leanest wines of the day 2. Brangoyne – small and boutique, with a delicious and ageworthy oaked chardonnay 3. De Salis – tiny boutique and making excellent Pinot Noir among other things 4. Borrodell – superb Gewürztraminer and a delicious Chardonnay too At each we tried their range while along with lunch at De Salis we were able to try reds from across the region. We tasted a total of around 50 wines while in Orange. For me the common theme to Orange was the high acidity of the wines coming from the elevation of the region. This gave a sound backdrop to all the wines backed up by concentrated bright fruit and moderate body. So food friendly styles that are not tiring by the end of the glass. The most successful styles I found were: Chardonnay and it was great to see a range from quite austere citrus to some riper styles all with enough vibrant natural acidity to carry oak and complexity. Sauvignon Blanc was fascinating. I think we have all become accustomed to this grape as a one trick pony, high acidity, gooseberry / citrus fruit and little else. Perhaps we can blame the Kiwi’s for that. These however showed with real winemaking confidence just how many styles can be made from the grape. Shiraz is great here too. The style is fresh with only medium body, plenty of spice, pepper even cocoa. It does have a focused core of primary fruit when young but was never flabby, jammy or dull, more North Rhone than Austrlia in many ways. Last but not least were some great Bordeaux Blends, here there was some Australian fruit intensity but again with moderate body, high natural acidity and above all balance. Other wineries we tasted but did not visit were: 1. Faisan – top end winery 2. Cumulus – entry level as well as top end styles larger winery 3. Philip Shaw – small and family run lovely fresh vibrant wines 4. Logan – a great restrained grassy Sauvignon among others 5. Highland Heritage – lovely Kabinett style Riesling Many thanks to all the wineries we visited and for those above too. Classic Australian hospitality, some fantastic wines and a clear Orange message to convey – enjoyable vibrant food friendly wines perfect for a European palate.