Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience – “Great Wines of the World: An Exploration”

At the start of this month I flew down to Melbourne to attend two tastings as part of the Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience, being held in conjunction with the annual Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. I have spent the last few weeks trying to find time to write up my notes of these tastings with little success – the mundanity of everyday life is interfering with my passion! Finally, this weekend I managed to finish the first post and hope to finish the second soon. I did consider whether the moment had passed, but frankly the wines were too interesting and diverse, so I hope you will forgive my indulgence in posting these blogs several weeks after the event. Better late than never!

The first tasting, entitled “Great Wines of the World – An Exploration” was hosted by Max Allen, with an exceptional panel comprising Jancis Robinson OBE MW (my idol & reason for attending), James Halliday AM, Franck Moreau MS and Ian Hill Smith AM MW.

Great Wines of the World

Max Allen began proceedings with an interesting discussion on what is “greatness” in wine, a theme which was revisited frequently throughout the tasting and which I’ll attempt to summarise at the end. He argued that “Great wine is more than just a delicious drink: it transports us into the realm of the poetic and profound.”

The event was advertised as having wines selected by Jancis Robinson and the wines selected were no doubt from top producers. However, during the course of the tasting it emerged that Jancis (and the rest of the panel) had actually had very little influence on the selection of wines due to the constraints of the organisers’ budget. By the organisers own admission, the wines were not necessarily the wines, or even the vintages, the panel would have chosen to highlight the theme.

The tasting began with the first bracket of 5 wines.

The 2010 Dagueneau Pur Sang Pouilly Fume, France (RRP$210) had refreshing but high acidity with lime and grapefruit, and good body and weight on the palate. Zesty with chalky minerality and a slight smokiness, Jancis commented it was too young with a grippy finish and needed at least another 2 years. She commented on its laser like purity and noted flavours of blackcurrant leaf.

The second wine, a 2009 Francois Raveneau Les Clos Chablis, France (RRP$250) was pale, lemon gold with a floral aroma with a good dose of lemon. Savoury and flinty on the palate with citrus flavours it was full bodied with refreshing acidity. Jancis commented that 2009 was a very ripe vintage. Franck Moreau commented that this wine was again too young.

Next was an Australian icon, the 2006 Tyrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Australia (RRP$60). Bone dry with lemon, lime and grapefruit on the palate. It had a slight creaminess with soft mid palate weight, a lean acidic backbone and a lasting finish.

Great Wines of the WorldWine four, the 2005 Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Riesling, France (RRP$250) has been described as “Quintessential Riesling…it is probably the greatest dry Riesling in the World” (Tom Stevenson). I can certainly see the potential in this wine, though I imagine it needs more time in the bottle to reach the heights described. Pale gold in colour with a fresh lemon aroma, it had more lemon and apple on the palate with a complex minerality and a long finish. It was very well balanced with great structure. James Halliday commented on the complex texture. Franck Moreau and Jancis both agreed it was still too young with Franck commenting it was closed and austere. Jancis felt it was caught between too stages.

The final wine of the first bracket was a 2010 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel, Germany (RRP$170). I had recently tasted the 09 of this wine and was keen to see if I could discern any variation between the vintages with my amateur palate. The wine was pale gold colour with perfectly balanced sweetness and acidity. Flavours of peach, lime juice and lemon curd and zest emerged into honey. This was a lively wine with an uplifting and lasting finish. Delicious…and to me slightly less jammy than the 09 I tasted recently.

The JJ Prum was my favourite wine of the bracket, very closely followed by the Trimbach Riesling. My love of Riesling clearly shows no signs of abating!

Great Wines of the World

Next we moved onto the reds and the second bracket of wines, beginning with a 2007 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru, France (RRP$510). I had heard great things about this wine and perhaps my expectations were too high, particularly when you consider it is such a young vintage. It had strawberry and raspberry aromas with strawberry and red cherry on the palate, smooth tannins with a strong acid structure and a lasting finish. It was definitely too young and needed more time to develop.

Another iconic wine followed, a 2008 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Italy (RRP$250), one of the pioneering Super Tuscan wines. This was medium ruby in colour, dry with medium to high acidity and firm, grippy tannins. It had flavours of red fruit, plums, herbaceous with a hint of spice. It definitely tasted Italian and was very different to Australian Cabernet Sauvignons with Michael Hill Smith commenting that it was definitely Tuscan first and Cabernet Sauvignon second.

The third wine, a 2005 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet, USA (RRP$320) (incl. 6% Petit Verdot) was deep ruby in colour with a rich black fruit aroma. It had ripe blackcurrant, cherry and plum on the palate with a hint of cinnamon and cloves. It had firm, grippy tannins with high acid and a long finish. An elegant yet intense wine which I really enjoyed and which challenged my misguided perceptions of Californian Cabernets.

Next, the 2006 E. Guigal La Mouline Cote Rotie, France (RRP$450) was medium ruby in colour with brambly aromas and flavours of red and black fruit. It had firm but integrated tannins and noticeable oak. Michael Hill Smith noted the apricot lift on the mid palate from the co-fermented viognier. Franck Moreau commented that it was a very feminine style.

The second bracket ended with another Australian icon, a 2006 Penfolds Grange, Australia (RRP $650). Deep purple in colour with ripe black fruit, it had balanced acidity, firm tannins and a savoury finish. Everyone agreed that it was still way too young to drink but James Halliday confirmed 2006 was an exceptional vintage and that this wine should only improve with age.

Great Wines of the World

Surprisingly I found myself selecting the Grange as my favourite wine in this bracket. I say surprisingly because I have always felt Grange is grossly overpriced (when you consider the dramatic increase in price over the last 50 years) but, when compared with the Guigal or the Chambertin Grand Cru we tasted, I felt the Grange for a recent vintage, was a far more enjoyable wine. The Ridge Monte Bello was a very close second and at half the price is probably better value.

The final bracket of wines moved into the realm of fortified, and began with one of my new found loves, Sherry. The NV Equipo Navazos Bota de Amontillado 23 “Bota NO”, Spain (RRP$50) is a non solera wine from a 1986 barrel. It was medium tawny in colour with a salty, almond aroma, refreshing acidity and dry & nutty with intense salinity on the palate. Jancis commented on the concentrated rancio character. This was by far my favourite of the two wines in this bracket, and one of my favourites of the tasting. It was also the bargain of the day when you consider the cost of the other “great” wines being showcased!

The final wine, NV Chambers Rare Muscadelle, Australia (RRP$300 – $350) was lusciously sweet and rich with an aroma of nuts, raisins, sultanas, prunes and figs. Whilst it did show refreshing acidity it was far too sweet for me and I felt slightly out of balance.

At the end of the tasting Max Allen attempted to sum up the discussion of what “greatness” is in relation to wine. He concluded that a great wine should show complexity, length, quality of fruit, age worthiness and an indication of terroir (sense of place). In addition factors such as the personality of the person behind the wine, its influence in the market, and its rarity can all play an important part in our perception of whether a wine can be considered “great”. For me though, I agreed most with the idea that a wine should have an emotional resonance to the drinker. How a wine makes you feel is surely the best indication of “greatness” in a personal sense.

Great Wines of the World

Whilst I enjoyed the experience of this tasting, on reflection I don’t think it was worth the cost of the ticket. Whilst the wines doubtless all showed great potential, few had yet reached the heights of “greatness” they are known for and so the tasting was more of wines that should hopefully become “great” based on previous vintages or potential at a young age, rather than those who had already achieved it. This would be fine, if like the panel you are likely to get to try these wines again, perhaps several times over the next twenty years and so will taste them when that moment of “greatness” arrives. For me, I was left questioning whether my $300 had been well spent.

N.B: For those interested, the panel were asked for their desert island wines. Their responses are below:

Jancis – 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle
Franck – 1959 Champagne
Michael – 1978 La Tache or a Dom Perignon Rose
James – 1929 Domaine Romanee Conti
Max – 1968 Vega Sicilia Unico Especial

Post two of the Acqua Panna Wine Experience – the “Wines of Wonderland” tasting to follow soon…

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