O’Leary-Walker Hurtle Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2011
($28; 12% alcohol; cork)
A hallmark of the types of fizz that generally delight me most is a smell much like the waft of a field of ripening wheat about five minutes after a light sunshower. I know it’s verboten to mention rain while a record grain crop is still in the ground, but that gentle country bouquet sure is a pretty and memorable thing, especially if you’re not a wheat farmer.
To add to that sweet fragrance, the 75 per cent Pinot noir in this cuvée reeks of fresh-sliced strawberries: it’s almost as if there are some in the glass. There’s also a hint of fresh lemon, and the whiff of crunchy almond biscotti.
Which all stacks up to a bouquet as close as dammit to the $100 sparkling wines from that large part of France they call Champagne.
That C-word, by the way, banned from our use by international law, pretty much means broad open country: in Italy they call it Campagnia: a good place for a successful military campaign when it was all horse, hand and footwork.
As far as Champagne/Campagnia goes, I like to remind the French that the Nullarbor plain is 200,000 square kilometres of flat open country and could arguably deserve the same name. To which they retort, “Ah but Champagne is priceless because of its calcareous ground – it is all limestone; all fossilised marine skeletons”, at which point it’s always worth pointing out that the Nullarbor is the biggest piece of limestone on the planet, is composed of marine fossils, and that when Baudin’s offsider Freycinet took his first look at the Spencer Gulf end of it in 1802 he named the slopes where Boston Bay Wines now stands the Côtes de Champagne.
So it was close.
This lovely wine, of course, was not grown there. It’s from vineyards David O’Leary and his sister Sue Cherry planted at Oakbank in 1990. Calcareous ground, naturally, and a lot damn cooler than the Nullarbor.
Add Nick Walker’s pedigree as a third-generation fizz maker and we’re rockin’. Nick’s grandfather Hurtle was trained in the crafty art by the great French pioneer winemaker, Edmond Mazure, at Sam Wynn’s Romalo, opposite Penfolds Grange. Hurtle picked his first vintage there at Auldana as a 10-year-old in 1900. He died in 1975.
Nick’s dad, the giant, gentle Norm, with whom I was pleasured to lunch recently, took over and made Wynn’s sparklers for Sam’s son David from 1951 to 1985. Apart from the Wynns’ own brands, Norm made fizz for 57 other Australian companies there at Romalo.
Among other achievements, Nick really began to make his mark at Yellowglen, back when that was a highly-reputed brand, before he and David joined forces in Clare, both smarting from being burned by the types of giant corporate raiders that removed Yellowglen from its top perch and turned David’s beloved Chateau Reynella into a yuppie ghetto.
This Hurtle incorporates a portion of oaked base wine, a luxury most Champenoise do not afford. After all those years riddling on yeast lees in bottle, it was disgorged freshly for summer.
So it’s a gentle, slightly toasty champers to drink, in its extremes both fuller and finer than most. Its acid is gentle but persistent, its bead more of a delightful tongue massager than a sharp tartaric shard that fills throats so effectively your guests are all grabbing for their antacid.
If you must eat, crudités and hors d’oeuvres like paté will be very cool with it, although I can’t wait to take a tumbler of it to the verandah with a bowl of fresh strawberries sliced and soused in lemon juice; a plate of almond biscotti on the side.
Add all those years, all that fine and tricky work, all the ingenuity, vision and investment, and consider this wine is released one year older than even the new Grange, and at this remarkable price, and this part of the world feels a lot damn better than any of Old Yurp’s Champagnes and Campagnias.
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