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Cool wines with a story


Whitey does a quick but genteel tour of two of Victoria’s cooler wine sites, finding three wines that South Australia cannot dream of emulating.

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Rory Lane buys grapes from various key sites around Victoria; his winemaking cellar is in a converted warehouse in the southern suburbs of Melbourne. A classic “virtual” winemaker, he names his wines The Story because he thinks the yarn about each wine’s source and the adventure of its vintage is the best thing to sell if you’re a Young Guns of Wine People’s Choice Winemaker without the typical industrial facilities, primary or secondary.

He pushes this with the annual Story Wine Prize, offering $4000 cash for a fiction of fewer than 800 words, in association with the literary journal Overland, which publishes the piece. Rory then runs the story on the back label of one of his wines.

The Story Wines Whitlands Close Planted Riesling 2015 ($30; 11.8% alcohol; screw cap) is from the old Croucher Vineyard at Whitlands, 800 metres up the north side of the Victorian Alps. It has a story on the side, in such beautifully cool pastel colours and font that I cannot possibly read it. In a dim restaurant, I doubt that even the nerdiest bearded somm could decipher it. Uh-huh.

It doesn’t smell much like the famous Rieslings of the Clare or Eden Valleys. The yarn’s in the glass and it’s a trip to Alsace: crunchy mountain meadow and straw, burlap and lemons and limes, all the world like a slaty Dietrich Riesling from Kaiserburg. It has that ethereal acrid edge you’ll find in old hessian superphosphate sacks. This makes me hungry.

The texture of the wine is svelte and strapping, with just enough residual grape sugar to add the appropriate flesh. Eight grams per litre is barely enough to impart actual sweetness.

Then the wine tapers off real slow and slaty, with extremely fine tannins that remind me of the phosphate-and-burlap edge that kicked the beauty off. I’d drink it with choucroute, the Alsace sauerkraut feast with steaming smoked wursts and lashings of creamy ground mustard.

This is much cheaper than going to Alsace, but you should do that, too. Brilliant!

The Story Wines Westgate Vineyard Grampians Marsanne Roussanne Viognier 2015 ($30; 12.9% alcohol; screw cap) serves perfectly to illustrate my long-held theory that Victoria’s love of Marsanne is unique to that state, where early Swiss vignerons imported it, along with phylloxera, through the first vineyards around Geelong.

Marsanne can readily take on an autumnal vegetal aroma, with reeks of a grange full of sacks of ageing pears and potatoes; sometimes it’s like petioles, the stalk of the vine leaf; occasionally, at its best, it also exudes a lovely whiff of honeysuckle. This Marsanne blend is somewhere in the middle.

Texturally, the wine feels like a fine Chardonnay: delicately fleshy, like the actual petals of that honeysuckle. Its wild yeast, very old oak and full malo-lactic fermentation work together to give it the fragile, delicately-powdered air of a gracious old aunt in a high-ceiling oak-panelled drawing-room full of chintz and old lace somewhere in Geneva. Pass the madeleines, please.

Can’t read that story, either. Once again, the glass tells the tale.

The Story Vineyards Westgate Vineyard Shiraz 2013 ($55; 14% alcohol; screw cap) is pure Grampians delight: the region grows Shiraz of distinctive perfume and flesh when fully ripe. If picked early, you can get lots of fresh pepper. This vintage was on the warmer side so the wine smells disarmingly pudgy. Spurred by lots of whole bunches in the ferments, it reminds me of the exquisite Shiraz the late Stephen Hickinbotham made on the volcano at Anakie near Geelong in the ’80s.

South Australia does not grow Shiraz like this: elegant and sensual, with very fine drying tannins. It has the flavours of a red berry conserve – whole berries again – without ever being simply jammy or gloopy. I’d love to ponder it with veal liver and morels, Big Burgundy balloon please!

As Rory says, the wine will benefit from a few more years of dungeon, but I reckon it’s just jim dandy now.

These wines are exemplary: intelligently selected and made to a fine, genteel style, honestly reflecting these unique cooler sites and the long history of Victoria’s unique gastronomic culture. Buy your favourite South Australian equivalents of each of them, throw a dinner party, and compare your choices to these three. Lovely repast and discourse guaranteed!

A comment on the Wine Equalisation Tax rebate: Rory Lane is a fine example of the winemakers who face losing their refund. There are many winemakers with their own vineyards and established winery facilities who will never get this close to true gastronomic delight, stories notwithstanding.

Rory rocks. His wines are now distributed in South Australia by Hall & Oak.

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