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Coldstream Hills Briarston 1996
Bouquet: The bouquet shows a mix of redcurrant, cassis, olive and cedary French oak.
Palate: The palate is typically soft, with a mix of sweet berry and more minty/olive-like flavours. Fine, subtle tannins ripple through the gentle but long finish.
Situated in the cool and beautiful Yarra Valley, about one hour's drive east of Melbourne, its steep, close-planted vineyards have become a signature of the region. So too have its wines (most notably Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs) which reflect a climate cooler than Bordeaux and a little warmer than Burgundy.
France too provides all the oak barriques (1500, but increasing year by year) and no small amount of inspiration for the winemaking team of James Halliday and, Paul Lapsley.
The wines are quite literally, hand made, mainly using small open fermenters (of three to four tonnes capacity) for the red wines, while the white wines are barrel fermented. Notwithstanding the increasing production, there has been and will be no significant change in the winemaking techniques or philosophies inherent to Coldstream Hills.
These techniques are directed to making wines, which are characterised by elegance and finesse, by silky supple texture, length of flavour, subtle oak and the ability to develop extra dimensions of complexity with bottle age. These are not weighty, extractive, tannic or alchoholic styles, however impressive well made examples of these may be.
As the most important area of wine production in Victoria today, the Yarra Valley is most popular for its Pinot noir and Chardonnay, which account for over half of vineyard acreage. A gentle, rolling and rural region alongside the Margaret River, the Yarra Valley has a cool maritime with a lengthy growing season, perfect for these cool-climate varieties.
The warmer, Lower Yarra Valley in the north has sandy loam soils and produces a plush and fruity Pinot noir. The cooler, higher-elevation Upper Yarra Valley in the south has the soils composed of younger, red basalt and produces more angular and mineral-driven Pinot noir.
Yarra Valley Chardonnay is among the best in Australia. The modern style is stony and flinty rather than fat and tropical. Malolactic fermentation is rare, but while barrel fermentation is common, barrel maturation is restrained to preserve the floral aromatics and fresh citrus flavors for which this area’s Chardonnay is so appreciated. The best Yarra Valley Chardonnays display brilliant acidity, leesy characteristics, sweet citrus, stone fruit and flavors of ginger and spice.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux lean towards a highly structured and earthy style whereas New World areas (as in the ones named above) tend to produce bold and fruit-forward blends. Either way, Bordeaux red blends generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.