Despite having published a series of turgid articles (1, 2, 3, 4) arguing precisely the opposite, I think there’s something deeply authentic about Australian wines that are a blend of material from several regions. For a start, many of our great winemakers (Roger Warren, Max Schubert, Maurice O’Shea and Colin Preece, for starters) often used this approach. It remains a part of our industry to this day, arguably representing the mainstream.
The intent is often to create a better wine than can be crafted from any one constituent component. For example, I’ve read that Colin Preece used to sometimes include some rich, ripe Rutherglen red in his elegantly spicy Great Western material to create a superior end result. There are many such examples, Grange being the most obvious and enduring. So one could pursuasively argue that a multi-regional blend vibrates with the sort of authenticity that can’t be achieved by simply doing it the way they do in, say, Burgundy. Perhaps this is the Australian way.
Is this even important? Surely, what’s in the glass is all that matters. Well, yes and no; to me at any rate. I’m not of the “wine is just a drink” school. I believe intent matters. And I think the degree to which a wine engages (or disengages) from a certain winemaking tradition should be considered. None of that changes what’s in the bottle, but wine exists in a context and, when I taste it, the purely sensual experience intersects all these things.
Perhaps I should apologise to the creators of this wine, Gary Walsh and Campbell Mattinson, for not getting straight to the point. But, in a sense, this is the point. Well-known wine writers, Messrs Walsh and Mattinson have ostensibly created the Mountain X label not only to produce something very tasty, but to explicitly draw on various Australian winemaking traditions.
This may be the first seriously postmodern wine that I’m aware of, at least locally. The name recalls O’Shea’s naming conventions. It’s a blend of Hunter Valley and Yarra Valley wine. And it’s a blend of Shiraz and Pinot Noir varieties. Hardly anyone does Shiraz/Pinot blends any more; it’s certifiably niche, and yet fits naturally into the history of the Hunter Valley. Even the outdated nomenclature of Hunter Burgundy suggests it. So neat on so many levels.
Indeed, the conceptual side would threaten to overwhelm the wine if it weren’t deliciously, obviously good. And it’s so good, fully justifying its existence to those who just want to drink a quality wine. The nose for starters. First impressions are of expressively funky brambles and stalk, fully ripe and strongly suggestive of the Pinot component. There’s also what I presume is an oak influence, sweetly malty and nougat-like, not too assertive in volume or aggressive in flavour. Then, some mellow berry fruit, straddling sweet and savoury. This is such a relaxed aroma profile, one that gently glows in the glass and calls you back not with a shout but with a sweetly harmonised tune.
This quiet sophistication carries through to the palate. All the obvious markers of quality are here — intensity, length, complex flavour — as they are in thousands of other wines. What’s fascinating about this wine is the flavour profile. As with the nose, it’s quite funky but not in a dirty way. In fact, this wine is a great example of how to achieve character without resorting to questionable flavours. I’m not sure I can tease it apart, but I’ll give it a go. A strong thread of sour cherry. A small amount of intensely sweet, positively confectionery fruit (sort of like Redskins, but of course in a clever adult sort of way). Brambles. Nougat. I’m not sure I’m communicating things accurately (or completely, as it’s quite complex) but suffice it to say it’s coherent and attractive. Structurally, this is acid-driven, though delicately so, such that it’s not forbidding in any way. Body is medium, with a sprightly mouthfeel that also manages to feel luxurious. The finish echoes the very beginning, with ripe, stalk-like flavours freshening the palate as sweet fruit lingers like an echo somewhere up high.
Performance art in a bottle. Serve it to non-wine nerds and enjoy both the wine and a quietly smug chuckle.