Now there are two basic schools of thought on how best to do this (I said two basic… lets keep it simple). First is the idea that to make great wine the most important factor is the quality of the grapes that go into the ferment. The French word terroir is used in wine speak here to refer to all geographical factors that could influence the growth cycle and quality of the fruit a vine produces. ‘Terroirists’ subscribe to the notion that everything happens in the vineyards and that the wine maker is simply there to facilitate fermentation.
On the other hand there is the idea that making wine is no different to cooking. Yes quality ingredients are important, but it is really the skill of the wine maker and his ability to manipulate ferments through various winemaking techniques, oak treatments and acid adjustments to produce a consistent, high quality product. This kind of intensive, hands on wine making is often criticised for producing wines of generic taste.
So who is right? In my opinion they both are. Of course everybody would like to have the best quality ingredients, but sometimes you need to look at the economics of what you are trying to achieve. Relying only what nature gives you can provide a very unique and interesting wine when all goes well. When you have a bad season, though, your wine will also be bad. However if the wine maker has control over all aspects of cultivation and production, and is making wine not just from a single vineyard but from many different sources, they can produce the same product year in year out.
Purists would argue that the essence of truly great wine can only be attained by unique terroir, but consumers demand a consistency. Wine can sometimes become intangibly elitist, and yet the reality of drinking any wine is to enjoy the myriad of flavours that are possible, be they simple and cheerful or complex and confronting.
In my mind a marriage of both philosophies ultimately produces the best results. Having premium quality grapes is very, very important, but ultimately the winemaker will leave their stamp on the wine. What is essential is a consistent, well-made, quality wine. This after all is what both hedonists and everyday consumers are looking for.
Penfolds ‘Kalimna’ Bin 28 Shiraz 2011
Once a poster boy for ‘Terroirists’, the grapes for this wine are no longer sourced exclusively from its namesake vineyard. The remarkable thing is that the quality has not been compromised in what is now a multi-regional, South Australian wine. A brooding wine of intense black fruits, fruitcake, leather and spice, the Kalimna is powerfully structured and built to cellar well into 2025. At the same time it can be enjoyed now with a chargrilled sirloin.