The words traditional and modern are thrown about so often nowadays that they no longer have any meaning. Let’s face a home truth. For all lovers of wine, there is a frisson of comfort when descending into an ancient cellar. Cobwebs, barrels and the unforgettable smell of wine embraced by wood. Wine cellars are known for their confabulations amongst the theatre and drama of a vigneron. It’s always easier to buy wines made in such environs. Its as if it’s ever been thus.
But it hasn’t always been so. Wine producers alter their methods according to available knowledge and technology and of course we are all slaves to fashion.
A case in point – Barolo
In 2005 while visiting Barolo, every producer I spoke to took a position. Traditional, modern and for those hedging their bets, a little bit of both. Barolo as we know it has been around since the 1850’s, and so-called “traditional” Barolo involved early harvesting, long macerations and aging in large format wood, either cherry wood or oak. “Modern” Barolo was made with later picked grapes, otherwise known as ripe, shorter maceration time, and ageing in smaller oak such as the Bordeaux Barrique of 225 litres.
I am telling you all this to remind us of two things. Firstly, prior to the 1850’s, Barolo was made into a sweet wine. Hence, the concept of “traditional Barolo” is open to interpretation. Connoisseurs, in their quest for authenticity, would undoubtedly cringe with disappointment if Conterno or Grasso began making their Barolo’s into something not completely dry, or genuinely traditional. And thank heavens for that. Barolo, has never tasted so good or been so consistent.
Secondly, to my mind, the debate over traditional and modern became philosophical. Notions of purity, authenticity, deference to previous generations and what a “true” Barolo should be overshadowed the most important question of all. Was the wine any good?
Nowadays, the debate seems to have moved on. Wine producers are genuinely open to a greater variety of viticultural and winemaking options, old or new.
The influence of old and new
I was on Manly beach with my family recently and I have a habit of surveying my surrounds with more than a little idle curiosity. Facing the sea, looking to the right stands the Neo Tuscan apartment block Borombil, completed in 1930. Behind Borombil, on Darley Road, the looming gothic giant, St Patrick’s Seminary, 1889. Lastly, at 44 Ashburner Street, the Citadel, completed in 1954.
Three totally different expressions of style, meaning and usage and all told, built in a period of 65 years. Grand, proud, stout and magnificent, together they play an unforgettable role in creating one of the most tremendous urban panoramas. Loveliness is not derived from concepts of tradition, modernity or the clash of epochs. You only need to look. They are made from beautiful materials, design synergies, attention to detail and cost, ambition and sweat.
Structures are the physical expression of our lived experience, but to fill in the gaps, we need food, music dance, whatever fun you can think of. And wine of course.
Benchmark natural wines at La Petite Mort
The wines of La Petite Mort were a revelation to me. I have tried a great many “Natural” wines, and wines made by ancient methods, and to be sure, they are mostly crap. Coughing up the tasting sample, I ponder the wasted opportunity for making something drinkable and for the people who profess them to be good and authentic and true. Bafflement at the blind adherence to a set of principles that doesn’t take into account the protestations of a tortured palate. The flesh is weak.
Revelations aside, the key to any wine tasting is to have an open mind, never mind what I say, or anyone else for that matter. The points of wine critics for instance are a dreadful anchor, a dead weight to pleasure. And of course, we all have our prejudices. I don’t usually enjoy white wines with extended skin macerations and I think many Amphorae raised wines, skin contact or not, are supple to to the point of textureless.
La Petite Mort – tradition and modern embrace
The greatness of any producer is based on the deliciousness of their wares, not some slavish adherence to method or tradition. The La Petite Mort wines are all beautiful, stylistic benchmarks. Furthermore, not all their wines are made in weird vessels such as buried Amphorae. Oak is used, old and new, large format and small. Traditions are kept close at hand, this is wine after all, the most noble of drinks.
La Petite Mort is a synthesis of high quality fruit, experimentation, risk, hard work and traditions. Traditions from all over, and like the view from Manly beach, they can all be different, relevant and magnificent. Pragmatism reigns, modernity embraced but the guiding light to any of the wine’s production is what will taste good. La Petite Mort is a great producer indeed.
The White Wines
The 2018 La Petite Mort Amphora VMR (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne) ($30) is hands down the finest skin contact, natural, orange, call it what you will, white wine I have had from Australia. Spending 67 days in qvevri on skins, unfiltered, unfined, sulphur at bottling, this is delicious and extremely complex. Slightly oxidative (not dirty, not sherry!), white flowers, oily bitter walnuts, apricot, nougat, ginger, peach and honey, jostle like a writhing dancefloor. Beautiful texture that the fruit drives, not the other way around, evidence of the quality of the fruit and the supreme winemaking. This taster reckons the time on skins is spot on.
Tradition, convention, who cares really, the 2017 La Petite Mort Chardonnay ($26) is one of the best value whites on the market in Australia. It has everything you’d hope for in a Chardy, but with a touch of exoticism that sets it apart from any other that I have had. Medium to full bodied, muscle and flesh clinging to the most perfect proportions. Textural, with a twist of grip, stone fruits, jasmine, fig, cashew, grapefruit and mandarin with a dusting of tropical notes. Is this a hint of the tropical north, still so far away? I like to think so. Fermented and aged in 500L new French oak, once again the quality of the fruit is singing here. Its lovely oak to be sure, and it works wonderfully with the fruit.
Marsanne anywhere can taste and feel like anything, but this 2017 Marsanne ($30) rendition wears it’s name on the front and back of the shirt. Peach, white and yellow, apricot, honeydew, green apple and honey. Textural grip but with an incisive structure. Fermented in oak. Fuller and more mouthfilling than one would expect, but the acidity is tingling. Gorgeous now, methinks future bright and horizons long.
I like Rose, in any shape or form. Truly. Full bodied, light bodied, dry, textured, sweet, fizzy, spicy. Great Rose however comes from great grapes and the producer’s understanding of the flavours and textures that can be extracted from only short macerations. The 2017 La Petite Mort Rose ($26) is made from a process called the saignee method, meaning to “bleed”. The juice is only left on skins for a very short period, prior to fermentation, extracting plenty of flavour, but little colour. And by golly, there is so much flavour here, yet the palate is completely dry, elegant and ethereal. Bursting with the sweetest red fruits, spice, cream and a savouriness that is a lovely foil to the sweet fruit. We talk of Rose as a picnic wine, and so it is, but this one has the character and personality to carry itself with more serious food also. One that will go a few years too.
The Red Wines
Shiraz Viognier blends are commonplace now, but I had not tried one like this before . Co-fermented and aged on skins and solids for 136 days, one day longer than the 2017, in Amphorae. La Petite Mort’s Shiraz Viognier 2018 ($30) is unique really and certainly not a Cote Rotie wannabe. Medium bodied, with the clearest, brightest colour. One of the most beautiful and ethereal Shiraz’s I have had since…since I can’t remember. The granite belt is genuinely cool climate, but unlike many high country styles has none of the off putting green hard tannins and exaggerated spice. Fluid, supple, silk, silk and more silk. Blue and red fruits, Toblerone chocolate, dried cranberry and a touch of white pepper. Just seasoning mind. Grand.
Saperavi is to Georgia what Riesling is to the Mosel. Hugh Hamilton of Mclaren Vale is I think, the first to commercialise this variety in Australia. I have enjoyed many bottles from this producer, courtesy of a kind customer. They are big, blue black in colour and packed with flavour. Delicious, and prices start from $70.
The 2017 La Petite Mort Amphora Saperavi ($37) is a different beast entirely. Destemmed, whole berries are placed in Amphorae and left to do their thing for 193 days. Incredible really. Although the wine has plenty of colour, it’s not impenetrable and the tannins are lovely. Chewier than the Shiraz Viognier, but silky nonetheless. Full-ish body and very complex. Black cherry and red, black pepper, cassis, kirsch, dark chocolate, dried flowers and did I mention that silk. Black Forest Gateau. Very different from my limited understanding of the variety. And I loved it.
The phrase “biggest wine”, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s true of the La Petite Mort range, but the wine isn’t “big”. The 2017 Monte ($30) (Montepulciano is the varietal) has beautiful proportions, a lovely figure, plush and round. This is foot trod, so although tannins are extracted, they aren’t firm. I’m uncertain as to the vessel for aging, though it isn’t Amphorae. Hazarding a guess, old French oak, probably some new. Wonderful to drink an Italian variety that’s not Sangiovese or Nebbiolo. The whole gamut of fruit colours, red, blue and black. Juicy palate of plum, red and black cherry, cassis, raspberry and aniseed. Versatile with food and the food doesn’t have to be Italian.
Prices quoted are in any six