Avant garde wines are less about tradition and vineyard/varietal definition. Minimal intervention, natural ferments, little or no sulphur additions, early picking,experimental winemaking and a keen eye on the environment are the shared attributes of Australian avant garde wine producers. And then comes the winemaking. Anything goes, assuming its natural, but the stomping, pressing, fermentation vessel, skin contact, whole bunches, solids and extraction methods are held in the bosom of the creator. To be avant garde is to be different, unconventional and alas, usually undrinkable. But then I stumbled across the wines of Mallaluka, who are as avant garde as they come.
Rhetoric about differences aside, Mallaluka is an emblematic avant garde wine producer who has not forgotten the ultimate truth. That wine needs to be delicious, affordable and authentic if it is to have any real worth byond the vagaries of fashion.
If as a wine drinker, you are looking for a wine to be an expression of vineyard, or for the taste and texture to be entirely familiar, then Mallaluka may not be for you. They are however an expression of their makers, Sam Leyshon and his dad, John. The wines are in no way conventional, but to be amongst the very finest of avant garde wine producers, the wines must not be challenging. Perhaps this is what I like most about Mallaluka. The end result was always the same; I wanted another glass and then another. I never knew what to expect, tasting the wines, they are unique, idiosyncratic, delicious, but never challenging. They are not wines trying to shock or make a statement, or trying too hard to be different.
The fruit for theses wines comes from the Canberra District and Hilltops region, and is of the highest quality. Nice wine cannot be fashioned from average grapes and it is clear, that despite the winemaking artifice, the varietal distinctiveness is never lost. Indeed, its as if the winemaking process has enhanced the natural quality of the fruit. Most of the range offers up single varietal wines, but even the blended wines showcase the primary characteristics of the varieties. The Chardonnay is textured and full bodied, the Cabernet Franc displays black fruits, bony tannins and leafiness. The Pinot Gris, despite its rose/red appearance is a peacock’s display of the the variety’s texture, spice and fruit character.
The winemaking is brilliant, as the inherent qualities of the fruit are teased out and threaded. Nothing is forced and I feel the fruit has been pushed right to the edge, but never tipping over it. In terms of flavour, texture and balance, none of the wines attracted comments like, too oaky, picked too late/early, too bunchy, skinsy or over extracted. That they are wines of style goes without saying and they are also wines of substance. Elegant, textural, exciting, unique and packed with the freshest of flavours.
The Mallaluka Range
Usually, I wouldn’t focus so much on the wine making, but I think it helps to demonstrate the skill and effort of the winemaker Sam. Furthermore, terrific wine is not some natural fluke that after stomping, makes itself. Rather, the understanding of what the fruit has to offer and the skilled interpretation of the producer and their ability to coax the very best aspects of the fruit is the only chance for the creation of fine wine.
Classic Cabernet fruit character. The palate is a real surprise though, with a juicy, almost slippery texture. It’s a kind of luncheon claret, but without the harsh aggressive tannins. Lovely.
Canberra district. Dog Trap vineyard, Yass. Natural yeast fermentation. 18 months barrel maturation. No fining or filtration.
The plushest wine in the range. Plums, mulberry, blackberry and rosemary. It’s quite full bodied, but freshness is the key. Weightless energy and an appealing forest/autumnal leaf drop characteristic. Slippery palate, which is curious as there’s no whole bunch, so it must be skin tannin from a very gentle extraction. Utterly drinkable, and one of the finest bistro wines in Australia.
Mallaluka estate shiraz. De-stemmed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Sangiovese from Gundagai region with whole berry fermentation. No fining or filtration.
For me, the most avant garde wine in the range. In some ways, the most challenging, but once my palate adjusted, beguiling and utterly delicious. Masses of berries, a compote if you like of black, blue and red fruits. There’s a pastile like quality to the blackfruits, offset by a slight sour cherry note. Notes too of lavender, violet and rosemary. This is the brightest of the reds, no doubt due to the Carbonic maceration, and the slipperiest too, from the high percentage of whole bunch.
100% whole bunch fermentation under carbonic maceration – helps give the amazing cooked strawberry characters. After 22 days the berries are broken and macerated to finish the fermentation with natural yeasts. Pressed into seasoned and neutral French oak barriques to age for 10 months. No fining or filtration and only minimal use of sulphur.
Fascinating, as the wine at first sniff and sip seems quite classical, but it has a sour note, from early picking, and that trademark soft, slippery palate from the whole bunch and extended skin maceration. It means the skin tannin’s there, but its softer, longer and drawn out along the palate, rather than the usual stiffness you would expect. Red cherry, cranberry, vanilla cola and a touch of tobacco. The fruit has a wonderful sweet and sour profile, which makes me wonder if there was more than one picking, one early, the other later. A totally original Sangiovese, but entirely varietal. Great, intuitive winemaking.
70% of fruit from Tumblong Hills in the Gundagai region. 30% of fruit from vineyards on Mallaluka property from the Yass Plains within the Canberra District. Natural yeast fermentation with 20% whole bunch (gives some stemmy spice). Extended skin maceration for at least 20 days (this helps mellow the astringency and also allows the fermentation gases to escape before putting it in barrel) .Then pressed into seasoned and neutral French oak hogsheads and barriques to age for 10 months. No fining or filtration and only minimal use of preservative (sulphur dioxide) added before bottling.
Fabulous, heady, musky nose of violets, strawberry and blueberry. Waxy texture, savoury spice and tart red fruits. Very much a Rose-esque wine, and I certainly don’t see this as orange or white. There’s plenty of complexity and curious mouthfeel for the wine to be really interesting and different, and the flavours are defined and direct. A case of Jekyll and Hyde, thrust and parry.
All fruit from Freeman Vineyards in Prunevale, Hilltops region. 80% de-stemmed and 20% kept as whole bunches. Fermented using natural yeast, in 1 tonne open top pot fermenters. Extended skin maceration for 32 days post ferment (Mellowing out the astringency and releases fermentation gases so it’s not so gassy in the barrel). Pressed off into seasoned and neutral (neutral oak allows micro-oxygenation without much of the oak flavour) French oak barriques for 10 months. No fining or filtration and minimal preservative used.
A winemaking triumph, that at this price point, makes it the most interesting and widely complex chardonnay in Australia. Talk about loaded, it was hard to stop my pen whizzing across the page when I tasted this. Pineapple, lime, hazelnut, oats, white chocolate nougat, white flowers, rock melon and white cherry. The palate is thick with texture and extract, yet unbelievably, freshness is all pervasive. Athletic. All power and personality, no flab whatsoever. Great, great value, fascinating and delicious. A wine-lovers wine. A chardonnay-lovers wine and proof that wine is not just about the quality of the fruit, but the intuitive skill of the winemaker.
All fruit from Freeman Vineyards in Prunevale, Hilltops region. 100% de-stemmed and cold soaked (this gently extracts some guts for the wine) on skins for 24 hours. Then pressed to 65% yield. 30% fermented in new French oak barriques and the rest fermented in stainless steel. Deliberate juice oxidation before fermentation. Natural ferments on hard lees (this helps with texture) and aged for 10 months before bottling. Both parcels went through malolactic fermentation (that gives the buttery feel). No fining or filtration and minimal use of preservative.