Complexity in wine is something us wine nerds love to gabble on about. If a tasting note doesn't have at least ten aroma descriptors then, frankly, I'm out. Rose petal, thyme, hints of dehydrated Iranian cabbage. Try, tomato bush, cat's piss (seriously), sweat, socks, horse blanket, and so on. The more obscure the better, really. It's a pretty important part of the judging process as well. Providing a wine is fault free and varietal (sort of smells, looks and tastes like it should) then actually how complex, or how many distinguishable aromas there are will go a fair way in discerning its overall quality. I've been lucky enough to drink the odd bottle of truly great wine and more often than not it's the nose that seals the deal.
So how do young textual whites fit in to all of this and why do I love them so much?
Textural, neutral, savoury. Different scribes and sommeliers call them different names, but they are all generally referring to a group of whites that have limited aroma profiles. Roussanne, Marsanne, a whole host of Italians. Spain's Palomino, Grenache blanc, Godello, and so on. You'll rarely find a bracing citrus backbone or a nose of orange blossom but you will find abundant texture.
The aroma descriptors of these wines generally fall into the pear and citrus categories. My notes usually contain 'lemon drop', which to me means those little lemon lollies predicably shaped like lemons. Mineral, which denotes a chalky character and occasionally just ripe pear, but not much else. Not profound at all really. Not complex, quirky, and certainly not wines that you would spend hours smelling.
So what's the appeal?
Well, firstly, sometimes smelling wine can all a bit much. There are those times when you just want a drink and don't want to have to engage your cerebral cortex to do so. You don't need pen and paper, an aroma wheel or even a big glass you can swirl. But here is the clincher (and this bit's a tad important). By shutting down your nose and switching off your brain your other senses become a little bit more heightened. And I'm not really talking about taste either; we're about texture, and therefore (bear with me here) touch.
In essence wine goes from being intellectual, to textural and as such, sensual. It's a bit like turning off the lights.
The other attribute these grapes have is the ability to handle wine making and actually obtain texture, which, when they're at their best, has a certain effortlessness about it.
Kathleen Quealy, who post T'Gallant, makes some cracking textural whites under the Quealy label, described them to me as being like the world's most perfect glass of water. And while ten years ago I would have thrown her out, I'm please to say I think I get it now.
So why pay good money for a wine that smells like little and tastes 'a bit'? Well because, damn it, sometimes I just want to be touched. Turn off your brain, switch off the lights and give these a shot. They're not overly expensive and you never know, you just may just touch you too.
2013 Kaesler 'Stonehorse' Palomino Barossa Valley, SA $24.00 Cru Bar & Cellar
The mainstay of the leaner end of the Sherry world, palomino is rarely seen, firstly, outside of Spain, and, secondly, in the form of still white wine. Made from vines now surprisingly pushing 50 years of age. 15% of the press was inoculated with wild yeast, fermented in French oak and then kept on lees for a month to flesh out the mid palate. This expression has lemon, lanolin, and a hint of oyster shell on the nose and palate weight while still hanging on to that signature Spanish saltiness.
White flower (just) and a hint of lemon this wine is all about the palate. It has some phenol grip from the skins but still pulls off of stunning breadth and texture without blowing out and looking all hot and heavy. Six months on lees.
2012 Fighting Gully Road Aquila Beechworth, Victoria $27.00 Craft Wine Store
I tasted this blind and thought it was Chardonnay, Marsanne, and oddly enough Riesling. It is in fact Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng. A core of very subtle stone fruit with a touch of lemon and a seductive almost luscious palate that still has some length and drive.
A blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc but it's the 55% of Viognier that gives this wine its textural appeal. Hints of apricot on nose followed by weight and viscosity that somehow manages to hold it all together for a pretty seamless finish. Not for the fainthearted.
TUL Note: Simon Hill is a food and wine tragic, owner of Bar Alto and Ortiga, and a Gourmet Traveller Winner for his enviable wine list. Apart from being a palate pleaser, he is a keen surfer, very handy with a chainsaw, and on an unwavering quest to make the best XO sauce in the land. Keep up with Simon's antics on Twitter (@ortigawine) and Instagram (@baralto).
Image Credit: Madame Bazaar