The University Wine Champions Australia trip started off in incredible style with a cruise around Sydney Harbour courtesy of Robert Oatley Vineyards. As well as wine, Robert Oatley is well-known for yachting endeavours. Wild Oats XI – Robert Oatley’s racing yacht – has the current speed record for the Sydney-Hobart yacht race and has won the race five times, including an unprecedented four-victory streak from 2005-2008.
The company is launching a new range of wines to the UK – the Signature Series. These are six different wine styles designed to showcase classic Australian regional wine styles. We tasted the new range accompanied by freshly-prepared canapés on board hosted by Sandy Oatley, executive chairman, Chris Hancock, his deputy, and Darren Jahn, communications manager.
Overall, I was struck by the delicacy of these wines. The style aimed at is one of prettyness, elegance and restraint, rather than blockbuster power. For my own tastes, I didn’t feel it worked in all expressions of the range. For instance, I found the Great Southern Riesling a bit too restrained and non-expressive. The Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc, however, benefited from this stylistic approach, with the nose not overly pungent as some Sauvignons can be.
My favourite white was the Margaret River Chardonnay, showing a nice balance of French oak and ripe apple, papaya and melon on the nose. The palate exhibited a similarly delicate mouthfeel to the other two whites – a wine for more delicate foods perhaps rather than a robust roast chicken.
The Mornington Pinot Noir I found best described as ‘simple but delicious’. Again, a light expression of the grape – as fine Pinot should be – with bright raspberry fruit overlaid by new French oak. The Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, with fruit from the Wilyabrup sub-region, was a classic example of the style. Fragrant with juicy, spicy blackberry accompanied by that quite herbal, almost medicinal scent often found on Margaret River Cab. The tannic structure of the wine was typically Cabernet – firm and precise, yet fine-grained. The flavours on the palate were refreshingly savoury, although they did lack a bit of depth for my tastes.
My pick of the range was the McLaren Vale Shiraz with its concentrated, earthy, chocolately nose and savoury plum fruit on the palate. The tannins showed good Shiraz grip holding up the structure of the wine. The most intense of the wines I found, without being over the top.
The Oatleys have set out to produce a range of wines that express the distinct regional character of some classic Australian wine regions. In this I feel they have succeeded, although admittedly my experience with Great Southern Riesling is rather limited. Additionally they have produced a range of wines that are more notable for their delicacy and subtlety rather than raw power. This is not always to everyone’s tastes, yet it is refreshing to have a different point of view.
The range is launched officially in the UK at this month’s London Wine Fair and is imported by Ehrmanns Wines.