We have all been there before experiencing a hot summer. Pokolbin is said to derive its name from the Hungarian Pokol which means purgatory or hell. Early European vinedressers who made their way here in the 1840/50s thought the summers were “Hot as Hell”. A theory expressed in Max Lakes book Hunter Wine Makers based on a conversation with Victor Zelinski, a Plastic surgeon whose mother was Hungarian. Victor was Max’s surgical trainee at the time he was writing the book and it certainly made sense. Of course after Purgatory you go to heaven and enjoy all the wines you want!
It’s the height of summer and again we are it is hot and dry with no rain expected for the next month. On the positive side, the vines have virtually no disease in the absence of our usual summer rainfall. The Private Irrigation Pipeline ( a real godsend thanks to Brian McGuigan et al ) has been working overtime filling the dams that supply the myriad of drip irrigation systems that keep the vines alive and well.
Most winemakers at the end of a hot Pokolbin day will have a cool beer to quench their first. In the last few years a number of Brew houses have appeared, not to meet the heavy demands of the vine workers but to satisfy the growing interest in boutique beers among our many visitors.
We are all aware that temperature affects the serving of both red and white wines but differently. Classic red wines tend to have a higher percentage of alcohol and more full-bodied flavour characteristics which are enhanced by a moderate increase in temperature up to say 20ᴼC, lighter reds such as Pinot Noir or Sangiovese should remain not much above the 12-17ᴼC range.
Temperatures above 14-17ᴼC can overpower the delicate flavours of a white wine. Cooling a white wine for too long causes the flavours drop out leaving only the acidity coming through. Rosé requires a similar temperature to a white wine.
When we sit down to dinner these hot days thankfully we get those Pokolbin evening cool breezes, most days. We will often have some cold bubbly (around 5-10ᴼC), a cool Semillon or Chardonnay and one of the many interesting Rosé wines now available. On hot nights it is difficult to take on board a seriously good Shiraz or Cabernet…better wait till Autumn or winter.
One change to our drinking habits has been the emergence of light to medium bodied red wines made from Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese and Dolcetto. These are interesting food wines with softness but an enticing bite that makes them attractive and acidity to enhance the flavours of the food. Served with a little bit of prior cooling they are just the thing for summer.
It has taken a long time for us as a modern nation of wine drinkers to adjust our preferences to match the conditions. Just as the producers of Provence (a warm climate region) are renowned for their Rosé we are now coming of age in matching climate and wine consumption. Rosé as a wine style in Australia was often an afterthought, a blend of leftover reds and whites, just to clear the cellar.
Back in 2000, we entered our dedicated, single varietal Sangiovese Rosé into the Sydney International Wine Show. It was awarded a Gold medal. We were given the individual judges comments and found it highly marked by the international committee members but as expected our local judges were not really interested in Rosé, all that has changed. Our customers’ preferences have led the revolution.
A lot has been written about the ideal temperature of wine to be served but the cellar door experience shows that not only do we need to adjust the temperature of the wine but also the environment in which it is served. A wine served at the ideal temperature just isn’t attractive in a warm to hot environment and won’t sell. Thank goodness for air-conditioning…but our customers need time to cool down and cannot be rushed in these hot conditions.
The same principles apply at home or when enjoying an outdoor BBQ. Wine is as we know a volatile substance and the flavours we experience come from the vapours that develop in our mouths. These make their way up the back of our mouth to the sensory receptors in the roof of our noses. As with all food the warmer it is the greater the flavours we can detect but wine has an additional volatile property –alcohol. As the temperature increases the alcohol becomes more volatile and around 32ᴼC it starts to give off its own unpleasant fumes that mask the more subtle characteristics of the wine and can destroy the richness and elegance of a wine. Don’t forget body temperature is 37ᴼC and our hands can readily bring the glass temperature up.
Volatility is an important characteristic of wine and can explain why many a good wine goes unappreciated depending on the circumstances in which it is drunk. In warm weather a glass can quickly warm up, even a wine initially chilled will change character, at BBQ’s, in particular, there can be a great disappointment when a much favoured red wine is produced and goes unappreciated by your friends and even you notice it is not quite what you expected.
Fine red wines should not be wasted in an outdoor setting but there is much to be enjoyed in drinking rosé. Those made from Italian varieties such as Sangiovese in particular, have softer tannins which don’t become tough and ink like when chilled.
To my taste are preferable to Shiraz based rosés which still have those stronger tannins-even when diluted with unwanted whites! Well, you can always buy an argument when it comes to wine preferences but that’s the beauty of wine.
A common observation among cellar door customers is that the wine tastes different when opened at home. This in part is due to the volatile aromas circulating in the cellar door influencing the tastes. Similarly, a serious tasting over dinner at home may also be influenced by the circulating aromas hopefully for the better.
I have used the following sources for this blog
Jancis Robinson’s Food and Wine Adventures, Headline Book Publishing PLC 1987
Max Lake Hunter Winemakers Jacaranda press 1970
G M Shepherd Neuroenology: how the brain creates the taste of wine, BioMed Central 2015
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Author: Robert Lusby AM
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