One of Australia’s First Families of Wine, McWilliam’s has welcomed a Chardonnay and Shiraz to its flagship range, both of which champion two of NSW’s emerging cool-climate wine regions, Hilltops and Tumbarumba.
Hospitality recently caught up with McWilliam’s winemaker manager, Bryan Currie to discuss the release of the new drops and the excitement that surrounds some of Australia’s most promising (and relatively) new wine regions.
The 842 Chardonnay – the first table white in the Flagship series – is sourced from the relatively new cool-climate wine region of Tumbarumba. The first sites at Tumbarumba were established in 1982 and were almost exclusively dedicated to sparkling wine until innovative wine makers discovered that the area is also capable of making a cracking Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
“McWilliam’s has been producing wine out of Tumbarumba since about 2004 and the reason why we are there is because it is a seriously cool-climate region. It is one of the few places in mainland Australia where you have warm sunny days with quite a high UV, coupled with seriously cool nights and Chardonnay works really well there. It’s one of those places where Chardonnay is really at home, it’s a natural fit.”
Now considered by many to be one of Australia’s finest Chardonnay growing regions, you can’t help but wonder why it took so long for people to cotton on to the fact that Tumbarumba actually produces some of the nation’s finest Chardy. Currie says the reason for this lies predominantly in the movement away from the big, opulent, oaky and buttery styles of Chardonnay that Australia was previously known for, and toward a paired back, food friendly drop.
“In Tumbarumba, it’s quite hard to make that richer, more fuller-bodied style of wine that Australian Chardonnay was traditionally known for. It’s difficult to get that level of ripeness in the fruit. Most years you are doing well to get them up above seven percent alcohol, whereas back then, Chardonnay fruit was around 14 percent – big rich things from warmer climates. Those styles are not sold as much anymore, and people are really looking for those finer, cool-climate more delicate wines that are easy to drink, lower in alcohol, and go with food better – that’s where Tumbarumba comes into its own.”
Currie says that as Tumbarumba was originally established as a sparkling wine region, it became pigeon-holed as such, representing another core reason as to why we’re only just starting to witness the emergence of the region as a producer of excellent table wines.
“For a long time it was the big corporate winemakers just making sparkling wine in the region – they didn’t really look at the other opportunities. It’s probably taken a couple of decades for people to realise that you can do a lot more than just sparkling in Tumbarumba. The other advantage is that we’ve now got mature vineyards that are at their peak. They are producing the best fruit that they’ll ever produce, so we are really taking advantage of the early work that was done decades before.”
When it comes to the reds, Currie says that McWilliam’s sources its fruit from a number of regions around NSW including Orange and Riverina, but it’s the Hilltops region in particular that he’s excited about.
The 2014 1877 Hilltops Shiraz comes from the Hilltops region, located between Young, Boorowa, and Harden NSW. The bulk of the vineyards are concentrated at an altitude of around 450 metres with the region’s continental climate providing the perfect environment for producing premium, medium-bodied, food friendly wines – Shiraz and Cabernet in particular.
Given the current shift away from heavy reds and more towards food friendly, medium-bodied wines, Currie believes that the 2014 1877 Hilltops Shiraz, together with the 2014 Appellation Syrah are exceptionally well positioned to cater to Australia’s more discerning palate.
“The Shiraz and Syrah, they are straight up medium-bodied wines and have the sort of flavour depth and complexity to go well with food and to some extent, it’s how the whole range has been designed: to express the best of NSW which happens to be medium-bodied, food friendly wines. Although the 2014 Appellation Cabernet isn’t a full-bodied wine by definition, the Appellation isn’t a monster wine in the Cabernet stakes so it’s still quite an easy going wine and easy to match with many different types of food.”
Provenance and knowing your worth
Being a NSW wine company, McWilliam’s is all about provenance. One of the company’s core philosophies is to champion NSW’s emerging cool-climate wine regions from the Hilltops and Tumbarumba, right through to Orange and the Riverina.
“The whole idea is to have not only the McWilliam’s label scream the region, but for the wine to do so too – the wine screams the region in its style and its flavour,” says Currie.
“It’s also about picking what each region does what best, and picking the best possible wines from each region – not just producing everything from one region which tends to happen a fair bit in Australia. One region usually does a couple of things well and then a few others OK, not every region can do everything well. So for us, it’s about identifying which regions do what well, and really nailing the McWilliam’s name to that.
“We’re producing some fabulous wines and in the past, we were guilty of underselling ourselves a bit by producing great wines and selling them too cheap. We came to that realisation with the Appellation and the Flagship wines. The 848 Chardonnay and the 2014 1877 Shiraz now sit right at the top of the range. They are both from great regions and from great vintages, and we are very confident that they are worth that money. I think if we are consistent in the value and the quality, the customers will follow.”