Where exactly on earth is Orange? Sounds like the beginning of either a children's riddle or a dirty joke. But it's a very interesting question, especially if you care about Australian wine
Orange is the most interesting Australia appellation that I've never heard of. Interestingly, it's one of the closest appellations to Sydney, but somehow has never made it out of the shadow of its elder sibling, the Hunter Valley. Yet this craggy region, marked by extinct volcanoes and plunging hills, is one of Australia's highest altitude and coolest winegrowing zones, and to a certain type of winemaker and wine drinker that makes it the closest thing that Australia offers to Nirvana.
I'm sure I'm not alone in my lack of familiarity with the Orange appellation, but one winery in the region is aiming to make sure that doesn't last for long. Cumulus Wines was started only recently by Keith and Ros Lambert, formerly of Rosemont Estate, with the goal of producing wines that showcase the particular qualities of this region. They aim, simply, to put Orange on the map.
In service of this aim, the Lamberts have brought out the big guns in the winemaking department. Philip Shaw is a well-known name in the Australian wine industry. He's only been in it for the last 40 years, some of which were spent at Rosemount Estate, where he met the Lamberts. Lots of "winemaker of the year" awards are given out by magazines, various organizations, and competitions, but however I tend to distrust such designations, it's pretty impressive that Shaw has been so named at least three times. Quite apart from his pedigree as a winemaker, it's really no surprise that the Lambert's chose Shaw for a project destined to glorify the Orange appellation. Shaw has been an advocate of the region for decades, to the point of actually putting his money where his mouth is -- he owns a vineyard in the area.
Cumulus Wines is merely the parent company of what are two separate wine brands. The goal seems to be to create two distinct, yet related brands to showcase the region with whimsy and creativity. It's not particularly clear, beyond the difference in name or label, what distinguishes the two lines of wines from one another, except that in the US at least, the Climbing wines seem to cost a little bit more.
Both the Climbing wines and the Rolling wines come from the 180-acre Rolling Vineyard which straddles the border between the Orange appellation and the Central Ranges appellation, which have been defined primarily by altitude rather than any other geographic or geologic distinction. Its rocky volcanic soil lays over deep beds of limestone which crop up in places throughout the undulating hills of the vineyards.
Before I get on to how these wines taste, I hope you'll allow me to put on my designer hat here for a moment. Both the Climbing and Rolling brands are beautifully executed as a system. They have some of the nicest and most playful wine labels I've seen in some time -- whimsical paintings by James Ratsasane -- and they are tied together nicely with typography, colors, and subtle visual elements in the paintings themselves. They will doubtless appeal to the budget wine consumer at which they are targeted. All the wines are screwcapped and these represent the winery's first public release.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2005 Rolling Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon, Orange, Australia
Pale green-gold in the glass this wine has a mineral nose with slight yeasty and gooseberry notes. In the mouth it tastes of golden apples with a moderate acidity and notes of the mineral aspect showing through on the finish. This is a pleasant, but unremarkable wine. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $10.
2005 Rolling Chardonnay, Orange, Australia
Light gold with greenish highlights, this wine has a bread-y nose with aromas of baked apples and a slight flinty character. In the mouth it is silky with a light butteriness that wraps around mostly apple-like flavors and an average finish. Score:8/8.5. Cost $10.
2005 Climbing Chardonnay, Orange, Australia
Light gold in the glass this wine has a nose of warm brioche, hayfields, and a light slightly tropical fruit aroma that is hard to pin down. In the mouth the wine has lovely acidity and a nice feel on the tongue with primary flavors of apples and a slight minerality. The finish is marred by a little alcoholic heat, but that is easily overlooked. Score: 8.5. Cost $13.
2004 Rolling Cabernet Merlot Blend, Central Ranges, Australia
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a bright fruit nose of cherry, mulberry, and cassis aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and velvety, with excellent acid balance and primary flavors of cassis, blackberry, plum. The wine has a very nice finish that incorporates a slight eucalyptus or menthol note to it that brings extra depth to the wine. A pleasure to drink and a steal at this price. Score: 8.5/9. Cost $10. Where to buy?
2004 Climbing Merlot, Orange, Australia
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a plummy, earthy nose with additional aromas of leather as it opens up to the air. In the mouth it continues in much the same vein, with dominant flavors of plum that are laced through with a touch of greenness. The wine has lightly gripping tannins and a decent acid balance. The finish is pleasant. Score: 8.5. Cost $13. Where to buy?
2004 Climbing Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Ranges, Australia
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a lovely mint chocolate nose shot through with cherry aromas. In the mouth it has a nice balance and mouthfeel supporting a core of cherry fruit that also brings in elements of eucalyptus and mint, plums, and just a characteristic Cabernet hint of green bell pepper. The tannins are sticky and grippy through the very nice finish. Score: 8.5/9. Cost $13. Where to buy?
2004 Climbing Shiraz, Central Ranges, Australia
Medium garnet in the glass with bright purple highlights, this wine has a minty, herbal nose with blackberry and cassis aromas poking through. In the mouth it is spicy with primary flavors of blackberry, black pepper, and a surprising depth. The wine finishes sweetly with pleasant blackberry notes. Score: 8.5/9. Cost $13. Where to buy?
2004 Rolling Shiraz, Orange, Australia
Medium purple in color, this wine has a nose that incorporates blueberry and cassis aromas. In the mouth it is very polished and smooth with somewhat one-dimensional flavors of blackberry and boysenberry that change little as the wine moves across the palate. Flavorful, but lacking in complexity or subtlety. Score: 8. Cost $10.
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