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12.22.2008

2007 Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay, Mudgee, Australia

In this day and age of farmers markets, boutique stores, and micro-breweries, it's easy for the upwardly mobile wine lover to forget that there are a lot of great wines on the market that are made in quantities well north of 5000 cases. There are big wine companies that make great wine, and big wine companies that make lousy wine. And some that do both.

I've had mixed luck with Rosemount Estate wines throughout the years. I've had some wines that were everything I wanted them to be, and others that sent me running for the hills. In particular I have fond memories of sipping Rosemount Chardonnay on the quay in rosemount_mudgee_chard.jpgSydney with a friend on a sunny afternoon. In truth, I've not had one of their wines in three or four years, so when I got a box of samples from the winery the other day, I was excited to taste through the lot.

Rosemount Estate is one of Australia's most well known brands. As a winery name it has existed for more than 100 years, but its modern history and incarnation came at the hands of pioneer Bob Oatley, who began growing grapes in 1969. Forty years later, what started as a family farm is now one of the largest wine producers in Australia.

In many ways, though it may be a weak comparison, Oatley can be looked at as an Australian Robert Mondavi. (Oatley and Mondavi actually collaborated on several wine projects over the years).

As part of the Southcorp/Fosters wine empire (which owns some of Australia's other mega-brands like Penfolds and Lindemans), Rosemount produces somewhere north of 5,000,000 cases of wine each year, split across five confusing tiers of wine at different price points.

This wine comes from a series of wines labeled Show Reserve, which was one of the original lines of wine produced by the estate when it was in its infancy. A couple of Rosemount Show Reserve wines were responsible for vaulting the winery into the spotlight after they won several international wine competitions.

This particular wine is sourced from a sub-appellation of the New South Wales wine region known as Mudgee, which lies on the other side of the Great Dividing Range mountains from the better known Hunter Valley. In the Aboriginal language, Mudgee means "Nest of Hills", an accurate description of this basket shaped river valley ringed by hills.

Mudgee, apart from its self-evident role as one of Australia's smaller wine regions, also has some special significance viticulturally speaking. Grapes were first believed to have been planted in Mudgee around 1858, including what are believed to be the first Chardonnay vines on the continent. Indeed, much of Australia's Chardonnay has been propagated from this original block. Despite continuing to be a source for high-quality Chardonnay grown on older vines, Mudgee is better known for red wine these days, with only about 17% of its 8000 or so acres of vineyards planted to Chardonnay.

Rosemount owns about 1000 of those acres, which are planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as the parcel that produces this wine.

I know very little about the winemaking for this wine, other than what I can assume based on its flavor profile. I'd guess that only part of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and it is aged in a combination of steel and oak, or in a mix of new and used oak barrels.

The Rosemount Show Reserve portfolio of wines is a solid tier of good quality wines (no real duds) but this one in particular left me thinking that I ought to go out and buy half a case, which is always a good reaction to have to a wine.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine has a very pretty nose of cold cream and buttered popcorn. In the mouth it is smooth and mellow, with flavors of cold cream, lemon curd, and nice mineral notes, lit from the side, as it were with the faintest rays of oak. Good acidity, nice balance, and a sunny disposition make this a winner. Not complex, but quite tasty.

Food Pairing:
I'd be happy to drink this wine alongside pasta in a cream sauce with smoked salmon.

Overall Score: between 8.5 and 9.

How Much?: $14

This wine is just about to be released into the US market. The 2006 vintage is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (13)

12.22.08 at 10:58 PM

Quantity is not the only difference from the farmer's market. The issue is one of provenance. Even dedicated farmer's market shoppers often forget that wine is an agricultural product. So, while an industrial wine may taste okay with its pesticides, synthetic chemicals and winemaking additives, it is an industrial product. And it is not just for the upwardly mobile- while we can't all eat meat that gets daily massages, there is a massive difference between grassfed and feedlot. The same is true for wine.

Alder wrote:
12.22.08 at 11:27 PM

Anthony,

I understand the point you're making, but it smacks of the self-righteousness that often accompanies those who practice biodynamic or so called "natural" winemaking. Such folks (I'm not sure if you're one of them) essentially proclaim everything that isn't made according to their principles as an industrial product full of additives, chemicals and whatnot. Some even go so far as to call non-biodynamic wines poisonous.

Which is all a load of malarkey.

Certainly there are wines on the market that are more grape flavored beverage than wine, but this is not one of them. You may have just taken the opportunity to respond to some of the more general thoughts in my review from your particular point of view, but your comments come off implying that this particular wine is full of winemaking additives and chemicals, which are allegations that you'll should substantiate if you're going to make them.

12.23.08 at 8:38 AM

Alder,

My intention was to respond to some of your more general thoughts, but your response intrigues me. I am not necessarily a supporter of biodynamics. I do support farming and think that a connection to the land and traditional farming methods are important for sustainability.

I would bet that given the scale of production that the vines are treated with synthetic chemicals, the vineyards use herbicides and there are additives during the winemaking process, including, but certainly not limited to, yeast engineered for Chardonnay.

I am happy to write a letter to Rosemount inquiring about their practices in the vineyard and also asking exactly what they added in the cellar. But the issue is not one of crackpot biodynamic gurus versus grape flavored beverage.

Why doesn't Rosemount have to declare what their practices are? This is the backwards world we live in, where if they weren't using additives and chemicals, they would have to prove it through some type of certification program. But if they do use them, they are not required to tell anyone.

The methods of production are important. Hence the comparison to feedlot beef which also ignores many externalities.

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 9:42 AM

Anthony,

#1: You consider yeast to be an additive. That's an extreme position and one that I personally find ridiculous. You use phrases like "treated with synthetic chemicals" to make things like fertilizer sound scary.

#2: Rosemount doesn't have to declare their practices for the same reason that the people who farm the lettuce that I buy at Safeway don't have to. They are certified as growers by their respective agricultural boards and must adhere to the food safety guidelines of their country.

While I completely agree that organic grape farming is better and more sustainable, I cannot abide by people who attack conventional viticulture as somehow dangerous, unhealthy, and unnatural (which is sometimes the position of folks who are biodynamic proponents, which gets them labeled as crackpots). The comparison of conventional viticulture and winemaking to feedlots is the same hyperbolic nonsense:

1. Feedlots are a recent invention. Wine has been grown and made in large quantities for centuries.
2. Feedlots take animals and crowd them into conditions in which they become unhealthy BECAUSE of the crowding. The volume at which grapes are grown or wine is made does not prima facie affect the health of the fruit or the quality of the wine.
3. Feedlots also involve dramatically changing the metabolism of the animals by bulking them up on grain instead of their natural food. There is no real analog to this in viticulture, except perhaps overwatering, but that makes for lousy wine, so no one in their right mind would do it.

12.23.08 at 10:15 AM

What do you call things added to wine during the winemaking process? Different additives clearly have different levels of significance depending on how you are evaluating wine, but we should at least acknowledge their use.

Synthetic fertilizers derived from petrochemicals are scary.

The people who farm your Safeway lettuce should have to declare their practices too. "Food safety" guidelines are subject to extreme political manipulation by industrial agri-business. Hence, it is illegal in many places to buy milk from your neighboring dairy farm, even if the scientific evidence indicates it is probably safer from a human health perspective than that which meets the so called guidelines.

If you agree that organic grape farming is better and more sustainable, I do not understand how you can conclude that conventional agriculture is safe, healthy and natural. A sustainable practice must be able to continue indefinitely without undermining the quality of soil and the environment. A system of agriculture which relies on external inputs derived from fossil fuels is not sustainable.

I appreciate your concern that the feedlots analogy is a bit extreme for wine. Certainly an imperfect analogy, but relevant for the lessons on evaluating externalities and examining the agricultural process.

We have not been making wine for centuries with synthetic inputs, that is a 20th century invention. I should be clear that I am not worried about crowded growing conditions for vines. Although, the volume at which grapes are grown does have a clear and significant impact on the health of the vineyard, the surrounding environment and the quality of the fruit.

I have tasted over-cropped, machine harvested certified biodynamic wine that is just as lousy as anything over-irrigated. The point is that wine drinkers should consider both flavor and the agricultural process.

Alan Kropf wrote:
12.23.08 at 10:28 AM

Great dialogue guys, really fascinating stuff!

Loweeel wrote:
12.23.08 at 10:40 AM

Anthony -- I'm sure you shovel your horse manure by hand (and never use not using a bike or a car or anything made of metal), and plow your own land with only stone hand-tools. Shame on you for using a computer made of noxious, unsustainable petrochemicals!

I never cease to be amazed by the bizarre neo-Luddite fascination with the noble savage, romanticizing the "brutish, nasty, and short" lives that were "natural" and "sustainable" for eons. It's a revolting echo of Rousseau's infantile ravings. You wholly ignore the massive human (and nature) costs of a total shift to "natural" and "sustainable" farming practices, which would require some combination of the deaths of billions of humans and the massive deforestation necessary for these markedly less efficient "sustainable" farming practices.

If you want to go live the hermit's life, be my guest. Nobody's forcing you to buy anything, go grow your own and let us buy what we'd like.

And I hope you never get sick -- it would be terrible if you had to avoid all those scary chemicals that kill naturally occurring bacteria and alleviate the viral symptoms that would keep our population sustainable. Cherokee hair tampons for all!

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 11:05 AM

Anthony,

As much as the folks behind the "natural" wine movement would have us believe otherwise, wine is an unnatural product. It does not occur naturally in nature, like watercress or milk. We have to manufacture it. Yeast is not an additive, it's an ingredient and it is an ingredient in the most naturally produced wine and the most industrially produced wine. Can we agree not to let this argument devolve into a discussion of whether commercial yeasts are evil?

Yes, organic and sustainable farming is better. Yes conventional agriculture is safe and healthy, when practiced responsibly. I conclude this by offering you the incontrovertible and undeniable evidence that in America, the worlds largest example of such conventional agriculture our life expectancy is higher, our general nutrition level is higher, and we have fewer starving people than most of the rest of the world.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Would it be better if everyone ate from an organic garden? Of course. Choosing to buy organic when you can (I do) is one thing. Deciding that everything that isn't organic is potentially harmful industrial, unnatural product, and making a point to label it as such in public forums is a form of bigotry.

12.23.08 at 1:46 PM

Alder,

Thank you for continuing this dialogue. It is important that we begin to discuss the process of making wine in public. Although you have an intimate understanding of the process, I am sure than most people do not think of wine as an agricultural product.

I am not trying to defend the natural wine movement. We can certainly agree that agriculture is quite distinct from hunting and gathering. It does require human involvement in the process, for everything from animal husbandry to wine. We should strive to make our involvement support natural biological systems rather than merely impose our will. And, yes, a conventionally grown tomato from your backyard is probably better than an organic one flown half-way around the world. These are clearly complex, inter-related issues. It is important that we begin to discuss them.

Just as we can talk about the differences between grassfed and feedlot beef in a manner that goes beyond just what it tastes like on your plate, we should include a discussion of what happens to a wine before it is in your glass. A desire to make the agricultural process more transparent is hardly bigotry.

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 1:53 PM

Anthony, we certainly CAN agree that making the agricultural process more transparent is not bigotry, it's a good thing to do. Especially if we can do it in a way that does not confuse our own preferences with some moral imperative.

Raul wrote:
12.23.08 at 2:06 PM

I am glad to see the dialogue going on here, although I have to say that I'm dismayed at some of the wording in the responses. Respectful exchange of ideas is good, name-calling is not.

As someone who completed a PhD in Environmental Studies, am fully aware of the contradictions of human nature, consumption and sustainability. I eat meat, despite my full acknowledgment of the fact that my ecological footprint is much larger than someone who is vegetarian. Big deal. I've dedicated the past 18 years of my life to bettering environmental conditions worldwide, I think I certainly have the right to eat meat (and I certainly do so, although mostly organic meat).

I am a firm believer of more sustainable agricultural practices. However, that doesn't mean that I'm going to impose my beliefs and practices on anybody else. Nobody can (or should) do that.

On the note of fertilizers as noxious chemicals, well, how about we continue the exchange offline? I'm more than happy to educate people on the negative effects of synthetic fertilizers. Or write a blog post about it. Just wait until the New Year. Right now, I'm on holidays. I only came to read the comment exchange.

Dylan wrote:
12.23.08 at 5:53 PM

Interesting dialogue, and thank you both for keeping it civil. I hate when an exchange of views devolves into some crude argument, but this was not the case. Alder, I've never actually asked this before, how do wine press samples work? Are you sent an entire bottle? Is it more like a special packaging, just enough to taste it?

Alder wrote:
12.23.08 at 7:45 PM

Dylan,

I get sent one or two bottles of a given wine (usually one), and often producers will send their entire set of current releases. I taste them in batches, and then share them (see this post for details on exactly how). It's important that I get samples that represent the bottling that will be sold to the public, and most wineries know this (plus they don't want to go to the extra effort of producing some special sample) so they just pull some bottles out of their warehouse and send them, I assume.

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