Sassafras Gamay Ancestral 2014
While it can produce simple copycats, having a wine starting point and evolving from there can produce great vino.
Witness, for example, Tim Kirk adding Viognier to his Canberra Shiraz in the early 90s. Or Joe Grilli air-drying grapes to produce his own South Australian Amarone. In both examples, high quality, utterly Australian wines has been the result from a Euro base wine.
This sparkling, from Canberra’s Paul Starr and Tammy Braybrook, follows in those (large) footsteps. Here, the inspiration was eastern France’s Bugey Cerdon wines, which are pink fizz blends of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Mondeuse.
One key element of Bugey Cerdon is the ancestral method of sparkling fermentation (also known as petillant natural or ‘pet nat’). Pet Nat/ancestral winemaking uses alcoholic fermentation in tank/barrel and completed in bottle, with the CO2 ferment by-product delivering a natural fizz.
With this wine, Paul and Tammy use Gamay from the Johansen vineyard in Tumbarumba, a plot that is also the source of Penfolds Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay.
Winemaking-wise, the fruit was crushed, left on skins for six hours and then pressed. This juice was then fermented until a baume of sugar remained and then chilled for four weeks of cold settling. Finally, after a light filter, it was then bottled and matured in the cool Eden Road shed for what Paul calls the ‘carbonation phase’.
Crucially, this cool ferment happened slowly, which Paul thinks is essential for ancestral sparkling (he utilises plenty of home brewing knowledge here).
The end result is a lightly cloudy, coppery pink with plenty happening. The lively nose is all pink grapefruit sweet/sour juiciness, topped with a little yeastiness. It tastes drier than expected, with the fizz softening things, backed firm acidity, strawberry fruit and phenolic grip.
Ultimately I liked the character here. It’s not wildly intense or long, but a pure rendition of what can be a wild and rustic wine (ancestral sparkling that is). I found myself looking for just a little more oomph, which more skin contact could bring. Less sweet/sour would be welcome too, but refreshment was high enough.
Great to see more wines like this in Oz. Power to the innovators! Oh and keep an eye out for more Sassafras ancestral sparklings. There is a Savagnin in the mix next.
Details: 12.1%, $24. Best drinking: 2015-2018, 17/20, 90/100. Would I buy it? I think a glass off a list would be enough.
Buy online: Sassafras website
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'pet nat' is definitely a bit of a trend at the moment but I love the idea of trying a lightly sparkling Gamay. Always good to see new things that are being done well.