Mitchell Taylor of the award-winning Wakefield Taylors Family Wines on Australian labels, shiraz, and choosing a great red
It's hard to think of Australia without thinking "wine". Down Under is home to over 60 wine regions, including world-famous Yarra Valley in Victoria, Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Margaret River in Western Australia, and The Barossa Valley in South Australia. If you consider yourself an oenophile, you probably have spent time frolicking in these vineyards. And thanks to its proximity, there's no need to hop on a plane to taste some of the top-ranking wines from the country.
But how much do you know about Australian wines? Do you know Australia produces some of the world's best shiraz? What is the 100-point rating system that we see on wine labels and in magazines? How do you choose a bottle of red wine? Do you even care? (You should, because winemakers in Australia are facing their toughest year after fires, droughts, and the coronavirus.) If you do, read along for some pretty damn useful insider information from Mitchell Taylor, third-generation winemaker of the award-winning Wakefield Taylors Family Wines, to help you better appreciate your wines from Down Under.
What's so special about Australian wines?
There's a great sense of purity to Australian wines. Top winemakers here have a unique ability to capture a sense of place in a glass. Having the freedom to innovate and explore new ways of winemaking further add to the diversity of wines we can produce. We're also responding to changes in the climate with new and exciting wine varieties, spanning across white, red, sparkling and rosé. Australian wines are very food-friendly as well. Since we have so much variety to choose from, they are adaptable to a myriad of cuisines from around the world.
Shiraz is Australia's highest-produced variety. Can you tell us more about it?
If I could describe Australian shiraz in three words, it would be 'powerful', 'expressive', and 'elegant'. In Clare Valley (where Wakefield is from), we are lucky to have consistently warm, long sunny days, which give our wines concentrated fruit flavours. At night, the cold allows the wine to rest and build acid structure. This diurnal shift in temperatures, along with the rich terra rossa soils, produces wines of great power and elegance. The typical flavour profile of an Australian shiraz would be a palate of juicy red berry fruits, plum and spice, balanced with subtle savoury and chocolate characters. That said, each producer and each region bring their own unique flair to the variety, resulting in a vast array of styles from across the country.
Wakefield Taylors Family Wines has been awarded over 5,815 medals. Tell us your top-three wines and why they're great.
The Visionary 2014 was selected as the World's Best Cabernet from the International Competition of Cabernets, the premier cabernet wine competition held in France and judged by the country's leading sommeliers. This was quite the award to win, since it was hosted in the birthplace of the famed wine variety, and an Australian wine took the crown! This is our top cabernet, honouring my grandfather, Bill Taylor Snr., who was the visionary of our family winery. Elegant, seductive and bold, it's a wine we save for very special occasions at our house.
The Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2017 is one of the most popular wines in our portfolio. Soft, fleshy, juicy, full-bodied and generous, it's a very well-balanced wine, and pairs well with hearty dishes. It has won 10 gold medals and three double-gold medals from wine competitions around the world, including one from the China Wine & Spirits Best Value Awards in Hong Kong.
The Wakefield The Legacy 2014, which was recently launched in Singapore to celebrate our 50th anniversary, it's a wine that celebrates three generations of family winemaking, while setting a new benchmark for future generations. As our family was inspired by the great wines of Bordeaux back in 1969 when founding the winery, we set out to create a version of our own with some of the best fruit available to us on our estate property. The result is a beautifully balanced wine, with great intensity, but also powerful elegance and restraint. We're also excited to showcase new advancements in packaging technology that allow owners of this special wine to use their smartphone to learn more about how it's made, its aging potential, and also the security and authenticity of the wine via a world first Near Field Communication Chip installed on the screwcap.
How is Wakefield moving towards a more sustainable wine production?
At the winery, we've adopted an Environmental Management System, and have done so for more than 10 years. This system assists in identifying and controlling environmental impacts across the business, whilst providing a framework for continuous improvements we can employ. This system has helped us effectively implement a water recycling and treatment facility on site, which allows us to limit any water wastage across all aspects of the business.
What can I do in Clare Valley?
Apart from visiting our Cellar Door, the Clare is one of Australia's most picturesque wine regions. The township is home to some beautiful country pubs, bed-and-breakfasts, and some world-class restaurants that showcase the Clare's outstanding produce. One of the key highlights of the region is the Riesling Trail, a converted railway line that's now a public bike lane for travellers to explore the wineries in the region on wheels.
Why do you think there's a growth of Australian wines in Singapore?
Singapore is famous for being a destination for great food experiences, and the perfect accompaniment to great food is quality wine. As people become more adventurous in their drink choices, they tend to seek out new and exciting wine regions to try wines from. Australian wine producers have put in a tremendous amount of work over the past few years promoting our wines around the world and telling the stories of our producers and regions. This effort is starting to pay off as more and more consumers seek to taste and enjoy wines from across Australia.
What are some of the great Australian wine labels in Singapore?
It's a very exciting time for Australian wines in Singapore as more and more brands export their premium bottles to the market. Along with Wakefield Taylors Family Wines, of course, other well-known Australian family wineries includes Brown Brothers, D'Arenberg, Yalumba, and Henschke.
I'm confused with all the wine ratings and medals. Do they matter?
Wine judges typically judge a wine by its colour, clarity, aroma and palate, sticking to a regimented formula to score and compare a wine to others of the same variety. Their goal is to find wines that are balanced, and showcase a unique sense of place. For someone judging a shiraz or cabernet, they are looking for wines that aren't overly influenced by the winemaker with heavy-handed oak or maturation techniques, but still exude a sense of style and substance.
At the end of the day, what makes a good wine is entirely up to the person drinking it. We believe wine is to be explored and savoured — finding your favourite wine is half the journey. The rest is how and who you share the experience with.
What should I consider when buying a bottle of red wine?
The first thing I would consider is the producer — do they have a long, established history? This would be an indication that the wines they produce are well-respected and consistently good. The other is region: is the place they produce from known for producing quality wines of the same variety? Thirdly, what occasion is this wine for? A light-bodied red like a pinot noir would be suitable for something more casual, whereas a wine with more weight and body might be more suitable with food at a dinner party.
What kind of food should not be paired with wines?
Generally speaking, food pairings come down to personal preference. A pairing that one person loves may be completely detested by another, so I don't feel there's an exact science to the perfect match. Personally, when I'm choosing a wine to match a specific dish, I like to match and compliment the flavours so that there is harmony when enjoying the two together. For instance, a rich, aromatic dish like curry would go well with a similarly aromatic wine like a cool-climate shiraz, which wouldn't overpower the dish, or be overpowered by it.
How should wines be stored?
If you're keen to cellar a wine, we recommend putting the wine in a cool, dim, moisture-controlled space. A wine cellar's biggest enemies are damp or wet environments, light or sun, and extreme temperature fluctuations. The aim of long-term cellaring is to create a stable, controlled climate for storage.
How should I serve my wines?
For wines you intend to drink immediately, we have a few tricks to get the most out of your wine. For whites, we don't recommend serving them straight from the fridge. Often, we're pouring our white wines far too cold, when we should be giving our white wines like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay a little time to come up a few degrees before enjoying. White wines served too cold appear tight and acidic, but after a few minutes out of the fridge, they open up and express some wonderful fruit flavours!
For red wines, we highly recommend serving them slightly chilled, around 16° to 18°C. This is very different from the traditional 'room temperature' normally associated with red wines. The notion that wines should be served at 'room temperature' comes from medieval times, when French chateaus were far chillier than today's temperature-controlled homes. A red wine served too warm appears flabby, with its tannin and alcohol characteristics overpowering the fruit. By chilling the wine slightly, this brings it more into balance, and the wine is far more refreshing, especially on a warm summer day!