Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published January 10th 2012
Hans Christian Anderson didn't know what he started when he wrote his parable about a hideous duckling that grows into a magnificent swan, even though he based it very firmly on his own life.
Here in the glorious Swan Valley Swan names abound, but until a year ago, no one had thought about pressing Mr Anderson into service. No one that is except Andrew and Joanne Huxtable, the owners of the newly minted 'Ugly Duckling Wines'.
Coming from a farming and viticulture family, Andrew had long dreamed of owning a small boutique vineyard. He and Joanne bought the land off West Swan Road some sixteen years ago and planted it with Chardonnay and Shiraz vines a couple of years later.
Within a few years the fruit was good, but not in marketable quantities until some five years. It's currently producing at three to five tonnes an acre and few years ago the two, together with family friend Alon Arbel, a noted local winemaker, produced the first of the limited range of Ugly Duckling Wines.
It was a fine, warm afternoon when I dropped into the cellar door to sample, for the benefit of you, dear readers, these new wines.
The absolutely first thing one notices about all the wines is their fresh, unstressed fruit.
The grapes travel about ten minutes from the vines to the crusher and once bottled about ten minutes back so not a second of unwanted abuse do they suffer and it shows in the wine, believe me
The second thing is that the wines are not traditional in the sense that one anticipates what they are going to taste like. The 07 Shiraz, for example, is obviously a Shiraz, but subtly, unlike almost every other Shiraz you're had, not worse, not odd, just different.
This comes about because Andrew and Alon prefer to let the fruit speak for itself and in his own words they 'play with it a bit', so the taste becomes joyful and capricious, even playful.
This was particularly true of the Sparkling RosÚ (2009), which I found delightful. Not a big fan of RosÚs, bearing in mind frightful memories of Cold Duck I approached it with caution, but was captivated. The colour is not so much pink as a soft peach. The nose is smooth and mellow and taste is crisp, fruity and with strong strawberry flavours and a marvellously clean finish.
I could easily see myself with a few good friends, several bottles and a warm afternoon, having a damn good time. This, together with the still rosÚ, conforms far more to the Mediterranean ideal than we usually see in Australia. A wine to be drunk as a thirst quencher rather than an accompaniment to food, although fruit and cheese would go wonderfully with it.
The '07 Chardonnay is recognisably a Chardonnay but with very light oak (new oak barrels) and again that marvellous mellow taste that fills the mouth and senses without overwhelming them.
By contrast the '08 Chardonnay is darker, much heavier on the oak, giving a stronger nose but just as satisfying, while being much closer to the traditional Chardonnay with which we're all familiar.
It too, had a crisp, clean finish and can stand alone but would be good with fish, chicken or pasta in a lightish cream sauce.
Before we move to the reds a quick word about the sole 'sticky' - the '09 Viognier sold by the half -bottle. (I can hear my grandfather's voice even now in my head 'A bottle is a measure, not a container'.)
While definitely sweet, it is most emphatically not a sticky as it doesn't stick, it's full, mellow (again) very flavourful but clean - wonderful with a blue cheese and a charming end to any meal.
The '07 Shiraz, of which there isn't a great deal left so buy now, is rich, a light, clear ruby in colour and eminently drinkable. A red wine for those that don't drink red wine really. All the strength and flavour of a red with all the virtues of a white.
The '08 Shiraz, by contrast, is very much deeper - both in colour and in intensity and it's hard to believe that it's the same vines with only a year between them. Seasonal variety and wine-making have never been so starkly contrasted. Both wines are excellent, but very different.
Personally, I preferred the '08, with its sinuous strength and fuller, more complex flavours. Eminently drinkable now, it will lie down and improve for three or four years yet - maybe as long as eight if you could bear to wait that long.
The wines are very reasonably priced from $18 to no more than $30 or so and excellent value for money.
I adored them and I urge you to try them for yourselves. Very highly recommended indeed.