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How can you tell you’ve encountered a London summer? That’s right, it’s usually raining. So, as the clouds began to roll over on another soon to be wet summer’s day, a small crowd descended upon the Bistro Bruno Loubet, London, to meet and taste the wines of Mike Aylward, winemaker of Ocean Eight wines.
If you please, here’s a bit of history about our charming vigneron. Believe me this man has the charm and charisma to appease a warring nation. You get the sense that you’ve known him for years, and, more importantly, he knows what he’s talking about.
Last year he won the 2011 Young Gun of Wine award. A competition set up in 2005 with the aim of searching for the best and most visionary Australian winemakers. Aylward’s early beginnings were with his parent’s, Chris and Gail’s, Kooyong winery in South East Australia’s Mornington Peninsula. It was here that Mike served his apprenticeship under winemaker Sandro Mosele, working three years in the vineyard, three years in the winery and two in sales.
In 2004 the Gjergja family owned Port Philip Estate bought Kooyong. After moving a short distance down the road to the southern cooler side of the peninsula, with a plot of 17 hectares, Ocean Eight was born.
The first vintage was released in 2006 with three varieties planted, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. In the couple of years leading up to the debut release, Mike spent time travelling extensively around Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne. The purpose was to investigate and discover the styles that he wanted to create for the Ocean Eight name. Classical Burgundian became the wines hallmark.
The benefit of Mornington Peninsula is the cool maritime climate. This allows the fruit to develop slowly so, unlike the warmer regions of Australia, you don’t get wines with huge banging fruit, very elegant citrus notes for the Chardonnay and the Pinot’s exhibit a mix of old and new world fruit.
The winery only produces 5,000 cases per year across the board. The state of the art facilities allow for more regulated temperature control environment. The Chardonnay’s, after pressing, are gravity fed into old oak barrels, some up to 6 years old whilst the Pinots are barrelled in 10% new oak and 500l puncheons. The vines are between 17-18 years old.
The tasting was hosted by Ocean Eight UK distributor, Hallowed Ground. Six wines were put on show for the invited group, three Chardonnay’s from ‘09, ‘10, 2011 and three Pinot Noirs from ‘09, ‘10 plus a taster from the limited release ‘The Aylward’ where only 45 cases are produced annually.
The overall quality of the wines was superb. You can see where the Burgundian influence has taken place. The beauty of vertical tastings is discovering the subtle differences and nuances over the three vintages, in particularly with the Chardonnay’s. All wines exhibited grapefruit, citrus characteristics with the 2010 vintage expressing softer fruit and lighter notes on the nose. The 2011 displayed more intense lemon flavours with a touch of subtle wood. All very elegant, clean and crisp.
Both commercial Pinot Noirs were excellent. The 2009 vintage showed a classy mix of old and new world fruit with a touch of spice, red cherry and citrus fruit, not a term I’ve used for Pinot, with short tannins. Meanwhile the 2010, bottled only five months ago, offered a more classical Burgundy style. A youthful wine with some young, green tannins and fruit, the nose showing more earthier aromas. It will be worth coming back to this one in the future.
Finally, the annoyance, the project that you could proudly brag to your mates about, the one you can’t buy unless you jump on a plane to Australia, Ocean Eight ‘The Aylward’. Fattier nose and fattier fruit. When I say fatty I’m not talking about big punchy fruit. The wine is again very soft and elegant with lovely red berry fruit. When you talk about wines being layered, you’re describing the fact that every sip offers something different. The fruit changes as you drink. Acidity levels will come and go. The wine becomes interesting. That is what I found with The Aylward.
Just need to travel roughly 10000 miles to get one.
So if you are ever bored one miserable summer afternoon, go find yourself an interesting and amusing Australian wine maker. It certainly brightened up my day.
Story by Me
Featured in Harpers Wine & Spirit Trades Review online Industry Blog Section.