Methode Macedon - Huon Hooke- Sydney Morning Herald
Hanging Rock sparkling is made is most complex and unusual way
You know how some high rise buildings don't have a thirteenth floor, well Hanging Rock Winery doesn't have a 13th cuvée of its Macedon sparkling wine either. It's not that the owners, the Ellis family are superstitious. There is a perfectly logical reason. Last year the 2002 harvest was a disaster at the home vineyard in the Macedon ranges, an hour's drive north of Melbourne. The ultra-cool season in the chilly high-altitude climate mean almost no grapes set on the vines.
A cool climate is essential for growing the kind of grapes needed for fine sparkling wines but some seasons can be jusut too cool. Hanging Rock Macedon is a non-vintage sparkling wine with a cuvée number instead of a year. The 13th Hanging Rock Macedon and would have been based on the 2002 harvest. “We reckon 13’s a good number to miss so we'll go straight to 14,” says winemaker John Ellis.
Hanging Rock Macedon is probably the most contentious sparkling wine in Australia. It polarizes wine tasters and show judges. This is because it is pretty much the reverse of the fresh, fruit driven delicate style that show judges tend to favour. As a show judge myself I have to admit Hanging Rock Macedon often tastes questionable when judged blind and according to the strict quality parameters that the govern show judging.
But it is a wine I love to drink. Its closest relatives in Champagne would the Krug and Bollinger Grand Année (vintage).
All three wines show the influence of oak and are not scared of having a hint of acetaldehyde (similar to fino sherry) - deliberately so in Hanging Rock's case. Some judges see this as evidence of oxidation and therefore the sign of a faulty wine. Others are happy to look beyond that character to taste and smell of the wine's many other good features - principally its enormous complexity of character Serve a chilled glass with a canapé of smoked trout and I dare you not to enjoy it.
The Hanging Rock method of making bubbly is unlike any other I've encountered, even in Champagne, where two-thirds of the wines are non-vintage blends. Champagne wine makers arrive at their non-vintage blend by adding small quantities of selected earlier vintages that complement the latest vintage and therefore make a house style.
Instead, John and Ann Ellis keep a little of every vintage blended in a tank, adding to it each year as they take some out. In effect they have what the sherry makers of Spain and would term a solera system.
This means that while you take out some aged wine each year and replace it with younger wine, the mathematical average age of the so-called reserve wine gets gradually older and subtly more and more complex. This adds great character when blended with the current vintage wine.
The Ellises recently released their ninth Hanging Rock Macedon. On the neck label instead of a vintage date it says Cuvée IX. They've released roughly one a year since the first Macedon blended from the 1987 vintage and released in 1993. Cuvée IX is 50% 1998 vintage and 50 percent prior vintages. Those include roughly 25% 1997, 12.5% in 1996, 6.25% 1995, 3.1% in 1994 and so on, back to the first 1987.
John Ellis waves a bottle of Cuvée IX and says the average vintage is probably around 1996 and a half.
In other words it averages about six or seven years old. There would be a few molecules of the 1987 in every bottle.
If Ellis continues making the wine the same way, in theory at least, there will always be some 1987 in each bottle.
Another way Hanging Rock Macedon is different from most sparkling wines is in the way it's fermented. Using an old-fashioned Champagne method still practised by a handful of houses including Krug and Bollinger, Ellis ferments the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay base wines in old oak barrels (older than five years so there's no taste of wood) which adds biscuity flavour complexities and textural richness.
Yet another way differs is that Ellis then leaves the fermented wines in the barrels lying on their yeast for three years. "That's the key difference between our wine and champagne," he says. "Their wines are aged on lees after bottling, ours is lees-aged before the wine gets into the bottle.
Even so the wine has two and a half years of bottle age on yeast after it's blended and tiraged. (Tirage is when the base wine is put into the bottle along with yeast and sugar for the secondary fermentation which gives the sparking wine its bubbles.
In the end, the Methode Macedon is all about maximizing the potential for complexity of character in the finished product.
Huon Hooke Tasting Notes Hanging Rock Macedon Cuvée IX
Hanging Rock Macedon Cuvée IX costs about $42 and is a full brassy-yellow colour
With a multi – layered flavour of fresh toasted bread, iced pastries and biscuits, with hints
of macaroon and roasted nuts.
Unique is a much abused adjective but in my opinion this is a
unique sparkling wine of real character and interest.