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22/10/2014

Australian Fumé Blancs fail to inspire

Fumé Blanc was a term coined by the late American Robert Mondavi in the 1960s to differentiate his dry, barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc from the typically sweet, simple Californian versions of the era.

The popularity of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia in recent years has seen a growing number of wines made in a Fumé style entering the market as a point of difference to their more simple relatives of the same variety. However, the Wine and Viticulture Journal's recent blind tasting of 33 Australian Fumé Blancs suggests producers aren’t quite hitting the mark with expectations for the style.

Joining its tasting panel were Richard Gawel, research scientist at Australia Wine Research Institute; Peter Leske, senior winemaker, site manager and co-proprietor for Revenir Winemaking in the Adelaide Hills; and Tom Keelan, viticulturist and winemaker for The Pawn Wine Company based in South Australia’s Langhorne Creek region, and a maker of Fumé Blanc.

The panellists agreed that although there are no regulations governing what a Fumé Blanc should look, smell and taste like, their expectations were for fruit characters, oak and secondary influences.

“If you don’t have all of those in some proportion it’s probably not Fumé,” said Peter Leske, adding the best Fumé wines were those that had a “flinty, smoky edge”.

Leske said the price range of the wines in the tasting of $20–40 meant they were competing with other barrel fermented white wines of the same price, but most of the Fumé Blancs were not worthy opponents.

“Only a couple of the wines delivered what I was looking for in Fumé Blanc. I’m a bit surprised that there weren’t more wines with secondary influences – that sulphidic, yeasty influence. I was also surprised at how many were advanced for their age – maybe people aren’t handling it right in barrel. Old, slightly oxidised, two-year-old Sauvignon Blanc is not Fumé Blanc.

“I was expecting to find some exciting, interesting wines in this tasting and I didn’t with a couple of exceptions. This is supposed to be the cutting edge of Sauvignon Blanc making, and although these wines show people are trying really hard to make Fumé and priding themselves on what do as indicated by the many examples of fancy packaging, they’re not quite delivering. Although I judged a couple of the wines to be worthy of a gold or silver medal, overall the wines don’t make me want to rush out and buy some to drink, and I’ve got a soft spot for Sauvignon Blanc,” Leske said.

The full article and the results of our Fume Blanc tasting appear in the September-October 2014 issue of the Wine & Viticulture Journal. To ensure your copy, visit www.winebiz.com.au/wvj/subscribe/


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