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Bordeaux blend in the bag, time for the Rhone project

Date

Jane Faulkner

The heady mix of crushed grapes and fermenting juice is in the air at Mount Mary winery, in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, home to one of Australia's greatest wines, the Bordeaux-inspired blend, Quintet.

In the barrel room, winemaker Sam Middleton is stoked about last year's cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot, which are yet to be blended to make the Quintet. The 2012 vintage is Middleton's first as head winemaker of the renowned family business, established in the early '70s by his grandfather, Dr John Middleton.

Australia's fine wine auction house Langton's describes Mount Mary as having ''mythical status among wine collectors'' and the Quintet as ''everything a fine wine should be and is still sought with almost religious zeal''.

A local GP, John Middleton was one of the pioneers of the modern Yarra Valley wine industry, with Mount Mary among the first vineyards. He was a force to be reckoned with: honest and generous, imposing, single-minded and stubborn, and often caustically amusing, as in his observation that wine show gold medals were ''security stamps for the insecure and mindless''.

After his death, some questioned whether Mount Mary could continue, and sons David and Sam Middleton wondered whether to sell.

But, by then, David Middleton says, ''There was such a wonderful coming together of site and varieties and my father's dream had come true: to make a wine that was revered.''

Taking his lead from the Bordeaux blends, John Middleton used cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and more for the Quintet, and for the white, Triolet, a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc. He also loved Burgundy and planted pinot noir and chardonnay. Those four wines are the foundation of Mount Mary, and now a Rhone-inspired blend is in the pipeline.

John Middleton knew the Yarra was marginal for cool-climate viticulture, but chose the site because it was - in climate terms - between Bordeaux and Burgundy. But 40 years ago, climate change was not the issue it is now, and Mount Mary has charted warmer temperatures and earlier harvest dates in the past 10 years.

''In a 10-year period up to 2010, our climate was closer to the southern Rhone rather than Burgundy and Bordeaux,'' Sam Middleton says. ''That got us thinking: where's the Yarra heading and what varieties are most suited to it?''

In 2008, it began its Rhone project, planting shiraz, grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, clairette, roussanne and marsanne.

Sam Middleton, 30, began his wine career at Coldstream Hills, just down the road. In 2008, he moved further down, to Dominique Portet, before working the next vintage in Burgundy at Gevrey-Chambertin with Pierre Naigeon. In 2010, he was ready to come home to Mount Mary as the assistant winemaker.

The 2010 Quintet ($145) is beautifully fragrant and pure, with leafy, earthy, rhubarb and cassis notes, and precise tannins with some grip on the finish, guaranteeing longevity.

The 2010 pinot noir ($145) is a humdinger of a pinot, all about the palate, with seductive super-fine, lacy tannins and a long finish.

The Yarra Valley Triolet 2010 ($95) is Australia's most gorgeous, refined sauvignon blanc blend and a tribute to the great whites of Graves in Bordeaux. The semillon and splash of floral muscadelle add much to the texture and mouthfeel.

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