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A flying lap with Neil McGuigan

I’m going to get onto wine in a minute, but first I’d like to mention something that I think happens to every motor racing fan at some point in their lives. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and you’re sitting glued to your TV, unable to take your eyes off the high-octane action taking place on a glorious race circuit in some exotic part of the world. Then your Mum comes into the room. She stands there for a moment with a puzzled and mildly disdainful expression on her face, and says something like “all they do is go round and round”. How irritating.

Now, anyone who watched last weekend’s rather uninspiring Singapore Grand Prix might well agree with that assessment, but that aside, there’s a lot more to motor racing than multi-million dollar machines hurtling round and round a track. More than just an expensive spectator sport, motor racing  provides manufacturers with an arena both for showcasing their brand, and for developing the latest technology in engines, aerodynamics, electronics, tyres, vehicle safety and the like. Over time, much of the technology developed here filters down into the more humble runabouts we drive every day, improving motoring for hardcore racing enthusiasts and A-to-B motorists alike.

Neil McGuiganWithout wishing to create too much of a link between driving and drinking, a similar thought occurred to me at last Friday’s McGuigan Wine tasting evening. Our host winemaker Neil McGuigan, winner of the 2009 IWC award for White Wine Maker of the Year, is a subscriber to the very same development philosophy. McGuigan has become increasingly well-known for producing good-value, fruit-driven everyday wines. However, as Neil explained, his ongoing drive towards ever better quality stems from an ongoing focus on making some very special flagship wines, providing an example of the heights that can be achieved with a given varietal or vintage. Neil has found that the fine-tuning of winemaking techniques at this ‘Grand Prix’ end of production can be translated into improvements in the higher volume ‘road-going’ McGuigan wines that we enjoy every day. Furthermore, this sets a quality benchmark for his winemaking team to aspire toward, and thus for the McGuigan brand to live up to. The fuel for this mission is no doubt provided by Neil’s boundless enthusiasm for great wine.

The WhitesOn sitting down at the table, there were already four white wines on the grid: our popular 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the new 2009 Chardonnay, joined by the more premium Sauvignon Blanc from McGuigan’s ‘Discover’ range, and the particularly stunning ‘Earth’s Portrait’ 2003 Riesling from Eden Valley (which is sadly not available in the UK, but felt like even more of a treat as a result!). Eden Valley RieslingVarietal characters aside, what all the whites had in common were racy acidity and purity of  fruit, marking a significant and very deliberate departure from the heavy and overripe Chardonnays of Australia past, as well as being (in the case of the Sauvignons in particular) a representation of a more restrained and tightly-structured style than we’ve become used to seeing from certain other parts of the New World.

Tasting The RedsAs we moved onto the reds, Neil’s energy and undeniable passion for wine and for his own heritage became more evident. Despite McGuigan’s recent accolades for white wines in particular, reds remain very much at the heart of the range, as they have been since the founding of the McGuigan winemaking dynasty in the late 19th century. Following a back-to-back tasting of the 2007 McGuigan Shiraz and Merlot, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, we were treated to a taste of the wonderful 2006 ‘Handmade’ Shiraz. McGuigan ShirazHailing from the relatively moderate climate of Langhorne Creek, this wine has a prettier and less overtly savoury character than many premium Australian Shiraz’, yet retains the warm fruit and fleshy mouthfeel. The tannins are smooth and polished, but still grip like a Formula 1 car, giving impressive length.
It’ll be a little while before we see the 2006 vintage at Majestic, but if you really can’t wait, try hunting down one of the small handful of bottles of 2005 our stores still have in circulation. Despite the Handmade obviously being the class of the field here, the family resemblance with the lesser wines was still notable, with all the reds keeping varietal fruit characters at the centre of the action and offering plenty of body without excessive weight or over-extraction.

We all enjoyed a thoroughly involving and informative evening’s tasting, and provided Neil and his team continue with their development ethos, we can be sure that McGuigan are definitely, erm, ‘on track’ to produce more winning wines in the future.

A Hard Night's Work!

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