Jane Clare speaks to Neil McGuigan, the IWSC Winemaker of the Year in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Where did you first develop a passion for wine?
My passion for the wine industry began a long time ago due to its diversity – it is a mix of agriculture, logistics, marketing, selling, running a business and much more, and it is this diversity that was very attractive for me.
This passion was strengthened though, a couple of years after I started working at Roseworthy when Istarted judging wines. That was when I started to understand about style. I worked with my father and brother as well as three mentors in the Australian wine industry who really understood style – Robert Heskith (Adelaide Wine Show chairman); Brian Barry (a senior character in the Australian wine industry) and Len Evans ( a bon vivant of the Australian wine industry).
McGuigan Wines is based in the Hunter Valley, what makes that area so special for growing grapes and creating wines?
You have won International Winemaker three times, which is an extraordinary achievement. How does that make you feel – and does it make you set your aspirations and standards even higher?
Absolutely! Winning it has been wonderful for the business, but it is just the start. We want to continue to work hard and increase the quality level each year – our aim is to make better wine today that we did yesterday. For us, wine is the hero.
Are you excited about any new wines you are developing … can you let us into any secrets?
I am very excited about lots of new things. At McGuigan we are embracing new varieties and styles and making fresher whites and more voluptuous reds.
How important is the UK market to McGuigan – have our tastes changed, and our expectations of quality?
It is constantly evolving and we evolve our wines to suit this change. In my view, Chardonnay is the prince of white grape varieties. Australia lost focus on providing flavoursome but refreshing Chardonnay, but now we have got that right. Aussie Chardonnay is a fantastic drink.
What is out of fashion; what is in fashion in the world of wine?
Back in fashion – Chardonnay that is rich and flavoursome, but refreshing. Out of fashion – high alcohol reds, 14.5% abv and above
What would you like to be in fashion?
I would like Semillon to be in fashion. The reason? I think it is probably the most food friendly and refreshing white wine to come out of Australia. We have crafted Semillon into a delicious and inviting style, called The Semillon Blanc under our Classic range, which we think is delightful.
It can be really confusing for someone wanting to find out more about wine. Bottles and bottles in merchants and supermarkets can be quite daunting. What would you say to someone wanting to step out of their comfort zone when it comes to wine? Could there be a natural progression say, for a lover of sauvignon blanc to try another variety?
Consumers must be confident in their own palate. Their palate can’t be wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – tell people what style you like so you can get recommendations on alternatives. Look at the taste descriptors on the bottle labels and think about what you like and don’t like to give you an idea of what to try. Our bottles have a QR code on the back which, when scanned, can help to give a good understanding of the wine, along with a tasting note.
There are so many grapes grown in Australia which are also grown across the world – but what sets these following Australian varieties apart from others grown say in France, or elsewhere in the New World.
What we’re able to do in Australia is keep and show the purity of the fruit and varietal differentiation thanks to our climate and techniques in the winery that help us to retain characteristics and flavour.
On to tasting wine; what would you say to people who maybe feel a little embarrassed by twirling a glass, sniffing, swirling, savouring? Does it really make any difference to enjoying wine?
I recommend that people focus on the wine as soon as it goes into the glass for 10 seconds – look at the colour, have a sniff, have a taste – this will help you to form a memory and relate it to the grape variety. Then just enjoy the wine in your glass!
Once a red wine is opened, what would be the sensory checklist for someone to really appreciate that wine.
Before we start on senses, something to remember – if your wine is a screwcap, then you can be pretty sure that the wine is fresh. If it is a cork closure, you just need to be aware that cork can impart a character to the wine.
Look – at the colour, make sure it is not too brown (for red wine)
Smell – it should be pleasing to your senses
Taste – hopefully the wine exhibits the variety indicated on the label and it is flavoursome and enjoyable for you!
McGuigan wines use screwcaps …. why is that and does it make the wine taste better by the time it reaches the UK all the way from Australia?
We use screwcaps to give the consumer a more consistent product. For a winemaker, screwcaps give us an arguably more refreshing product.
Some quickfires; quick responses.
Wine in the sun: Semillon Blanc
Celebration wine: Taittinger Comtes 2004
Favourite variety: Shiraz
Family: I’m travelling at the moment, so would say ‘love them and miss them when I am on my travels’
Steak: Well done, with McGuigan Handmade Shiraz
Australia: Home, and my family
Food and wine combo: Oysters and Hunter Valley Semillon