An Approach To Relaxation
Richard and Carla Betts are global travellers who, between making mezcal and tequila in Mexico, have a New York Times best-selling book (The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert), and have an entry-level wine brand (My Essential Wine) that spans California and Provence.
Somewhere in all this activity, Richard found time to pass his Master Sommelier exams while Carla excelled in both the dramatic arts and hospitality.
An Approach To Relaxation came about from a global search to “produce grenache of elegance and purity, grown on sandy soils”. The Betts chose Barossa Valley, researched diligently, found an extraordinary old vine vineyard (planted between 1860 and 1880)
in the parish of Vine Vale, and set about establishing their grenache project.
2017 An Approach To Relaxation Sucette (A$45) is a wildly fragrant grenache with sweet, berry fruit characters, wafts of exotic spice, violet floral notes and a faint brambly-earthiness with a little savouriness. The palate is lithe, succulent and exceptionally long. It’s got a pinot-esque feel but the tannins draw too tight for that, and there’s a sense of brooding, underlying concentration. It’s an exceptional wine, detailed and highly drinkable, persuasive as it opens over time. It should cellar magnificently too.
Though grenache was intended to be the primary motif of An Approach To Relaxation, Barossa Valley white grapes from a nearby site became hard to ignore. “There’s this 60-year-old-or-so vineyard just down the road from our grenache vines, feral as can be, dry grown, untouched so-to-speak, pruned once a year, then harvested, nothing else done to it, and it just spoke to us,” explains Richard. “That it had semillon growing on it, which is arguably our favourite white grape, became a compelling motivation to work with it.”
The 2017 An Approach To Relaxation Nichon (A$45) is 90% semillon balanced with a rogue element of sauvignon blanc. The grapes are slowly basket pressed to build texture, sent to barrel to ferment and mature, left on lees for 10 months, then rested before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The Nichon is on equal footing with the outstanding Sucette, delivering a complex wine that offers layers of perfume and flavour. White flesh stone fruit jostles with ripe citrus, green apple and light touches of creamy nuttiness in the mix. Simply put, it’s really delicious. It's a moreish wine that compels you to not only see the architecture of the wine, but to immerse yourself in the ease of visceral pleasure. The bouquet and palate do a neat double act in this regard.
Winemaker Abel Gibson and family have planted roots in Flaxman Valley in the upper reaches of Eden Valley. This parish of the famed region is home to a coterie of fine wine producers. The range of wines from Gibson are so carefully made and considered.
Ruggabellus is a landmark in Australia for having such a singular vision, so keenly represented in a narrow bandwidth of Barossa/Eden Valley wines. The concept is relatively simple. Though the winemaking, and particularly the blending is painstakingly detailed, the collection of wines is represented by three or four red wines produced from a mix of grenache, syrah and mataro of diverse make-up, and three skin contact white wines made up, in varying degrees, of semillon, riesling and muscat.
The red wines are released younger than the whites, a decision made to ensure that all elements of skin contact white wine production are resolved and settled prior to release. It’s a landmark action that few in the Australian skin contact winemaking scene adhere to but seems to be standard practice in regions for these kinds of wine, like Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy.
A blend of 60% grenache, 24% mataro, 15% syrah and 1% cinsault makes up the 2017 Ruggabellus Fluus (A$27). It’s a stellar drink, slurpy and soft, with barely-there tannins and lightly peppery over dark berry fruit characters. It’s one of those wines that teeters perfectly between freshness and brooding fruit, delivering wide and easy appeal.
The 2017 Ruggabellus Archaeus (A$54) is 100% syrah, all from Gibson’s own old vine, home-block vineyard. It’s an outstanding syrah, svelte and succulent, imbued with unique character. It shows strong scents of mineral and earthy characters, with a backdrop of sweeter, sour and sweet berry and cherry fruit. The palate is distinct with crushed rock and graphite flavours and textures, with berry fruit taking on briar, pepper and more savoury and earthy character.
The 2017 Ruggabellus Efferus (A$44) is a mataro dominant blend and is one of the most delicate expressions I’ve seen from Ruggabellus. It offers a perfume of brambly, raspberry-liquorice and sour cherry notes, with black olive and wafts of char chiming in. The palate is lacy and elegant, shaped gently by a web of fine tannin. Flavours share some of the bramble and sour and sweet berry character of the bouquet, and stretch luxuriously long. It’s a compelling wine.
The superstars, for me, are the skin contact whites. The 2016 Ruggabellus Sallio (A$27) is arguably Australia’s greatest skin contact white and could stand proud amongst global examples of the style. It is more or less equal parts semillon, muscat and riesling, from old vines, and the various wines that make up the parts of the whole spend varying time on skins, from weeks to a few days. The resulting wine is glorious for its tannin profile and chalky texture, inward concentration of mixed dried and fresh fruit flavours, and incredible for its volume of perfume. Expect brown lime, sea spray, blanched almond, ginger and preserved citrus boldly jostling. The finish is puckering and tonic-like, gently bitter in the best possible way.
The 2016 Ruggabellus Quomodo (A$44) is built with around 95% old vine riesling, with portions of semillon and muscat used to fine tune. It spends two years on lees after some extended skin maceration. It’s a wine high in perfume offering ginger, honeysuckle, lemonade and faint talc-like scents. The palate shows a chalky pucker over a juicy flow of citrus, green apple and soft almond. It’s delicious, layered and refreshing all at once.
The most complex wine of all these new releases is 2016 Ruggabellus Solumodo (A$44). It's 68% semillon, 28% riesling and 4% muscat. A multitude of ferments of each variety are used to create the whole. Gibson cites an average of 236 days on skins, though the semillon component sees a full year of maceration. The resulting wine is very
powerful yet precise in the palate, with a dry pucker and chewy extract in texture. It has flavours reminiscent of ginger tea, chamomile, ripe citrus and dried apple. The perfume is generous and reflects almost identical characters. There’s freshness in the wine but also a depth of savoury character, seemingly a result of the skins. It’s utterly convincing, glorious and outstanding.