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In Conversation With: Cloudwine Cellars

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Have you ever walked into a bottle shop, wall-to-wall with the alluring sparkle of shades of red and white, and been overwhelmed by choice? You’re not alone.

As we head into autumn and that familiar chill creeps back into the air, the lure of a good glass of wine is – pardon the pun – intoxicating. It’s the perfect time to refine your vino know-how.

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The R.Iconic neighbourhood has the good fortune of being home to several renowned wine stores, including the long-standing Cloudwine Cellars in South Melbourne. It began as one of the country’s first online wine retailers in 1998 and opened its Clarendon St shop soon after.

Cloudwine is home to a vast, unique and handpicked range, largely from Australian small producers – and can be relied on to recommend you a top drop. They’ll also help you make a start on building your cellar collection to enjoy in R.Iconic’s wine vault.

We had a chat with founding partner Stewart Went, to discover his top picks for autumn, and his tips for setting up a diverse cellar.

Cloudwine EWS

What regions of Australia are we seeing great wines come out of at the moment?

Tasmania is on a strong upwards trajectory, as it gets more mature. I find the Yarra Valley is having a renaissance. For some parts of Australia, it’s never been a better time to have chardonnay. Chardonnay and the cabernet coming out of the Yarra Valley are really interesting and very exciting. Geelong is going really well at the moment, particularly with pinot noir and shiraz. From South Australia, McLaren Vale and grenache is really strong, and the Great Southern area of WA, around Albany and Pemberton, suddenly has emerged as a top two or a top three producer of riesling in the country. From a consumer’s point of view, I can’t see how it’s ever been better in terms of quality and range.

Cloudwine winery

What are your top wine picks for autumn, and why?

I’m not a huge believer in wines for food or seasons, but that said, I won’t recommend you have a Barossa shiraz in the height of summer because that would be a little silly! As a general rule, I think medium-bodied wines in the reds, so for that, maybe Yarra Valley or Coonawarra cabernet and shiraz-based wine, because they’re middle-of-the-road, not too strong, they’re certainly not weak by any stretch.

The single hottest segment, from a sales perspective, for the last two years, regardless of season, is French rosé. They’re dry and miles away from those pink lolly-water styles that we grew up with, but they’re wonderfully textured, they’re very broad, and they’re quite filling as a wine, even though they don’t look like that. People love them for their mouth feel and the fact they’re not sweet. When you have a non-sweet style it doesn’t need to be particularly cold – although you should always chill them – it really puts it into the class of being able to drink all-year-round, or close to.

Cloudwine wine

One other that I think is worth noting Beaujolais – this is a region in France that’s been rubbished for years, but then you get a generational change and you start getting really good, young, motivated winemakers. We would know the grape as gamay. Historically it has been a light red that can be chilled. What’s happening with the emergence of these new-generational winemakers is they’re making these grapes into now much more serious-styled wine, so not necessarily a lot of oak, but a lot of tannins if they’re quite firm wines, and they’re quite dry and long. They don’t have the fruit weight of the shiraz, but they’re a really good medium-bodied wine, and really smart, sophisticated wine, and I think that works well as the weather turns. It’s not the shiraz-by-the-fire sort of stuff, but it’s still a really smart structured red wine. Many can be had for $20 through to the low $30s.

Cloudwine rco wine room

The new R.Iconic development features a wine vault where you can enjoy wine tastings. What would you suggest as a starting point for someone wanting to establish a cellar that they could enjoy in the vault space?

With respect to wine types, a good starting point is to cellar wine you know you’ll like. Not a lot of wine, in my experience, becomes dramatically better over long periods of time. I think the buzz more is drinking an old bottle and seeing how it develops, but is it a lot better? I’ve got a question mark over that. I would suggest to people don’t buy something that you might not like now and you hope will get better, or will tune into your palate over time, because I don’t think that will happen. If you hate shiraz, don’t buy shiraz to cellar.

There are some golden rules around what wine cellars better than others. For red wines, cabernet, nebbiolo and shiraz are wines that have the fruit power and the tannin structure to reward ageing, as a rule. On the white side, the obvious one here is rieslings, particularly Australian riesling, because a good quality Australian riesling normally has a high acid component in the wine, and that acid really gives the wine a backbone over time. I don’t get totally excited about cellaring whites, apart from riesling. You get pockets of other wines that might cellar well. In the Australian context that might be Hunter Valley semillon. It’s very shy when young and it just needs time to blossom. Then you can buy wines like Tahbilk, which is near Shepparton, and they make a wine from a grape called marsanne, a French grape, and you can buy that wine on special for $11 or $12, and it’s got this amazing track record with its ability to age over 10 or 15 years.

Cloudwine wine glasses

How many bottles or cases should a new wine collector aim to begin with?

Years ago, when I started buying wine for cellaring, I was told you’ve got to buy six of this or 12 of that and I don’t think that’s at all relevant. There’s so much wine around, from so many producers, that’s so good, there’s no point buying more than two bottles of any given wine. I think for cellar it’s much more interesting to have some diversity in what you’re drinking.

Cloudwine wine barrels

We’ve all heard the saying about ageing like a fine wine. Is it true that that all wine gets better with age?

I think if you’re investing your own money into a wine cellar and you’re starting out fresh, and you may not have a deep experience on what cellars well and what doesn’t, then I think you’d err on the side of caution and go with those grapes and wine styles that you know will work. I only mentioned four or five wines before, even though there are hundreds of them, but I figure they’re the ones you know you’re going to get good results with for the most part, over time.

Merlot from Bordeaux in France, you know is going to cellar well. But would a merlot from Australia cellar well? I’m not so sure. Likewise, chenin blanc, which is a famous grape from the Loire Valley in France, will live forever – I’ve had those wines at 50 or 70-years-old, no problem at all, and they’re a very dry, minerally, bony style, but a lot of the ones in Australia are sweet to drink now. Just because it’s chenin blanc, it’s a very different interpretation, and it would profoundly disappoint if you cellared that Australian version. That’s why I think you’ve always got to be cautious.

Cloudwine red wine

Any final words of wisdom?

The golden rule here is if you like it, drink it. Doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, don’t ever be told what you have to drink or like, just drink what you like and don’t worry about what other people say.