Barry Fitzwilliam Maxxium joined forces with Australia’s Brian McGuigan to stage the summer’s last tasting. Though some think of McGuigan as very much a mainstream maker, several unexpected treats were in store. Most notable was an aged Hunter Valley Semillon, a 1999 sealed under screw cap, probably one of the earliest top quality wines to be so treated. And its closure had served it well; all those evolved nutty, honeyed and dried lemon flavours were present and correct but with a subtle light and clean touch, making the wine very approachable to drinkers new to the style. A younger Semillon is also available, offering fresh lime citrus flavours. Ideal for summer drinking, Semillon also comes in at usefully low alcohol levels, with even warmer climate wines rarely exceeding 11%.
Riesling is also a variety tending toward lower alcohol levels, though not as universally as Semillon. McGuigan Eden Valley Riesling 2005 isn’t as virtuous as a German example but it has some lovely mineral character to make it worth the indulgence. Oily notes are counterbalanced by nicely defined Bramley apple flavours and there is good length too.
Brian McGuigan himself has given considerable thought to the high alcohol levels that have become characteristic of New World wines and, indeed, many European wines now. “There has been an increase in consumer demand for lower alcohol wines,” he said, “And we have certain responsibilities to society in relation to binge drinking and problems of that kind. There’s a real need for communication.” He revealed that the Irish market is now a major customer for McGuigan Simeon, saying “In Ireland they drink more McGuigan’s per head than any other export market.”
The globalisation of the brand has led to the introduction of new varieties such as Pinot Grigio, a style not associated with Australia until very recently. McGuigan now has an entry point one at around ?7.99 and a richer, more concentrated one a couple of euro higher. Oddly, I rather preferred the simpler one; it was a clean, precise wine with crisp apple flavours and good value for money.
However, for many consumers McGuigan is more about red than about white wines and two well-priced examples were offered. The first, Black Label Cabernet Merlot 2005 (€9.99) was a soft and juicy style, but I preferred the Howcroft Estate Shiraz 2006 (€12.99) which had lots of berry fruit and a nice kick of savoury black pepper at the end. Amongst the premium wines offered, I enjoyed the G4 Shiraz Barossa 2005, which had rich plummy fruits, nicely laced with subtle spice.