One of the easiest ways to find vegan wines is to research producers, rather than a specific wine. Whether a wine is vegan or not can change vintage to vintage, but if you discover a producer whose entire ethos is centred around organic winemaking, sustainable production, and natural techniques, they’re likely to keep on making wines that you’re able to drink, of a quality that only improves over time.
I was very lucky to discover Larry Cherubino’s wines this week, at a wine tasting headed by the man himself, and I have to say…wow. If ever there was a wine producer who could prove hands down that wine can taste better when it’s sustainably made, and cruelty free, then here he is.
At the tasting, held at Slurp Wines, Leamington Spa, we tasted 6 wines from his different vineyards; Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and a Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend.
“I don’t think too much about what I’m going to do in the winery because I know that if the fruit is great, you shouldn’t have to do a lot.”
At the tasting, Larry’s enthusiasm for wine is infectious. A winemaker long before he was a grapegrower, his business has a simple motto; “growing grapes, making wine”. Really, what else do you need? He gets right to the heart of what wine should be about; making something incredible, without overcomplicating it. At his vineyards across Western Australia, they believe in minimal intervention, and employ lots of different schools of thought when it comes to organic, natural and biodynamic wine practises. Wines are low in sulphites, no herbicides are used, and Larry uses his own unique blend of fish and seaweed compost. As someone with a keen interest in sustainable wine production, I was overjoyed.
Tasting some of the wines, you can see why Cherubino Wines was voted “Best Value Winery” by Halliday Wine Companion Awards last year. All 6 of them were remarkable, especially when I found out the prices. Because of the costs involved in exporting wine from Australia to the UK, Australian wines can be expensive; with £10 really translating into something like £5, you need to be looking a between the £15-£20 mark to get the decent stuff. Luckily, however, Australia makes some truly incredible wines, and by jumping up just £5, you start seeing a world of difference in quality. Most of Larry’s retailed at around £15-20, and would rival their £30+ French counterparts with absolute ease.
Let’s start with the red wines first….
“Middle of Everywhere” Shiraz 2016
Part of the Ad-Hoc range, this Shiraz has consistently been awarded around the 94/100 mark vintage on vintage. That’s how good it is! It’s an elegant Shiraz, not as boisterous as some can be; heady smells of black cherry and plum entice the senses, accompanied by balanced, silky tannins. It’s a wine with poise, and more than capable of competing with French Bordeaux.
“Cruel Mistress” Pinot Noir 2017
Another from the Ad Hoc family, this wine is made in Pemberton, a cooler area of Western Australia (Pinot Noir loves cool climates), and has a stunning smell. Smelling it, you’re immediately struck by strawberry jam, plum and black cherry. To taste, it’s on the lighter side, and would suit being slightly chilled. According to Larry, their Pinot Noir is matured in relatively old oak, so the wood doesn’t compromise the wine’s flavours too much.
Cherubino Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Larry’s signature wines- the Cherubino range- are produced near Margaret River, an area in Western Australia famous for winemaking. It’s an area quite similar to the Medoc region in France (which makes Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux wines) but with far more space. There’s no crushing involved with the grapes- they’re left alone to break down naturally! The result is a wine with lovely structure, silky tannins, and elements of bay leaf, mixed berries and earthiness.
And on that note, onto the white wines:
“Laissez Faire” Riesling
In keeping with Larry’s hands-off approach to wine-making, the name means “let it be”. None of the wines in the Laissez Faire collection have added tannin, acids, or sulphites during the making process. If they are fined (most aren’t) they use a protein derived from a bean! There’s minimal sulphites added at bottling, but that’s just so the wine can survive the long journey between Australia and the UK.
The Riesling, although a bit young still, was lovely; pale lemon in colour, offering tart green apple, white spice, and flower petals. It had a refreshing minerality too, which is great for those who enjoy a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Pedestal Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Semillon is a grape that the Australian do well. It gets its leafy, softly spiced character from 3 months fermenting in oak. Aromatic and fragrant with blossom flowers, it smells as good as it tastes; the semillon brings in passionfruit, which is complemented by the stereotypical fresh, grassy, mineral nature of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Overall, a lovely blend.
Cherubino Chardonnay 2016
And finally…. I saved the best one for last. The Cherubino Chardonnay was the star of the tasting board, and completely stole the show. It would be difficult to say that it eclipsed the others, because they were all stunning, but….well. In a way, it really did.
I was lucky enough to attend the tasting with a few friends of mine, who had (or still do) work in the wine trade. It goes without saying that we’d all tried quite a few wines – they more than me, in fact. We all froze in unison when we tasted the Chardonnay.
Chardonnay has gained itself somewhat of a bad reputation over the past few decades, with lots of cheap Chardonnay being mass-produced to meet the market demand. As result, I know a lot of people who are adamant that they do not, and never will, pick up a Chardonnay over the reliable Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A year ago, I might have said the same. This Chardonnay, however, is a magnificent example of what Chardonnay is supposed to be like.
It’s fresh and rich simultaneously. Powerful and creamy, it offers complex layers of roasted nuts, nutmeg spice, creme brûlée and the taste of slightly burnt custard, undercut with crisp apple to keep things fresh. James Halliday (a very prestigious wine-maker and reviewer) has award it 96/100 points. It’s truly sensational.
It’s not cheap (around the £30 mark) but it’s safe to say I’m not going to rest until I have a full bottle of this to call my own*. It’ll pair beautifully with barbecued aubergine or mushroom, and I think tempeh could really work, seen as it has a nutty, popcorn edge to it.
We only tried 6 of Larry’s wines at the tasting, but good news: he has tonnes of others. Expect to see many more appearing on the blog after this…
*update: I went back to Slurp and bought one. Best decision ever.