Once seen, never forgotten.
Some things – and people – are like that.
The first impression scorched into our consciousness.
First time we set eyes on the sea; first touch of a fluffy bright yellow chick; first encounter with the full moon; and, missing a beat of the heart as we gape open-mouth at the full scale of Guernica against an entire wall of the Museo Reina Sofia. All 3.5 and 7.7 metres of the onslaught.
On a less imposing scale – certainly a subject less violent than the bombardment of the Basque Spanish town depicted by Picasso – is Leafy Sea Dragon, an endearing drawing, design and drama camouflaged into a wine label.
What is this creature?
To begin, sea dragons – as the name would imply – do not live on land. They are found only in Australia.
Although closely related to seahorses, sea dragons are classified as fish.
A Leafy Sea Dragon in an aquarium. Resembling seahorses, the fish is only found in Australian waters
According to National Geographic:
“With gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, sea dragons are perfectly outfitted to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst. Generally brown to yellow in body color with spectacular olive-tinted appendages, leafies are shaped to give themselves near-perfect camouflage in seaweed. But the leaf-like structures are not used for swimming. To move, this species uses two fins – one pectoral and one dorsal –that are so thin they are almost transparent.”
The Leafy Sea Dragon is the official sea emblem of South Australia and has been embraced by Fleurieu Wines as their label.
Peter Simic is the irrepressible founder of Winestate, Parawa Estate and Fleurieu Wines. One of his nicknames is “White Eagle”
Peter Simic is founder of Fleurieu Wines and also of Winestate.
Considering that was 42 years ago in 1978 – and except for his white hair but a luxuriant full crop – you have to wonder if Simic (whose mother was German and father Yugoslav Serbian) was actually of legal drinking age when he gave birth to Australia’s oldest wine magazine (also at www.winestate.com.au).
Fleurieu is not Simic’s first wine venture. The towering publisher had founded Parawa Estate – www.parawaestate.com.au/ – a 6-hectare vineyard south of the McLaren Vale earlier.
Planted in 2001 (it was then 3 hectares), the estate boasts five clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, five Merlot, three Cabernet Franc, two Malbec and one of Petit Verdot. Amongst afficionados, Parawa Estate are some of Australia’s most-sought wines. Small in production, they fetch eye-watering prices.
‘Our first range of wines is named after our Parawa Valley location and the Ingalalla Grand Reserve after the spectacular waterfall just 750 metres from our farm. Comte de Fleurieu Premier Reserve Cabernets recognizes the French connection where French explorer (Nicolas) Baudin gave homage to his benefactor, Charles Pierre Claret Fleurieu, Lord of the Admiralty, by naming the region Fleurieu from which we get Fleurieu Peninsula.’
Having tried the Parawa Estate range a few years ago, the most impressive for me is their Cabernet Sauvignon blends. On the palate, there is nothing to suggest they are Aussie Cabernet-centric reds. Instead, Parawa Estate is closer to a Bordeaux Left Bank Médoc in personality, attitude, drive and energy.
Peter Simic sums up the raison d’etre of his wines succinctly when he declares “French Style, Australian Character”.
The founder of Winestate, however, draws the line firmly between being publisher and vigneron.
‘My wines will never appear in my magazine!’.
Managing Editor of Winestate Lara Simic is also creator of the Leafy Sea Dragon label
Australia’s oldest wine magazine was founded 42 years ago in 1978. Check out the influential industry standard at www.winestate.com.au
The Leafy Sea Dragon label of Fleurieu Wines is the unbridled imagination of Lara Simic, managing editor of Winestate and Peter’s daughter.
‘Lara stylized the Sea Dragon to be the “F” in Fleurieu and despite comments that the label looks aimed at the Chinese market the colourful background represents the local coral that the fish swim in. However, it is universally loved which is great,’ revealed Simic.
In their portfolio, Fleurieu Wines is a premium brand while Parawa Estate is accorded super premium status. The fruit for Fleurieu comes from selected unirrigated vineyards in the Fleurieu region south of Adelaide, with a percentage of grapes from Parawa Estate south of McLaren Vale. The range includes Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, but my favourites are the following:
Fleurieu Chardonnay 2019
Flashes of citrus, pear and melon with a hint of vanilla even though this is unoaked. Fine line of fruit and freshness. Reminds of a light Puligny-Montrachet rather than Chablis. Harmony from first to the last sip. I served this at a dinner I hosted at Imperial Treasure Shanghai for the Forlino Family, proprietors of No Menu Restaurant. At the time, head of the family Osvaldo was still back in his village in Piedmont but matriarch Patricia and daughters Selena and Gaia and her partner Beethoven were all present. And duly impressed with the wine.
Fleurieu Shiraz 2017
Floral with red/blue/black fruit. Fresh. A bit closed, but also a touch austere on the finish. I felt the fruit would shine even more if there was less oak. Syrah is best without any new oak and best when aged in large, old, wooden foudres, anywhere between 20 and 120 hectolitres. The touch of dryness on the finish was confirmed for me when I learnt later than both new and seasoned French oak were used for the elevage.
Fleurieu Cabernets 2017
This is the star of the range. This blend of Cabernets – Sauvignon and Franc – is a ringing success. More than 20 years of tasting the en primeursat Cheval Blanc (and Loire reds) has given insights into Cabernet Franc which dominates the St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé A vineyards at 52%, 43% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Franc is not an in-your-face variety but tends to shyness, freshness and is a late-developer of its virtues. In the warmer Australian climate, Cabernet Franc ripens easier and becomes more expressive, aromatic, and fruitier even when young, resembling phenolically brilliant but tensioned Cabernet Sauvignon. Fleurieu Cabernets 2017 is ripe – but more importantly – vibrant. Elegant blueberry/blackcurrant/capsicum fruit. Ripe – and more importantly – crisp tannins. Pin-point harmony.