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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

Is oak in wine a furphy?
© Murray Almond
30 September 2001

Murray Almond explains a quirky term from the Left Island

I was having an online chat discussion with Sue when I mentioned that some story, which could have been sometime to do with airlines, was probably a furphy. She asked what a 'furphy' was. This opens a gap in education that must be filled.

Simply stated, a furphy is a tall story. It's an Australian slang term, but its source is from the events that first highlighted the Australian and New Zealand character to the world.

The Furphy Company in Shepparton in Victoria made horse-drawn water carts. These cylindrical carts had end caps with inspiring sayings that the Furphy Family had embossed. The most famous is the saying

"Good, better, best;
never let it rest.
'Till your good is better,
and you're better, best.
"

The Furphy Water Cart travelled with the Anzac Troops in World War I, and whenever the cart stopped, the diggers would congregate and swap stories from the front, and rumours about the state of the war.

Over time the authenticity of these stories became increasingly in doubt, and the tales told around the water cart were embellished by the relaxing troops. As such a tale heard at the water cart became known as a 'furphy' and the term entered the Australian Language as another term for a tall tale.

The Furphy Company is still operating out of Shepparton, and further information can be found at their website.

And so let's at a possible furphy, that oak aids a wine.

Over the past day I tasted two wine varieties that have releases both as oaked and unoaked styles. The first was my first experience with a screwcapped wine from a burgundy shaped bottle. Lawson's from New Zealand have done a great job with the 2001 Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc from Wairau Valley in Marlborough.

The wine had a pale straw colour and a very herbaceous nose of capsicum and bruised passionfruit leaf. This gave the expectation of a steely palate however the mouthfeel had a distinct creamy character that showed the classical hallmark of malolactic fermentation. There's nice acid up front, decent balance and a long finish. It appears a touch disjointed; perhaps a couple of months in the bottle would see it integrate nicely. I think it will be at it's best within the next 2 years and wouldn't recommend it to the back of the cellar.

I was surprised to read on the label that a portion of the wine had spent time in French barriques. There was no discernible oak; the creaminess of the malo may have disguised the oak influence.

Overall an enjoyable drink, perhaps not to the classical NZ SB style but at $18AUD well worth a try.

The malo provided an interesting context to the wine, and following this today was another white variety that also is released in oaked and unoaked varieties. This one was the 2000 Tahbilk Marsanne from the Nagambie Lakes Region. The Tahbilk wine sees no oak, whereas the marsanne from nearby Mitchelton does. To my mind Tahbilk has made the right pick.

The 2000 Tahbilk Marsanne has a nice pale straw colour, lovely varietal fruit characteristics, with lovely honeysuckle and melon characters. Great balance and acid give all indications of aging for many years. The Tahbilk Marsanne ages very well. I've had a couple recently from the '80's that are presenting very nicely.

Both of these wines don't need oak to show their true worth in my opinion, so I'd say that in these cases, the benefit of oak is a furphy.

The Tahbilk Marsanne in particular is a wine that tastes delicious young and develops very nicely with time in the cellar. Tahbilk, just out of Nagambie, is also a welcome break on the road from Melbourne to Shepparton, where a water cart is memorialized in the town park. Tahbilk's vines date back to 50 years before the first world war and I've read that a bottle or two of Tahbilk Shiraz was wagered during WWI on the outcome of the odd horse race.

But that could be just a furphy.

© Murray Almond
30 September 2001

Send comments to Murray at fromtheleftisland@yahoo.com.au

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E-mail me: winetaster@clear.net.nz