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Wine

Australia’s Italian dream: An alternative future

The state of play tasting for this issue took an Italian turn as the Panel looked at four of Australia’s hottest new alternative varieties.

When you think about cutting edge, alternative destinations in Australia, does Mildura spring to mind? If you’re a wine-lover, it should, because this small Victorian city is home to the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS). Held every November, the AAVWS celebrates outstanding ‘alternative’ wine styles during a week of educational and celebratory events. I had the honour of being selected as the 2015 AAVWS Fellowship winner and experienced firsthand the diversity and fun it promotes. But before I go on, let’s define ‘alternative varieties’. Firstly, they’re varieties that general wine drinkers have little knowledge and/or awareness of, and secondly, they’re relative newcomers to the Australian wine drinking scene.

In the short time these varieties have called Australia home, they have generated a great deal of excitement and momentum. For a snapshot of this, you only have to look at the swell in the number of classes at the AAVWS. The 23 classes that made up the inaugural show in 2001 have grown to a total of 47 in 2015. While the quality of wines on show was high across every class, four varieties really stood out. The two white varieties, Fiano and Vermentino, and the two red varieties, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano are not only producing amazing wines, but there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of wineries producing them.

Since 2010, Fiano has gone from eight to 37 AAVWS entries, and Vermentino has swelled from 15 to 38. Montepulciano has jumped from two in 2010 to 20 in 2015 and Nero d’Avola went from no entries in 2010 to 18 in 2015. This increase across these four varieties has been mirrored by the greater number of Fiano, Vermentino, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola wines we have been tasting and offering at Wine Selectors. This begs the question, if this popularity continues, could these alternative varieties soon be held in the same esteem as the likes of Chardonnay and Shiraz?

With this in mind, we set out to discover where Fiano, Vermentino, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano thrive and who is making the best examples. The call was put out to noted Australian producers and our Tasting Panel sipped through over 100 wines. But before we discuss the tasting, let’s give these four grapes a quick introduction.

Meet the Italians

While Vermentino is grown in a number of Italian regions, it’s on the island of Sardinia that it is most well-known. Famed for its notes of peach, lemon and dried herb, its high and refreshing acidity and its distinctive sea salt character, it is thought to be the same variety as the French grape Rolle.
Fiano’s home is the hills of Avellino, inland from Naples in the Campania region. Famous for being full of citrus and stone fruits with racy and mouth-watering acidity, it can range in style from light and fresh to rich and mouth-coating.

Montepulciano is widely grown in central Italy, but most famously in the eastern region of Abruzzo. It gives dark coloured wines full of black fruit and has softer tannins than most Italian red grapes.
Nero d’Avola is the famed red grape of the island of Sicily. It makes wines with deep dark colour, high, refreshing acidity and black and red fruits. The style of Nero can range from light and fresh wines for immediate drinking to rich and dense wines that will benefit from age.

In style

Outstanding wines from all four varieties were revealed during our tasting with style and the region of origin emerging as hot topics of discussion.
Across both Fiano and Vermentino there were two styles. The wines were either lighter in body with dominant citrus fruit flavours, or richer with more weight and pronounced stone fruit characters. Most of the richer wines were the result of the smart use of lees or subtle oak influence. So if you’re a fan of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot G, you’ll likely enjoy the lighter styles, while lovers of modern Chardonnay will find much to enjoy in the richer examples.

Unlike the whites, the two reds could be clearly differentiated from each other. Montepulciano showed off black fruits and soft, silky mouthfeel, revealing itself as a wine with mass appeal, especially to anyone who loves the fruit power of Australian Shiraz. Nero d’Avola turned out to be a more delicate, fresher style. The majority of wines were medium bodied, full of juicy black and red fruits with vibrant and lively acidity. These are wines that have immediate drinking in mind and would pique the interest of any lover of Pinot Noir or light bodied Grenache.

Regional range

The spread of regions featured in the tasting was inspiring. Vermentino had multiple representations from McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley, Riverland and Heathcote. Fiano was heavily represented by McLaren Vale, so it should come as no surprise that many of the region’s winemakers have heralded it as their big white of the future. The Hunter Valley, Riverland and the cooler regions of the Adelaide Hills and the King Valley also showed top class Fiano. Given Nero d’Avola loves the heat, it makes perfect sense that McLaren Vale, Riverland and Barossa were the standout regions. Montepulciano showed it can be grown successfully in both warmer and cooler climates with Adelaide Hills and Riverland dominating.

The tasting clearly demonstrated that these four varieties have a big future. Not only do they offer diverse flavours and textures that complement our multicultural cuisine, but they also thrive in our hot and dry climate. This, as Kim Chalmers of Chalmers Wines notes, provides a “beacon of hope for growers wishing to continue to pursue quality wine growing in a world affected by climate change, while reducing pressure on natural resources and requiring less inputs in the vineyard and winery.”

If you’d like to check out the AAVWS this year, keep the first week of November free. Judging starts on the 2nd November and full details can be found at aavws.com

The Panel's Top 20

Kirrihill Wines Montepulciano 2014
La Prova Fiano 2015
Bird in Hand Montepulciano 2014
Bremerton Special Release Fiano 2015
Zarella Wines La Gita Nero D’Avola 2014
Deliquente Wines Screaming Betty Vermentino 2016
Coriole Nero D’Avola 2015
Mr Riggs Generation series Montepulciano 2014
Artwine Leave Your Hat On Montepulciano 2015
Atze’s Corner White Knight Vermentino 2015
Five Geese La Volpe Nero D’Avola 2014
Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy Montepulciano 2014
Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards Fiano 2016
Mount Eyre Vineyards Three Ponds Fiano 2015
Chalmers Wine Project Nero D’Avola 2015
Serafino Bellissimo Fiano 2016
David Hook Vermentino 2015
Bress Silver Chook Vermentino 2015
Chalk Hill Lopresti Block 10 Vermentino 2015
Alex Russell Alejandro Nero D’Avola 2016

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Better than Burgundy?
Words by Mark Hughes on 2 Jul 2015
Thank you, Bill Downie, I now respect Australian Pinot . Bill said something to me about Pinot Noir that triggered an understanding and ultimately made me want to seek out a great Australian Pinot and savour its every drop. I am hoping by the time you’ve finished this article, you’ll feel the same way. As winemakers go, Bill is a bit of a legend in the Pinot world, but an anomaly in the wine universe. You see, he only makes Pinot. That’s it. His entire focus is Pinot Noir. He is an unashamed Pinotphile. Bill admits he has always been enraptured by Pinot’s romantic charm, but he really fell in love with the varietal when he was sent by his then employers, De Bortoli , to spend some time in Burgundy learning about Pinot. Five vintages later his love had become a marriage, a blessed union between a winemaker and a grape. He came back all smitten and doe-eyed and intent on making great Australian Pinot. Victoria is where he focused his attention, and in addition to his own vineyard in Gippsland, Bill now makes Pinot from vineyards in the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula . As Bill, Jeremy Dineen from Josef Chromy Wines and I were getting ready to sip, swirl and spit our way through a bunch Pinot Noirs, Bill was regaling me with his adventures in Burgundy and he said something that resonated deep within my wine scribe soul, as well as my tastebuds. “My time in Burgundy taught me to have a true and meaningful respect for the place you are in, wherever that might be,” he said, before nonchalantly adding, “Before I went to Burgundy I was in Australia trying to make wine that tasted like Red Burgundy. But after I had been there I no longer wanted to do that, I wanted to come home and make wine that tasted like the place I was, be it Gippsland, the Yarra or Mornington Peninsula". All of a Suddent it Made Sense When I first entered into this wonderful world of wine, I had bought into all the hype and hoopla about how amazing this Pinot Noir varietal was. But I had tasted enough bad home-grown Pinot that it had sullied my respect for the varietal, and as I had explored more with Old World wines, the Australian Pinots I consumed seemed too big and boisterous compared to the elegant Red Burgundy I’d savoured. But Bill’s words had made me see the error of my ways. I had tasted Aussie Pinot wanting it to be the best of Burgundy, when I should have been rating it for what it was – Australian Pinot. Bill explained to me that we would never make a Pinot Noir that tasted exactly like Red Burgundy; however with the right ingredients we can make top quality Pinot that is uniquely Australian and far more expressive. So what are those magical ingredients needed to make great Pinot Noir? The most important are climate, site and vineyard management, not to mention the gentle caress of the knowledgeable winemaker. Climate Pinot Noir prefers cool conditions but not those with a major temperature drop at night. It simply detests the heat so it seems pointless to grow Pinot anywhere that is warm, such as places like the Hunter or Barossa. Maybe as a component of sparkling wine, or as a Rosé, yes. But even if you are the world’s best winemaker, don’t try to make a straight-out Pinot Noir in a warm region. You just can’t do it. Many have tried and failed. Even the revered wine critic and Burgundian lover, James Halliday, toiled fruitlessly to make Pinot in the Hunter. Perfect cool climate environments for Pinot exist in Australia in just a few regions, notably in Victoria’s Yarra Valley with its cool, crisp slopes and average humidity, and the Mornington Peninsula with its maritime cooling nights. But perhaps the region that is causing the most excitement is Tasmania . The Apple Isle is already earning a reputation as a producer of world-class Sparkling wine, so Pinot Noir, a key component of Champagne, along with its Burgundian sister Chardonnay, has been planted here for some time. It makes up half of all the vines in Tasmania and 95 per cent of red wine. More recently, straight Pinot is starting to find its feet here. Jeremy Dineen, who is also regarded as a maker of great Pinot after 10 years working with it at Josef Chromy in Northern Tasmania, says that climate is key to attaining the elegance for which great Pinot is renowned. “You are talking about a wine that has very fine tannins, where texture is one of the most important things, so if you can get a balance of ripe but fine tannins and fresh natural acidity, with those bright fruit flavours, it is the perfect Pinot and that is only going to come in the cooler climates,” he says. “If you look at the flavours you can only get that same perfume, subtleties, complexities and balance of natural acidity from cool climates and that is a really important part of Pinot.”
Wine
Top 50 wines of 2015
Words by Mark Hughes on 16 Jan 2016
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines! Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years. As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list. More than meets the eye Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz. What is very promising is the fact that there are a number of alternative varietals on the list: Roussanne, Malbec, Grenache , Tempranillo and even a Gewürztraminer! This bodes extremely well for the wide variety available to the Australian wine drinker. There were also two Semillons (but only one from the Hunter), two Fortifieds, but perhaps disappointingly, only one Sparkling and a lone Riesling . Regions It appears that the last few vintages have been pretty good for winemakers in the Hunter Valley , Margaret River and the emerging giant, Great Southern , who each topped the pile with six wines represented. Adelaide Hills (5), Barossa (4), McLaren Vale (4) and Coonawarra (3 – but only one of them Cab Sauv) also performed well. Regions that surprised many included: Heathcote , Goulburn Valley and Great Western, while Rutherglen proved that it is still producing world-class Fortifieds, including the top scoring wine from All Saints Estate. Speaking of producers, there were only two who had multiple entries in the Top 50 – Howard Park with their Marchand & Burch Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay; and Brown Brothers with a Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir. So hats off to those guys, they are obviously getting their sites and winemaking spot-on. Overall, this Top 50 list is great news for wine lovers. The results show that we can rely on wines we have admired for decades, some faithful styles are being produced better than ever before, while at the same time, there is a rich range of top quality emerging varietals on the market. Top 50 Wines of 2015 1. All Saints Estate Grand Rutherglen Muscat (Rutherglen, $72) 2. Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Coonawarra, $35) 3. Driftwood Estate The Collection Shiraz Cabernet 2012 (Margaret River, $21) 4. Best’s Great Western Bin No 0 Shiraz 2013 (Great Western, $75) 5. Marchand & Burch Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2014 (Mount Barker, $50) 6. Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2013 (Heathcote, $20) 7. 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Château Tanunda Terroirs of the Barossa Lyndoch Shiraz 2012 (Barossa Valley, $49.50) 21. Ferngrove ‘Dragon’ Shiraz 2012 (Frankland River, $32) 22. Brown Brothers Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2014 (Tamar River Tasmania, $25) 23. Henry’s Drive Shiraz Cabernet 2010 (Padthaway, $35) 24. Jansz Single Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 (Pipers River Tasmania, $64.95) 25. First Creek Semillon 2013 (Hunter Valley, $25) 26. Mitchell Wines McNicol Shiraz 2006 (Clare Valley, $40) 27. Serafino ‘Sharktooth’ Shiraz 2009 (McLaren Vale, $70) 28. De Iuliis Steven Vineyard Shiraz 2014 (Hunter Valley, $40) 29. Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $20) 30. Peos Estate Four Aces Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $36) 31. Tomich ‘T’ Woodside Vineyard 1777 Pinot Noir 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $30) 32. Brokenwood Maxwell Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hunter Valley, $55) 33. Alkoomi Wandoo Semillon 2005 (Frankland River, $35) 34. Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20) 35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28) 36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18) 37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35) 38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28) 39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20) 40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25) 41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38) 42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50) 43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45) 44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33) 45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38) 46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90) 47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22) 48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65) 49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,   $19.90) 50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26) Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016
Wine
Cabernet: Custom-made for a change
Words by Mark Hughes on 15 May 2016
In Europe, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered King of wines. In Australia it seems to sit in the shadow of Shiraz . But a greater understanding of the varietal by producers and key changes in the weather signal an exciting future for this regal wine. Of all the great wine regions in the world, it is Bordeaux that commands the most respect. Home to esteemed names such as Château Montrose, Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, the wines of Bordeaux have a sense of royalty about them. It is here where Cabernet reigns supreme – dark and brooding with flavours ranging from chocolate, cigar box and tobacco, its broad tannin structure allows it to age far more than any other wine. It is the stuff legend. In Australia, the thick-skinned grape varietal has been planted in virtually every wine region across Australia, however, it doesn’t always produce the goods. It struggles when it’s too cold and gets too jammy when it is too hot. Naturally, regions whose climes resemble the maritime climate of Bordeaux, with its warm days and cool nights, produce our best. Traditionally, that has been Coonawarra in South Australia and, more recently, the Western Australian wine regions of Margaret River and Great Southern . Certainly, these were the regions that shone in our Cabernet tasting with more than half the wines in the Top 30 produced in these three regions. “The potential to make world class Cabernet from Margaret River and the Great Southern is amazing and it’s only just getting started,” says Richard Burch from Howard Park, whose Abercrombie Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 topped the tasting. “Western Australia is a relatively young wine region with vines only planted in the 1970s. But when you put together the benign weather and growing conditions, the gradual accumulation of vine age, and the continuing discovery of the best individual sites for Cabernet in Western Australia, the future looks exciting.” The Bordeaux of South Australia Before Western Australia came onto the wine scene, it was Coonawarra that held the mantle as Australia’s premier Cabernet region. For many, it still is. Remarkably similar to Bordeaux in its maritime climate, the region’s famous terra rossa soils were thought to be a hindrance to producing great Cabernet, but as Paul Gordon, senior winemaker at Leconfield points out, it has imparted Cabernet from this region with a unique flavour profile and the climate allows for consistently good vintages. “That strip of terra rossa soil that sits thinly over limestone. The red soil, high in clay content, provides moisture-holding capacity to sustain the vines over the dry summer months while the porous limestone allows access to high quality water several metres below the surface, says Paul. “The cold Antarctic waters unique to South East South Australia cool the night summer breezes, ameliorating the warmth of the day to produce a long growing season. In cooler years, the conditions allow for ripening through April and early May and produce fine, elegant styles of great longevity. In warmer seasons, harvest may occur in mid to late March and fuller styles result – but always the emphasis is on patience to allow the flavours and tannins to ripen.” Care for the canopy As this tasting shows, Coonawarra is not the only South Australia region to produce quality Cabernet. McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek , Eden Valley , Barossa Valley and Clare Valley can produce wines with strong varietal characters. “There is very strong potential to make great Cabernet in Clare,” says Sevenhill winemaker Liz Heidenreich. “Cabernet vines thrive on the cool nights and warm days we see in the Clare ripening period. The best wines come from years when the crop level is not too high, the canopies are full and healthy, allowing grapes to ripen for longer into the season, and when we have long, even summers. Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, also believes canopy management is paramount in the production of great Cabernet, while also highlighting the importance of winemaking nous. “The vine canopy has to provide dappled light to the fruit, the window of picking for beautiful fragrant Cabernet is short, while handling through ferment and oak selection will expose some winemakers,” says Paul. While experience has shown Paul that canopy management is important in producing great Cabernet, science is backing up the theory. One of the primary characters of Cabernet Sauvignon is the presence of herbaceous green flavours, particularly when the wine is young. Researchers have found the presence of methoxypyrazine (more commonly called pyrazine) is responsible. It is the compound that gives Cabernet aromas of capsicum, eucalypt and mint. It has been discovered that pyrazine can be altered through attentive vineyard management. By careful pruning of the leafy part of the vines, viticulturists can manage what sort of aromas result in the wine. While work in the vineyard is becoming increasingly important, winemakers have softened the somewhat off-putting green, stalky flavours of Cabernet simply by allowing the wine to mature. Most of the wines in this tasting have some age, with some of the stars being from vintages such as 2010 and 2012. A Key Change One of the surprising findings from this tasting was that cooler wine regions such as the Yarra Valley , Adelaide Hills and even the Hilltops have been able to produce top shelf Cabernet. “The Yarra Valley has a proven track record of producing high quality Cabernet, lets not forget names like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg,” says Ben Portet from Dominque Portet Wines in the Yarra Valley. “In saying that, the potential to make even greater, and more importantly, more consistent Cabernet is strong, especially with the increase in our growing season average temperature and in turn our drier climatic conditions.” Vic Peos from Peos Estate in the cool climate region of Manjimup of Western Australia also agrees that climate change has had a positive effect on the potential for cooler regions such as his to produce great Cabernet. “The last decade the weather has really changed, the last six years, apart from 2010, have been spectacular for producing Cabernet,” says Vic. “We still have the cold nights and early rainfall in late winter and early spring, so the canopy is lush and the berry is great. But during the summer, it is not as wet anymore, so we can really hang our Cabernet a lot longer on the vines, and we can get skin and tannin ripeness. We are thinking that Cabernet can be one of our real stars. The future is exciting.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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