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McWilliam's: An Alternate View

From the early days of unctuous fortifieds to the magnificence of some of Australia’s greatest table wines, McWilliam’s has been at the heart of Australia’s glorious wine history – always evolving, exciting and innovating.

Throughout this journey, McWilliam’s has led from the front; challenging the traditionalists, igniting the imagination of its winemakers, and exciting the palates of wine lovers all around the world.

That innovation is displayed in their  new Alternis Range; five alternate varietals – Vermentino, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Nero d’Avola and Petite Sirah – grown and produced in specific regions across the country, and perfectly suited to today’s alternative trend.

New sensations

Wine lovers of today are looking beyond the traditional wine varieties of Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Cabernet and Shiraz. Whilst we produce some of the best examples in the world, young palates want wines that offer them a new sensation. Wines that are unique and interesting, yet still approachable and a delicious drink.

Enter, the McW Alternis range.

Long before a new generation of young Aussie wine lovers discovered there was even such as thing as an alternative wine scene, McWilliam’s Wines was already leading the way. Years of pioneering research led to the family experimenting, trialling and benchmarking a range of alternate varietals.

“Our work with alternate varietals has been evolving since the mid 1990s,”  says Chief Winemaker for McWilliam’s Wines, Andrew Higgins.

“It was initially driven by then Chief Winemaker, Jim Brayne, who was looking for grape varieties that would complement blends, but could also, someday, make highly individual wines as soon as wine lovers were ready for them.”

That time has arrived.

As of right now, there’s never been a better time to start exploring the new and unique tastes, aromas and flavours that Australian alternate varietal wines have to offer. Some are harder to say than others, yet every single one of them is wonderfully easy to drink.

“The Alternis range of wines is our way of showcasing decades of experimentation, tasting and benchmarking against other wines from Australia and around the world,” Andrew explains.

“The five varietals that have been most successful for us, so far, from a quality point of view, offer wine drinkers a unique proposition in terms of taste and flavour.”

Five of the best

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McWilliam’s McW Alternis Range features four reds and one white, and all of them are ideal for Australian tastes.

Hailing from the Italian island of Sardinia, Vermentino produces a white wine similar in texture to Sauv Blanc or Pinot Grigio, and is perfect for summer.

“Vermentino makes a light and fresh white wine that can also be complex at the same time. Aromas of honeydew and melon, and ripe lemon citrus develop into exotic stone fruits with bright acids and a refreshing finish,” says Andrew.

Tempranillo is responsible for making some of Spain’s greatest red wines. The varietal has been finely attuned by McWilliam’s to match the Australian conditions in order to make a fun loving, celebratory wine of youth and energy.

“I love Tempranillo for its gorgeous raspberry and black cherry characteristics. The palate is bursting with delicious red summer berries and pomegranate. These wines are always so succulent and juicy, with fine, firm tannins,” Andrew says.

Touriga Nacional is considered to be Portugal’s finest red grape variety. It was first planted by McWilliam’s back in 1984, and has evolved from a dependable blender into a first rate single varietal alternative.

“Touriga is always so super fresh. It has these really pretty florals and spicy violet aromas,” says Andrew. “The palate is full of deliciously juicy and concentrated black fruits with grippy tannins.”

Petite Sirah is a French rogue, a unique grape variety possessing lots of charming character and intensity.

“Always so powerful, Petite Sirah has flavours of dark plums and chocolate which complement a core of sweet fruit and subtle spice. It’s a big, bold and beautiful wine,” says Andrew.

Last, but certainly not least, Nero d’Avola is, perhaps, the most important grape in all of Sicily, and regarded as one of Italy’s finest. The vine loves hot and relatively dry climates, perfect for Australian conditions.

“I always come back to the deep red cherry, blueberries and herbal elements I see in Nero d’Avola. It makes beautifully expressive red wines, with fine, grainy, talc-like tannins,” Andrew explains.

Site selection

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In the pursuit of quality, McWilliam’s has searched Australia’s wine regions to find the best site for these alternate varietals. 

“Sourcing the right vineyards and working with our grower base to achieve the quality has been a challenge,” reveals Andrew. “It has definitely been an adventurous learning curve to manage these varieties in the field as they all have quite different growth habits to the classical varieties.”

The contrasting temperatures in the high country of Gundagai have proven to suit Tempranillo well, while Nero d’Avola has made a home for itself in Heathcote in Victoria, due to its ancient Cambrian soils and continental climate of warm days and cool even nights.

The McWilliam’s family discovered that their home turf in the Riverina is ideal to grow many of these alternate grape varieties with Petite Sirah, Touriga and Vermentino thriving in the region’s favourable climate and fertile soils. Add to that the family’s historical expertise in vine management, and the region’s rich Italian heritage, and it seems the Riverina is the perfect place for these alternatives and for McWilliam’s to lead the way.

“The Riverina’s suitability comes from its warm, dry climate, being similar to the warmer climates of Italy, Spain and Portugal where many of these varieties are from, as well as the experimental nature of the local wine producers,” explains Andrew. “Plus it is a region wanting to have its own wine identity.”

With these alternate varietals, it seems it does. Of course, winemaking is also part of the Alternis success.

“Our winemaking style across these varieties is quite hands off,” says Andrew.

“We ferment Vermentino in stainless steel, resulting in a bright, textural wine. We give the Temp, Touriga and Nero a moderate extraction and maturation all in large format neutral oak to express fruit brightness and soften tannins, while the Petit Sirah is a naturally richer style variety and is the only one to see new oak, as it gives some fresh vanilla and adds plushness to the mid palate.

“I love exploring how these varietals perform in the Australian climate, and fine tuning the winemaking to achieve what we have today, and that is beautiful medium-bodied Australian expressions of these diverse alternate varietals.”

Fantastic food matches

Alongside the fact these alternative wines are delicious, is that they pair so perfectly with food, particularly with Australia’s diverse culinary landscape. 

The freshness and zing of Vermentino means it is great with almost any seafood dish such as calamari, fish or gumbo.

The high acidity that characterises Nero d’Avola means it will work well with everything from light meats in Mediterranean-style dishes to tomato-based dishes and even curries.

As you’d expect, Tempranillo is perfect with tapas dishes such as chorizo and patatas bravas, while one of Andrew’s favourite pairings is the McW Tempranillo and a slow-smoked lamb shoulder. Similarly, Touriga is great with charcuterie or pizza, while it is hard to go past Petite Sirah paired with a perfectly cooked steak.

The McW Alternis Range offers more evidence of the McWilliam’s commitment to innovation, while remaining true to their roots of producing quality wines for all Australians to explore and enjoy.

Wine
Published on
4 Jan 2019

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