What's New in Wine
Australian winemakers as a whole are an innovative bunch and this issue we speak to a selection who are creating new taste sensations to try in 2022.
Adelaide Hills winemaker Peter Leske doesn’t use the term ‘alternative’ wine varieties, he prefers ‘unexplored’, as they’re usually varieties that have been around for a long time, we just don’t know a lot about them yet.
And as we look at what’s new in wine for 2022, it’s unexplored varieties and styles that are topping the list of hot new trends for the Australian wine scene.
At his La Linea winery, Peter, along with partner David LeMire MW, has been exploring the appeal of the Spanish grape Mencia.
Hailing from the Iberian Peninsula, Mencia is a grape that makes medium-bodied reds, which Peter says could be compared to Nero d’Avola or Grenache. Although, he adds, it has “a deeper colour and probably a bit more complexity and richness than some Grenache.” Its characteristics, he says, include, “cherry fruits, a little bit of tomato leaf, sometimes that slightly dried herbal edge.”
Peter and David first grafted Mencia cuttings to their Semillon vines in 2014, and in 2015, they “got a couple of hundred kilos of fruit,’ Peter describes, “which we watched ripen and thought, ‘that’s very interesting’ and then harvested it and put it in with a Tempranillo Rosé because it was such a small amount.”
The 2016 vintage produced a larger quantity and from that they made a red that went on to pick up a Trophy at the 2016 Adelaide Hills Wine Show. Quite the coup for a relatively unknown red.
Left: Corrina in her McLaren Vale vineyard. Right: Peter Leske in his vines.
Peter and David weren’t the first to give Mencia a go, however. Down in McLaren Vale, Corrina Wright of Oliver’s Taranga, or the “Matriarch of Mencia” as Peter refers to her, first planted it in 2011.
The progression from taste to actuality was simple, she says. “I tried it in 2010, and then ended up tasting a load out of the Bierzo region in Spain. I really liked it, and must have written about it on social media or the like, because Nick Dry (who was then at Yalumba Nursery) got in touch and mentioned they had just got Mencia cuttings out of quarantine and wondered if we had a spot to plant them. I said ‘Yes’, and the rest is history!”
That history has included a number of Gold medals, as well as critical acclaim. Mencia’s appeal, Corrina says, “is its delicious floral nose, but savoury profile. It works so well with our Mediterranean climate and way of eating.”
At Oliver’s Taranga, they make both a red wine and a Rosé out of it and their Chica Mencia Rosé is resplendent in characters of prosciutto-wrapped rockmelon, watermelon mojito and limes.
Alan Varney is another McLaren Vale winemaker who has fallen for Mencia. “I first came across it as a variety while working vintage at d’Arenberg,” he explains. “From the first time I tried it as a berry and then as a ferment, I knew it had great potential with its lifted aromatics and intriguing cherry spice allure.”
“Emerging varieties need certain things for success,” Alan adds. “They must be embraced by quality growers and winemakers. The variety’s story and provenance has to be relatable to drinkers looking for something new. It must be suited to the region. Lastly, it has to make a wine which is recognisably new and different with its own character, and, of course, it has to be good! Mencia ticks all these boxes and I have no doubt it has a bright future in the Vale.”
Hunter Valley winemaking duo Suzanne and Ian Little have explored many a new variety over the years, and like Alan, they don’t make their varietal decisions on a whim.
Instead, Suzanne explains, “We specialise in alternative varieties so it’s great to pioneer a new variety, but we’re not looking to do it for novelty’s sake. Any new variety needs to be well suited to the climate challenges we will face over the next few decades and it needs to make a meaningful contribution to what the Hunter Valley has to offer.”
Their latest careful choice is the Italian grape, Pecorino, a variety which, Suzanne says, “is definitely well suited to the Hunter. Its thicker skins and looser bunches make it more disease resistant and heat tolerant, but most importantly, it holds natural acid, which is a huge plus in a warmer conditions.”
Left: Alan Varney in his winery. Right: Ian and Suzanne Little.
The 2021 vintage was the first in which Suzanne made a Pecorino, prior to which, she says, “we organised a tasting with a few Hunter winemakers and growers to look at some Italian examples. The Italian wines were quite varied, but the common thread was the acid profile. Some wines had obvious malo and skin contact to build complexity and texture to varying degrees.”
For their Pecorino, however, Suzanne explains that as it was their first vintage, “we wanted to see what the natural fruit flavour profile was, so in terms of winemaking, we kept it pretty simple. So I would say ours is a more fruit forward, almost aromatic style, but has the trademark acid profile in common with the Italian examples.”
Danniel Amadio of South Australia’s Amadio Wines is another recent Pecorino producer and has found it well suited to the conditions of his Adelaide Hills vineyard.
“It’s a variety that needs warmth, but also coolness to get high natural acidity. Our vineyard in Kersbrook, being the northern-most vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, creates the necessary environment for this and many Italian varieties.”
Pecorino adds to the Amadio’s collection of Italian varieties and comes, Danniel explains, “from my father and grandfather Giovanni Amadio’s home town region La Marche in Italy. I tried it about seven years ago and just loved it.”
Its appeal, in his opinion, starts with the name – “it firstly creates an interest being associated with the famous cheese from Italy, secondly its style can sit between a fresh crisp Riesling and Sauv Blanc without the grassy characters – such a delight.”
Left: A Taste of Ital in the Amadio Pecorino. Right: Dal Zotto's King Valley vineyards.
Prosecco for the purists
One of the success stories of Australian wine in recent years has been Prosecco, with wine lovers falling for its light, fresh and fruity characters.
That style is created thanks to the Charmat method, developed in the early 20th century, where secondary fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks. Prior to that, secondary fermentation occurred in the bottle, which creates a more complex, creamy wine.
This style, known as col fondo, is made by the Dal Zottos in Victoria’s King Valley and pays homage to their heritage. “The style goes back generations for us,” Michael and Christian Dal Zotto explain. “It is a style the Valdobiadenne farmers would make in the early days of Prosecco. A style we make today to pay our respects to them and our family. It’s also known as the farmers’ Prosecco.”
“The appeal,” they continue, “comes from the combination of the freshness of the citrus and ginger notes balanced with the savoury characters and clean, mouth-drying acidity. Along with the emotional connection we have with the style, there is something about this wine that makes us smile when we talk about it and when we drink with others.”
Left: Michael and Christian Dal Zotto. Right: Dal Zotto's fondo Prosecco is a great food wine.
The Dal Zotto family were the first to plant Prosecco in Australia, and while the col fondo style is not new, they’ve continued their pioneering approach with its introduction to the local scene. Another style to add to your 2022 tasting list.
Finally, we can’t ignore the growing trend for low- or no- alcohol wines. The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel sampled a selection recently and Matthew White felt that overall, while they lacked complexity, they were “clean, fault free and vibrant.”
Winemaker Corey Ryan who crafts the Plus & Minus range of zero alcohol wines sees creating complexity as a big challenge. It’s difficult, he says, to find “palate and mouthfeel balance in the final blend after the alcohol has been removed.”
The best varieties and styles for no-alcohol wines, he concludes, are “lighter whites, varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Rieslings, Rosé and Sparkling styles.”
It’s winemakers such as these that make heading into a new year of wine exploration so enticing. Here’s to creating a fresh list of wine favourites!