What is Verdelho?
With its fresh, tropical fruit characters, un-oaked style, and sheer drinkability, Australian Verdelho is very much the crowd-pleaser. Perfect served with a host of spicy Asian cuisines including Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian, or simply enjoyed kicking back by the pool.
To help explain more about Australian Verdelho, we chatted to the experts at Tulloch Wines, Peos Estate, Pepper Tree Wines and Arimia Wines.
Australian Verdelho Wine – An infographic guide
Origins of Verdelho
The Verdelho grape variety comes from the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco where it is made into a fortified wine called Madeira.
“There are four varieties used to make Madeira ranging from very dry to very sweet. The driest is Sercial, the Verdelho is softer and slightly darker in colour with the lighter version known as Rainwater. The finer Bual is medium with a strong hint of molasses, and finally Malmsey which is full-bodied, often caramelly and brown,” explains Jay Tulloch whose family has been producing Verdelho for over 100 years.
“In the nineteenth century, pipes (casks) of Madeira were loaded on ships for long ocean voyages and it was considered the wine needed to cross the tropics twice before it had acquired the desired flavour.”
Verdelho was imported to Australia in 1825 by the Australian Agricultural Company and was first grown in Camden by William Macarthur.
Verdelho Wine in Australia
While it is widely grown, Western Australia and New South Wales consistently produce the best examples. Both states produce wines that offer pristine aromas and flavours, which are made for early consumption. Generally, the cooler grown or early picked examples are leaner and finer, showing citrus fruit, grassy and herb flavours. Warmer grown, riper Verdelho is generally richer, fuller with ripe tropical fruit salad flavours. Regardless of style, or region, Australian Verdelho also represents great value, with most being under the $20 mark.
It is one of the Hunter Valley’s regional heroes where it dates back to the early 1900s, when the Tulloch family made a fortified wine predominately from the Verdelho grape in the Madeira style and called it Crème de Vin.
“Tulloch have been producing this Madeira style wine on and off now for 100 plus years, with the current release made in a traditional style from a small solera commenced in 1973, “says Jay Tulloch.
“In the 1950s and 1960s as table wine became popular, Verdelho was blended with Semillon (at that time known as Hunter River Riesling) to boost the flavour of the Semillon in light years. Tulloch made Verdelho as a table wine in 1973 and 1974. Both were credible wines, however the ’73 developed rather too much and became overbearing with age. The lesson we learnt from this was not to allow the grapes to reach excessive maturity before harvest,” he says.
“In 1982 we made a wine that would not ferment out all of the sugar to produce a dry wine and we ended up with a slightly fruity (sweet) wine. We sold it in our cellar door and it was an instant success, so release to the trade followed and here we are today proudly still selling this great varietal 30 years later. As we have progressed, innovation has come to the fore and we now produce a number of styles of Verdelho. From the Crème de Vin (Madeira style) to the Verscato and various styles in between.”
What the experts have to say about Verdelho
Jay Tulloch – owner, winemaker, Tulloch Wines, Hunter Valley
“The trick with Verdelho is not to let the fruit get too ripe. It can blow out quite quickly and become fat and blousy if you let the alcohol get too high,” says Jay. “Picking at around 12 Baume ensures you still retain some lovely acidity, as well as having the floral tropical fruit flavours on the palate.
“We don’t use any oak treatment and find the quicker we can get it into the bottle following picking the better,” explains Jay. “This retains the fresh primary fruit flavours, which means it’s quite a natural winemaking process with very little intervention.”
“Like all great wines, a great Verdelho needs to be balanced – a balance of fruit, flavour, alcohol and varietal definition.”
Gwyn Olsen – chief winemaker, Pepper Tree Wines, Briar Ridge Vineyard, Hunter Valley.
“A great Verdelho is all about focus and balance,” explains Gwyn Olsen. “If left too long on the vine, the Verdelho grape can turn quite melony with high potential alcohol and low acids. This results in wines that appear ‘fat’ or ‘hot’ and lack the delicate acid lines and bright florals that good Verdelho should have! If they are picked when balanced, they make wines that are quite delicate and fine, but have a very punchy aromatic profile which I believe is the perfect style for Verdelho in the Hunter Valley.”
Daniel Stocker – vineyard manager, Arimia Wines, Margaret River.
“Verdelho’s suitability for Mediterranean-style climates with warm-hot, dry summers makes it a perfect fit for Margaret River,” explains Daniel. “The variety holds acid well and shows excellent fruit concentration, tending towards golden apple and citrus zest, with tropical notes and floral spice.”
“In Margaret River, and at Arimia, Verdelho produces refreshing, crisp, dry white wines that are a perfect fit for the outdoor, alfresco dining that Western Australian’s love,” he says.
Vic Peos – Owner, winemaker, Peos Estate, Manjimup.
“Located in Western Australia’s southwest corner, Manjimup experiences hot dry summers with cool nights that allow for long, slow ripening and flavour enhancement which Verdelho really enjoys,” says Vic.
“As an example, our Four Kings 2015 Verdelho has lifted aromas of orange blossom and cut lime, and the palate delivers fresh citrus and honeydew with layers of tropical fruits and integrated crisp acidity on the finish.”
Best food pairings for Verdelho
Featured Recipe match: Tetsuya Wakuda's Thai Chill Spanner Crab (without shell) recipe
Similar weight to unoaked Chardonnay and Roussanne, it pairs beautifully with seafood and chicken, and also balances the spice of Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian dishes with its fruit weight and concentration.
"Growing up in Indonesia, I have a soft spot for Asian cuisine and personally I feel this well suited to Verdelho. Thai red duck curry with its lychee and aromatic herb profile works perfectly with the fragrance and balance of Verdelho. Indonesian nasi goreng with its salty and spicy characters compliments Verdelho extremely well, or a couple of Vietnamese rice paper rolls and a chilled Verdelho on a hot summer’s day is a perfect match,” says Gwyn.
“One of my favourite matches is local marron pan-fried with butter and garlic,” says Vic Peos. “Green olives and creamy cheeses also pair well.”