Art1 Australia: New Varietals Please

February 12, 2010

Australia: New Varietals Please

Having recently made the big step into full-time unemployment and in hope of inspiration for my new wine writing project, I recently attended the Australian annual trade tasting at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Through past experience of such events I knew what to expect; many rooms, full of tables shared by most of the big Aussie producers all showing pretty much the same thing.

Now this image I have just painted may sound a little crude, but from a grape varietal point of view at least, it is true. Australia may be a vast country over 13 times bigger than Francebut almost all producers use the same varieties. Despite its geological and climatic diversity it lacks the wide selection of indigenous grapes that allows European wineries to express originality and terroir.

Pick any table at random at one of these events and one can almost guarantee to find Chardonnay and Shiraz usually multiple examples of eachand probably a Cabernet/Merlot blend thrown in for good measure.

This is a nightmare for any taster as even the most trained palate will struggle to find a distinctive characteristic in such a plethora of rich full bodied juice monsters.

Following this reasoning I decided I would focus solely on those winemakers who stood out as showing something different from the rest.

Speaking to other people at the event, I sensed there to be a general consensus that there was not enough variety out there, but I was reassured that many wineries were starting to innovate more and that there were new exciting wines to be found.

With this glimmer of hope I set out to taste anything that stood out from the crowd. Here are the best examples of new varieties I found:

Tyrrell’s Old Winery Verdelho 2009

£8.49 a bottle from The City Beverage Company, Mill Hill Wines or Wapping Food

Fresh and lively with an intense sweet tropical nose with lifted spice aromas. Rich tropical fruit and honey flavours fulfil the palate and are complemented by a crisp lemony finish.

A great easy drinker, this refreshing white is vinified in the style of a Semillon with minimal skin contact and no oak leaving the fruit to show its full expression.

D’Arenberg The Money Spider Roussane 2008

£9.19 a bottle from Bibendum

Pyrazine, broad bean, Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas with some hints of honey, toast and nectarine. A dry and complex palate with lots of fruit and good overall balance.

This is an old friend. D’Arenberg are great Rhone influenced innovators and this white has such an inviting nose that it is great with food or served on its own.

– Tahbilk Marsanne 2008

£60.67 for 6x75cl at everywine.co.uk

Light, clean and fresh, limey and bright with a racy edge. There are fresh fruit notes, good intensity and freshness, with a balanced finish.

Tahbilk boast the oldest Marsanne vines in the land, with years of experience and many awards under their belt you cannot ignore this opulent white.

– Bleasdale Second innings Malbec 2008

Agent MWH Wine

Showing vibrant primary fruit flavours of plums, red berries and spices, this wine finishes soft and round with velvety smooth tannins.

In Australia, Malbec is rarely seen as a varietal wine. Bleasdale has been producing Malbec based wines since 1961. This red really showed well at the tasting. A perfect match for a nice juicy steak.

– Gemtree White Lees Shiraz 2007

£17.95 a bottle at Wine Direct

A beautiful ruby colour with aromas of black olives, black currents, violets and red berries. The palate is awash with red fruits with very silky tannins and a long elegant finish.

A serious beefy red with added finesse.

OK, I know I said I would not review any Shiraz but this one is an epiphany of wine making innovation. The Shiraz is left to mature on the Lees of a previously made Chardonnay white (Lees: leftover yeast sediment remaining from the fermentation that brings richness of flavour if left in contact with the liquid). This is presumably a first in the wine world it has got Jancis Robinson enthusing about it already and will hopefully lead way to even more experimentation in the winery.

In conclusion, I would very much recommend going out and trying something different. There is nothing like discovering something new that you like or uncovering an ‘old faithful’ made in a different style.

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, there is an enormous palate of grape varieties in the world for the Aussies to play with. The potential is endless when you look at the diversity coming from France or Italy of styles and terroirs. I look forward to things to come.

Oliver Barton

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