Stuck in a wine rut? Is shiraz losing its allure or do you stick with sav blanc but would really like to try something else? Well, do I have a column for you.
I’ve had a few friends ask me recently to recommend alternative wines to the ones they go for every time they’re in a bar or a bottleshop.
The world of wine can be intimidating at times, and when you’re spending upwards of $20 on a bottle, it’s easy to play it safe by choosing something you know you’ll enjoy rather than take a risk and end up with a bottle you don’t like.
Rather than recommend a few obscure grape varieties that will have you spending the best part of next Saturday tracking down, there are plenty of mainstream ones that are similar to what you may default to every time you pour a glass.
As a rule of thumb, wine can be categorised into distinct styles, crisp and light-bodied whites, medium-bodied textural whites, light-to-medium reds and
Crisp and light-bodied whites: Sauvignon blanc is the most popular white wine variety in the country, but if my sav-loving friends are any guide to its popularity, it won’t hold that mantle forever.
They’re all looking for alternatives. Major retailers have evidence that shows they’re not alone either. Their stats show that women in particular are switching from sav blanc to pinot grigio at a rapid rate.
I reckon they’re missing a trick by moving straight to grigio, a wine that can be utterly refreshing and delicious but is also capable of true blandness. Closer to sav blanc in style, but with more complexity, are the highly aromatic grapes riesling and gewürztraminer. Albarino from the north of Spain and the Italian pair fiano and vermentino are also worth seeking.
Medium-bodied textural whites: If you’re a little like me and keep reaching for the chardonnay, a white from France’s Rhône Valley or a barrel-fermented pinot gris makes a nice change.
Wines such as chardonnay and the Rhône triumvirate marsanne, roussanne and viognier are generally fermented and aged in oak barrels, which helps impart texture and fine tannins.
Light-to-medium reds: I’ll agree that pinot noir is a wine you’re unlikely to ever tire of, but the vibrant gamay is a delicious alternative. It’s the grape in Beaujolais, a relatively inexpensive light red when compared with its pinot noir-based neighbour in France, Burgundy.
Always think cabernet sauvignon when you think red? Try it in a blend or reach for a straight merlot from time to time. The maligned merlot grape is starting to find some real form in Australia and is worth another chance if it’s been a while since your last bottle.
Medium-to-full-bodied reds: Feel free to substitute grenache or mourvedre for a shiraz – or a blend of all three in a GSM – or a tempranillo-based wine from Spain’s Rioja region next time you’re thinking about shiraz. Rutherglen durif is also a good thing for those who like their shiraz from the bigger end of town.
There’s another option, too. And that’s to stick with your favourite wines but look further afield. If Barossa shiraz is your poison, try a bottle from Bendigo or Heathcote – regions that will deliver the depth of flavour that you find in the Barossa.
And, finally, now the days are getting longer and the weather warming, if you find yourself in two minds about what to drink, just think pink. Dry, savoury rosé will be big again this summer as the rosé revolution in Australia goes from strength to strength.
Mitchelton Marsanne 2011
(Central Victoria) $20; 13%
From two vineyard blocks at the vast Mitchelton site near Nagambie Lake in central Victoria, this is fermented in oak barrels, of which 20 per cent are new. It’s complex and alluring, with aromas of white stonefruit, waxy lemon, pear and citrus blossom. There’s intense lemon, mineral and Granny Smith apple flavours that are reminiscent of leaner, modern chardonnays. Smooth texture, luscious even, with bright, chalky acidity that has a fine grip along with a finishing burst of lemon and creamed honey.
Food match \ Bouillabaisse
TarraWarra Estate K-Block Merlot 2010
(Yarra Valley) $35; 14%
Here’s another impressive wine from the lauded 2010 Yarra Valley vintage. Rich aromas of rose petal, red berries, caramel, muscatels and blackcurrant. It is savoury in the mouth, with black olive, cedar oak, red and blackberry flavours. There’s also a lifted perfume on the mouth that’s engaging and moreish. It’s light and bright, with a lovely mouthfeel, super-fine tannins and a savoury finish with a good deal of intensity.
Food match \ Lamb tagine
Jim Barry Wines Watervale Riesling 2012
(Clare Valley) $19; 12.4%
Word is that 2012 is one of the best years for riesling in South Australia’s Clare Valley in more than 20 years. Bursting with pretty, floral aromatics, a wash of zippy lemon, lime, ginger, quince, blossom and apple flavours fill the mouth. The flavours are intense, but there’s a subtlety and complexity that draws you back for another sip. It’s dry and crisp in the mouth, with a line of chalky acidity and a lengthy finish.
Food match \ Tempura prawns
Vinoque Gamay Noir 2011
(Yarra Valley) $24; 12.5%
Vinoque is a new label from De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley. The grapes that made this wine came from a vineyard at Roundstone winery, which was burnt down in the 2009 bushfires. The gamay vines, and Roundstone’s owners, survived, and this is the first wine made from those vines since that black day. Perfumed dark cherry, nuts, spice and stalks fill the glass and the mouth. It’s silky smooth and there’s tension between the bright acidity, light tannic grip and intense cherry, berry finish.
Food match \ Grilled quail
Love a bargain?
Toscar Monastrell 2011
(Alicante, Spain) $13.99; 13.5%
I’ve reviewed previous vintages of this and it has been a favourite for a while. Like the previous vintages, this is dense, delicious and full of character. Plush aromas include plums, blackberries, cherry, spice, coal and a touch of dried herb. It’s smooth and savoury, with fine, powdery tannins and bright acidity. Light on its feet, bright fruit flavours of plum, cherry, and vanilla really push through to a persistent finish.
Food match \ Paella Valenciana