I rarely need an excuse to open up a bottle of wine, but if I’m looking for one on Australia Day it will be to celebrate Australia’s diversity – in wine.
From Assyrtiko to Zibibbo, there has never been a greater variety of grapes grown in Australia.
Winemakers are always on the lookout for the next big thing in wine, and grape varieties from far-flung corners of the globe are appearing all the time.
Grape varieties from warm parts of the world, such as Southern Italy and Greece, are often better suited to Australia’s warm climate than our more traditional varieties shiraz, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
As grapes ripen and develop flavour, their acidity levels drop. Cool climates help grapes such as pinot noir retain their acid, but in hot inland areas varieties such as fiano and aglianico retain their acidity much better.
Many of these varieties represent the future of Australia’s wine industry. I’ll drink to that.
In 2006 Peter and Sue Barry tasted Assyrtiko while on holiday in the grape’s native home, the Greek island Santorini. Vines were imported in 2008 and spent two years in quarantine before being planted. Ten years after that first Santorini sip, Australia’s first Assyrtiko is released. After just one sip of this I was thinking about a plate of grilled calamari – its zippy lemon, lime and green herb flavours would go oh so well. Added to this are floral citrus aromatics, a chalky grip and an intense finish.
Mencia comes from northern Spain, where it creates perfumed, juicy wines. The grape’s in its infancy in Australia but it should have a good future. There’s a distinct rose petal aroma to its bouquet of cherry, raspberry and spice. It’s all about the structure in the mouth – crisp and refreshing, with gentle berry and cherry flavours.
The major Sicilian red grape, there’s a few people making Nero d’Avola in Australia and much of it comes from the Chalmers’ vineyard in Heathcote. My goodness this is easy drinking. It’s bright and breezy in nature, but there’s complexity to the earthy raspberry, liquorice root and dark berry flavours.
Originally from the northern reaches of the Rhone Valley, viognier was close to extinction when Yalumba planted its first vines. They now have the largest plantings of the grape in the world. It’s a hedonistic delight, with ripe apricot, spice and ginger aromas and flavours. Rich and slippery, but with structure, there’s a load of enjoyment here.
Pizzini has long been a pioneer of Italian grapes. This is perfumed and elegant, with a bouquet of stonefruit and spice. It gets the balance between elegance and body just right – a creamy texture that delivers nectarine, spice and salinity in spades. Verduzzo hails from Italy’s north east.
The perfect white wine for a hot night. In fact, its seamless nature and sheer drinkability on a recent warm night overshadowed the wine’s particulars – it’s a wine for drinking rather than dissecting. That said, its bold tropical fruit, quince and citrus flavours are instantly familiar and its slippery texture and the lemony tang to its finish are as delicious as they are easy to drink.
Here’s an early contender for bargain of the year. Aglianico, a late ripening red variety from Italy’s Basilicata region, tends to make me think of it as pinot noir on steriods. Aromas of plum, dark cherries and spice are mirrored on a bright and intense palate. A wave of tannins hits after the initial flavours, followed by a savoury burst of prunes on exit. If there was ever a wine to drink out of a cafe latte-style tumbler, this is it. Best enjoyed with salami.
- Chilled summer drinks
- Ask the wine guy: Should I stick with steak and shiraz?
- Ask the wine guy: What wine varieties does Tasmania produce?