Australia is in the midst of a vinous revolution. The shackles have been cast off and the wine scene is a buzz and full of innovation, inspiration and interpretation.
There has been a passing of the torch from fathers to sons and daughters. Winegrowers have spent time working overseas and have come back full of new ideas, drawing inspiration from the old world and replicating and refining the techniques learnt abroad in their own vineyards. There’s never been a more exciting, engaging and invigorating time to be involved with Aussie wine.
As the wine scene in Australia has evolved, so too has the number of varieties that have slipped into the consciousness of not only the winegrower, but also the wine drinker. We still love our Shiraz and Chardonnay (both of which have undergone their own revolutions of style in the last ten years or so) but these days there’s more to our wine landscape than the so-called international varieties we’ve come to know and love.
Winegrowers have been influenced by their winemaking brethren from Spain, France, Hungary, Austria, and Italy and beyond. Varieties that were once deemed obscure are now well established and flourishing. People are dipping their toe in the water and experimenting with old techniques to produce wines of personality and intrigue. And traditional producers are taking note and moving with the times to re-invent themselves and keep up with the younger generation. All of this means that we, as wine lovers, have never been spoiled so much by the breadth and choice of great bottles that are on offer. Bottles that can engage, enliven and envelop the senses, and bottles that have personality and oodles of character that consistently make for great drinking.
Perhaps the biggest influence in the new wave of alternative, or even emerging varietals, has been Italy. Home to a huge range of indigenous varieties, Italy is awash with grapes that have really taken to the Australian climate. Up in the King Valley in northern Victoria, the Pizzini family have been beating the Italian-variety drum for over 20 years and have a strong Italian heritage to boot. Try their Arneis if you’re after a white that is awash with fresh fruitiness and effortless personality. It’s slightly nutty and has all the classic characteristics you would expect were you sipping on something from Italy. In the red camp, their Sangiovese is a classic expression of this delicious Tuscan varietal and punches well above its weight. It’s crunchy and savoury, yet bright and has those lovely classic cherry and dried herb notes that take you straight to Tuscany and the wines of Chianti.
Down in Mornington, Kathleen Quealy has long championed alternative varieties and is again is heavily influenced by the wines of Italy. Her ‘Amphora Friulano’ is as delicious as it is intriguing. It a lovely textural wine and has lovely grip as well as lots of punchy fruit. The use of Amphora for fermenting the wine is an old technique that more and more producers are utilising to add complexity to their wines and this is a really great place to start exploring wines that are referencing these old techniques in a modern context.
Over in South Australian, Damian Tscharke has been playing around with a number of emerging varietals for over a decade. His ‘Girl Talk’ Savagnin is a cracking wine and is full of wonderful pear, honey and spice characters and makes for a great alternative to those who might normally reach for a fuller bodied bottle of pinot gris.
Sticking in South Australia, but venturing into the red territory, there’s no better place to look than the wines produced by Steve Pannell under his SC Pannell label. His Tempranillo Touriga Nacional blend is inspired by the wines of Spain and Portugal and is without doubt one of the best value wines produced in the country. It’s a medium-bodied bottle of goodness, full of lovely crunchy plum and dark berry fruits but bursting with freshness at the same time. In an altogether more serious mould, his Nebbiolo is consistently one of Australia’s finest expressions of this northern Italian native. If you can resist drinking it in its youth it’s worthy of a place in any serious cellar and will continue to improve in the bottle for many years.
The current mix of constantly evolving traditional wines with the emerging new and exciting varieties means that we’ve never had it better here at home. And there’s so much good wine being made now that takes its inspiration from centuries-old European regions, that there is endless exploring to be done - so if you start with some of our recommendations, who knows where in the world you might end up.