For our latest tasting, we traveled to the land down under (sorry, I had to) to try some inventive Australian wines.
If Shiraz is what immediately comes to mind, you wouldn’t be wrong, as this grape varietal is the traditional calling card for Australian viticulture. But recently, younger generations of wine makers have ushered in alternate varieties, and these fresh grapes are becoming the new face of Australian wine.
There is still respect for the old world wines coming from Europe, which bring with them centuries-old winemaking traditions, with strict rules that determine which grape varieties are used in specific locations—rules that are predetermined by research and history. But the new world wines provide an opportunity to look toward the past while also discovering new modern ways of making wine and diversifying grape varieties.
The history begins in 1788, when the first seeds and cuttings of vines were planted in Australia for food, not yet for wine consumption. (Australia has no native grape vines.) Soon after this initial seed sowing, a Scotsman named James Busby, who had studied viticulture in France, moved to Australia with his family. In 1831, Busby arrived with cuttings of French Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Mataro (Mourvedre), and the vine originally spelled Scyras or Ciras, but known in Australia as Shiraz and in France as Syrah. Before Busby, a well-regarded Australian botanist named William Macarthur had sourced and planted cuttings as early as 1816. Macarthur is also thought to have brought the original Riesling vine to Australia. These two men are responsible for Viticulture in Australia.
The pure size of Australia is daunting to me, and when you look at how much land is under vine, it looks like there is a whole world of options left for agriculture. In reality, at least 20% of the land is uninhabitable, and roughly 18% of it is made up of deserts. But Australia is still the world’s fourth largest exporter, producing 800 million liters annually. Wineaustralia.com reports that “the Australian domestic market accounts for approximately 500 million liters of Australian wine per year or 40 percent of Australian wine production—making it by far our largest individual wine market.” South Australia is the largest wine-growing region in the country, responsible for 50% of wine production. The region is followed by New South Whales, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, though there are now 65 regions/sub-regions and around 100 varietals planted across the nation.
The rapidly changing temperature and landscape of our planet is a main topic of concern in Australian viticulture today. The effects of global warming on Australia’s agriculture is vast, and as a result, the industry is constantly experimenting with adaptation in vineyard management, increased irrigation, vineyard floor management, alternate varieties, harvesting earlier, and looking for cooler vineyard sites. Australia has also seen a major increase in organic and biodynamic farming in recent years. In a land dominated by large scale commercial wineries that are trying to protect the consistency of their product, the New Wave of winemakers are insisting that we need to find a healthier way to produce.
Wines from our tasting:
Powell & Son Riesling Eden Valley, Australia 2017:
This Riesling comes from the well-established winemaker Dave Powell (formerly of Torbreck Vintners—one of my favorites) and his son Collum, who started their own operation in 2014. Some say Dave Powell still has one foot in the old world and one in the new world. Collum and Dave are now working with six vineyard sites in Barossa and Eden valley planted with Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro, and Riesling. They also have a single vineyard and regional series, and their viticultural management involves using organic and biodynamic farming practices. This Riesling we tasted comes from a single site with high elevation—460 meters above sea level—and is sourced from a five-acre vineyard, with some 80-year-old vines that are dry farmed. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented dry before bottling. The wine on the nose was ringing all signs of petrol notes, crushed rocks that gave way to white flowers, and on the palate, refreshing lime notes with high acidity.
Unico Zelo ‘Truffle Hound’ Barbera & Nebbiolo Clare Valley, Australia 2017:
Unico Zelo was started in 2012 by Brendan & Laura Carter, who were looking to make minimal intervention wines using alternate varieties suitable for warmer climates, with higher aromatics and savory qualities. They produce an array of styles, like this crushable red, a skin contact white, and a Pet Nat. All are very exciting and “made for the people.”
The “Truffle Hound” is named after the Piedmont region of Italy, home of the Nebbiolo grape and a land rich with truffles that dogs—and formerly pigs—hunt and dig up. This blend in previous vintages included Sangiovese, a newer grape variety to Australia. This 2017 blend was 70% Barbera and 30% Nebbiolo. Although on the nose it smelled familiar, beyond that I was stumped as to where to place it.
Here the soil is red loam on slate and the grapes are destemmed, wild fermentation, with a short maceration, raised in stainless steel, no oak here. What this did on the palate was keep it fresh—this wine was served at around 59 degrees, a perfect slight chill that kept it easy drinking. The fruit was not overripe, even a bit tart. One person claimed to get cinnamon on the nose while another said it was more similar in weight to a pinot noir—both of them were right. What a delicious introduction to other grapes of Australia—a nod to the future of more sustainable winemakers coming in to show the diversity that this land has to offer.
If you would like to buy these two wines please contact Shiraz Noor at Acker Wines. LBV Social Club members get a discount through our partnership!
Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on October 14th, 2020. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.
First photo via Foodism
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