Chalmers they did: cutting edge Italian varietal Australian wines
Sisters Kim and Tenille Chalmers have just dropped me off at Melbourne airport for my flight home after a couple of days talking and tasting no less than 64 Australian wines made from Italian varieties. A full on Chalmers’ charm offensive! That said, the numbers were pretty evenly split between their own Chalmers‘ label and other producers’ wines, albeit made with fruit from the famous wine growing/nursery family’s Mildura and Heathcote vineyards.
It was fascinating to taste them with fellow writers and Italian wine experts Jane Faulkner and Walter Speller. The group’s insights and the sisters’ irresistable enthusiasm have teed me up rather nicely for my return for The Australian Alternative Varieties Show in November.
With a plane to catch I’ll make it short (!), but I thought you might be interested to know about those varieties/wines which really stood out to me.
Fiano was hotly tipped by the panel at September’s 21st Century Vino tasting in London last year and this visit confirmed that this Campanian grape performs extremely well in Australia.
Especially a vertical from Chalmers which demonstrated that the grape’s acidity makes it a keeper in every sense of the word. The oldest vintage – the 2011 – was particularly impressive, while a lipsmacking Method Traditional sparkling version (Chalmers Felicitas 2014) was quite simply delicious.
What do I like about it? Aside from its well-focused, persistent acidity the wines have a richness and sweetness of fruit – preserved lemons, persimmon – with balancing, subtly pithy, texture. To my mind (and admittedly the wines were young), you need to be judicious with wood – it seemed to ratchet up the sweetness a little too much in some examples.
Another white Campanian grape which is looking good already. I thought An Ape is Loose Greco 2015 terrific – mineral, textured, long and persistent with dusty grapefruit peel and a salty, leesy, dry finish. It doesn’t seem to have the freshness of the Fiano, but for early drinking it has lots of interest. Just 12.8%. It is made by de Bortoli’s Andrew Bretherton.
That said, with skin contact (3 days), Chalmers Project Greco 2015 was fine racy – very lively and arrow straight in comparison with their conventional take on this grape. Lots of interest, with playful, not domineering skin contact spice.
Incidentally, the Chalmers sisters told me that another favourite Campanian variety Falanghina is on the cards.
All three 2015s from Chalmers, Bellwether and Kate Goodman looked very good/consistent – less fruity than the Fiano, but fruitier than the Greco with classic nutty/textural notes to the finish and a whisper of breakfast grapefruit and peel. The oak is in the driving seat on the Goodman at the moment, but nonetheless, this was a very polished wine.
Moscato is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is headily perfumed and typically made in an off dry style – think florals, canteloupe, pear, lemon verbena and fresh ginger. Fruity and off dry with exotic canteloupe notes, elderflower and nice mid-palate weight 2015 Montevecchio Moscato Giallo would slip down ever so easily and, with a touch of spritz, refreshingly on a hot day. With 14 days skin contact and fermentation/ageing in old oak for 8 months, 2015 Vinteloper Park Wine Moscato Giallo is a drier, spicier example, with more texture. Very well done (and love the packaging Mr Bowley).
Campanian varieties were something of a winner! I’ve already written up an example of Aglianico from Alpine Valleys – Fighting Gully Road – one of my January Wines of the Month here. The variety shows great character and texture with black olive and spice notes aplenty. It seems fresher (and lighter) in expression than the Italian varieties I’ve tasted.
The Chalmers 2011 from a cool year had beguiling lift, with dried herbal, Camp Coffee, orange peel and dried roses to its fleshy fruit. I loved its texture and complexity with levity – it weighs in at just 11.8% abv. Kim Chalmers told me it’s a family favourite and, from the top of the Heathcote site, ripens really late, happily hanging out in the summer and autumn heat. With hen and chicken (small berries), they never have to acidify it.
Everyone else seemed much keener on the Nero d’Avola reds than me. I just missed a bit of purchase on the palate (structure/tannin) and layer, though I liked their freshness.
I preferred the Negroamaro reds. Like the Nero d’Avola much fresher/brighter than the Italian versions I have tasted but with classic bitter chocolate and cherry notes. Additionally with juicy blood plum and sandy tannins, the 2015 Chalmers Negroamaro was right up my street – a serious, smashable red with white pepper lift. Spicier still, Kate Goodman Negroamaro 2015 grew on me with air, revealing Campari florals.