Colourful & quirky Australia Day Tasting highlights

Chris Druitt of Quealy Winemakers shows off ‘methode ancestrale fizz & []

Australian producers’ innovation and irreverence (in a good way) never ceases to amaze me.  They cannot claim to have focused on a specific variety/ies matched to terroir for as many centuries as France’s vignerons, but they take full advantage of the freedom to grow what grapes they want where and to make the wines they want to make.  

Which leads me neatly to the first of my alternative Australian highlights of last month’s Australia Day Tasting – a Méthode Ancestrale sparkling Muscat from Mornington Peninsula.

Quealy Winemakers Secco Splendido Muscat Blanc 2016 (Mornington Peninsula)

Muscat or Moscato is big business down under, where it mostly finds its way into mass produced, budget, fun, sweet styles of fizz.  This example from Quealy Winemakers could not be more different.  For starters, it’s made using the so-called Méthode Ancestrale. This involves halting the primary fermentation prematurely, so as to leave the residual sugar which will ‘feed’ a second fermentation in bottle (i.e. no dosage or added sugar required).  This in turn creates the fizz, because the carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle.  From a single vineyard – Vaughan’s vineyard – in Merricks North, Secco Splendido preserves perfectly Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains’ fresh, grapey, muskily perfumed character.  And, because it is not disgorged, it has a bit of texture and substance about it too.  Lovely persistence too.  In other words, it’s more serious than most (and on account of its relative dryness) and less delicate of frame – more rustic – than Moscato d’Asti.   12.5% UK RRP £15, Les Caves de Pyrene

Quealy Winemakers Pobblebank 2016 (Mornington Peninsula)

It’s good to see the single varietal status quo challenged by innovative blends like this.  Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Chardonnay, Riesling and Moscato Giallo come together to refresh those parts which one alone could not.  This wine is aromatic, fresh and fleshy – very complete – with a creamy palate with cool orchard fruits and a persistent push of bright citrus.   Nicely done.  13% UK RRP £21.50, Les Caves de Pyrene

Alpha Box & Dice ‘Dead Winemakers Society’ Dolcetto 2015 (Adelaide Hills)

Alpha Box & Dice ‘Dead Winemakers Society’ Dolcetto 2015 pictured right.

Now owned by brothers Dylan & Justin Fairweather, the winemaking at Alpha Box & Dice is down to 27 year old Sam Berteka who, said importer Boutinot’s Robin Naylor, “has transformed the wines into much fresher, livelier and more varietally true wines.”  A bright but funky wild Dolcetto with a pluck of plum skin as well as flesh has a gloriously heady perfume of damask rose.  The Dolcetto was sourced from two vineyards in Kuitpo, Adelaide Hills – Christmas Hill and Yacca Paddock.  It was de-stemmed and whole berry fermented, then aged in 50:50 old oak & stainless steel for 18 months.   13.5%  UK RRP £16.99 Boutinot

Alpha Box & Dice ‘Enigma Barbera 2015 (Adelaide Hills)

Great varietal typicity to this inky, juicy Barbera with sweet, smooth, ripe black cherry and berry fruit and a tapering, well focused, fresh finish.  14%  UK RRP £16.99 Boutinot

Alpha Box & Dice ‘F is for Fog’ Nebbiolo 2014 (Adelaide Hills)

A brooding, savoury, long and interesting Nebbiolo, with dark berry fruit, orange peel spice and a fine mist of sustaining tannins which builds on the finish, but doesn’t cloak the wine.  Boutinot

Alpha Box & Dice Xola Aglianico 2014 (McLaren Vale)

Xola Aglianico pictured left

Really inky – a little high toned even – with opulent, very intense blueberry and black olive and a swathe of sumptuous, velvety tannins.  A wine to kick back over on a cold night with a slow cooked stew or tagine.

Crittenden Estate Oggi 2015 (Victoria)

Crittenden’s 2013 Oggi was one of my picks of ADT 2015’s alternative varietal wines.  ‘Oggi’ is Italian for today and this wine is a moving feast, because each year it goes by a different recipe (you can read about the philosophy on its very own website here).  The 2015 is still a tri-varietal blend but with two different varieties, Fiano and Vermentino (60% & 12% respectively from the Chalmers’ Heathcote vineyard) instead of Friuliano and Savagnin.  Arneis from the Crittenden’s home vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula is the constant.  Made like a red wine, Oggi 2015 was wild fermented on skins in open vats for two weeks before being pressed to old barriques.  It spent 10 months in the same barrels on gross lees before being blended and bottled with minimal filtration and a small SO2 addition.  The nose and palate of the 2015 is quite different.  Still spicy if less spicy, with none of the smokiness I found in the 2013. Rather the 2015 is rounder, fleshier and purer fruited with juicy yellow plum and ripe pear with sweet notes of dried honey, nutty lees and oak (though it sees no new oak).  Nice balance and mouthfeel with the freshness to underpin and extend the fruit. (Incidentally, I’d loved to have tasted the latest release of Crittenden’s Los Hermanos Saludo al Txakoli, but it had all gone!) 13% UK RRP £21.50 Field Morris & Verdin

Coriole Fiano 2015 (McLaren Vale)

Australian Fiano comes in a range of styles – some focused and zippy, others richer and riper.  From Fiano pioneer Coriole, this is an example of the former, with plenty of vim and vigour – freshness and bite – to its citrus-fueled palate.  13% UK RRP £16.75 Seckford Agencies

Coriole Nero 2015 (McLaren Vale)

The follow on 2016 vintage of Coriole’s Nero d’Avola scooped a heap of trophies and best wine of show at The Australian Alternative Variety Wine Show at which I judged last year (my report here).  So I was keen to taste this one.  It’s equally good, with the tangy, fresh, perfumed, slightly jubey, ripe blueberry and blackberry fruit I recall of the ’16; some nice liquorice/coltsfoot spice too.  Ripe but gently textural tannins add interest.  Vibrant, very expressive.  14% UK RRP £16.75 Seckford Agencies

Trentham Estate ‘The Family’ Nero d’Avola 2015 (Murray-Darling)

A slightly lighter style than the Coriole from Trentham Estate, but the varietal typicity shines brightly.  It’s juicy, with blue and black berry fruit, red liquorice and jube, with a slippery, savoury, leesy note to the finish.  Highly drinkable.  For me, the better performer than the Nebbiolo, which was just too soft for me.  13.5% UK RRP £12.95 Seckford Agencies

Angelicus Verdejo 2016 (Geographe)

Impressive varietal typicity from a region which, like Rueda, can turn out a good Savvy Blanc, so perhaps no surprises there.  Angelicus’ Verdejo sports tart’n tangy red apple skins, juicy melon and a hint of fennel.  Well done but I reckon this will be a tough sell given the great value on offer from Rueda.  10.3% UK RRP £21.49 Awin Barratt Siegel 

Hahndorf Hill GRU Gruner Veltliner 2016 (Adelaide Hills)

Dry with a touch of orange peel to a nose and palate which has good varietal typicity, mouthfeel, freshness and balance to its white pepper edged vegetal notes and lively thrust of grapefruit. Nice work from Hahndorf Hill – pioneers of Austrian varieties in Australia. 12%  UK RRP £21.49 Awin Barratt Siegel

Payten & Jones Valley Vignerons Series Sangiovese 2014 (Yarra Valley)

Plum, spice, mineral, liquorice and tea leaf notes mingle seamlessly in this delicious Sangio from Peyton & Jones. The tannins are quite yielding for the variety, which makes for a pretty, un-pushed red, which treads lightly over the palate.  Scores highly on drinkability and interest.  Fruit is sourced from the Hendra Vineyard in Gruyere on silty clay loam with mudstone and gravel; the vines are 16 years old.  13%  UK RRP £21.49 Awin Barratt Siegel

Payten & Jones Solera 1 Leuconoe Sangiovese NV (Yarra Valley)

And now for something completely different.  From the same vineyard/vines and yet this non-vintage solera example is an inkily perfumed, well structured Sangiovese with a hint of iodine to its brooding dark berry fruit and a plume of fine but firm tannins.  Almost too dark and brooding, but rescued by a lack of heaviness to the palate despite the ‘density’ of flavour.  13.5%  UK RRP £30.75 Awin Barratt Siegel

Click here for my overview post about the day on Wine Australia’s blog.

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