Upmarket Riverland: Antiquarian Rare Field White 2016
Not an oxymoron. My “[Y]ou ain’t seen nothing yet” guest blog post for Wine Australia about Alternative Varieties flags another trend. The rise of the Murray. Not floods, no. I’m talking about the rise of characterful, premium wines from the Riverland and Murray-Darling. Alternative varieties are one branch of this trend, wines from old vines another.
As its name suggests, Antiquarian Rare Field White 2016 is an example of the latter. This fascinating piece of Murray vinous driftwood elicited much praise at Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines’ tasting. Surprise too. With concentration, complexity and structure, its old vine credentials were plain enough to see. But who would have guessed this £30 wine came from the Riverland?
I must say, I’d not twigged this old vine trend until I chatted with Ashley Ratcliff of Ricca Terra Farms about his upcoming releases of Riverland Arinto and Tinta Barroca (more Australian surprises!) When I mentioned I’d just tasted Antiquarian he told me that the Riverland has some very old vineyards that date back to World War Two (perhaps plots were given to returning soldiers?)
Apparently Brash Higgins Zibbibo – one of my picks from last year’s 21st Century Vino Tasting – is from Ricca Terra Farm’s 1945 dry grown vineyard on red loam over limestone. And Ratcliff is currently working on an old vine Riverland project with Giles Cooke MW (whose Thistledown old vine Grenaches have appeared in these pages).
Ratcliff is hoping that these projects, together with the increased trade in grapes which he is seeing as a consultant, will help rectify what he identifies as a current deficiency – “where are the best spots.” Find them, he reckons, and the region has “huge potential.” Not least because the Riverland is starting to see the return of a younger, edgier generation who are savvier about how to market their wines. Ratcliff name-checks Con-Greg Grigoriou of Delinquente Wine Co., whose Vermetino and Montepulciano I liked very much at Wine Australia’s Artisans of Australia tasting.
Antiquarian Rare Field Blend White 2016 (Riverland, South Australia)
The Antiquarian Rare Field White is made from mature Muscadelle, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Semillon vines from Byrne Family Estate, who own two Riverland vineyards first planted in the 1960s and 1970s. I don’t know the exact age of the oldest vines, but Ratcliff described them as “bony, gnarly vines.” As for the wine, it was the joint creation of Byrne Family Estate’s winemaker Peter Gajewski (ex-Penfolds) and Phil Reedman MW (who, incidentally, also had a hand in the Murray’s alternative varietal revolution). The grapes were picked the same day, then naturally co-fermented and aged in seasoned French oak barrels. It’s like a funky take on a Bordeaux blend, with firm acidity, smoky oak and sweet vanillin nuances, grass of the lawn (fresh herbal) and hashish (sweet herbal) variety, cusp of ripeness stone fruit and exotic roasted lime. Good body, depth and line. I’m with Jukes on his comparison with Swartland white blends, though I reckon this looks a little pricey in comparison (and, for me, a touch oaky, though it’s early days so should have time to integrate). I do, however, very much like the ambition. This wine turned my head. 14% RRP £30, imported by Awin Barratt Seigel.