What’s new in Australia?
Australia is big on wine – both in terms of producing it and consuming it. But there’s a new moon rising Down Under and Bibendum wine educator, Monica Allan, reports on what’s hot and happening following a recent trip to Australia.
The cool kids
Many of the wines I tasted were from cool climate areas, like Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley, as well as lesser-known parts such as Heathcote, King Valley, Beechworth and Alpine Valley. These areas are moderated by Antarctic winds and/or higher altitudes, producing wines that are refined and elegant, with mouth-watering acidity, ripe fruit and a lean body.
Many producers are keen to claim their vineyards are ‘cool climate’, since this term has become synonymous with higher quality. In reality though, very few regions can be described as genuinely cool climate. In those that are, the weather is considerably more marginal, and so viticulture has to be incredibly accurate.
Australian-grown Italian varietals are prominent on wine lists and in the Off Trade sector. Viticulture here isn’t bound by the same rules and regulations as Europe in terms of what grape varieties you can plant, making it less restrictive and therefore more commercial and efficient. Sangiovese and varieties from North East and North West Italy, such as Barbera and Nebbiolo, are grown with great success, as is Fiano and Vermentino.
As in the rest of the wine world, there’s a move towards more artisanal production and Australia too is seeing a surge in small producers employing different techniques and making interesting wines. One technique of note is skin contact whites (also known as orange wine), which have added texture and flavour. Although little talked about until recently, skin contact has in fact been employed by many winemakers over a number of years.
A small number of artisanal producers are also making white wines in a red wine style, that is, all grapes fermented on skins. These are popping up on wine lists everywhere, made from a range of grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and even Sauvignon Blanc.
The new Prosecco?
Pet-nats, short for petillant naturals, is another new style of wine edging its way onto wine lists. These are made in the methode ancestrale, where primary fermentation finishes in the bottle. Most producers are small-scale, using a wide variety of grapes. The wines are marketed as fun and not to be taken too seriously – a great alternative to Prosecco. They also appeal to those who prefer natural wines, as often nothing is added apart from minimal sulphur dioxide at times. While not a fine wine or destined to be aged, these are very drinkable and worth a try.
Written by Bibendum wine educator, Monica Allan