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Times are Changing

Published: Monday, 17 February 2014 Written by Peter Panousis, Mezzanine Wines

With the passing of the festive months where wine consumption was limited to copious quantities of Champagne, Rieslings, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz and the odd bottle or two of Vodka I look forward to getting back into the swing of things and passing my time this Autumn with wine made from alternative grapes varieties.

Alternative grape varieties are not new to the Australia wine scene but they are receiving more attention. For many years I’ve read about the rise and rise of new varieties but finally it appears they are finding their way into more commercial wine stores and wine lists and consequently in the mouths of consumers.


Initially alternative varieties arrived as direct imports from Europe, South Africa and South America where as consumers we experienced the best (and worst) examples of the real deal. No surprise really that many are grown in Australia now from clones that were establishment with nurseries like CSIRO, Yalumba and Chalmers propagating many varieties locally since the early 70’s. Subsequently, it was only a matter of time before domestic vineyards began planting and making delicious wines out of the alternative varieties. As a value add Australian winemakers soon discovered that alternative varieties flourished in our ever warmer climates with some needing less water and spraying than traditional varieties like Chardonnay to generate good yields and quality.

In 2007 I recall tasting one of the early versions of a locally made Albarino (now called Savagnin – a winemaker discovered that the wrong graft stock was sent to Australia by the Spanish authorities hence the name change). I was curious but delighted at the tasting stating 'what a refreshing alternative to the likes of Sauvignon Blanc'. Needless to say but I will, consumers are screaming for new stuff as choice is important. In short, who wants to drink the same wine every night right?

The growth of the new alternative varieties in our market place is real and tangible and not hyperbole or a short lived Sommelier driven desire. For example, the growth of alternative varieties is best witnessed by the Australian Alternative Wine Show where in 1999 the show hosted only 28 entries, now it received over 600 entries with over 83 different varieties shown.

There are numerous alternative varieties found in Australia and some have been around for a few years now such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Zinfandel, Barbera, Gruner Veltliner, Marsanne, Roussanne, Arneis etc. However, I am noticing other new varieties which includes Vermentino, Fiano, Langrein, Nero d’ Avola, Sagrantino and Anglianco. So look out for them.

Vermentino has its origins in southern Italy, Corsica and Sardinia and grows well in our warm climate. The variety can produce wines with firm acidity and good aromatic notes of floral, lemon blossoms, nectarines, with pronounced briny notes and minerality. If I cracked open a bottle of Vermentino I would enjoy it with crispy calamari or whitebait or even freshly shucked oysters. Adding credibility is Mike Bennie who wrote the following recently about Vermentino – 'If Vermentino is a future star grape in Australia then #wines like the 2011 Chalmers Heathcote Vermentino will be leading the way'.

Fiano another Italian variety which has its origins in Campania, Naples Italy is hitting form in Australia. Aromatic with lovely aromas of citrus, peach and nectarines it is a pure delightful to the palate providing high acidity and texture. Try this wine with seafood, fish or quiche – yummy. Look out for Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills Fiano or Chalmers Heathcote Fiano – truly amazing.

Langrein is yet another Italian Variety providing some interest and appeal. Wines made from Langrein provide good tannin and sour plum, bitter cherries and some earth mocha flavours. Montevecchio from Heathcote do an excellent Rosato (Rose) which is juicy and plush yet finishes dry on the palate and made from 100% Langrein.

Nero d’ Avola yet another Italian variety from Sicily could be the next best thing. Nero tends to show blueberry, currents, rosehip and sweet spicy notes. The palate is smooth and silky with soft pervading tannins. Try it with pizza. Brash Higgins from McLaren Vale and Chalmers from Heathcote are fine Australian examples.

Sagrantino another Italian variety with origins in Umbria is another variety making its way on the Australian wine scene. The variety tends to be high in acid and tannins but is particular good with food such as pork. Wines made from Sagrantino tend to be aromatic and spicy with notes of blueberry. The wine can be inky and dense. Again look out for Chalmers Sagrantino from Murray Darling, NSW and it’ s not for the feint-hearted.

Yet another is Aglianico and is often referred to as the ' Barolo from the South (Italy)' although its roots may have its origins in Greece. Aglianico is elegant yet powerful with notes of blueberry, cherry, spice and fruitcake. Wines made from Aglianico have fine tannins but build requiring age to tame. Try the Chalmers Aglianico from Murray Darling NSW with char-grilled poultry or meat – delightful.

These varieties are just some the exciting changes happening to the wine industry in Australia. Get behind the diversity and experience the alternative new wine order. Look for the exciting Chalmers wines on Happy and safe drinking.

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