Ask my dad what wine he’d like in a restaurant and he’ll proudly announce “ABC” (Anything but Chardonnay). This phrase, for the younger readers out there, is a hangover from a time in the 1980s when New World wine-makers were churning out over-ripe, oak-sodden wines at blistering speed and attempting to pump them into every crevice of the globe.
One of the countries still held to account for this is Australia. However, as Jamie’s trip Down Under comes to a close, I thought it a good time to write about a few of my favourite winemakers, making unique wines in a country that is still, at times, a little misunderstood.
Riesling ‘Young Vines’ Crawford River 2011 | Victoria
Run by a husband and wife duo, this single-estate makes some of the freshest wines in Victoria. Their Young Vines Riesling is a beautiful example of wines from cooler maritime Australian climates, and a world away from the classic Rieslings of Germany or Austria. This ultra-clean wine is a tidal wave of lime and quince, and can be drunk with or without food, which is a key criteria for me heading into the summer months in the UK.
At only 11-years old, the hand-pruned vines are relatively young, but don’t let that put you off. The mineral-rich soil and increased implementation of biodynamic and organic practices brought to the vineyards by the duo’s daughter, Belinda, makes this a true contender among the Goliath estates of the region.
This little number took me by surprise at a tasting at Sager+Wilde in London a few months ago and I haven’t been able to take my mind off it since. Most wine-lovers know pinot meunier to be the lesser of the grapes that go into making Champagne and sparkling wines around the world. It’s common to see wines made solely from chardonnay or pinot noir; however, pinot meunier is often left out of the picture for single-varietal wines.
Henry Best founded his winery in 1866 and was known for planting an array of rare grapes, the wines from which have made him and his successors some of the most respected winemakers in Victoria. His pinot meunier vines are among the oldest in the world.
Best’s Old Vine pinot is a great example of this winery’s unique and imaginative creations. The wine is elegant with a body not dissimilar to that of pinot noir, with soft bramble fruits, spice and a touch of herbiness. Its perky acidity gives this wine a beautiful structure that makes it a perfect match with food.
If you ever get the chance to try this or any other wine made exclusively from pinot meunier, I thoroughly recommend it. I look forward to seeing more winemakers come to the fore with lesser-known varietals, as the results are often more than pleasantly surprising.
Another Australian mind-blower I tried recently is Joseph’s Sparkling Red from the McClaren Vale of South Australia. Joseph’s winery is a family-owned business with strong Italian heritage; its owner, Primo Grilli, arrived on Australian shores from the Marche region of Italy in the 1950s with dreams of a sun-drenched life making wine free from the relatively strict winemaking laws of his birthplace.
The result was a sensationally innovative sparkling red wine, made in a unique style that pays homage to Primo’s northern Italian roots. The base wine used is a blend of Australia’s favourite grapes from the 60s and 70s, and this is mixed with the current year’s offerings, such as their Amarone-style Moda and their top Shiraz. This wine is then extracted each year and topped up with an old Australian fortified wine in the bottle. The result is a dazzlingly rich and super-smooth number with intense black and baked fruits, held together with a vivaciously high acidity and a luxurious dollop of creamy oak.
These daring and almost audacious wine-making techniques have won Joseph’s Sparkling Red adoration and respect from wine lovers around the world, and today the wine is often considered both Australia’s most distinctive sparkling red and a true contender among the world’s classics.