How are your New Year’s resolutions working out? Not good? I thought so. What about a wine pledge instead? Make it an achievable goal by focussing on one word: diversity.
Why? Because there’s so much more to discover and enjoy than the usual suspects. It’s boring circling the mainstays of shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and the seemingly endless flow of sauvignon blanc. Don’t get me wrong, I dig them, but not every day, especially when there are hundreds of varieties and styles to try.
Don’t know where to start? Read on.
A way to be adventurous is to seek out grapes that hail from less familiar countries. Georgia, for example, is a country in the Caucasus that is arguably the oldest producing wine region in the world, notching up at least 8000 years. Its most widely planted red, saperavi, has a foothold in Australia too. It’s intensely coloured, laden with character, and with good acidity and tannins. Not all saperavi is big and bolshie – it can be more like an elegant syrah, depending on where it’s grown – but if you love shiraz from McLaren Vale or the Barossa Valley, then try saperavi from those regions. Since shiraz is our most widely grown variety, it makes the Georgian equivalent a nice fit.
You can consider tempranillo and barbera as shiraz alternatives too. The finest barbera comes from its native region of Piedmont in Italy, with top local options coming from the King Valley, and in the Yarra Valley, TarraWarra has a super barbera. Australian tempranillo has never been better than it is right now, taking in a wide spectrum of styles from light and fresh to structured and detailed. Mayford in the Alpine Valleys falls into the latter, while its neighbour Billy Button makes a lighter-framed one. In McLaren Vale, check out the offerings of SC Pannell. It’s also worth looking west to Geographe and Margaret River for tempranillo.
If you like Margaret River’s cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, think about venturing towards malbec instead. Langhorne Creek is the grape’s spiritual home in Australia, but the Clare Valley has good options too. A bit left of centre is montepulciano, a variety from Abruzzo in Italy, which is flourishing here thanks to its bright fruit flavours and distinct tannins.
FRESH WHITESWhen it comes to chardonnay, Australia’s most widely planted white, we’re making cracking examples, but have you tried fiano yet? Or friulano, or roussanne? And weaning drinkers off sauvignon blanc, there’s no shortage of possibilities. For crisp and crunchy, try vermentino. For textural and spicy, look to gruner veltliner, especially from the Adelaide Hills – the 2018 Artwine In The Groove won three trophies at the recent Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (my last as its chief of judges), including the top gong – Best Wine of Show.
As a guide, comparing varieties can be useful, but don’t get bogged down. Go for something different and appreciate it for what it is – a drink in its own right. So here’s to a new year comprising deliciously diverse wines. We can all cheers to that.