The wonderful wizards of Oz

Alternative varieties from down under
Alternative varieties from down under

OK, not wizards perhaps, but some of the wines now coming out of Australia from forward-thinking wine-makers, seems a bit like wizardry.

Forget Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and think Verdelho, Fiano, Lagrein and Nero d’Avola – grape varieties more associated with Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal than Australia.

There are 130 different grape varieties grown in Oz, yet the majority of consumers can only think of a handful associated with the country.

Not any longer. A new wave of wines is now coming out from down under, fuelled in part by the domestic market and the desire for something different, but also by the international audience looking for lighter, flavoursome whites and reds which are full of flavour, but with some subtlety and complexity.

Here is a half-dozen, three whites and three reds, which come highly recommended.

First, is a white wine from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, the region where Australia’s first vineyards were planted in 1788. Tyrrell’s Old Winery Verdelho 2017, made from a variety more associated with Portugal, is light, refreshing, versatile and fruit-driven, with bags of flavour and a tangy finish. £9.50 from The Wine Society.

Next up is a Fiano 2017 from Hancock and Hancock in the McLaren Vale (specialists such as Fareham Wine Cellar around £12.75). This Italian variety has a high tolerance to heat and near-drought conditions and is considered to be the future grape variety for McLaren Vale, along with others such as Vermentino. Zesty citrus and pear flavours, with hints of nectatine and floral notes.

My last white is a blend of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussane, classic white varieties from the Southern Rhone Valley. These work magnificently in Australia’s Central Victoria region and Tahbilk The Tower MVR 2016 is a delight for the taste buds. Medium bodied, fresh, with plenty of apricot, peach and herby flavours. A steal at only £8.50 at the moment, again from The Wine Society.

The first of my reds is also from The Wine Society, from Heartland Wines in South Australia. A combination of the Northern Italian grape varieties Lagrein and Dolcetto, growing happily in the warm Langhorne Creek region, it is made by wine-maker Ben Glaetzer. Full-bodied, rich and brimming with dark cherry fruit, raisins and chocolate (£11.50 for the 2014). My next red is another blend of varieties from the Southern Rhone – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – called GSM by Robert Oatley and made in the McLaren Vale, under the watchful eye of Larry Cherubino. Ripe, red fruits with deep structure, smooth tannins and a peppery, gamey finish. £12 - £14 from Oxford Wine Co.

The last of my six is from a grape variety associated almost entirely with Sicily – Nero d’Avola. Fox Gordon is a family run winery with a contemporary approach, with a philosophy of low-yields to give maximum flavour. Their Nero d’Avola 2016 from the Adelaide Hills, is a modern Aussie dream of a red. Juicy, dark fruits, with fine, soft tannins and hints of chocolate, spice and subtle oak. Find it online for £16-£17.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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