Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Naming Australian wines from Italian and 'alternative' varieties

I've been thinking a bit about the options for choosing names of wines made in Australia from Italian or other 'alternative' varieties. Pizzini have had a bet each way. Their base wine is labelled for the variety - Pizzini Sangiovese 2008, etc - whereas the top tier sangiovese gets a flash name from an Italian word - Rubacuori (which means heartbreaker).

The Castagna sangiovese has been named La Chiave (key) and later Un Segreto for his 'secret' Super-Beechworth blend of sangiovese and syrah.

Coriole call their basic sangiovese by the name of the variety, Contour 4 as the name for their shiraz-sangiovese blend, and then flag the 'Brunello clone' as the label for that clonal selection wine.

This coming year, I'll hopefully have the first pick and make from the 2006 plantings of tempranillo planted at Quarry Hill (the sagrantino and sangiovese are further off). One option is to label it as tempranillo, another is to give it a name with a Spanish flavour. Pronouncing the Spanish word for quarry, which is 'cantera' in an Australian accent would certainly be a point of distinction...

Underneath these decisions are perhaps some other choices: are these wines Australian wines with some kinds of local distinctiveness (and therefore perhaps should have a local name), or is the Italian or Spanish connection (whether intended to be imitative or not) significant enough to warrant a word or phrase from that language? A veer into the piss-elegant could be all too easy here, but perhaps using a foreign word tongue-in-cheek is the most Australian thing to do?

Pizzini Sangiovese 2008

To me, there is a kind of triangle of styles with sangiovese in Australia. There is Coriole's well-made and well-marketed sangiovese from McLaren Vale, priced at under $20 rrp a bottle. There is the small-volume and high quality boutique sangiovese from Castagna in Beechworth, in the over $50 rrp bracket.

At the third point in this triangle is Pizzini, with their entry level sangiovese in the $25-$30 price range. Pizzini also do a super-premium Rubacuori version of their sangiovese at a super-premium price.

In the past, I have enjoyed vintages of the basic Pizzini sangiovese, but have never quite been convinced that it offers good value for money compared to the Coriole basic wine. With the 2008 Pizzini release, from a challenging King Valley vintage, I think I am changing my mind.

The wine opens attractively, with bright red fruits to smell. The fruit has real depth of flavour, especially through the somewhat sweet mid-palate. The acid and tannin profiles are varietal and settled, as is the oak presence. The fruit built in weight and length on the second night. For $27 a bottle, this is Australian sangiovese of genuine interest.

On the first night, this matched well with a 1kg t-bone steak done in bistecca alla fiorentina style. As the fruit put on weight for night two, the wine then matched well with a wet-roast of organic lamb leg, borlotti beans and rosemary.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Primo Estate Moda 1997

If pressed, I would probably pick the Primo Estate Moda part 'amarone' as my favourite Australian 'Italian' wine. The wine is mainly cabernet sauvignon, with some merlot blended in. The distinctive, 'Italianate' feature of the wine is the rack-drying of a portion of the grapes, in the method of amarone. The result is a wine built for ageing, developing attractive leathery and sometimes tarry characters after ten years. To my palate, the drying process modifies the cabernet tannins, adding an additional bittersweet character, somewhat like bitter chocolate.

The 1997 Moda is 90% cabernet sauvignon from McLaren Vale, with 10% Merlot from both Coonawarra and McLaren Vale. It opens up with bitter cocoa, resolved cabernet fruit, a hint of coffee and an attractive depth of fine, drying tannins. On the showing of this bottle, the wine will continue to develop over the next three years (though this had a perfect cork).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Frati, Ca Dei Frati, Lugana 2008

Tasted blind, this offered some interesting richness of texture and palate weight. As well as lemon rind and a refreshing crunch of acid, there is something spicy going on as well. At the time, I wondered if this was 100% dry. It had some of the characteristics of a richer riesling, and some of what I thought reminded me of grechetto.

Hailing from Lombardy, this is Ca Dei Frati's top white wine. Four generations of the Dal Cero family have worked the estate since it was purchased in 1940, the estate is focussed on lugana (a type of trebbiano). This did not show that well for me in this tasting, but suspect with air and over a lengthier time (like dinner or a long lunch) would have been more attractive. Definitely not a bland version of trebbiano, much of this went through malolactic ferment before spending months in tank on lees, then going from steel to bottle. It would go well with a seafood salad.