There are exciting times ahead in the wine world.
Once a pretty conservative area where Old World tipples dominated, the wine scene is lately effervescing with a new wave of bold changes and explorations, all of which promise wine lovers a slew of new wine styles to enjoy.
GRÜNER VELTLINER DOWN UNDER
Oenophiles who lament about the predictability of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand might want to check out the country’s Grüner Veltliner wines. The Austrian white grape—known for its racy acidity and citrusy flavours—was first planted on Kiwi turf by Coopers Creek winery in 2008. It has since caught on with some of New Zealand’s top producers such as Babich, Saint Clair Family Estate and Waimea Estate.
“Grüner Veltliner represents a style of wine—the bolder, reserve-style Austrian quaffs—that may yet be missing from many New Zealand producers’ range of wines,” says Stewart Maclennan, senior winemaker of Saint Clair Family Estate, which owns Grüner Veltliner vineyards in Marlborough. “This, combined with Grüner’s affinity for cooler and more temperate climates, contributed to our decision to grow this variety and see what could become of it. There are lots of wineries including the grape variety in their portfolios now, and the quality is improving.”
Wine lovers should keep tabs on the quaffs from Marlborough. Maclennan thinks the region’s Omaka Valley is a great site for growing the grape as the soil’s clay, sand and loess lend a better acidity to the fruit.
CHILEAN PINOT NOIR
Last year, Asda’s La Moneda Reserva Malbec from Chile picked up the Best Single Varietal Red Under £15 award at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The win encapsulated what Chilean wines have been offering over the past several years—quality quaffs at affordable prices.
Lush, powerful reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec which flourish in the Maipo Valley and Aconcagua Valley, have been the traditional flag bearers of Chile’s wine industry. But in recent years, Pinot Noir has been asserting itself quietly in cool climate areas like Casablanca and San Antonio.
According to Adolfo Hurtado, head winemaker of Cono Sur—the largest producer of Pinot Noir in the country—the temperatures in Maipo and Aconcagua never go beyond 27 degrees Celsius during summer. Pinot Noir laps up such mild weather during the growing season to develop the trademark complex aromas that have made it a darling among oenophiles.
The wines are promising. Vina Echevarria in Casablanca makes a Gran Reserva Pinot Noir that is reminiscent of a young Burgundian stunner— intense flavours matched by a perfumed bouquet. Cono Sur’s single vineyard Pinot Noir comes from a parcel located at the highest site in Campo Lindo, San Antonio, where its strong, cool winds give the fruit a protracted ripening process. “Chilean Pinot Noir will not be the flagship variety of Chile but it has great potential,” muses Hurtado. “Our Pinot Noir excellence will come not from our volume but rather, our quality.”
Sparkling wines from California, once viewed as bubbly plonk, are getting some newfound respect, thanks largely to the initiatives of Michael Cruse. The former lab researcher set up Ultramarine in 2008, with the intent of making sparkling wines with méthode champenoise, in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle instead of the tank (the latter is associated with the Charmat technique for prosecco and other mass market bubblies).
He also makes wines with the ancestral method—a technique that avoids the use of sugar, yeast and sulphur—as he believes it “shows off the purity of the grape”. Most of his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes come from the Charles Heintz vineyard in Sonoma Coast.
Like Ultramarine, Under The Wire is another noteworthy small Californian winery that produces bubbly using méthode champenoise. One of its signatures is a sparkling Zinfandel. Cruse thinks that people are now more open to different terroirs for sparkling wine, a key factor behind the growing popularity of smaller producers like himself. “Our wines are more interesting to drinkers because they are now more comfortable with distinctive styles of sparkling wines rather than the larger house styles,” he notes.
MARGARET RIVER’S NATURAL WINES
If the wine world has a ‘love them or hate them’ hipster equivalent, it is natural winemaking. Born in Beaujolais in the 1970s, the movement, which spread across Europe, emphasises back-to-basics, minimal-intervention winemaking such as using natural yeast, avoiding filtration and using little or no sulphur. In the new millennium, the ideology found a new fan base among independent vintners in California.
Natural winemaking then landed in South Australia. The hilly Basket Ranges near Adelaide became home to a group of natural vino acolytes like Anton van Klopper of Lucy Margaux Wines and Tom Shobbrook of Shobbrook Wines.
Next up, Margaret River where the conditions are conducive for natural winemaking. The winemaking, while not huge, is practised by many small wineries. Some members of the small natural vino community include Happs Wines, which has been quietly making natural wines like its PF (Preservative Free) range of ambrosias; Dormilona, run by winemaker Josephine Perry; and Amato Vino, where winemaker Brad Wehr works with alternative varieties like Nebbiolo and Montepulciano.
“Margaret River is a comparably ‘new’ player in the wine world, but it has always stuck to conservative expressions of typical French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot,” says Wehr. “Now, a younger bunch of winemakers are popping up. Some of whom have spent time in other countries making traditional-style wines which rely more on feel and sense instead of science and numbers. This group includes those who are playing with natural winemaking.”
It says a lot when the French are putting their faith in English terroir. Two years ago, champagne powerhouse Taittinger bought vineyards in Kent, England, with the goal of making English sparkling wines. The first vines will be planted in the region’s chalky soils this year.
Such bullishness from Taittinger is encouraging for the English wineries in southeastern England, where rolling hills sit amid a picturesque backdrop of the English coastline. In Kent, Sussex and Surrey, there are more than 100 wineries, each planting vines in the regions’ gentle chalk soils. Mark Harvey, managing director of Chapel Down winery in Kent, says the chalky earth is reminiscent of the land in Champagne, which explains why sparkling wine production is taking off in those regions. The classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are favoured among producers.
The bubblies have also gotten their fair share of accolades in recent years. At last year’s International Wine Challenge, English producers picked up an impressive 120 medals. A few of the notable gold winners for sparkling wines included Wiston Estate for its Blanc de Blancs 2010, and Nyetimber for its Blanc de Blanc 2009 and Classic Cuvée Magnum 2009.
Cover: Saint Clair family estate’s cellar door
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s January 2017 issue, The CNY issue – ‘Sprouting from the Grapevine’