Alternative Reds

The biggest tasting I did last month was of 150 mixed red varietals – these are made from grapes other than the staples, shiraz, pinot noir, cabernet and merlot.

This grab-bag of ‘alternative’ varieties is blossoming – both in the number of varieties being produced by our winemakers, and their quality.

It’s very encouraging. Happily, there are fewer of the green, weedy sangioveses and over-extracted petit verdots; the bretty chambourcins and raw, acidic tempranillos than there used to be. What’s happening? Are winemakers finally realizing that they can’t produce these wines using the same recipe they’ve always used for their cabernet and shiraz. Each variety is a special case and needs individualized attention, like bringing up a brood of recalcitrant kids. They are all individuals with different needs.

As well, winemakers seem to be stepping back more, and permitting the grape variety to speak, instead of slathering it with oak or harvesting it overripe so that it ends up just another oaky, jammy Aussie red.

Here’s a list of the varieties tasted. Tempranillo, sangiovese, nebbiolo, barbera, dolcetto, lagrein, graciano, tannat, zinfandel, montepulciano, touriga, sagrantino, malbec, durif, saperavi, bonarda, teroldego, aglianico, petit verdot and nero d’avola, as well as the old faithfuls grenache and mourvedre.

Some people have really worked out how to do it. Bryan Martin’s Ravensworth nebbiolo (tasting) and sangiovese (tasting) 2013s are both utterly delicious. He is also involved with Clonakilla of course, whose 2013 Ceoltoiri (tasting) (a GSM blend) is a wonderful wine. From Inverell, Topper’s Mountain’s latest Red Earth Child (tasting) is another cracker. It’s an unlikely blend of nebbiolo, shiraz, tempranillo and tannat. The Willson sisters of Bremerton fielded a 2012 malbec (tasting) and a ’12 mourvedre (tasting) under their special release label, and both impressed.

Fox Gordon’s nero d’avola (tasting) is an interesting interpretation, and Teusner delivered with a mataro (tasting) and a durif (tasting) in their typically big, bold style.

Mudgee’s Stuart Olsen impressed yet again with his Eloquesta label: this time with a non-vintage, non-varietal red charmingly labeled A Boy With Fruit (tasting). And there were several very good zinfandels and a raft of excellent Rutherglen durifs to keep you big red lovers happy. 

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