Brad Wehr isn’t one who likes to do things the conventional way. After making his name with his Margaret River wines under the Wine By Brad label, he’s getting increasingly creative and exploratory.
Wine By Brad came first: the wines were the usual varieties – cabernet merlot and semillon sauvignon blanc – but different, with fun, comic-strip labels. Then came Mantra, for high-end chardonnay, cabernet and sauvignon blanc. And finally, Amato Vino: seriously off-beat wines made from alternative grape varieties, dressed in attractive painted art labels. Tiny volumes; experimental wines. The varieties include montepulciano, tannat, graciano, nebbiolo, fiano, nero d’avola, teroldego and (wait for it), slankamenka bela.
While in Margaret River for the 50th-anniversary knees-up, I was fortunate to attend a tasting of no less than 34 bottles of teroldego, which Brad had been saving up for some time. Twenty of the wines were Italian, from the grape’s native northern region, Trentino. They are marketed under two appellations: Rotaliano and Vigneti delle Dolomiti. Brands included the most famous name in teroldego, Foradori, as well as Mezzacorona and its sibling Castel Firmian, Dorigati, Fedrizzi and Vindimian.
The Australian flag was carried by Geoff Hardy of the Adelaide Hills, Michelini of the Ovens Valley, Amato Vino itself and fellow Margaret River producer Blue Poles. Brad Wehr makes his Amato Vino wine from a 0.3 hectare planting on the Foster family vineyard, while Blue Poles has a teensy 0.1 hectare patch.
All of the Margaret River vines owe their provenance to former Cape Mentelle winemaker John Durham, who visited Foradori and befriended Elisabetta Foradori, who gave him 10 teroldego cuttings, which he brought to Western Australia, through quarantine, and planted on his own Margaret River property. When he left the region in 2004, Durham gave 42 cuttings from his vines to his neighbour, Mark Gifford of Blue Poles.
What of the tasting?
The Italian wines were very variable, ranging from excellent to seriously flawed. The style of the wine is deep, bright colour, which it retains well; medium body and a high level of acidity. So lively is this acidity that the wines need to be had with food, otherwise they often taste unpalatably tart. Alcohol levels are commensurately modest: 12.5 to 13.5% was the range for the Italian wines. The Foradoris were at the lower end: 12.5 to 13%. My favourites were the Foradori Morei 2015 and Foradori Sgarzon 2013, two Mezzacorona wines (2006 and ’07), and Dorigati Luigi 2012.
The locals that most impressed me were the four Amato Vino wines. Although made in tiny volumes of 95 to 125 dozen, the vintages 2013-2016 were all good, especially the two older wines – which adds weight to my hunch that teroldego wines are long, slow agers, perhaps in part because of that high acidity, and presumably low pH. That said, the Amato Vino wines were the best balanced of all, none of them showing excess acidity. They also had greater generosity of fruit and appealingly fleshy textures. Unsurprisingly, they were harvested riper, with alcohols of 14.2 to 14.4%.
This begs the question: do they harvest the grapes too early in Trentino? And is that because the climate is too cold to ripen them further? Or is that the style the winemakers want?
There’s no doubt that wines of modest alcohol, made in the fruit-driven Foradori style, are refreshing and highly expressive of their terroir. And they have a big worldwide following.
I hope Brad Wehr finds a way to increase his production so more people can enjoy these interesting wines.