Category Archives: Australian Sangioves

Mar 03 2016

Huon Hooke Italian Masterclass: Italian Varieties flourish in Australia

Posted on March 03, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Over the past decade Australian wine producers have planted a wide range of Italian varieties, reaching well beyond well-known favourites like Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese to more esoteric grapes like Lagrein, Barbera and Dolcetto.

Huon Hooke’s recent Italian Masterclass at Prince Wine Store offered an excellent opportunity to compare Italian varieties made by Australian producers with imported Italian wines of the same varieties.

Dolcetto, a dark-skinned grape from the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, was actually first planted in Australia in the 1860s by Best’s Great Western founder Henry Best. Even today the winery is unsure why Henry chose to devote about 25 per cent of his entire vineyard to this lesser known variety!

The refreshing, easy drinking Best’s Great Western Dolcetto, Grampians 2012  ($30) was made from grapes from both the original 1860s plantings and 1971 plantings of cuttings from Henry’s original wines. Its plum and berry fruit flavours were far more pronounced than the savoury Azelia Dolcetto d’Alba DOC “Bricco dell ‘Oriolo” 2013 ($34) – an impressive single vineyard wine from the Alba area of Piedmont.

Given Australia’s propensity to produce fruit-forward wines, Australia winemakers are experimenting with different winemaking techniques to bring out the more subtle, complex characters traditionally associated with Italian red varieties.

At the tasting  Joel Pizzini, winemaker at King Valley’s Pizzini Wines, was on hand to talk about the winery’s acclaimed single vineyard Sangiovese, the 2013 Pizzini Forza di Ferro Sangiovese. He explained that he exposes the grapes for this wine to a hotter than normal fermentation in order release more of their complex savoury aromas and flavours.

Forza di Ferro is Italian for ‘strength from iron,’ a reference to the iron rich soils of this special vineyard. Over the past 25 years, the winery has spent a considerable amount of time … Read the rest

Aug 08 2013

Australia’s Top 10 Sangiovese Wines

Posted on August 08, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

‘Top 10’ lists are typically controversial, and especially more so for varietals that are still in the process of becoming established in the wine market. You won’t find Australian sangiovese on Langton’s most recent 2010 Classification of Australian Wine, for example, because it simply doesn’t have a well-established track record of demand at auction. But the wines listed below would certainly meet Langton’s other exacting criteria for consideration: a reputation for authenticity, consistency and provenance.

Most of the sangioveses on this list are made by boutique wineries whose winemakers are passionate about Italian varietals. Several of the winemakers are of Italian heritage or have spent a lot of time in Italy learning about a wine which is responsible for Chianti – Italy’s most famous red wine.

These wines are also made by winemakers who have not been afraid to experiment, and have had enough patience to stick with a variety that has proven a lot harder to grow in Australia than originally anticipated. For Alberto Antonini of the Greenstone Vineyard in Heathcote, for example, only two of his original six sangiovese clones proved capable of producing tremendous quality fruit.

Given that sangiovese was only first planted in Australia in the 1970s, and interest from winemakers and the public alike didn’t really start to take hold until the early 2000s, the fact that three of the wines on the list are special flagship bottlings with expensive price tags to match is testament to the winemakers’ confidence that their wines can compete with the best in the world.

Castagna La Chiave Sangiovese, Beechworth, Victoria rrp: $75

Chrismont La Zona Sangiovese, King Valley, Victoria rrp: $26

Coriale Sangiovese, McLaren Vale, South Australia rrp: $25

Coriale Vita Reserve Sangiovese, McLaren Vale, South Australia rrp: $50

Greenstone Vineyard Heathcote SangioveseRead the rest

Jul 07 2013

Australia’s Love Affair with Sangiovese

Posted on July 07, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

One of the guests told me over a dinner hosted by Pizzini Wines at Signorelli Gastronomia in Sydney that he had collected over 100 different sangiovese wines. I said that his collection must be rich with Italian examples to which he replied that all of his sangioveses were Australian. I was gobsmacked, having no idea that so many Australian wineries made sangiovese. Anyway, the discussion has led to be a bit of detective work on my part to learn more about why this so-called ‘alternative’ grape variety has captured the imagination of Australian winemakers.

First a bit of background on sangiovese. As you are no doubt aware, sangiovese is an Italian red wine grape variety used exclusively to make Italy’s prestigious Brunello di Montalcino. It is also the dominant grape variety in other famous Tuscan wines like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti.

At the Pizzini dinner, reference was made to the so-called Super-Tuscans, a term used to describe a blended sangiovese wine that gained international attention in the 1980s. It was created in the late 1960s by a group of innovative Chianti producers who started blending sangiovese with non-Italian varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz. Some even eschewed the use of sangiovese altogether, and further broke with Italian tradition (and strict wine laws) by using ‘modern’ wine-making techniques, like ageing their wines in small French barriques instead of the traditional oak casks. (Are Super-Tuscans still Super? by Lettie Teague, eRobertParker.com, December 2006)

In fact, it was the success of high profile Super-Tuscans like Sassicaia, Solaia and Tignanello that spurred renewed interest in the wines of Tuscany and particularly sangiovese. In Australia, Penfolds was one of the first to undertake a large-scale commerical planting of the grape in the 1980s when it expanded its … Read the rest

Jun 06 2011

Australian Sangiovese: A Quiet Achiever!

Posted on June 06, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Over the weekend my husband and I enjoyed a bottle of Quartetto Sangiovese 2000. I use the word ‘enjoy’ with an element of surprise, because we had pretty low expectations for this 11 year old bottle from the Clare Valley. Although fairly light in colour, it still had an earthy fruit character, a bit of acidity, some tannins and the familiar savoury and restrained spice notes that are the hallmarks of Italian Chianti. It went really well with spaghetti bolognese on a cold winter’s night!

Quite a few Australian wineries make a sangiovese and a few, notably Coriole, Castagna, Pizzini and Chrismont, produce highly acclaimed wines from the cornerstone grape of Italian Chianti. But this noble grape of Tuscany is still very much of a niche variety  in Australia. In fact, James Halliday notes that plantings of the grape peaked in 2001 at 600 hectares, and have been on a slow decline ever since (510 hectares in 2008). (James Halliday, The Australian Wine Encyclopedia, Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books 2009)

Sangiovese is a wonderfully food friendly wine, so the dearth of Australian sangiovese is probably not the result of a reluctance on the part of wine drinkers to embrace the style. Rather, experience has shown that sangiovese is not an easy grape to master in the vineyard. It is, in fact, a prime example of a grape that is particularly sensitive to the nuances of terroir. For the most part, only Australia’s boutique winemakers have the time and perseverance to stick with a grape that demands a lot of love and attention.

McLaren Vale based Coriole was the first winery to introduce the variety to Australia in 1985. (Coriole also makes a great chenin blanc – another variety that has had a spotted history outside of its home … Read the rest