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