Climate change, weak export markets and increasingly worldly local consumers are all trends that have conspired over the past decade to create growing interest from Australian producers in alternative grape varieties.

Having achieved great success with the noble Italian varieties of sangiovese and nebbiolo, rustic Italian varieties from the southern Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, for example, are beginning to win favour with smaller producers in particular.

In a recent series of articles on Italian varieties in Australia, Walter Speller of JancisRobinson.com reported that South Australia’s McLaren Vale has become the epicentre of enthusiasm for Italian varieties, noting that McLaren Vale plantings of nero d’avalo, the prized indigenous red grape of Sicily, are spreading like wildfire. (Italian Grape Varieties in Australia – Part 2 by Walter Speller, JancisRobinson.com, 24 February 2015)

McLaren Vale’s Coriole, Beach Road, Brash Higgins, Fallen Women, and Hither & Yon are starting to win high praise for their expressions of nero d’avola. The Hither & Yon Nero d’Avola 2014, made from a hectare six year old vines planted by Richard and Malcolm Leask, won best Italian Red Wine Variety at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh described it as “Bursting with ripe dark berries, raw almonds, fragrant and sweet dried herbs with a handful of black jelly beans tossed in for good measure.” (Wine Front, 12 November 2014)

White Italian varieties like the Campagna region’s  fiano and Sardinia’a vermentino are also popular in McLaren Vale. Oliver’s Taranga Fiano 2014 picked up Best White Wine and Best White Italian Variety at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. Oliver’s Tarango winemaker Corrina Rayment believes these varieties hold up particularly well in McLaren Vale’s often harsh summers.

Ballandean Estate FianoWine critic James Halliday noted that of the southern Italian varieties, [fiano] seems to have the greatest potential, and described the Oliver’s Taranga 2014 Fiano as having “a vibrant, zesty palate with citrus, green apple and apple core notes, the finish and aftertaste both lingering.”

I was particularly impressed with the tropical flavours and nutty, slightly savoury finish of the Ballandean Estate Fiano 2014 from the Granite Belt in Queensland, which I tasted recently at a Wine Australia course.

Run by the Puglisi family since the 1940s, Ballandean Estate also grows sylvaner, saperavi, durif and nebbiolo. Incidentally, the Granite Belt is one of the coldest and highest vineyards sites in Australia!

Definitely keep an eye out for these exciting new additions to Australia’s wine offerings.

by Merrill Witt, Editor

If you have an opportunity to visit McLaren Vale, don’t miss the Fall from Grace wine store run by former Qantas flight attendant Gill Gordon Smith. Gill has a passion for biodynamic and natural wines, which she discovered in Europe on her 22 years of travel with Qantas. Walter Speller describes her store as “wonderfully quirky.”