“The wine list was a blur. I had failed to bring my reading glasses! So, when I saw a bottle of Long Rail Gully pinot noir, I breathed out with relief,” writes RICHARD CALVER
AS I get older, nostalgia tends to infiltrate the thought processes.
So, recently when tasting a couple of wines that are made from the grape variety vermentino, a light bodied dry Italian wine, I thought back on how, similar to the phrasing of this variety’s name, the Italian girlfriends I had decades ago had the most mellifluous names: Melita and Morena I hope you are happy, wherever you are.
I was certainly happy trying two kinds of vermentino where the finished product seemed to perfectly reflect the different growing conditions: a Jackson Hill 2016 and a Box Grove Vineyard 2015. The Jackson Hill is from Mount View, in NSW, which is part of the Hunter Valley region. The Box Grove is from central Victoria, the Goulburn Valley, where the summers are especially hot and dry.
Where the Jackson Hill was straw green in colour, bold and zesty, the Box Grove was light and floral with a citrus finish.
The grape variety obviously responds differently to different terroir. Originally grown on the island of Sardinia, there are established Australian plantings in King Valley, Victoria, and in McLaren Vale, SA, with more coming of age in other wine-growing areas.
Italian migrants have been a part of Australian history since earliest settlement. One web site tells me that on Capt James Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, was an Italian seaman named Antonio Ponto, so the first Italian to set foot on Australian soil did so at the very beginning of the country’s “official” history.
Similarly, there appears to have been a sure but steady increase in the number of Italian grape varieties grown in Australia. In part this is because of the natural inclination of Australian vintners to want an increased diversity of smells and flavours. But, according to Tim White, wine writer for the “Australian Financial Review“, the move to Italian grape varietals is about structure: specifically, acid.
He said in 2015 that the vast majority of Italian cultivars “all maintain good levels of natural acidity in warm – and getting warmer – Australian winegrowing regions, unlike most (although not all) of the more widely planted French-origin grape varieties.”
Having grapes that provide a good natural acid balance is good for winemaking as it involves less chemical intervention and additions by the winemaker. Increased temperatures mean hastened acid degradation and different flavour compounds, so the more heat the more wine making is a gamble.
Brian Martin, of Ravensworth Wines and winemaker at Clonakilla, said that in Canberra sangiovese is the main Italian wine grape variety grown. I asked him the acid question: “The level of acidity is important when you look at preservation so there are benefits in planting the sangiovese variety over shiraz even though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
“We are getting more Mediterranean here. Pinot grigio is the white growing in plantings. As well, fiano and vermentino and the like are being planted.
“There are so many Italian varieties but sangiovese and nebbiolo predominate in the Canberra district. We are more likely to plant red here as it suits the climate and the style.”
So in a few years’ time I see myself sitting back in my armchair savouring a Canberra district Italian varietal, red or white, wondering if nostalgia is as good as it used to be.