“On went my hat of pretension as I cleaned my palate with water, alas no bread or crackers to ensure I started fresh with neutral flavours,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER
FRIENDS tend to know your likes and dislikes. We are sitting at an outside table at the Highgate Hotel in Green Square, Kingston. It is a gorgeous autumn afternoon.
This is the post-exercise drink (I just burned 1200 calories – I forgot the pizza in the oven at home!). My mate says: “I know you’ll want to drink that Italian red but I want a shiraz.”
We order a glass of Nick O’Leary 2016 Canberra District shiraz. It is pleasant and, for a youngish shiraz, has real body just as we sought to achieve through the desultory weightlifting we had endured that afternoon.
But, as he presaged, I would rather have ordered the Pizzini Nonna Gisella Sangiovese, 2015 from the King Valley that caught my eye on the hotel’s wine list.
And, like a true friend, he let me prattle on about why I liked this Italian varietal. I even dropped that I have tried many Pizzini wines and stayed at their accommodation at Whitfield in the heart of the picturesque King Valley. The Nonna Gisella is named for one of the winemaker’s grandmothers and is described by the Pizzini family as “warm and humble just like its namesake”.
James Halliday in his “Wine Atlas of Australia” says that Pizzini wines “rank high among the many King Valley producers and it is not surprising that their wines should span both Italian and traditional varieties.”
He rates sangiovese as their signature wine.
This grape variety’s name derives from the Latin meaning: “the blood of Jove”. Jove, or Jupiter, is, of course, the king of the gods in Roman myth. The nomenclature is said to have fuelled theories that the variety has been around since Roman times. But it is best known as the principal grape in Tuscan chianti wines.
In the 1970s chianti was offered up in a straw basket named after my love life – a fiasco. The bottles tended to be used as candle holders and the Italian soft reds went well with a bowl of value-for-money pasta in a dimly lit café that offered romance based on the affinity between chianti and tomato-based dishes. Perhaps the romantic edge was taken off somewhat by Hannibal Lecter’s famous line in the 1991 movie “The Silence of the Lambs”: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
Australian wine makers are not able to call their sangiovese-based wines chianti: to get that appellation the wine must be produced in the Chianti region and be made from at least 80 per cent sangiovese grapes.
While most chiantis are 100 per cent sangiovese, some winemakers in the region blend the sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc or merlot to soften the taste. But the real deal with this grape variety is that it tends to be very driven by terroir or the district where it is grown.
In the Canberra district Four Winds offers a very pleasant sangiovese. But my favourite is the Ravensworth produced by the Martin family, a wine I first discovered when I had dinner at Abell’s Kopi Tiam in Manuka where they offer it by the glass at $10 a pop.
Ravensworth has just released the 2017 vintage and stepped up production, their website saying: “There’s six different vineyards from Hall, Murrumbateman, Hilltops and Gundagai contributing this year. A beautiful medium-bodied wine that carries fragrant cherry and spice aromas with a fine textural palate.”
I can’t wait to taste the vintage but perhaps not in the company of my shiraz-preferenced friend.
“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” – Bernard Meltzer