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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, November 17 2009. 10:20

Australian Savagnin Blanc has Potential

Many people do not know the difference between Sauvignon and Savagnin Blanc, a French varietal from Jura, which has got over 30 wineries across Australia interested in the grape earlier thought to be the Spanish Albariňo. Dan Traucki writes about the recent tasting by a group of Savagnin producers.

Wine Focus Australia recently held their annual wine expo at the Museum of Contemporary Arts at Circular Quay in Sydney where 31 domestic wineries showcased their wines to the trade and public.

A table was dedicated to showcase only Savagnin wines.  It was manned by thirteen different producers giving a unique glimpse into this virtually brand new wine variety. The producers ranged from Ommersown in the Riverland, several Barossa and McLaren Vale producers, Adelaide Hills in South Australia, Western Australia, through to Rutherglen and Brown Brothers from the King Valley in Victoria.

Despite viticultural & winemaking differences in the way the various wines were made across the country, the tasting demonstrated that with the exception of one example from Tscharke Wines, which was a late picked style, the other wines had in common an underlying varietal characteristic. They were medium to full bodied, mouth filling, zesty with crisp fruit, good acidity and an almost savoury finish.

The Savagnin experience was further enhanced that evening when the Savagnin Masterclass was held upstairs at the Museum of Contemporary Arts.

All the wines shown were2009, with the exception of the Tscharke Girl Talk which was a 2008.

As one would expect, there were significant differences in the way the various winemakers handled the variety, both in terms of picking and winemaking. Most presenters picked their fruit at between 12 & 13 Baume but there were some who picked at over 14.

Some used no oak at all and got the wine into bottle as soon after fermentation, in order to preserve the inherent characteristics of the variety, whereas others used up to 20% oak maturation in older barrels to gain depth and complexity. The Gemtree Moonstone was the only wine there that went into bottle unfiltered.

Despite the differences in all the variables involved in making a wine, the Savagnin wines presented all had similar underlying characteristics including that slightly savoury character, which should define the variety over time. One presenter aptly described Savagnin as being “a bit like Riesling but with greater texture”.

Several of the wines presented were “first crops” bearing in mind that as one presenter pointed out that the first varietal Savagnin in Australia was only produced six years ago, thus it is very early days for the variety iyet.

To date there are approximately 400 acres of Savagnin planted across Australia and that number had been growing rapidly until the naming debacle happened.

One presenter suggested that this makes it the largest planting in the world for dry table wine, as much of the plantings officially labeled as Savagnin in Europe are dedicated to making Vin Jaune (Yellow wine) in Jura, France, which is like an unfortified flor Sherry.

The naming debacle

About a year ago a French Ampelographer was visiting Australia and when shown some "Albariňo" vines he declared that they were not Albariňo but was actually the variety Savagnin.

It turns out that the cuttings sent from Spain some 20- 30 years ago were of the wrong variety. In the meantime a number of Australia Wineries had started to grow "Albariňo", only to be advised officially at the start of this year that their wine was actually Savagnin.

Moreover, they were only given a matter of weeks in which to change the labels on their wines. One winery Irvine Wines had an order for 20 dozen of their "Albariňo" ready to go to Singapore and they were told by AWBC ( Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation) that they could not export the wine labelled as Albariňo. They had to print labels saying Savagnin and hand de- label and re- label the wines before the order was approved for export, costing them time and money.

This has caused mass confusion with the wine drinking public and export customers But basically it is exactly the same wine they were selling before except that it now has a new name.

The significant thing is that the consumers, when alerted to the name change and attendant chaos & confusion- tasted the wine, liked it and bought it despite the naming debacle.

So what happens to Spain? As far as Spain goes, they will have to sort out over time which of their plantings are actual Albariňo and which are Savagnin. That tussle will be worth following even if only to compare the speed at which they tackle the issue, as opposed to the swift and decisive way that the matter was handled here in Australia.

People Love Savagnin

In the meantime the palpable excitement for the variety exhibited by the producers seems to have been caught by the drinking public. All the presenters who have released wines labelled as Savagnin have reported that most customers listened to the story with sympathy, tasted the wine and bought it. For example Eric Semmler of 919 Wines advised that as most people did not know what Albarino was in any case, the transition was easy; people try the wine, love it and buy it.

Over the next few years, if the current level of growth is sustained, Savagnin as a variety will offer the Australian wine industry an almost unique opportunity to make the variety Australia’s own, in the eyes of the world. Somewhat like what had happened with Shiraz, where until recently when wine drinkers anywhere in the world thought of Shiraz, they thought of Australia.

We had a similar opportunity with Petit Verdot a decade ago, given that it is a minor filler variety in its home of Bordeaux and barely grown anywhere else. However, we muffed it by producing too many overly tannic monsters and by not banding together to market the variety to the world. So today, most Petit Verdot ends up on the bulk wine listings and as a blender to bolster weaker commercial reds.

Over the next decade there exists the opportunity to generate a significant point of difference in international market places by having a unique new wine variety which is also delicious to drink. Chile had a similar opportunity a while ago when it was discovered that most of their Merlot was in fact Carmenere. After the massive publicity that surrounded that discovery and given that they were already making large quantities of good to excellent wine from the variety, had they banded together and exploited the opportunity properly they would have been much more successful than what they were.

So here and now is the opportunity/challenge to the industry, as a result of all the recent publicity. Make good Savagnin, promote it properly and aggressively overseas and we could create a wine world icon like Hunter Semillon. When discerning drinkers around the world think of Semillon they are significantly more likely to think of an aged Hunter Semillon than a White Bordeaux.

Given all the current negative publicity in Europe about the “sameness” and “boringness” of Australian wines, Savagnin offers an excellent and tasty point of difference which producers can use to get potential buyers to engage and at least taste their other wines.

A Savagnin Producers Association should be set up straight away and come up with a clever marketing plan to teach the wine world of the joys of drinking good Australian Savagnin.  By the way that the Savagnin presenters at Wine Focus Australia were sharing information amongst themselves this pipedream could become a reality in the near future.

Dan Traucki

Dan Traucki is the principal of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, wine industry logistics and marketing consultancy. He started out as an accountant before joining the wine industry 21 years ago. His involvement during that time has included strategic positions of general manager of a medium-sized winery and chief executive officer of a smaller winery. Dan can be contacted on+61 8 8382 4920 (phone/fax), +61408 801 795 (Mob) or at 


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