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Aussie Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2011

Posted: Monday, 14 November 2011 14:52

Aussie Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2011

Nov 14: Held annually in Mildura in Victoria on the first weekend of November the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) provides an excellent barometer as to how the Australian wine industry is progressing with making wine from ‘new’ or alternative grape varieties, writes Dan Traucki

The AAVWS is unique because there is no other wine show in the world  that excludes the major varieties and focus solely on the minor/new  varieties whilst allowing entries from right around the country. Since its  inception in 1999 the AAVWS has grown each year to the extent that in  2011 it had 568 entries across the 42 different Classes. 

Unlike most wine shows which have masses of entries in most of their  classes, such as Class 27- (Shiraz 2009 vintage) in the Royal Adelaide  2011 Wine Show which had 205 entries, the largest class in AAVWS was class 18A - 2010/2011 Tempranillo which had 37 entries. This makes for  a more level playing field in the judging and gives the visitor a much  better indication of the current state of play of that variety.

The general malaise that has hit the Australian wine industry over the   last few years was evident to some extent at this wine show as well. Not  only did 17 of the entries fail to turn up, but also at the entrant’s tasting  on the Saturday morning many of the regular industry attendees were  noticeable by their absence.

As always there was some interesting information to come out of the  wine show tasting.

Firstly- Class 5 the Savagnin class, whilst the judges only awarded 1  Bronze medal out of 24 entries, the really interesting thing was the  consistency of the wines, with only 2 out of the 24 being atypical of the  variety. The others all had the inherent Savagnin characteristics which  have led the variety to be labelled “like Riesling but with more body”.  This augurs well for the future of the variety, as the chaos & confusion  over being incorrectly called Albarino subsides, these producers will  gradually attract more & more drinkers to become fans of this variety. I  confidently predict that this is going to be a rising star amongst the .

whites because from all the tastings of this variety I have been to, I have  yet to meet one consumer who has not liked the variety.

In Class 6 Vermentino the number of entries more than doubled from  2010 show and so did the number of medals. There were two Gold    medal winners- Oliver’s Taranga Vermentino 2011 & the Riverland Vine  Improvement Committee’s (RVIC) 2011 Vermentino. 

The latter is worthy of a mention, as the RVIC is the main grape  propagator  and cutting supplier for the Riverland who in recent times  under the guidance of David Nitschke have started to grow small trial  plots of new varieties and make small parcels of wine from these grapes.  There is no better way to demonstrate the potential of these new grape  varieties to growers than to enable them to taste the wine which they  could make from these grape varieties. An excellent and innovative  example of “try before you buy”

The RVIC first showed their efforts in the “experimental wines” class in  the 2010 show and received judge’s commendations for all bar one of   the wines entered. In 2011 they went one further and entered 5 wines in  the mainstream categories with the result of 2 Gold – Vermentino &  Lagrein (both were equal highest pointed in their class)   & 1 Bronze -  Durif, whilst at the same time all 4 wines they entered in Class 31  “Experimental White styles”  all received Commendations from the  judges. This is truly an amazing result and a great indication that the  future supply of grape planting material is in good hands.

In the red wine classes it was a mixed bag, with the Petit Verdot  continuing to be far too tannic, and the Zinfandel class showing rather  poorly with many wines tasting more akin to Shiraz or Cabernet than  Zinfandel. I believe that many Australian winemakers struggle with  making good alternative red wines because they treat all varieties as  though they were Shiraz or Cabernet rather than respecting the  individuality of the particular variety.

On the other hand, the Tempranillo (3 classes), Lagrein, Sagrantino,  Saperavi & “Other red- Italian Varieties and Blends” were all quite  consistent and impressive with at least half of the wines in each class  being awarded a medal. One wine that impressed me was the Psyche  Smuggler Carmenere 2010 which won a Silver medal. It was the first

Australian Carmenere that I have tasted and whilst not as full of character  as the Chilean Carmenere wines, given the youth of the vines, Chateau  Mildura is off to a really great start, and it is a wine to watch over the  next few years as the vine mature.

Carmenere, like Savagnin is a grape variety which has undergone an  identity crisis. For most of the 20th Century it was believed to be Merlot,  until a French ampelographer discovered that these vines in Chile were  in fact Carmenere and not Merlot. As Carmenere was wiped out by  phylloxera in its native France in the 1890s Chile found itself with the  only surviving vines in the world. Today there are around 7-8 growers in  Australia growing this variety. 

A variety new to me was Rubienne. A Bronze Medal winning wine from  Ramco Wine Group, the Cock + Bull 2011 - which is a CSIRO cross  between Cabernet Sauvignon and the Spanish variety Sumoll. This is a  lovely light bright easy drinking summer wine.

Having attended the AAVWS for the last seven years, I personally think  that for many of the alternative varieties growers are currently “test  driving” or experimenting with, the longer term future will be in blends,  where the winemaker can use the strengths of different varieties to  overcome the weaknesses of others. Two superb examples of this are  the Gold Medal winning Mount Majura Vineyard (Canberra) TSG  (Tempranillo, Shiraz, Graciano) 2010 and the Bronze Medal winning SC  Pannel Tempranillo Touriga 2010, both truly excellent wines. 

Therefore for those of you who are thinking of standing out from the  crowd of nearly 3,000 Australian wine companies who almost all produce Shiraz, Cabernet & Chardonnay, or are just interested in seeing  what the future of the industry has the possibility of holding, I strongly  recommend that you diarize the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine  Show in Mildura on the first weekend in November each year, it is an  outstanding eye & mind opener. 

Those who are interested in trying something new in wine which is  probably not readily available at your nearest “duopoly” store, I would  suggest going to the web site   and click on the Show  results and then use the net to track down some of the medal winning  wines to try.

That means grape varieties outside the common/ usual handful grapes like Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon that everybody grows. Known in Italy as autochthonous varieties and as indigenous grapes in other old world countries like Spain, Portugal and Austria these grapes may not have a long history of cultivation in Australia and experiments may throw up some excellent successes sometimes.

Dan Traucki


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