Here in Australia, we love to entertain. A culture of backyard barbeques and fresh seafood give us the perfect environment for appreciating great wine and food pairings from all over the world.
With this in mind I’m going to do my best to highlight some of our favourite value-for-money bottles that will have every guest at your gathering appreciating the flavours you bring to the table.
These are great, hardy wines that respond perfectly as a variety to our harsh climate. In fact it could be suggested the harsh Australian climate brings out the best in these wines…
Potentially these are the wines of our future.
For those already in the know, Assyrtiko is really, really popular. There are a tonne of searches on the web for a good Assyrtiko, and to me, it’s no surprise at all. It’s the wine at lunch when you think you have been drinking great Riesling and the host shows you the Assyrtiko bottle.
Just like Albarino is almost the Spanish equivalent of Riesling, the same could be said of Greece’s Assyrtiko. Famously associated with the Island of Santorini and its dry, barren and windswept vineyards, it responds just as well when grown right here in Australia.
It’s got that minerally, bone-dry, citrus-edge that makes it super easy to drink and it pairs beautifully with pork, chicken or seafood, making it an ideal choice for your next dinner party.
Pick up a bottle today, crack it open tonight and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Vermentino has been growing in Australia for decades. In the early days, it was made by Italian immigrants, growing a couple of vines in their backyard true to their cultural traditions…
To be honest, the first commercial examples I tasted were pretty ordinary, but it has come a long, long way since it was first introduced to Australian drinkers.
The Vermentino grapes love to be treated mean. Originally grown on the rocky outcrops of Sardinia, the vines are accustomed to being pummeled by blustering winds and a harsh climate that brings out these wonderful flavours, rich with lemon and saline.
Imagine walking through a lemon orchard on a warm summer’s day, with a sea breeze blowing through…that is good vermentino.
Vineyards, such as Yelland & Papps right here in Australia’s Barossa Valley, carry the torch and create wonderful vintages that pair perfectly with antipasti, any roasted or grilled white meat and seafood, leaving you reaching for glass after glass.
We don’t drink anywhere near enough Riesling in Australia. In my opinion, you can’t say you don’t like Riesling unless you’ve tried all the different variations, and that’s a pretty hard thing to do.
With so much variety, Goon Tycoons from the Great Southern, Rieslingfreak from the Clare Valley, Pewsey Vale from the Eden Valley and Crawford River Riesling from Henty in Victoria all come to mind when I think about good Australian Riesling. Each vineyard delivers great results while being uniquely different.
You will generally find aromas of white florals and citrus combined with flavours of lemony lime, saline and wet stone minerality that all come together in different ways from the plethora of vineyards across Australia; each region placing their own stamp on the Riesling map.
Growing Nebbiolo grapes in Australia is obviously different from that of its forebears in Italy, and it’s taken us a while to get it right. The last 15 years has seen an evolution of flavours, balance and style. Australian Nebbiolo is in a great place right now.
In the early days, quality examples of Nebbiolo from Italy would cost an arm and a leg, but now we are producing some fantastic examples locally. We are beginning to be spoiled for choice..
SC Pannell produces a beautiful example from the Gumeracha Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills, I have managed to hold onto a few of his last 2016 vintage. The 2018 vintage onwards is being made under the new Protero label. Given the quality and the price, it sold like hotcakes and is virtually extinct...with an eager audience awaiting the release of the next vintage. Dominica in Beechworth is also a worthy contender, further highlighting the fact you can grow virtually anything in Beechworth.
I can’t speak highly enough of these drops. Normally Nebbiolo only becomes approachable after 5+ years as the tannins settle in, but the different winemaking styles of these Australian winemakers offers something different; wines that are approachable younger with decadent flavours to balance the tannins.They pair beautifully with any choice of protein, a T-bone steak or a nice grilled portobello mushroom (did someone say garlic butter?).
My recommendations are the SC Pannell Nebbiolo 2016, the Protero Nebbiolo 2018, Domenica Nebbiolo from Beechworth or the Denton Nebbiolo 2017 from the Yarra Valley, and when Ravensworth is back online Bryan Martins Hilltops Nebbiolo is to die for.
We don’t produce a lot of Malbec here in Australia, and when we do it is mostly blended. While it’s rare to see a straight Australian Malbec of significant quality - they are definitely on the way. While the market is small, it is growing quickly.
Born out of Bordeaux but imported to Argentina in the mid 19th century Malbec has been embraced by the Argentinians with fervour. Argentina is famous for its beef and grilled meats. With Malbec providing such a natural pairing you start to wonder whether they made the wine to go with their meat, or the meat to go with the wines. Regardless, it's perfect for pairing with a nice piece of protein or a rich braise.
Based on personal experience, Malbec is becoming popular within the younger generation of wine drinkers. They have embraced Malbec's rich flavours and big tannins, so no doubt it has a bright future locally.
I don’t think you can go to a class Italian restaurant or pizzeria without spotting the ubiquitous bottle of Sangiovese. Once upon a time the basket lined bottles were synonymous with Italian pizzerias.
To be honest Sangiovese is one of the most underrated and glorious grapes available. My only issue is, depending on how they are made, they can be quite unapproachable when young. Young Sangiovese has quite a prominent acid profile that softens over time but it can be a bit of a gamble picking exactly when to drink that bottle of Sangiovese (I have to admit I am not the most patient of wine drinkers). Once you hit the 5+ year mark these acids soften and the resulting wine is quite luxurious, but you are unlikely to find these in your local bottle shop.
In Australia, some winemakers have taken a different approach, releasing their Sangiovese later or adjusting their approach to making Sangiovese. The result is a relatively young bottle of wine that is both great quality and more approachable. You can grab these wines off your bottle shop shelf (or online store) confident that when you open them on a Saturday night everyone will be happy. Instead of getting a mouthful of acid, you get these lush, primary fruits that have you reaching for glass after glass.
There are so many great examples, my number one recommendation is the Collector Wines Rose Red City Sangiovese by winemaker Alex McKay. It is definitely a standout and one of my favourites. At just $32 a bottle, I can’t recommend it highly enough - probably the best Australian rendition of a Chianti I have found so far. If you are after a day to day value proposition Hedonist Wines do a great Biodynamic/Organic Sangiovese ($27) or Dominic Torzi’s ”Vigna Cantina” Sangiovese…bloody lovely and $24.
So here it is, I know I have been a bit cheeky…there are 6 varieties not 5 but that should save you from having 5 bottles rattling around in your six pack! Next time you have a dinner party or have friends over, don’t be afraid to follow the path less travelled there are some amazing wines out there you are yet to learn about. Hopefully these suggestions can provide you with a starting point.