Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2011

A report by Dan Traucki*

Held in Mildura 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. That is grape varieties outside the common/ usual handful that everybody grows.

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 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 and confusion over being incorrectly called Albarino subsides, these producers will gradually attract more and 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 and 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 '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 Medals - Vermentino and Lagrein (both were equal highest pointed in their class) and 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's 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 the were Shiraz or Cabernet rather than respecting the individuality of the particular variety.

On the other hand, the Tempranillo (3 classes), Lagrein, Sagrantino, Saperavi and '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 character full 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 Pannell 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 and 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 and 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.

* Dan Traucki is a wine consultant specialising in helping Australian wineries with all aspects of exporting wine. You can find more about Dan and the services he offers at his website and blog at Wine Assist

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