Australian winemakers have been experimenting with Italian grape varieties over the last several years and 2019 will see this trend increase further with classic Italian varietals such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Fiano, Vermentino and so on, really coming to the fore.
Some of these experiments started with climate change in mind, but several winemakers have also long held the view that certain Australian climates were already a good natural fit for the sun-loving varieties of southern Italy, in particular.
When you think about it, this rise of the Aussie Italians makes sense; the Mediterranean climate of much of south-east Australia is ideally suited for Italian grape varieties coupled with Australia’s diverse culture – Australia has a large number of citizens who claim Italian heritage, over a million people at last count in 2018.
All this interest in Italian wines is not just about increasing diversity of available varieties, it’s about introducing broader flavours, styles, structure. The vast majority of Italian grapes maintain good levels of natural acidity in warm (and getting warmer) Australian winegrowing regions, unlike most (although not all) of the more widely planted French-origin grape varieties – Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. And, natural acid is not just important for the taste of wine – it also assists in the finished wine’s stability. Grapes grown for natural acid balance make for less intervention and additions at the hand of the winemaker.
However, these wines aren’t strictly the Italian classics we’re used to. While the Australian climate may be similar, the terroir creates a different depth of character, profile and aroma. Rather, these Australian Italian wines are an ‘interpretation’; these winemakers are creating a new style of wine whilst maintaining the characteristics of the grape.
There has been with a shift towards more savoury flavoured wines, partly in rebellion to the fruit bombs of the past, partly due to food culture which has seen a rise in attention to good food. Wines that are more on the savoury side with more acidity and structure, like those produced from these Italian grape varieties, are generally more food-friendly.
And, of course Australian wine regulations are not as strict as those of Europe, for example; so there is no restriction on which varieties may be planted or indeed where they may be planted. Indeed, Australia’s wine industry has a history of experimentation, not afraid to dig up swathes of vineyards to respond to changes in taste or in climate.
So, where to start with these nuovi classici?
My personal favourite is the new Bella Luna Nero d’Avola from McPherson Wines in Victoria. The nose is floral with a touch of spice, yet earthy with lots of character. This wine delivers on fruit and style, and is a great all-rounder.
I asked Lou Scanlan of McPherson Wines where the inspiration for the Bella Luna range, which also includes a Fiano, came from:
“The Bella Luna story came from the vineyards in the first years of the new century, when a lovely picker named Edo (Eduardo) from Rome came to work with us and would testify to Jo (Jo Nash, McPherson winemaker) about the joys of the Italian varietals. After working with Jo for some time and sampling many bottles, Edo convinced Jo that it would be worth planting just one vineyard of Fiano and Nero d’Avola and, finally, she agreed.
There was just one hitch…. Edo insisted the vines needed to be planted on the night of the full moon. He told her planting in this way has been practised since ancient times and it would make all the difference to the resulting grapes if the vines were planted under the “Bella Luna”. Now, Jo is a practical person however, Edo is even more persuasive than Jo is practical, so somehow Jo found herself overseeing a full moon planting of the vines that would grow the grapes for our Bella Luna wines. We will never know if the beautiful moon on the night of the planting made a difference to the wine but we like to think it did, and we do feel there’s magic in that bottle.
For more details on Lanchester Wines’ range, including Bella Luna and the wider ‘Italians from Australia’, please click here