Grapevine: Alternative varieties

February 25, 2021 BY

Any number of trends have been accelerated over the past 12 months. It has almost been as common a refrain as those who were ‘agile’ or ‘pivoted’ given the circumstances.

To bring it back to wine, the interest in new or ‘alternative’ grape varieties has gone ballistic, it helps that Australian growers continue to learn how to grow and produce wines from these varieties a little better each year and for the most part they are at least a good enough level to pique the interest of most wine drinkers and often encourage enough interest to explore further after that first glass.

There are plenty of theories, the boredom of being locked inside meant that variety was sought in any avenue possible. The lack of spending on meals out or travel meant that for many there was a little more money available for the wine budget and that encouraged stepping up the price ladder a little which is often where many domestic and very good, imported examples of ‘alternative’ grape varieties are priced.

It’s both good and important timing because Mediterranean varieties, as some of those listed above are, are gaining a foothold in Australian vineyards given their greater suitability than ‘traditional’ French varieties in many existing vineyards as well as their suitability on many sites that are looking at climatic conditions in 10, 20+ years’ time. They typically have a better ability to deal with heat and drought, or to retain acidity which are the prized attributes of the future in Australia.

You’ve likely tried at least one of the varieties listed above, and probably a lot more than that. So it’s worthwhile to keep the conversation moving on to what else is out there and what may be coming next.

Negroamaro is hardly found in Australia at this point, with barely 20 producers spread across many regions, mainly focused in Heathcote, Riverland, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills where Mediterranean varieties already have a strong footing and suitability. It may well, and should grow given its propensity to producing both ‘serious’ wines for ageing as well as easy-going uncomplicated wines with a unique flavour profile to explore.

Native to the south of Italy, mainly Puglia where it is grown widely and reaches its pinnacle in Salento which sits on the “heel” of Italy. While the name would imply bitterness, some suggest that it actually just means black black rather than black bitter. The wines do tend to have a deep dark colour too them and they develop thick skins full of anthocyanins (which in part contribute colour). Negroamaro can handle drought conditions very well and has no trouble retaining acidity.

It normally reaches an alcohol content hovering around 14 per cent and sits in the medium-full bodied spectrum. Driven by ripe, sweet black berry fruits and plum, distinct earth notes of licorice, tobacco, leather and olive, and finally some brown spice or herbal characters that can help to balance the fruit whilst becoming a little more evident with ageing.

Luccarelli Negroamaro 2019 – $19

They know what they are trying to deliver with this wine – an uncomplicated wine for casual drinking that still retains distinctive varietal character. The 2019 is brimming with intense blackcurrants and berries, some dark chocolate, licorice and pepper. It’s medium weight and has a relatively deep, smooth texture although it becomes a touch more savoury on the finish as some herbal notes appear.

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