GRAPEVINE: The great drying leads to new grape variety thoughts
It seemed like we might not see a winter with temperatures still hovering around 20 degrees into late May.
Luckily the season is finally turning, and we are starting to get some much-needed moisture into the soil and hopefully topping up the dams. It is a continuing trend that vignerons must contend with, the increasingly dry conditions have meant they are having to think about grape varieties that will grow and thrive over the next few decades in conditions like those we have seen this year.
Varieties such as Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet will still feature prominently, but you will increasingly see a broader range of varieties produced that can handle drier seasons.
It is an exciting prospect that by planting such a breadth of new varieties, wineries will open up a whole new world of styles and flavour profiles to the broader wine drinking market, not just from the local regions but to then encourage the exploration of the areas around the world where these grape varieties have been grown from decades or centuries.
Southern Italy, such as Sicily is proving a happy hunting ground for varieties that can deal with our hot dry conditions.
Western Sicily only sees 400-600mm of rainfall annually, close to areas such as McLaren Vale or Heathcote where Sicilian varieties are starting to be planted widely. Nero d’Avola was first planted in 2001 and is now found in over 50 vineyards
around the country. Good examples are starting to be produced from the likes of Chalmers, El Dorado Road and Coriole, but it is still very early days with barely two decades of experience to not only find the right sites, but then how to grow and produce the wines, as well as having enough vine age to produce really high quality wines.
It is worthwhile making a start with some of the wines being imported from Sicily. Nero d’Avola finds its home around the town of Avola in the south east of Siciliy where it makes up a large portion of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines (the only DOCG in Sicily), but it is the most widely planted red variety on the island and can be found across all the wine growing areas. On the low lying areas they can be big, bold and jammy in style, on the sandier, higher altitiude sites with cooling sea breezes they can be bright, juicy and spicy but the simplest starting point to get a feel for the grape is comparing it to a warm-climate Shiraz.
It can thrive in similar conditions to Shiraz, which accounts for the preponderance of plantings McLaren Vale and Heathcote making sense. It also shares similar characteristics in the glass with typical full-body, medium-acidity
which serves to highlight the fruit flavours and give them a vibrance. The tannins are bold but often quite round and chocolatey as opposed to the astringency of say a Cabernet and even Shiraz will typically be slightly more astringent
to taste. Ripe cherries, raspberries, blackberries and plums often dominate the fruit spectrum and jump out of the glass aromatically. To taste, the fruit will be mouth-filling at first, giving way to a silky texture that finishes with a slightly chocolatey/ fruity persistence.
Vanita Organic Nero d’Avola 2017 – $25 The Vanita Nero d’Avola is produced just inland from the south-west coast of Siciliy.
They source fruit from their best organic vineyards sitting near the Arancio lake in the Menfi commune. When Nero d’Avola is like this, it is the perfect wintery red. Akin to some styles of Malbec and Shiraz that are comforting in the cold conditions with their mouth-filling berry and chocolate flavours, silky texture, subtle dried herbs and spices. It has ample body without being too big or packing too much of an alcohol heat. So moreish and a great alternative to your staple reds this winter.