A Guide to Aussie White Wines this Spring
To think that white wine is limited to NZ Sauv’ Blanc, or the crusty 3-day old Chardonnay at the pub, is to miss out on an array of superb white varieties.
You’ll be scouring winelists for hours, hunting for new grapes to try and buy. From bright and crisp to full-bodied (and almost savoury), there is such a wide selection that Australian winemakers are expanding on every vintage. Lucky for you, we have three suggestions that give a peek into the world of classic Aussie whites.
From Western Australia to McLaren Vale, and finally Victoria, these wines have as much variety in them as the distances between their cellar doors - from crisp and fruity for day drinks, a medium bodied drink for the beach and seafood, and a fuller bodied wine to go with lighter meats and cheeses. It’s time to branch out from the ‘glass of house white’.
Slide into Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ‘SSB’
'Ivory' Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. Deep Woods Estate. Margaret River, WA
SSB is an old world style from Bordeaux that has found a new home in the winemaking journals of Australian wineries - particularly Western Australia. The semillon grape comes with weight, lusciousness and a smoothness to it; whilst the sauvignon blanc is lighter, more aromatic and has an acidic ‘zipiness’. Together they make a beautifully balanced wine that has the best of both worlds - not mouth puckering in acidity or too rich/flabby to be enjoyed on its own.
Margaret River can produce some really powerful reds in warmer years, but in the south the cooler weather gives the sauvignon blanc a longer season to ripen, whilst maintaining acidity. The semillon, however, comes from far north, where it will ripen more and give bright, fresh flavours. For all of this flavour, the acid drops off at an alarming rate, so the sauvignon blanc balances the wine, whilst adding a little extra freshly cut grass and lemon peel to the wine.
Can this wine age? No, but that’s not a bad thing. One of the stigmas behind a wine that can’t age is that it isn’t good. This simply isn’t the case as this bottle was designed to be enjoyed now; with the primary fruit flavors of peach, lemon, cut grass, some minerality and even a saline aspect. That’s not to say it has an expiry date of a few weeks away - this wine is best from after it’s released to a few years from now.
As a wine ages, the fruit flavours slowly fade. Unless they are replaced, the wine just becomes a little...dull. In fact, it’s estimated that less than 5% of wines produced annually across the world are intended for long term aging. So for the Ivory - drink now, in the sun, with friends.
When in drought, pour a Fiano.
Fiano is like Piano, with an F. Fact. If you see it on a winelist without having heard of it before, it’s quite easily mistaken as just a cooky label name. After all, winelists are hard to interpret when all you may get is a name, a year - sometimes a grape - and that’s it. Good luck!
Bondar’s Fiano is grafted onto 25 year old Chardonnay rootstocks, and are now around 7 years old. As this grape is drought resistant - increasingly important in McLaren Vale where water can be sparse - it is also a very appropriate planting for the area. Maintaining its acidity throughout the hot growing season, not needing as much water as the original plantings of chardonnay, just makes sense.
But Fiano isn’t a grape (or an instrument) you should gloss over, especially the Bondar. Fiano is a thick skinned white grape found in Campania, in central Italy and also in the south in Sicily. High temperatures, low rainfall, long growing season - it’s no wonder this grape has found a similar home at the vineyards of Ben Lacey in McLaren Vale, the source of Bondar’s 2020 Fiano.
The 90’s Oak-bomb craze: Chardonnay
In the 90’s McLaren Vale was actually producing more white than red, as Australia was just leaving the oak-bomb chardonnay craze of the 80’s - so the region isn’t new to white wines, moreso the reds have made the area famous. Since the oak-craze died, reds have put this region south of Adelaide’s CBD on the map (and now 91% of planetings are red, the largest white planting being chardonnay at 5%). So, while Shiraz is number one, keep an eye out for Fiano - they may make a small amount of white, done right!
You’ll find lemon, mango, peaches and a saline-mineral quality from the close proximity to the coast and underlying limestone. The wine, like most from Australia, is under screwcap. Screwcaps aren’t porous like corks, so the wine will almost always benefit from a swirl in the glass to help ‘open up’. The wine softens, the initial acidity subsides slightly and delicate aromas and flavours from aging lees start to appear - brioche, a nuttiness and yoghurt, in the case of this wine. The wine has complexity and is truly a pleasure to taste, with only 175 cases made it’s a hot ticket, so get in quick!
All Saints Marsanne. The White Trifecta.
The final part of this white-trifecta is the All Saints Marsanne. Marsanne is traditionally a blending partner of roussanne - or as some say, ‘the Rhone Sisters’. The former is intensely aromatic, but can lose acid and become ‘flabby’, whilst the latter has aromatics and intense flavour that appears very early in ripening. This means it can be picked early to maintain high levels of acidity without losing flavour.
Although dependent on each other in the past, modern winemaking techniques and analysis pre-harvest has led to success for single varietal wine (although in 2019 it’s still only 0.3% of the entire white wine crush in Australia). The All Saints 2019 hails from Tahbilk in central Victoria, around two hours north of Melbourne. The region has a similar climate and soils to the Northern Rhone, where the grape variety is most prominent, so it’s no surprise that shiraz and viognier are also planted here. Picked in the cool of the morning to keep the fruit fresh (warmer temperatures promote spoilage and a reduction in the flavor if oxidised), fermented to dryness in stainless steel (again to keep the varietal flavours), and aged in older oak on the lees. It’s a similar technique to the Bondar Fiano - giving more flavour and complexity.
The style is designed around freshness: crisp acidity and flavours of lemon, peach and even apples, with a subtle waxy-honeyed flavour as well. This particular wine isn’t intended to be aged that long, so as a 2019 it sits perfectly in the ‘drinking window’. At 2 years old, the flavours have integrated and settled nicely into a wine that is great with soft cheeses, white meats or by itself. Turkey, green apple and cheddar sandwiches for lunch with this bottle in the park, says I!
'Tiger Tiger' Chardonnay. Collector Wines. Canberra, ACT
White wines are so much more than the said fruit bombs, full body oak bombs, or eye watering acidity. Aussie winemakers are doing such great things with regional classics like the West Australian Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, new drought-resistant varietals like Fiano, and of course takes on ‘minor grapes’ only seen in blends like the marsanne. For us, the wine drinker, it means an ever expanding list of potential wines to try, and for the winemaker new challenges where grapes are finding their place within the melting pot which is the Australian wine scene. My tip for you - go out and try them, and each vintage there is going to be something new!