Dan's Blog


Friday, October 05, 2018

Mention amateur winemakers and most people imagine some old Italian or Greek guy bringing out his recently homemade firewater and pouring it from an old wine bottle. It would probably taste more like grappa or even metho than proper wine.

Well yes, that used to be the way it was and I have experienced that on several occasions back in the 1980s and 1990s. However, there is another completely different side and that is what I am writing about today.

Adelaide has two amateur winemaking clubs, the Blackwood Winemakers and Brewers Club and The Amateur Winemakers & Brewers Club of Adelaide. When I first started visiting them I was blown away by the level of expertise and attention to detail that most members put into their wines. Their regular monthly meetings are always interesting, often with an industry speaker addressing the members about all sorts of wine related topics. Including at one of the meetings I attended, they had the great folk from Bracegirdle’s Chocolates there explaining all about chocolate and matching chocolate and wine – a brilliant and informative evening.

Most months they also have an “in club” judging of one class of wine or other. It would be remiss of me not to mention the beer making/judging. I have tasted some outstanding beers at some of the club meetings and one of their members currently holds the Australian title.

The Blackwood club conducts an annual wine bottling at the winery that it buys the wine from, whereby the members come along, bottle and label around 100 dozen each of two to three different wines. This year’s premium Shiraz was a McLaren Vale cracker. It sold out so fast that most of the committee didn’t even get a chance to buy a case.

Last month (for the fourth year in a row) I was one of the wine judges at the “Australian National Amateur Wine and Beer Show” (ANAWBS) held at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide. This was the 39th year that the show has been held, so it is no “Johnny come lately”. This year ANAWBS received over 400 entries, which shows how seriously some amateur winemakers take their winemaking. 

Judged over two days, using six to eight volunteer judges each day, it is run the same way that “normal” wine shows are. The volunteer judges each year include some well-known winemakers who judge the wines in the usual wine show format. This year I was paired with Thomas Hardy, a real character of the wine industry with a great palate. As it turned out when comparing scores at the end of each class, our scores were very close to each other with no major disagreements.

Now to the important part. The entries came from all over Australia and just under half of the entries that I judged scored a bronze medal or better, using the standard 20-point system. My general comment is that the better (higher rated) entries showed a great attention to detail and in the reds, excellent use of oak, with the best being at least as good as $20-$30 commercially produced wines.

In the 1-3 year old Red Wine class that we judged there were a number of wines which were aging faster than they should and even one or two that were on the verge of collapse. However, the better ones were continuing to develop and evolve, with the 2016 Cabernets being particularly good.

So if somebody ever asks you to taste a home-made wine, before saying “Yes”, ask them: What variety are the grapes? Where do they come from? What yeast did they use? And if it is a red: What oak did they use? If they give you a 15 minute dissertation, then say YES, because they are of the “real” amateur winemakers who have probably made very good wine – with heaps of TLC. I am sure some of these people (guys & gals) are only missing a winery to be proper commercial winemakers.

Well I have worked up a thirst, so I am just going to crack open a bottle of the fabulous 2016 “The Alternatives” Durif made by a friend of mine.  Cheers!


This week’s wine comes from the Riverland, a much maligned (for producing bulk wine) area of South Australia that today is home for some outstanding wineries producing great emerging variety wines.

At this year’s inaugural “Emerging Variety Awards” (EVAs) there were a number of Riverland wines which performed well – see the results in the upcoming Winestate Magazine Nov/Dec 2018 edition.

I tasted this week’s wine as part of an article on emerging sparkling wines I was writing for WBM Magazine – it is the WHISTLING KITE 2016 RIVERLAND SPARKLING PETIT VERDOT.

WHISTLING KITE WINES is the Barich family, who have been growing grapes in the Riverland since 1976. They Bio-dynamically produce their grapes and have the wine made by fellow Riverlander and iconic winemaker, Eric Semmler.

The only mainstream variety in the WHISTLING KITE range is Shiraz. The rest of the range are all emerging varieties – Petit Manseng, Viognier, Montepulciano and Petit Verdot.

Their Montepulciano has previously won the “Winestate Alternative Variety Wine of the Year” award – none too dusty!!

Their SPARKLING PETIT VERDOT is a rare creature, with only 2-3 other wineries in Australia producing such a wine. The 2016 vintage is gorgeous! Starting with its lovely deep red colour, lively mousse, through to the vibrant grapey, yeasty aromas and on through to the palate, which has some sweetness  on the front palate, then dries and tightens up to a grippy, astringent finish. It is not as aggressive on the finish as one would expect given that Petit Verdot is naturally a very tannic variety. This makes it a great wine to accompany an entrée or antipasto.

Park it away for a while as the tannins round out and soften off and you will have a divinely delicious sparkling red. Cheers!