June 12, 2020

Grape vine research has never been more intense than it is today. As mentioned in previous blogs, the Champagnois are more than half way through a research project to find new varieties to add to the “approved” list for making champagne. The Bordelaise have just added seven new varieties to their “approved” list, albeit that they cannot represent more than 10% of the wine, and cannot be used in the Grand Cru wines.

In yet another sign that the “Old Wine World” is starting to change and loosen up its ubber rigid rules, Italian winery, Castello Banfi (in Italy’s hottest wine region, Tuscany), is currently conducting “trials” with new grape varieties. They have a two hectare “experimental” vineyard where in the 1980s they conducted research, in conjunction with the University of Milan, to find the 15 best clones of Sangiovese out of 650 that had been identified in Italy at that time. This research helped to improve the quality of the excellent Tuscan wines.

Currently they are trialling the native Georgian red variety, Saperavi, as a potential anti-global warming additive for the great Sangiovese wines of Tuscany, as the climate becomes more tropical with higher rainfall. They are looking for thicker skinned, mould resistant, deeper coloured varieties so as to be able to maintain the character of their wines as the region goes heating up.

Could you imagine, in the past and even up until most recently the Italian wine “police” allowing the growing of a foreign (Communist) grape variety in Italy??

Also, now there is the news that the Americans have been doing intensive work on Pierce’s disease resistant varieties. Pierce’s disease is a bacterium that infects the xylem vessels in vines thereby disrupting the flow of water and minerals – as a result of which the vines die quite quickly. At present this disease costs Californian wineries in excess of $100 million a year.

The University of California, Davis, has spent the last nearly thirty years cross breeding mainstream Vitis Vinifera varieties with indigenous Vitis Arizonica vines (which are not suitable for winemaking due to their “foxy” characteristics). The new varieties, Caminante Blanc, Ambulo Blanc, Camminare Noir, Errante Noir and Paseante Noir, are all 97% Vitis Vinifera as they found that the unpleasant Vitis Arizonica characters faded when the variety reached 88% Vitis Vinifera.

The first commercial quantities of planting materials will be released this year, so it will be a few more years before we will be able to taste the resultant wines and form our own opinion on these new varieties. Needless to say the UC Davis crew are very excited by the flavours of these varieties.

Meanwhile here in Australia around half of our wineries are making wine from “Emerging” grape varieties. In some cases out of curiosity or love for this variety, but in many, if not most cases, due to the variety’s better suitability to the changing/warming climate that the winery is located in.

The most notable variety that has been adopted by wineries is Tempranillo which is native to the warm regions of Spain, but still performs well in Spain’s cooler regions. Today there are over 400 wineries out of the 2,500 in Australia producing Tempranillo.

The styles of the wine range from some (a few) still being made the same way they make Shiraz, to some sensationally alluring, ubber elegant wines which are world-class. Tempranillo today can really be considered as being “mainstream” rather as an emerging variety (which is why I have not written an article about it in the series on emerging varieties that I have been writing for WBM Magazine over the last eight years).

Well that's all for this week. Stay safe and enjoy smashing wines. Cheers!

This Week's Wine Review:

It is not often in life that one finds something that is rare and delicious at the same time. This week however I am talking about an extremely rare variety that makes utterly delicious wine. That variety is, SAINT MACAIRE, a red variety that was once quite popular in its native Bordeaux (it is named after one of the villages there) up until the mid-late 1800s, when it fell out of favour.

It has become almost extinct, with the only known vineyards being one in California (where it is used for blending) and two in the Riverina region of NSW (where both producers make delicious wine from it).

The original Aussie SAINT MACAIRE wine comes from the Calabria Family in Griffith, where under the stewardship of the inspiring, Bill Calabria, who developed the family business (established in 1945) from making “run-of-the-mill” Riverina wines to making some sensational wines like their 3 Bridges Durif (an outstanding example of that superb variety). More recently Calabria Family Wines have invested in the Barossa Valley and are now producing some excellent and exciting Barossa wines. But I digress.

This week’s wine is the CALABRIA 2015 RIVERINA PRIVATE BIN SAINT MACAIRE, a beautiful wine with a deep, dark, dense colour (almost as deep as Tannat or Saperavi). It has a complex, gentle bouquet of red fruit, a smidge of dried herbs and a decent dollop of fine vanillin oak. Very attractive.

The palate is quite big, rich and unctuous with great balance and a drying, tight finish that means it really needs to accompany food at this stage in its life. Already five-years-old, this wine has the potential to age for eons IF you can keep your hands off the bottle. Buy some and tuck it away in some deep, dark corner for at least half a decade or more. You will be amply rewarded as it will evolve into a stunning, world-class wine.

Visit their website and check out their extensive range of excellent wines, you are bound to find something to whet your palate.

► The Private Bin range includes cracking, yet very reasonably priced – Pinot Bianco, Vermentino, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano.

► Under the 3 Bridges label, the star of which is their superb Durif.

► They have a range of very tasty Barossa wines leading all the way up to their very up-market – “The Iconic Grand Reserve” Shiraz made from vines planted in 1914 at $175 a bottle (which I haven’t tasted as yet).