I’m currently in Perth, Western Australia, spending the Christmas break with my parents, who have recently moved here. I’m discovered some interesting, and unusual, wines that don’t really get out on the export market to the UK.
First up is a Vermentino – Night Harvest Reserve 2011, from Margaret River. Vermentino is a relatively obscure Italian white grape, found mostly in Sardegna; however, it is becoming fashionable in Australia and makes a welcome change from the often big and brash Chardonnays commonly found here. I found this example had much in common with many of the typically subtle Italian white varietals. The nose was not particularly aromatic, yet it was complex and delicate with hints of pear skin, fresh grass and peaches. The body showed lovely, refreshing acidity and only moderate alcohol (12.4%) – a welcome surprise when many Australian whites reach 13.5%. A moderately long finish carried through herbaceous, herbal and peppery flavours. Overall, a very pleasant wine in a particular style I happen to enjoy, though may be off the beaten track somewhat for those used to overt smells and flavours. It’d be great with delicate seafood, sushi or vegetarian rice dishes.
Secondly, a more conventional variety – Cabernet Sauvignon from Joseph River Estate, 2009, Margaret River. This wine recently won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy at the Melbourne Wine Show. The nose shows a classic warm-climate Cabernet Sauvignon to me, with ripe blackcurrant, blueberry, vanilla from French oak, and some ‘porty’ hints. Unlike some Australian Cabernets, however, it is not ‘baked’ or ‘jammy’ – more like a Super-Tuscan than a Coonawarra. At 14.5% it has a bit much alcohol for my liking, although it is fairly well covered, with crisp acidity and elegant, not overly ripe, fruit flavours. An appealing savoury character develops in the mouth as you swallow. The tannins are firm, ripe and fairly well defined. This wine is still youthful and will continue to develop for another 5 years or so. Overall, while not in the ballpark of fine European Cabernets, it certainly has an elegance and balance that echoes them, and this stands it apart from many Australian Cabernets I’ve had in the past.
Finally, another Cabernet Sauvignon, but unusually in the form of a méthode traditionelle (Champagne-style) sparkling wine. This wine is made by Lamont’s, vintage 2009. Lamont’s are based in the Swan Valley, just outside of Perth; however, 70% of the fruit is sourced from the Margaret River, and the remainder from the Swan Valley. The wine is made mostly from the free-run juice of the grapes, thus the resultant colour is a rosé-like pale salmon-pink. I picked up clean fruit aromas of blackberry and honeydew melon, along with a characteristic Cabernet leafyness and a lactic quality I associate with lees ageing. The palate was light and lean – crisp acidity, moderate alcohol, no tannins, moderate to long finish. The predominant flavours were tart berries and a leafyness – especially on the finish. Sensibly, in my view, this wine contains no additional sugar (the dosage traditionally added to Champagne) meaning that these tart, lean flavours are not competing with an extraneous sweetness. I’m not usually a fan of zero-dosage sparkling wines, yet this example showed a unique style that works fairly well. Certainly good with food, and an interesting wine!