2010 Salena Estate Ink Series Bianco d'Alessano

There is always pleasure involved when you experience and enjoy something new for the first time. Without stating the bleeding obvious, I was thinking more along the lines of reading a book, hearing a piece of music, eating at a new restaurant or in particular drinking a bottle of wine!

It is all the more enjoyable when it happens to be a wine made from a rare grape variety that you have never heard of or experienced. With plantings at Loxton in South Australia's Riverland Region, Salena Estate is the only winery in Australia that produces wine from the Bianco d'Alessano variety. With a triple trophy haul at the recent Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, they should justifiably be proud of their 2010 vintage. It is an absolutely delicious drop!

Puglia is the stiletto 'heel' of Italy's boot and the region where this white grape variety originates. Historically, grapes and especially white wines from Puglia have gone under the radar, used in blends, for bulk wines and to make vermouth. Consequently, they were not taken seriously. Heavy Pugliese reds like Primitivo and Negromaro have had the limelight. Yet almost twenty percent of Italy's wines come from this region in the south-east, vying with Sicily as Italy's top producer. It is now the turn of the whites to grab some headlines and what I'm predicting is that southern Italian white varietals will be the next big thing on the Australian wine landscape.

Winemakers are now growing emerging varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano, Greco di Tufo and Bianco d'Alessano in Australia's warmer wine growing regions as a response to changing global weather patterns and earlier picking times. Whereas some grapes do not tolerate heat well, the ability of these particular varieties is renown for retaining that all important natural acidity until harvest. As Bianco d'Alessano is a late ripening grape, holding that crucial acidity level augurs well for the quality of the wine.

As the accolades acknowledged, the Salena Estate Bianco d'Alessano is a quality wine. In the glass it is pale straw yellow in colour. On the nose lovely nectarine and peach aromatics pop out as though you are about to eat a fresh fruit salad. Some citrus, delicate florals and minerality. On the palate a smoky citrus acidity supports the stone fruits. A good weight overall to the wine that finishes crisp and clean. Perfect as an appetiser but would really go well with fish. Do yourself a favour and broaden your tasting experience. An exciting discovery for the summer. 

Source: Winery Sample. Rating: 91 Points. Website: http://www.salenaestate.com.au/

2008 The Ritual Western Australia Viognier

The Ritual is a partnership between two Western Australian wine entrepreneurs whose vineyards are located in the Peel Wine Region, south-east of Perth. The wines made under the Ritual label were intended for an export market.

Gradually gaining a foothold out west, Viognier has the mainstream varieties Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc to contend with in addition to varietals such as Chenin Blanc and Verdelho, which grow extensively in the soils and climate there to the point where Western Australia could reasonably be regarded as their spiritual home.

Having said that, Viognier has been a quiet achiever here but now appears to have become the trendiest of the Rhone Valley white wine trio as a stand alone, wanting a piece of the action as a reputable alternative variety. In recent years, small percentages of Viognier (usually around 5%) have been used to add fragrance and suppleness to the power of shiraz wines. Additionally, its use as a component in white wine blends, as a sparkling wine and as a late harvest variety highlights its versatility.

An ancient variety related to the Nebbiolo grape and possibly brought into France by the Romans, Viognier is the only grape permitted in the Northern Rhone appellations Condrieu and Chateau Grillet, two of France's smallest AOC's. Rescued from the brink of extinction in the late 1960's with the less than twenty hectares of vines planted in the world found in this region, it is documented that Eden Valley's Yalumba and its interest in the variety sparked its revival and the subsequent worldwide popularity. Yet despite its growth within France and the other major players California and Australia over the next four decades, it still remains a minor variety to this day.

There is a real mystique that accompanies this wine grape. The name may put people off, they'd rather stick to what they know. It's not only the facts that it was rescued from virtual oblivion, that Viognier has an unpredictable nature in the vineyard but also has unreliable yields that force winemakers to walk vinification tightropes to get the right balance between acid, sugar and alcohol levels. Adding to this headache is the fact that Viognier vines need a decade or two in order to develop and produce good wines. But when they do, the results are what Viognier is renown for: its stunning aromatics of fresh flowers, apricot and peach and the rich texture and tangy viscous palate that has been described as sensual.

The Ritual has restrained aromas of apricots and peaches with hints of honey and spice. In keeping with the age of the vines, it didn't have the palate richness but brought together a nice balance of citrus, stone fruit, pear and honey characteristics that lingered on the finish. The heat of the 15% alcohol content was disconcerting however.

With the ageing of the vines, it will be intriguing to follow up on future vintages. This was an inexpensive wine, good for its price that may get people interested in this variety as an alternative to the usual white wine suspects at the same price point. Viognier's aromatics and freshness are a great counterbalance to a diverse range of spicy as well as non-spicy foods. 

Source: Retail Purchase. Rating: 86 Points.

2008 Vinden Estate Alicante Bouschet

When you think about the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, wine may come up as a topic of conversation. When you talk about wine, Semillon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and perhaps Verdelho if you're in the know, may be the topics. Alicante Bouschet would not be on the radar.

Vinden Estate, a family-owned boutique winery in the Hunter Valley, has one of the limited plantings in Australia of this rare red fleshed grape variety. Irrespective of a grape's skin colour, the vast majority have clear juice and rely on skin contact and maceration to extract colour to therefore make into a rose. Few have dark flesh and juice like the Alicante Bouschet. The French call these types 'teinturier' a term meaning to dye or to stain.

Made into a rose, the Vinden Estate expression is vibrant bright pink in colour from its freely run pulp juice. Raspberry and strawberry aromatics predominate with hints of spice. On the palate dry, spicy fruit flavours and a nice acid tannin balance make this a lovely, soft, refreshing wine to drink chilled during the warmer months.

The Alicante Bouschet grape has a fascinating history. A French hybrid grape developed in 1865 by Henri Bouschet who was carrying on his father's work, it is the cross between the Petit Bouschet grape - the hybrid his father Louis had originally developed in 1824 - and Grenache. In effect, it was a double hybrid which winemakers planted widely throughout France - mainly in the south-west provinces - which they later used as a blending partner where colour and tannin was needed for lighter coloured wines.

Grown extensively throughout California too, its popularity - or perhaps notoriety - came during the American Prohibition era where its thick, tough skins resisted rot on the long cross country train journeys from their vineyards to east coast cities. Home winemakers and bootleggers it appears had field days obtaining two or three vintages from the thick skins and intensively coloured juice. Fruit growers transformed their orchards to take advantage of this high yielding grape and the lucre it generated. Once Prohibition was repealed, the grape was used for blending purposes, eventually falling in acreage and popularity. However, it still remains the most widely planted of France's teinturier grape varieties in France itself with plantings in other countries such as Spain, Portugal, Corsica, South Africa and Australia. Smaller areas now remain in California in comparison to its heyday during the Prohibition era.

Despite negativity about its overall character, its decline from favour in many wine growing areas and consumer demand for quality wines, the Alicante Bouschet grape appears to have experienced a raw deal throughout its existence, always the bridesmaid and never the bride, which is a pity. If the Vinden Estate is any example, I liked this rose very much and would not hesitate recommending it to people who wish to experience something different than what is on offer in the rose market today. 

Source: Winery Purchase. Rating: 88 Points. 
Website: http://www.vindenestate.com.au/