Alterna-wines

The yoof of today: ready to try any varietal as long as it’s different to their parents.

The yoof of today: ready to try any varietal as long as it’s different to their parents.

If you want a wine list that makes your customers feel culturally sophisticated, it pays to be across the newest alternative wine varieties

Faddism is as rampant in the wine business as it is in that other strange industry called ‘fashion’. One might think that this new-is-different-is-better attitude in wine is a more recent development, but, casting your mind back into wine’s history, you can see new trends developing all the time—some are short-lived (wine in a can), other become juggernauts (New Zealand sauvignon blanc), some even become enshrined in wine’s immutable laws (champagne: remember it was originally, back in the 1660s, considered a mistake—the bottles kept exploding).

The important point about new wine trends is not how they might come and go—or stay—but how they might impact on your business. Do you keep your eyes and ears peeled for new wine trends, in order that you might profit from them, or at least keep your business’s perception in vogue; or do you ignore them all together and stick with line and length wine styles that have sold well in the past, and so should keep selling well into the future?

The answer is to enact a blend of both approaches, and indeed, you have no choice but to do so. Wine lists—despite what your Chief Financial Officer might be saying—need a certain scope these days, in order to reflect the cultural sophistication (imagined or not) of your customers. The customer might still order the chardy or the sav blanc, but they like the idea there’s a viognier or vermentino on the list too.

Another feature for alternative wine varieties is their attraction to younger customers, for whom there is something of a reaction against chardonnay, shiraz, and (shudder to think) maybe even one day soon, sauvignon blanc. These well-worn and time-honoured wines are linked to an increasingly older generation. Younger adults are not so keen to be drinking the wines associated with their mum or dad. In recent times pinot gris has been an example of this. Its popularity on-premise has increased, in part because it isn’t chardy or sav blanc.

Pinot gris also points to another factor helping to make some alternative wine varieties find new fans: Weight and viscosity. They are richer, more luscious, and have a heavier mouth-feel than a lot of the more traditional wine varieties. This is particularly evident among the trendy white wines of the moment. Pinot gris and viognier in particular demonstrate this unmissable flavour and texture. They are also prone to be on the higher alcohol side, perhaps hovering around 14 per cent ABV. A rich mouth-feel, strong texture, and high alcohol all combine to make the wine an instant hit. How much of it one might be able to drink before the wine’s flavour becomes a little to overbearing is a question worth asking, of course; but if the wine is selling and customers seem to like then you shouldn’t let this interrupt the happiness of your till.

Finally there is one other potentially long-term, positive effect these new alternative wine varieties might have. It has been suggested that some of these new grapes have a greater drought and heat tolerance when compared to the dominant existing wine grape plantings in Australia. Whites such as fiano (from Italy’s south) and reds like tempranillo (from Spain) could, given cyclical and/or climate change-related rainfall and temperature fluctuations, help grape growers continue to produce good quality wines without the irrigation costs. This is all crystal ball sort of stuff, however. The flavour profiles (below) of the alternative grape varieties starting to make a bit of hit are of a more pressing concern to a wine list’s profitability.

Vermentino: This is the chardonnay of Corsica, or the sauvignon blanc of Sardinia. On these islands it is grown everywhere with remarkable impunity and makes for a white wine that has a lot of flavour but more importantly a lot of fresh finishing acidity. There’s some stone fruit flavour, but good lemon and grapefruit notes as well, making for the clean finish. Try Chalmers Vermentino 2009, $15 LUC.

Savagnin: A white grape from France’s Jura valley, we now have a lot of this wine, principally because we thought it was a Spanish grape variety called albarino. DNA testing proved that not to be true. Thus the trendy Spanish food-wine link was destroyed. Whether savagnin will now prosper is another thing. It is all tropical fruits and nuttiness, and less over-wrought than viognier. Be warned that many wine reps will be pushing this white over the coming months…

Fiano: From the outer suburbs of Naples, this white has good promise in Australia. For a start, it is easy to pronounce, because everyone can say ‘piano’. The best examples of fiano have more citrus flavours and higher acidity; otherwise it is a nicely textured wine with some melon and apple flavours. Fox Gordon Princess Fiano 2009 is $15 LUC.

Tempranillo: One day this wine will be the world’s default red. It has cabernet’s tannins, pinot’s seductiveness, and shiraz’s earthy honesty. What’s more, it likes Australia’s diverse wine growing regions, which will make it increasingly important to our wine industry, not too mention to our palates. Made simply (without oak), it can be affordable, and effortless to drink. In the meantime, the best local examples are a bit pricey. Mount Majura Tempranillo 2009, $35 cellar door; Chapel Hill il Vescovo Tempranillo ($16) is another option.

Nero d’avola: The joker in the future red pack, nero d’avola; ripe tannins, spicy, plummy and peppery flavours, and a suitability to hot and dry climates make it an interesting option for Australian conditions. Could it be our new shiraz, without the portiness? Too early to tell. Brown Brothers make one, as do Chalmers. Worth getting one for staff training day.

Nebbiolo: For viticultural and wine-making reasons, this noble red wine variety always costs a bomb. Our two best examples are both about $40 LUC—S.C. Pannell’s Nebbiolo 2005 and Pizzini Nebbiolo 2005. Perfumed rose aromas and lots of gamey, savoury flavours, combined with assertive yet giving tannins, make these wines worthy of serious wine list inclusion.

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