As the seasons change, you must revitalise your wine list. Ben Canaider offers tips on savvy, dramatic drops that will give you an edge.
Moving your wine list from winter into summer can be traumatic. In fact, it has to be traumatic. The big change of season has to be writ large on any wine list. Those older whites and heavier reds that didn’t do the numbers in the colder months need to go on to the specials board, and be served by the glass, possibly as cellar reserve.
The new 2007 aromatic whites and rose wines should make a dramatic entrance. If every other bar or café in your postcode is selling 2007 sauvignon blanc, for instance, and you’re stuck on the 2006—or worse, the 2005 vintage—you’ll look like an amateur. So consider the wine styles that can boost your business.
There are plenty of obvious and easy sparklers from which to choose. Given most customers ask for the house champagne, there’s not much point in being too clever here.
If you did want to add some fizz to your bubble category, think Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava. More of these wines are available in Australia, with good under $20 LUCs.
Try Carpeni Malvolti Prosecco di Conegliano from Alepat Taylor or Spain’s Segura Viudas Brut Riserva, distributed by Wine Source.
Leading this charge is sauvignon blanc—the cash-cow of the category. It is the new chardonnay, but certain rules apply. New Zealand sav blanc should come from Marlborough. Patriotic Australians will also stock savvy from the Adelaide Hills, or Tasmania. Cool climate stridency is the style of this wine’s calling card.
For a more serious edge you’ll need riesling and semillon, both of which a few hardcore wine tragics will buy. Good riesling from Australia’s recognised riesling regions is not expensive. Buy anything you can from the Eden or Clare valleys in South Australia. Riesling also allows you to have a few $30 or below whites on the list, which will appeal to the budget gourmet. Semillon is a little more problematic, and the better wines are now quite costly. Stick to Hunter Valley products and buy the latest vintage. Sell it as a versatile wine that is good with Asian flavours and chilli. This wine’s lower alcohol by volume reading is another point that too few sommeliers use as a recommendation. Good Hunter Valley semillon gives you wine’s pleasure without its pain.
Bolder and odd whites
Chardonnay can never be avoided, whether it be 1 degree C or 40 degrees C. Unwooded chardonnay is my recommendation for this summer. It’s got some fruit weight and punch, with good acidity and none of the oaky artefact that ruins so many posher bottles of expensive chardy.
Marsanne is the other fuller white wine that suits spring and summer drinking, and Australia’s best example of this wine is Tahbilk. Look to the list below for more information about a recent affordable discovery.
The greatest inter-season white wine is without doubt pinot grigio —not pinot gris. Same grape variety, but different psychologies. Grigio is in the Italian manner; it is lighter, more playful, more fruity. It is the perfect wine for antipasto and costs less than poncier pinot gris. Pinot grigio is being produced from all parts of the country, but look to the King Valley, Tassie and more southerly parts of Victoria for this wine.
All this talk of white wine gives one a thirst, but as one connoisseur once said: “Let’s face it, white wine is just something you drink before the red…’’
But before the red, and because of this recent popular reinvention, we need to consider rose.
Pink. The third wine. It has white wine’s weight, but red wine’s grip. It comes in two distinct local styles, and it is increasingly the thing new wine drinkers are turning to when they are not sure how to proceed. The two local styles are sorted out by colour—or hue. We have loud and hot-pink rose wine, and we have salmon-coloured, bronze-hued rose. The former tends to be fruity, made from Grenache, and well suited to spicy food; the latter tends to be more serious, made from pinot or shiraz and suited to any first course. This wine is ideal with fish, chicken, salad, terrine and cold cuts. The only thing to be wary of when ordering rose is its residual sugar count. Anything more than about 5 grams per litre, and you’ll be stuck with something that’s easy to sell by the glass but hard to sell by the bottle.
Red wine cannot be forgotten in the warmer months. And this is a time to devote to pinot noir. More Australian pinot is now more affordable and popular. The cooler regions of the Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Geelong have lower-priced, but by no means low-quality, pinots. These are also wines that do not come up on the big liquor chain radar too much, which gives you some room to move on pricing. More recent vintages are best. Some pinots can improve in the bottle, but like the aromatic whites, fresher is better when it comes to $35ish wine list pinots.
And for more manly reds?
By the end of spring, everyone with a working brain and an expense account should be well and truly over the big Ocker reds of winter. Customers still might want something with heft and attitude, so it’s a good time to feature some sangiovese. Australia’s take on this grape variety from Italy’s Chianti region, Tuscany, gets better every year. Texture and pithy flavours come to the fore in this structured red. Good examples are found in McLaren Vale and in the King Valley. It is another point-of-difference wine, which you might find helpful given the identikit nature of so many safe
Top ten Summer wines
Dominique Portet Brut Rose, $16
A Yarra Valley pink sparkler made by a Frenchman. This pert wine is great with food and has a very light dosage—there’s not much sweetness to it. This is a dry finishing and very sophisticated sparkling wine. It is also a new listing, so
you should act quickly.
Skillogalee Riesling 2006, $13
This is an underrated and often overlooked Clare Valley riesling with wonderful purity and class. There are the minerals and the citrus, and there is a long, long palate complete with a tangy finish. It would keep well, but it is also very approachable now.
Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc 2007, $11
One of the most affordable Marlborough sauvignon blancs doing the rounds, yet it doesn’t lack any of that New Zealand region’s savvy, if you’ll pardon the pun. This has the combination of tropical fruit and herbaceousness. It is also a reasonably dry wine, not reverting to overt sweetness to sell the bottle.
Thomas ‘The O.C.’ Semillon 2007, $12
A small, yet very high-quality Hunter Valley semillon producer. Everything about this wine—from the packaging to the aftertaste—is stylish and subtle. There are great varietal aromas and flavours in this wine, which, with its tightly coiled core of semillon citrus and minerals, will delight semillon addicts.
Pfeiffer Marsanne 2005, $13
From north-east Victoria, this white wine has balanced alcohol and good citrus fruit flavours. Some stone fruit aromas waft about, but otherwise it is a very uncomplicated and easy drinking wine. Its unpretentious label is also a welcome relief.
West Cape Howe Unwooded Chardonnay 2007, $9
As the winemaker at West Cape Howe in the Great Southern region of WA says, “unwooded chardonnay might not be my preferred tipple of an evening, but someone must be drinking the stuff as sales are as strong as ever.’’ This brand-spanker has tropical fruit flavours balanced by some good acidity. Its 10 per cent of sauvignon blanc and semillon may be the reason.
Chain of Ponds Pinot Grigio 2006, $13
A slightly more full-on grigio than some doing the rounds, this one at 14 per cent alcohol will probably appeal to by-the-glass drinkers. It has immediate, soft, happy appeal, and enough velvetiness and viscosity to slip down all too easily. You need to serve this Adelaide Hills pedigre well chilled.
Turkey Flat Rose 2007, $16
One of the better warmer climate roses—this is a Barossan blend of grenache, shiraz, cabernet and dolcetto. It’s a fresh and clean wine with just enough fruit and grip. The alcohol is in balance, and there’s no over-the-top residual sugar. Red berry fruit flavours do all that work. A refreshing rose to serve well chilled.
Swan Bay Pinot Noir 2006, $12
This friendly pinot noir is the second label of Scotchmans Hill, in Victoria’s coolish Geelong region. And it is probably the best example of it. There’s some good fruit grunt in this drink, with supporting acidity and a firm finish. Very versatile with food, and it will cope well with the hotter weather.
Hollick ‘Hollaia’ Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, $11
This is an 85 per cent, 15 per cent sangiovese/cabernet blend, and named in a tongue-in-cheek manner after Italy’s super-Tuscan reds. The fruit comes from Wrattonbully, next door to Coonawarra. There’s great structure and pithiness in this red, making it ideal for summer barbecued food. Another example of good Aussie-Italian red wine.
[All prices approximate LUC]