Mere hours before writing this column, I was at a Wine Australia seminar and tasting at the Waterview event space, perched over False Creek across from Granville Island. While I’m constantly impressed by the breadth of Shiraz, Grenache, and Chardonnays across many regions, I found myself gravitating more toward the less common varieties we regularly see from Down Under. There’s a good amount of Italian grapes finding success in Australia, and with Italy boasting well over 350 of them, there’s plenty of fodder for those in other countries to play around with.
Take Fiano, a white variety hailing from southern Italy and Sicily. While it’s comfortable getting ripe with pear, apple, and ginger notes in warm climates à la Codici Masserie Fiano 2017 (Puglia, Italy; $14.99, B.C. Liquor Stores), it can still retain vibrant acidity and freshness. It has a slightly waxy viscosity, making it quite food-friendly, with an ability to age a few years, no problem. That aging capability is in full effect when we look at Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards Fiano 2014 (McLaren Vale, Australia; $27.99, $21.97 to June 1, B.C. Liquor Stores).
It’s a bit of a misnomer to refer to Australian wines as New World, a common refrain in wine circles. When we’re talking some of the oldest soils in the world—and, in this case, the Oliver family has been tending vines here for five generations over 170 years—they’re hardly spring chickens. This is one of my favourite wines I had at the tasting, that bit of age bringing a little honey and hazelnut character to the glass.
Staying on the white side of things, Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2017 (Sardinia, Italy; $18.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) is quite the mouthful, both to say and by trait. There’s a breezy, citrusy nature to this Vermentino: a little salty sea air on the aromatics, leading toward yellow grapefruit, muddled lemon, and a distinct mineral note on the palate. Perhaps those Sardinian sea breezes are echoed by those coming up from the Great Southern Ocean across South Australia, where we find Berton Metal Label Vermentino 2018 (Riverland, Australia; $14.49, B.C. Liquor Stores), a fresh and spirited take. There are many similar notes here, maybe with a bit more tropical fruit like mango and guava.
Just a few weeks back in this column, I was smitten with Azelia Dolcetto d’Alba 2017 (Piedmont, Italy; $28.99, B.C. Liquor Stores). Dolcetto is becoming an increasingly well-travelled grape, with even a few local examples right here in British Columbia. Stag’s Hollow Winery in Okanagan Falls is no stranger to playing around with unique varieties, with a roster that includes Tempranillo, Teroldego, and Albariño.
Do they do a Dolcetto? You bet.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto 2017 (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $22, www.stagshollowwinery.com/) is at once both complex and damn crushable, particularly when served with a hint of a chill on it. There are violets and cloves on the nose, then blackberries, mulberries, raspberries, Italian plums, and a wisp of leather bringing just a little amiable funk. While the grape can have lower acidity, those cool Okanagan nights bringing a wide diurnal temperature shift allow the grapes’ acidity to be preserved, bringing a buoyant and fresh structure. That acidity, and a very light note of wild sage, make it a solid reflection of Okanagan terroir; I like that it’s not just a straight mimic of Italian style.
Of course, when we think of Italian wine, we often think of Chianti, and it’s wonderful examples like Barone Ricasoli “Brolio” Chianti Classico 2016 (Tuscany, Italy; $29.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) that provide evidence as to why these Tuscan wines are so universally adored. This take is primarily Sangiovese, with 15 percent Merlot and five percent Cabernet Sauvignon added to the mix. Peppery red berry fruit fills both the aromatics and palate, with a generous spot of balsamic reduction at the core, and fine, dusty tannins.
Although it’s quite a distance from Tuscany, the Sandhill Estate Vineyard just outside of Oliver in the South Okanagan is where Sandhill Small Lots Sangiovese 2015 (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $35, www.sandhillwines.ca/) hails from, and there are definitely common threads from with its Old World counterpart. Red fruit and balsamic? Check and check. I’d venture this version of the variety is a little more opulent and riper, with the mix of French and American oak bringing a touch more backbone, tannin, and overall oomph.
Grazie, Italy, for your globetrotting grape varieties and wines. Luckily, you also provide plenty of inspiration when it’s time for food to hit the table.
Now, where’s my pasta?