Viva Italy | PS News

by John J. Williams

When I eat Italian dishes, combining them with Italian varieties always seems so natural. The two go hand in hand when wine and food are born from the same soil, thanks to the magical concept wine folk call terroir.

Italian varietals thrive in Australia, and increasingly, we see varieties many people have never heard of – wines like the Pecorino featured in this column late last year. (Yes, it’s a wine, not just any cheese.) Primo Estate in South Australia’s McLaren Vale produces it, along with excellent Nebbiolo and other Italian varieties and styles—a nod to owner Joe Grilli’s Italian heritage.Viva Italy |  PS News

In Broke, in the Hunter Valley, Margan is like a little piece of Italy, right down to the restaurant, vegetable garden, and beautiful cellar door, inspired by Lisa and Andrew Margan’s visits to Italy. Margan was the first in the Hunter to plant Barbera in 1998 with cuttings from an original Italian clone. It wanted to branch out from iconic Hunter varieties such as Semillon and Shiraz, becoming a pioneer of alternative types.

Many Italian varieties planted in Australia originate from vineyards in Merbein (near Mildura) and Heathcote (Victoria) run by the Chalmers family: Bruce and Jenni Chalmers, their daughters Kim and Tennille, and Kim’s husband Bart from Olphen.

Chalmers has had a huge impact on the diversification of Australian vineyards by importing varieties from Mediterranean countries where grapes retain their acidity in hot, dry conditions,

One of their Merbein vineyards, the Bush Vine Block, is pushing the boundaries in the hot, dry Murray Darling region. By planting select varieties from Sicily and the southern Italian mainland and using (very sparingly) overhead sprinkler irrigation, the Chalmers achieve great results with Inzolia, a Sicilian white, and Negroamaro, a red from Puglia. Keep an eye out for the first releases of this in early July.

Heart of Gold 2021 Vermentino, $27: I came to appreciate Vermentino while visiting Sardinia, where the variety thrives. This is from a boutique producer in Bendigo, sampled on a recent visit to the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy. It is aromatic and clear with a tangy, fresh acidity and sexy melon, peach, and citrus notes. Medium-bodied with a long finish, it’s one to enjoy on the aft deck when the weather is warmer.

Chalmers Project 2020 Nosiola Partial Skins, $32: Chances are you’ve never heard of Nosiola. It is a white grape native to Trentino and traditionally botrytized for Vin Santo dessert wine. It has been revived in Italy as a dry table wine. Chalmers makes a clean, simple version with just 9.7% alcohol, making it especially appealing to those trying to drink lighter. Friends visiting Chalmers with Mildura chef Stefano de Pieri (a great supporter of Chalmers wines) introduced us to this delicious licorice. Despite being smooth and elegant, it has great complexity with distinct hazelnut notes. Try it as an aperitif with antipasti, seafood, or chicken.

Montevecchio Rosso 2019 Field Blend, $25: Another one from Chalmers; this is a mixed bag of reds, including some you may not have heard of. A field blend from the Heathcote vineyard of Chalmers, it is 40% Lagrein along with smaller portions of Nero d’Avola, Pavana, Piedirosso, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. The grapes are hand-picked, co-fermented, and pressed in a basket; the result is a clear and generously flavored medium-bodied wine with notes of blackberry and cherry and a little savory/spice. We enjoyed it with duck cassoulet.

Margan 2019 ‘Ceres Hill’ Barbera, $40: Barbera is a wonderful food wine that pairs easily with various dishes. Lighter in body and alcohol than many red wines, it has enough acid to cut through richer meats like duck and lamb. I tasted these at Roundhouse in the beautiful new Crystalbrook Kingsley in Newcastle. Combined with honey and 5-spice duck breast, it was silky smooth with bright raspberry, cherry, and star anise. Notes I’ve been a fan of Margan’s for a long time, but it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed their Barbera. Seeing how the style has evolved into a class win is great.

Sevenhill 2021 Inigo Barbera, $28: This Clare Valley red is medium-bodied but more intense than the Margan Barbera, with an alcohol content of 15% compared to Margan’s 13.5%. Spicy and savory with hints of licorice and vanilla, it’s earthy and funky. This is offset by notes of sweet cherries and plums, all wonderfully expressive and a joy to drink.

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