The beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants recommends the season’s top wines, and a bonus gin. By Leanne Altmann.
The best wines of spring 2018
Traviarti ‘Rosso’, 2016 nebbiolo blend, Beechworth, Victoria ($32)
Simon Grant’s passion for nebbiolo led him to plant a small vineyard on the slopes above Beechworth. In 2016 his finely structured, fastidiously tended and hand-harvested nebbiolo grapes were joined by a little cabernet sauvignon and a splash of blue-fruited barbera. Medium bodied, with ripe cherry flesh and fennel seed, this is a wonderful interpretation of the classic Langhe blends of Piedmont, with a savouriness that cries out for food.
McHenry Hohnen ‘Hazel’s Vineyard’, 2017 syrah, Margaret River, Western Australia ($38)
Winemaker Julian Grounds’ first vintage at organic stalwart McHenry Hohnen points to an exciting future for this producer. Grown in a sloping single vineyard highly influenced by cooling ocean breezes, it’s bright and fresh, with immensely lifted aromatics –musk and violet, ink, rose petal and soft black fruit. There’s also a wave of spice – varietal black pepper, certainly, but cardamom, star anise and pimento, too. It’s a welcome new direction for oft-stolid Margaret River shiraz.
Pirineos ‘Principio’, 2016 moristel, Somontano, Spain ($28)
From the small region of Somontano, on the flanks of the Spanish Pyrenees, comes the rare grape moristel. In a region of extreme heat and cold, moristel has to fight to survive, and is seldom bottled as a single variety. Here, thorny hedgerow fruit, ripe mulberry and rosehip are complemented by dried woody herbs and lashings of acidity. Unwooded, unfiltered, unsulphured – this is a pure, fragrant and digestible red wine.
Little Reddie ‘NEW!’, 2018 refosco blend, Heathcote, Victoria ($30)
Pale rose-red and fragrant, NEW! is a youthful wine with a serious side. Peppery spice and darkness are combated by a lift of cherry juice and rose petal. There’s such lovely length and flavour intensity for such a fresh wine, with fine chalky tannin and wiry acidity. It deserves to be drunk cool with a plate of freshly sliced wagyu bresaola.
Patrice Colin ‘Les Vignes d’Emilien Colin’, 2016 Coteaux du Vendômois pineau d’aunis, Loire Valley, France ($44)
If the region of Coteaux du Vendômois seems unfamiliar, don't be surprised. Indigenous grape pineau d’aunis is the focus in the vineyards of the historic but obscure northern reaches of the Loire Valley. Made from vines planted between 1890 and 1920, the miserly nature of these organically farmed vines keeps yields in check, giving a rich and characterful concentration of peppered raspberry fruit, exotic spice and chalky tannin to a variety that can be charitably described as “refreshing” in the hands of lesser producers.
Cobaw Ridge ‘Il Pinko’, 2018 rosé, Macedon Ranges, Victoria ($40)
A contemplative wine that happens to be pink. Biodynamically raised in old oak and clay qvevri, Il Pinko is savoury and earth-forward, featuring red cherry and hibiscus, a little spice, a little river mint. Tacky, granitic tannin provides structure to the palate and story to the fruit. It’s the kind of winter rosé and summer red that’s perfect all year round.
Dönnhoff ‘Oberhäuser Leistenberg’, 2016 riesling kabinett, Nahe, Germany ($45)
If you need to persuade a doubter about the absolute deliciousness of off-dry riesling (and you should!) then this is the wine. This single vineyard near the town of Oberhausen has long been identified by the Dönnhoff family as a site perfect for riesling of the light and delicate “kabinett” classification. A gentle flush of orange-blossom sweetness is immediately countered by tensile acidity, slate and spice. It’s pure, balanced and utterly delicious.
Henschke ‘Percival’s Mill’, 2017 grüner veltliner, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($38)
Viticulturalist Prue Henschke has been leading the charge for grüner veltliner in the Adelaide Hills for years now, but 2017 is the first incarnation of this great Austrian grape released under the family label. A discreet and textural variety, grüner veltliner has organic mineral and vegetable notes rather than showy florals. Think crushed white pepper, spicy daikon and fresh cut cucumber, talc and white grapefruit pith, with a slippery, oily texture that’s absolutely benchmark for this variety. It’s outstanding.
BK, 2018 chardonnay pétillant naturel, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($29)
Thoughts of spring bring thoughts of pét-nat. BK has nailed this one – made from Basket Range chardonnay, it’s full of crunchy, just-picked green apple, white nectarine and Meyer lemon. Naturally sparkling, there’s a gentle haze, foamy, creamy fizz and a saline edge. Undeniable all-day drinking.
Verget du Sud ‘Au Fil du Temps’, NV marsanne blend, Provence, France ($25)
It might be a non-vintage, but it’s not sparkling. Iconoclastic winemaker Jean-Marie Guffens uses a perpetual blend of wines dating back to the late '90s for this Provençal beauty, adding freshness and complexity with every new grape harvest. This bottling is dominated by golden-fruited marsanne, but there’s chardonnay and roussanne in the blend, too, this year energised by a splash of citrusy sauvignon blanc. Bright lemon curd and fresh-cut hay, there’s a gentle chalky grip and lovely persistence.
Ciù Ciù ‘Oris’, 2017 Falerio trebbiano blend, Marche, Italy ($24)
Oris is a glass of sunshine direct from the Ascoli Piceno hills of Italy’s Marche, redolent of golden orchard fruit, dried yellow flowers and wild honey. The moderate acidity and oily texture of trebbiano, passerina and pecorino grapes give this wine a fullness on the palate and an appetising bitterness that truly speaks of Italy.
Cape Byron Distillery, Brookie’s ‘Byron Slow’ gin, Byron Bay, New South Wales ($79)
Brookie’s is fast establishing itself as one of the best Australian gins around. Inspiration, and most of the gin’s botanicals, are sourced from the native hinterland rainforest on the Brook family property. Byron Slow is an interpretation of traditional English sloe gin, steeped with native Davidson plums instead of the hedgerow berries. Prettiness of rosewater and cherry, savouriness of pine and cranberry; the natural acidity of the flavoursome plums is balanced by a little sweetness.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 22, 2018 as "The best of spring".
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