The beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants selects her current crop of favourite wines and non-alcoholic beer. By Leanne Altmann.

Best bets

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Little Reddie ‘SYR Tabilk’
2017 prosecco, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria ($40)

This new-wave fizz is from one of Victoria’s most dynamic young winemakers, Pat Underwood. Each year he sources a parcel of grapes for his SYR – single year release – range. This year it’s hand-harvested prosecco grapes (or to give them their official name, glera) from Box Grove Vineyard. Cloudy and low in alcohol, there’s brisk acidity, lemon barley water, sorrel and grapefruit. The twist is the 18 months of bottle ageing on lees, more commonly seen for champagne, for soft yeastiness and complexity.

Mac Forbes ‘RS95’
2020 riesling, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria ($80 for 1500ml)

Mac Forbes makes some truly exciting riesling from old vines growing on the granite slopes of the Strathbogie Ranges. Fragrant with apple, pink flowers, fennel and white mushroom, this is an arresting wine made in the medium-sweet auslese style. It’s ripe and fleshy, with flavours of summer peach and apricot, a little pineapple and candied pear. There’s seamless interaction between very high acidity and generous sweetness. A wine of lightness and finesse, this is such a delight (and will only be available to buy in celebratory-sized magnum bottles).

Luis Pérez ‘El Muelle’
2019 palomino, Jerez, Spain ($40)

There’s a vinous revolution happening in Andalucía, and in this new regime, Luis Pérez is heir apparent. Instead of the blended fortified wines the sherry region is famous for, winemaker Willy Pérez focuses on historic and distinguished single sites, reviving ultra-traditional unfortified wine styles. El Muelle comes from 45-year-old palomino de Jerez vines rooted in the layered chalk soils of Carrascal. Complex and structured, this is a wine of mineral salts and golden fruit, kernel and honey.

G. D. Vajra ‘Albe’
2016 Barolo nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy ($100)

Albe harks back to old Barolo, where the wines achieved balance through blending rather than the expression of a single site. The Vaira family take fruit from three of their elevated, organically farmed vineyards, and blend with the care and intelligence typical of this excellent producer. There’s alluring perfume of rose, tea-leaf and anise, sandy tannin, and the translucent fruit typical of this lauded vintage – redcurrant, white cherry, plum. Coiled and persistent, fragrant and fine, it’s nearly as rewarding to watch it unravel in the glass in youth as it will be with age.

Fot-Li ‘Rojo’
vermut de Reus, Catalonia, Spain ($38)

Vermouth comes in all shapes, sizes and colours, with real regional character. While the finest Italian examples come from Turin, and France’s from the Savoie, Spain’s vermut heartland is the Catalonian city of Reus. This elegant example from young producer Fot-Li is based on 19 botanicals. Deep in colour but remarkably fresh, there’s balanced bitterness and notes of cola nut, spice, orange rind and woody herbs. A splash over ice, garnished traditionally with citrus and green olive, is perfect for cocktail hour.

2019 gamay, King Valley, Victoria ($25)

There isn’t much gamay planted in Australia, but the best examples I’ve seen have come from Victoria’s north-east – and this is one of them. Winemaker Lennie Lister has knocked it out of the park in 2019, although summer’s fires meant that he wasn’t able to follow up in 2020. It’s glossy and vibrant, with the purest of raspberry fruit, savoury leafy notes and silky tannin. This isn’t a tribute to Beaujolais, this is confident, delicious Australian-grown gamay.

Blood Moon ‘Foundling’
2020 fiano, Heathcote, Victoria ($28)

Fiano is such an exciting variety for our warming climate, making fresh, vibrant white wines in regions better known for hearty reds. Matt Aulich’s 2020 iteration has classic varietal notes of stone fruit and pineapple, complemented by ripe apple, green almond, white pepper and bay. It’s a great option for those who love the texture of chardonnay or pinot gris, unctuous yet with enough refreshing acidity to pair perfectly with spring vegetables and cheese.

Rossouw, Gouws & Clarke
2019 pinotage, Swartland, South Africa ($33)

One could almost take this wine as a metaphor for the emerging face of the South African wine scene. Old vines. A traditional (and somewhat maligned) grape variety. A new interpretation of the old way. A clear vision for the future. Messrs Rossouw, Gouws and Clarke use fruit from a single organic farm on the granitic slopes of the Paardeberg mountain range. Gentle lo-fi winemaking tames the variety’s rich smokiness and assertive tannin – instead this is a zippy, fragrant wine redolent of raspberry, rose and herb, joyous in youth.

Modus Operandi ‘Nort’
non-alcoholic refreshing ale, Northern Beaches, NSW ($13 for a six-pack)

Alcohol-free is booming, and here’s an exciting new player. While many non-alcoholic beers suffer from a lack of body, Nort refreshing ale is one of the most convincing examples I’ve tried. This isn’t a beer-flavoured mineral water, it’s full of impact and character. The malt-forward palate impresses with creamy texture, classic draught beer bitterness and real persistence of flavour.

2019 rosé, McLaren Vale, SA ($25)

This is rosé for a spring and summer of picnic blankets and dappled sunlight. Made from biodynamically grown grenache from a conscientious producer renowned for their skill with the variety, this dry rosé is balanced and gently creamy. Gentle strawberry fruit, ripe apple and nectarine, it’s the kind of wine that disappears from the glass all too quickly.

Arfion ‘Fever’
2019 skin contact blend, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($30)

In Australia we tend to present the grape variety front and centre on the label, and only in more recent years have we started to celebrate the vagaries of vintage variation. For Fever, Dave Mackintosh is inspired to express the character of the harvest. In 2019 it’s a blend of six grape varieties – white, pink and red-skinned – wild fermented together for 40 days and aged in old oak. The brilliant orange-ruby colour carries to the palate, with notes of cherry, blood orange and dried flowers supported by a little chalky grip.

2020 rosé, Swan Valley, WA ($26)

This vibrant pink wine sits in a comfortable place between light red and skinsy rosé. Crafted in old oak and amphora, there’s texture and chalky tannin, but it’s the fruit that sings. Full of rhubarb and raspberry juice, it’s an energetic style with electric acidity and gentle grip. This isn’t a wine of restraint and longevity, it’s a sequined, glam rock, summertime party in a bottle.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 31, 2020 as "Best bets".

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Leanne Altmann is the beverage director for Andrew McConnell’s restaurants, and The Saturday Paper’s wine editor.

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