W H A T . G I V E S
the truth behind some of the curliest wine issues since bubbles in chardonnay
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In a wine world that always asks which you prefer, why not swing somewhere in the middle where there's no white or red, just shades of pink. Ben Canaider takes you through two of the more unusual varieties on offer.
M i d d l e

The more you drink wine, the more seriously you take it. Eventually -- if you apply yourself to wine lore and knowledge religiously -- you can end up hating so much of the wine you drink that friends begin to wonder why you bother with it at all. Wines from big companies all start to taste the same. You scoff contemptuously at local chardonnay, Australian riesling becomes nothing more than an annoying fad and sauvignon blanc is a menagerie of strident vegetal and feline-associated smells and flavours. Shiraz? Well it just shouldn't be made in Australia.

To avoid this disease, and to vainly fight the wine drinker's old ennui, we need to revive our all-too-sophisticated interest in wine by trying new varieties or styles. Australian vignerons, being the hard-working and ever-curious lot they are, come to our aid by continuing to plant unusual grapevines -- left, right, and centre.

Now, if whites and reds bore you, the obvious thing to do is to try a different colour -- pink. There are a number of rose wines doing the rounds nowadays (although the rose revolution strangely refuses to be kick-started in this hot and dry country), and most of them are made from pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, or shiraz. The strangest of the lot is surely a wine called Alicante Bouchet, from Rockford's in South Australia's Barossa Valley.

This variety comes from France. It's one of that country's more widely planted vines, particularly in the hotter south, where it yields very highly and provides a good colour boost for other red wines. This is in fact the key to Alicante Bouchet -- its secret weapon. Where other grape varieties rely on their skins for the colour, Alicante is the only grape which produces colour pigments from its flesh.

Rockford's Alicante Bouchet has a bit of a cult following in Adelaide and is available either by mail order from the winery, or in a few more la-de-dah grog shops hither and thither. Devotees of this wine love its simple sweet grapey flavours and lick of cool, fresh acidity. To the initiated, it is always called "Aluminium Bucket". Drink it very cold.

For a weird Italian red that won't bore your wine-tossy friends, try marzemino. This variety from Italy's North East, around Trentino, is another big yielder and makes, at its best, simple, honest red. Drinking it and pronouncing it to be "wine" is about as high as the compliment tends to get, at least with a lot of Italian marzemino. But the ever-clever Italians from Victoria's north east, around the King Valley, have recently been toying with this variety. The Pizzini's at Chrismount Winery have made a straight varietal marzemino under their "La Zona" range ($17ish). It smells quite perfumed and enticing; the first sip is cherry-fruity and promising, but it then falls away quickly. Maybe vine age will help this wine perform a little better on the palate.

Until then, you'll just have to enjoy the change, settle your friends and revel in the opportunity to reignite your passion for wine.

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