Branching out on the grapevine

Published on the Herald Sun on July 26, 2007

By Nicki Bourlioufas

Australians have been stuck on drinking the same old wines for years but slowly, we’re broadening our tastes to include lesser-known wines, including the savoury Italian kind.

While traditional French varietals Chardonnay, Shiraz, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot have dominated wine consumption, Australians are branching out as local winemakers extend their horizons into Italian grapes.

Australian consumers too are becoming more sophisticated. The search for something new and exciting has driven some growth in the sale of Italian wine varietals such as Moscato, Dolcetto, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese – many of which are still relatively unknown in Australia but make for great drinking.

Growing the vines

Victorial winery Brown Brothers has a long association with Italian varietals that links back to the early days of the King Valley when Italian migrants settled in the area to grow tobacco.

Many of these migrants came from the Alpine Valleys of Northern Italy and wanted to grow their traditional varieties. They found the wines being produced in Australia were not to their tastes and began arranging vine cuttings from their homeland so they could produce the wines they loved.

The then Brown Brothers winery nearby began experimenting and producing Italian wines of its own. It is now a market leader with varietals such as Tempranillo, Moscato, Dolcetto, Pinot Grigio and lately, Fiano.

Primo Estate Wines has for many years too been producing several Italian varietals including a popular Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese blend. People are turning to Italian varietals because of their sheer drinkability. Italian varietals tend to be more savory – making them a good food match.

Wine drinkers in their 20 to 30s who tend to frequent fashionable wine-bars where newer varietals are being served more often by the glass. Wine bars and restaurants that offer an exciting and dynamic range of wines by the glass and engage in informed dialogue with customers assist with this process.

Food matching key in popularity

The creation of leading brand such as the Garry Crittenden ‘I’ range in 1992 has been instrumental in the initiation of Australian wine drinkers into the pleasures of wine types originating from Italy, said Gary Crittenden, who owns Crittenden Estate in Victoria.

He launched his own brand Pinocchio for Italian style varieties several years ago and more recently Los Hermanos, for Spanish style wines.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Italian varietals are better suited to drinking with food that conventional varieties. This is largely because of the different acid/tannin structure of wines from these varieties,” he says.

The food and wine partnering has been a solid plank in the way he has marketed the wines.

”We are relentless with our trade and consumer tastings as a major way of increasing awareness of these wine styles. For example, we always ask a restaurant to offer the wines by the glass; a customer will ‘risk’ $8 for a glass to experiment but is loath to ‘risk’ $35 for a bottle if they are not sure,” says Crittenden.

The Pinocchio range includes Sangiovese, the noble red variety of Tuscany, and the popular Pinot Grigio. Its Los Hermanos range includes Tempranillo.


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