Those Mudgee Italians

Does anyone remember San Marco and Monticello? — red wines made by Montrose Winery of Mudgee? They offered not just Italian names but Italian flavours, too, as they were made from native Italian grape varieties — something almost non-existent in Australia — by an Italian wine maker, Carlo Corino.

But Carlo must have been exasperated by his lack of recognition in Australia and finally went home. The last time I saw him was at Vinitaly, a wine exhibition in Verona, where he told me he was making 3.5 million cases of wine a year in Sicily.

Our narrow focus on French grape varieties and a wine press invincibly ignorant of what Italy has to offer ensured his modest pioneering attempt to introduce an Italian influence in Australian wine making and import top-notch Italian wines passed unappreciated.

When Montrose passed into the hands of Orlando Wyndham, remaining stocks of San Marco and Monticello were taken up by Farmer Bros here in Canberra and the brands subsequently axed.

But the Italian grape varieties nebbiolo, barbera, and sangiovese — about two acres of each — still flourish in Mudgee where Montrose wine maker, Robert Paul, hopes they might one day find a life of their own rather than disappearing anonymously into the corporate blending vat.

There are stong arguments, both consumer and commercial, to support his hopes. We drinkers demand variety and since the potential is there to provide it, we should have it; and from Orlando-Wyndham’s point of view, although the quantity of wine that could be made is small — around 3,000 cases total from the three varieties — success in this niche market could lead to a fairly quick expansion of plantings and production. Yet it would be difficult for competitors with no knowledge of these varieties to follow suit.

As well, Australian wine companies would be foolish during the current export boom to abandon the development of new products and brands — for that is where future growth lies.

These Italian varieties deliver wine flavours well removed from the familiar range worked with by most Australian makers. Just as the very full bodied, floral grenaches now emerging in tiny quantites from the Barossa and McLaren Vale widen the flavour spectrum available to us, so the Italians have the potential to broaden it yet again.

They can give us delicious new flavours that can be delivered at a reasonable price. For these plantings are not the sort to inspire avant-garde wines that need be savoured drop by drop. No. Here are the makings of happy drinking wines with corresponding low production costs: healthy grape yields, no expensive new oak, and no lengthy maturation periods required.

Barbera, a native of Northern Italy, occasionally reaches great heights around Asti in southern Piedmont. But more typically it gives rich wine with a pleasant, distinctive flavour, high natural acidity (that suits Australia’s warm conditions which tend to make wines too low in acid) with stunning crimson colours.

Under Carlo Corino, Montrose’s barbera was blended with nebbiolo for the Monticello brand. Nebbiolo, another Piedmontese grape, at its best makes the profound, long-lived reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. But in Mudgee it has to date made tasty wines without the majesty it displays in Piedmont. Robert Paul is still working on it, but sees it still as a blender.

A tank sample of the 1994 barbera sent by Robert inspired this column. His idea of mellowing it in old oak for 6 months before bottling strikes me as spot on. I hope others in Orlando-Wyndham allow it to happen.

Sangiovese, widely planted in Italy these days, springs from Tuscany and is the heart and soul of Chianti. There it is blended with the red mamaiolo, sometimes with the white varieties malvasia and trebbiano (although that seems less common now that it is not mandatory), and sometimes with cabernet sauvignon.

Modern Chianti is very good, but ranges from light and easy-drinking styles to quite robust and complex versions capable of long cellaring. The style you get depends on which of the sub-regions the wine comes from and the winemaking preferences of the maker.

Mudgee sangiovese (the 1994 sample anyway) tends to the fuller-bodied style with lovely, fresh fruit and fine, persistent tannins making it a real red. Early, exceptionally tasty drinking seems to be its fate. Robert Paul thinks a few per cent of cabernet added to the blend might just complete it and he’s probably right.

But whether or not these terrific reds reach us intact seems in the lap of the marketers. I hope they hear our prayer for variety. Deliver us from nothing but shiraz and cabernet forever and ever, amen.

nes made by Montrose Winery of Mudgee? They offered not just Italian names but Italian flavours, too, as they were made from native Italian grape varieties — something almost non-existent in Australia — by an Italian wine maker, Carlo Corino.

But Carlo must have been exasperated by his lack of recognition in Australia and finally went home. The last time I saw him was at Vinitaly, a wine exhibition in Verona, where he told me he was making 3.5 million cases of wine a year in Sicily.

Our narrow focus on French grape varieties and a wine press invincibly ignorant of what Italy has to offer ensured his modest pioneering attempt to introduce an Italian influence in Australian wine making and import top-notch Italian wines passed unappreciated.

When Montrose passed into the hands of Orlando Wyndham, remaining stocks of San Marco and Monticello were taken up by Farmer Bros here in Canberra and the brands subsequently axed.

But the Italian grape varieties nebbiolo, barbera, and sangiovese — about two acres of each — still flourish in Mudgee where Montrose wine maker, Robert Paul, hopes they might one day find a life of their own rather than disappearing anonymously into the corporate blending vat.

There are stong arguments, both consumer and commercial, to support his hopes. We drinkers demand variety and since the potential is there to provide it, we should have it; and from Orlando-Wyndham’s point of view, although the quantity of wine that could be made is small — around 3,000 cases total from the three varieties — success in this niche market could lead to a fairly quick expansion of plantings and production. Yet it would be difficult for competitors with no knowledge of these varieties to follow suit.

As well, Australian wine companies would be foolish during the current export boom to abandon the development of new products and brands — for that is where future growth lies.

These Italian varieties deliver wine flavours well removed from the familiar range worked with by most Australian makers. Just as the very full bodied, floral grenaches now emerging in tiny quantites from the Barossa and McLaren Vale widen the flavour spectrum available to us, so the Italians have the potential to broaden it yet again.

They can give us delicious new flavours that can be delivered at a reasonable price. For these plantings are not the sort to inspire avant-garde wines that need be savoured drop by drop. No. Here are the makings of happy drinking wines with corresponding low production costs: healthy grape yields, no expensive new oak, and no lengthy maturation periods required.

Barbera, a native of Northern Italy, occasionally reaches great heights around Asti in southern Piedmont. But more typically it gives rich wine with a pleasant, distinctive flavour, high natural acidity (that suits Australia’s warm conditions which tend to make wines too low in acid) with stunning crimson colours.

Under Carlo Corino, Montrose’s barbera was blended with nebbiolo for the Monticello brand. Nebbiolo, another Piedmontese grape, at its best makes the profound, long-lived reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. But in Mudgee it has to date made tasty wines without the majesty it displays in Piedmont. Robert Paul is still working on it, but sees it still as a blender.

A tank sample of the 1994 barbera sent by Robert inspired this column. His idea of mellowing it in old oak for 6 months before bottling strikes me as spot on. I hope others in Orlando-Wyndham allow it to happen.

Sangiovese, widely planted in Italy these days, springs from Tuscany and is the heart and soul of Chianti. There it is blended with the red mamaiolo, sometimes with the white varieties malvasia and trebbiano (although that seems less common now that it is not mandatory), and sometimes with cabernet sauvignon.

Modern Chianti is very good, but ranges from light and easy-drinking styles to quite robust and complex versions capable of long cellaring. The style you get depends on which of the sub-regions the wine comes from and the winemaking preferences of the maker.

Mudgee sangiovese (the 1994 sample anyway) tends to the fuller-bodied style with lovely, fresh fruit and fine, persistent tannins making it a real red. Early, exceptionally tasty drinking seems to be its fate. Robert Paul thinks a few per cent of cabernet added to the blend might just complete it and he’s probably right.

But whether or not these terrific reds reach us intact seems in the lap of the marketers. I hope they hear our prayer for variety. Deliver us from nothing but shiraz and cabernet forever and ever, amen.

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