Wine review – Sassafras wines from NSW high country

Sassafras Tumbarumba–Canberra District Chardonnay Savagnin Ancestral 2017$30
Paul Starr’s sparkling white combines chardonnay from Tumbarumba with savagnin grown at Murrumbateman in the Canberra district. Both sites lie on the western side of the Great Dividing Range in southern New South Wales. Tumbarumba is slightly cooler than Murrumbateman and has produced very high quality wine from the variety over several decades. Savagnin, on the other hand, is a comparative newcomer to Canberra and unproven, though early signs are hopeful.

Sparkling wines made by the ancestral method are far removed in style from those made by the traditional method. Ancestrals like Sassafras come to the market young and fresh without the manipulation and prolonged maturation that adds layers of flavour and texture to traditional styles like France’s Champagne or Australia’s upmarket bubblies.

Sassafras ancestral therefore relies solely on the inherent quality of the fruit. As Starr writes it’s ‘made by the ancestral method, using the original grape sugars and yeast, it was carbonated in this bottle. Like a bottle-conditioned ale or cider, there will be a small amount of yeast at the bottom, so chill upright.

The pale-lemon colour wine, at just 11.5 per-cent alcohol, presents melon- and citrus-like flavours on a fresh, teasingly acidic, dry palate, with a mild farewell grip from the grape tannins.

It’s a straightforward, easy drinking style with a pleasing tartness for those who like it that way.

Sassafras Salita Canberra District–Hilltops Sagrantino 2016 $30
Umbria’s sagrantino grape tends to make inky-deep reds with very strong tannins. Paul Starr’s version shows a lighter colour than the Italians I’ve tried, but it packs a load of sweet, plummy fruit flavours and an even greater load of those famous tannins. The sweet fruit and assertive tannins battle for dominance at first. But finally the tannins take over making the wine a bit aggressive for unaccompanied drinking. However, the wine’s savour and grip become attractive company for savoury or meaty foods. It’s good to see our winemakers testing these unfamiliar varieties.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2018

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