It’s not even a decade ago that I might have been challenged (to say the least) as to why I was daring/bothering to show Italian wines in tastings; “We don’t need them, Australia makes the world’s best wines – today’s paper said so…” etc, etc “Besides, isn’t it unpatriotic…”
Now that last one would get the sarky or glib response; “…and I spose you don’t drive a foreign made car, mate…” (etc, etc). The real point, however, was that while we had indeed not only established our wine industry here on a most technically and qualitatively competent base, but we also, no doubt, had at least a handful of world class wines. Only a handful mind.
Australian wines though, we made Aussie wines. Almost nothing other than wines from (mostly) French grape varieties that had had totally dominated winemaking in Oz since (wine) time began. Barely an Italian variety in sight - let alone wines made in the lighter, more savoury (and dare I say it) food friendly fashion of Italian wines. Ours were, by definition full on and in the face – bold and confident, ripe, rich, and oaky. Obvious you might say? Even up to a very few years ago, those Italian varieties that had made an appearance were struggling with their novelty and identity.
More than the odd commentator (eg wine reviewer) maintained that the status quo needed no alteration. We had all the great grape varieties we needed and if you then wanted to see the heritage of those then buy Bordeaux (for the Cabernet family), Burgundy (Chardonnay and Pinot), or Loire (Savvy Blanc) or Rhone (Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre) and while in Alsace (Riesling, Gewurztraminer and later, even Pinot Gris) you could shoot over the border and buy a Riesling from Germany’s Mosel. Otherwise it was all here.
Well no, it wasn’t…isn’t quite…yet. We have made big strides with the Oz/Italians (see a later blog for some obs) with Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera and some of the whites (Arneis and Pinot Grigio) putting in some pretty convincing cameos. Yet it remains a simple fact that so far, Italian wines, whether their virtue is in sheer brilliance or sheer, tasty simplicity and readiness to partner food, are made in Italy. No one, anywhere has yet made Nebbiolo of the depth and layers and thrill of Barolo, Barbaresco or even Langhe Nebbiolo, or the lush, layered plumminess of Barbera. No one here has yet emulated the open earthy and dark-fruited style and food compatibility of Sangiovese’s champions, Chianti, Nobile di Montepulciano or the great Brunello of Montalcino. Veneto’s mid-weight (and under estimated) marvels, Valpolicella and Bardolino and the fascinating Amarone’s are still benchmarks for balance and controlled power. The exquisite southern reds, Aglianico and Nero d’Avola are even now, barely appreciated here, let alone emulated. Then there are the whites, brilliant wines of infinite complexity or of unrivalled alround food adaptaptability; names like Pinot Grigio, Falanghina, Soave, Arneis, Fiano, Friuliano, Vernaccia, Verdicchio… Italian wines are still only made in Italy.