Recent tastings at wine shows organised by the Alpine Valleys and Beechworth vignerons proved once again that North East Victoria is home to some of Australia's most exciting wines and wineries. Brown Brothers led the way during the 1980s in experimentation with new grape varieties and wine styles through their "Kindergarten" winery. This encouraged ex-tobacco farmers of Italian descent in the King and Ovens Valleys to plant grapes their forebears were more familiar with, so they are now the genuine home for Italian varietals in Australia.
Rick Kinzbrunner at Giaconda then drew attention to the potential of Beechworth's granitic soils for producing high quality wines, especially Chardonnay. Peter Read at Symphonia added to the mix through experimentation with previously unknown varieties, notably Petit Manseng, Saperavi and Tannat.
What we find now are vignerons willing to experiment with a range of lesser known varieties to produce wines that are elegant, savoury and more food-friendly than most other Australian wines. At the Alpine Valleys Show we saw the potential of the region for varieties as diverse as Tempranillo, Barbera, Refosco, Sangiovese and Cabernet in the reds, and Fiano, Vermentino, Garganega, Savagnin and Riesling in the whites. My standouts were the Gapsted Fiano in the whites and Mayford Tempranillo in the reds, with honourable mentions to A Rodda "Cuvee de Chez" and Billy Button Refosco.
At Beechworth elegant Chardonnays with sympathetic oak treatment but impressive depth were the order of the day for whites, while a range of savoury roses were as exciting as you would see anywhere. Nebbiolo may just become the signature red variety for region with several exceptional exhibits, notably from Virago. My top picks were the A Rodda Tempranillo and Castagna's "Adams Rib" with an honourable mention for the Fighting Gully Road Sangiovese Rose.
If you haven't tried wines from these regions lately, you are missing out on a real treat. I'm only too happy to point you in the right direction!