Vermentino has been made in Australia for less than 20 years, but it has steadily been growing to become an important player in the burgeoning market of emerging grape varieties in this country. It’s predominantly a coastal variety, with its most famous growing areas in France’s southern regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence, as well as in the Italian regions of Liguria, Tuscany and Sardinia. In Australia, it has found coastal homes, such as in McLaren Vale, but the bulk of it is grown further inland, with it adapting well to warmer climates when handled carefully in the vineyard. Now grown in well over 20 regions, vermentino has become a readily recognised name for more curious consumers, so we thought it timely to check in to see exactly where Australian vermentino is at with a Deep Dive.
We gathered every Australian varietal vermentino we could find and set our expert panel the task of finding the wines that compelled the most. All wines were tasted blind, and each panellist named their top six wines. Below are the wines that made the panellists’ top-six selections from the tasting.
Our panel: Meg Brodtmann MW, head of Education and Global Outreach at Rob Dolan Wines; Cameron Kidd, owner Rathdowne Cellars; Abby Moret DipWSET, owner Atlas Vinifera; Michael Trembath, director Trembath & Taylor; James Scarcebrook, owner and winemaker Vino Intrepido; Kara Maisano DipWSET, Wine Director Masani; Iona Baker DipWSET, Trembath & Taylor. All wines were tasted blind.
2021 Berton Vineyards ‘Metal Label’ Vermentino, South-Eastern Australia $14
This came out on top for Trembath, Baker and Moret, while Kidd had it one place back, while Scarcebrook also had it in his top six. “This is a fabulous wine!” wrote Trembath. “Lifted aroma of peach, apple, melon, even some guava. Lots and lots of flavour. It’s fleshy and even a little pulpy…” “Lemon sorbet, passionfruit pulp, yellow jasmine and Vietnamese mint on the nose, really bright aromatics,” noted Moret. “Super-fresh acidity makes this an incredibly drinkable wine. Packed with crunchy, sweet fruit on a silky palate with impeccable balance. The overall freshness and verve of this wine are what really sell it for me – it’s vibrant and evocative of a great summer day on the beach or in the park. Delicious!” Baker called it her, “standout wine of the day. This wine is highly aromatic, with enticing aromas jumping from the glass: lemon sherbet and lime juice, jasmine flowers, fresh thyme, cucumber and chalky minerality. Light bodied but with great intensity of flavours like fresh citrus juice and white peaches, chalky on the finish… delicious, could drink the whole bottle, with food or without.” “Punchy Lisbon lemon zest with fragrant white florals and background notes of citrus, mandarin and cumquat,” wrote Kidd. “Reminds me of old school juicy fruit chewing gum! The palate holds a great line with mostly pink grapefruit. The finish is clean, fresh and quite long. Just a dash of pithy feel, but just enough to be present and not dominate the finish. Would have been perfect with my barbecued turbot a few nights ago!”
This was Brodtmann’s top wine of the tasting. “The deeper colour and cloudiness suggest something interesting is going on,” she wrote. “My first impression on smelling the wine was ‘wow’ – fresh hay bales, confected orange, honey nougat and honey joys. The wine is textured and layered with a phenolic grip calling out for food. This is an interesting wine with a lingering grunty finish.” Maisano placed this second for the tasting. “Preserved lemons, lemon curd, green tomatoes and fresh sage,” she wrote. “Glorious gold highlights, with the addition of melon and white peach on the palate. Slight tension on the palate. A roundness on the finish juxtaposed by underlying saltiness. Hint of oiliness, too, like white anchovies. Truly Mediterranean aperitivo on a balmy night.” Scarcebrook also included this in his top six. “More golden in colour, bit more viscosity,” he wrote. “Very nutty and toasty, some oxidative notes, much more savoury on the nose, some leesy almost rancio characters, much less refined but much more interesting. Briny and savoury, almost pickle-like, super-natural in approach, definitely un-fined and unfiltered. I’d also say some skin contact in here, quite wild but also very drinkable and interesting, bruised green apples, cumquat and peach.”
2021 Tim Adams Mr Mick Vermentino, Clare Valley $17
Trembath had this in second place for the tasting. “This has a big melon lift – smells and tastes of succulent cantaloupe – rich, ripe, fleshy. But there’s more, some dried hay in the background adds to the interest and gives another dimension to the palate.” Brodtmann also had this in second position. “Summer in a glass,” she wrote. “Fresh sea air, all salty and briny, with orange and lemon blossom thrown into the mix. Mineral on the palate with less oomph than other wines but no less lovely and delicious. Don’t worry about food, just enjoy it sitting on the end of a pier to highlight the summer tones.” Scarcebrook and Moret also had this in their top six. “Heady aromatics on the nose lead to a densely tropical palate of green melon, pineapple, guava and pawpaw, with a fresh note of salted grapefruit,” she wrote. “Despite the rich flavours, the wine displays excellent balance and comes across as very fresh, vibrant and youthful. There’s a rippling undercurrent of minerality that adds an additional layer of complexity to this fun wine.” “Really floral on the nose, jumps out of the glass, generous to the nines, stone fruits, orange rind, honeysuckle, lime sherbet, powerful,” wrote Scarcebrook. “Ripe and fleshy on the palate, very much in that tropical spectrum from a warmer inland climate. I like the flesh, the texture and weight… very drinkable and food friendly.”
2021 Brothers Koerner Vermentino, Clare Valley RRP $25
“Wonderfully defined and delineated fruit characters that seemed to cover the full gamut of vermentino on offer from the tasting,” wrote Kidd in giving this his top place for the tasting. “Grapefruit, lemon, white flower and citrus zest abound. The palate continues so, and it delivers hints of pithy phenolic grape skin. The finish is beautifully balanced with a great acid drive that somehow also has a positive silky/oily texture. Racy, refreshing. Riesling-esque. Delish!” Baker placed this second on her sheet for the tasting. “With a vibrant lemon colour, and lemon pith, tingling green-apple-like aromas are backed up with savoury nuances of green Sicilian olives and dill. It’s the wine’s plush mouthfeel that makes it a highlight for me; direct, refreshing lemon and granny smith apple flavours enveloped by a slightly creamy texture before finishing with persistent flavours of mandarin and stony minerality.”
2021 Small Victories Vermentino, Riverland RRP $27
This featured on four tasters top-six lists. “Nice balance of fresh fruits and herbal celery notes,” wrote Scarcebrook. “Fresh, crisp apples on the palate, good volume, vibrant and generous – interesting and delicious. Great length, a bit of crunchy texture.” Moret saw “fragrant herbs, melon, daphne and jasmine florals, with a river-stone and sea-salt minerality. …Passionfruit, almond and melon provide shape to this lovely full-bodied wine that has enormous length – a really classy example that reminds me of seaside Italian examples.” “Lucky last in the line-up and well worth waiting for,” noted Trembath. “Quite pronounced melon characters; fleshy fruit aspect that is very attractive. The palate has a powdery edge, a touch textural, with good depth of flavour. In the fresh drinking style, but the textural notes just give this a little more.” “The last wine and I was hungry – some fresh shellfish would perfectly compliment this wine,” write Baker. “A lighter style precise vermentino with clear peach and lemon pith fruit flavours, white flowers and a subtle briny, oyster shell saline flinty character and understated but silky texture.”
2021 Koerner ‘Pigato’ Vermentino, Clare Valley RRP $35
Moret had this in second place on her tasting sheet. “A great example of a cloudy, skin contact vermentino, with layers of complexity on the nose and palate,” she wrote. “Wild herbal notes of wormwood, saltbush and fennel, preserved lemon with touches of clove and even toffee. The savoury herbs continue onto the palate with distinct anise notes, balanced by zippy fresh grapefruit. The high acidity balances a glossy weight, with rounded caramel notes, sprinkled with touches of black pepper and cardamom. Would be an absolute knockout with some dishes.” “I’m often confused by skin contact wines,” noted Bakr. “So, after seeing the hallmark cloudy hay-like appearance of this wine I was happily surprised to find aromas and flavours of richer styled vermentino: orange zest, apricot, red delicious apple and lemon thyme alongside raw cashews and yeasty notes typical of a wine fermented on skins, with the aforementioned fruit flavours in its multi-textured length.”
This was Scarcebrook’s top wine for the tasting. “Red apples, Salada biscuits, a bit herbal but also a bit candied, like saltwater taffy,” he wrote. “Really well put together, complete in the mouth, dry and fleshy at the same time, even a bit of cuddly fruit sweetness on the back, good texture, saline character merely supporting, apple and peach on the palate, really delicious.”
This was Scarcebrook’s second top wine of the tasting. “Bright light and crunchy,” he wrote. “Aromatics have some citrus and stone fruit characters, but also some green notes, like celery and olive. It’s certainly very fresh and saline on the palate, like the briskness and the interplay of fruit and savoury elements, decent texture without losing much freshness. I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a sense-of-place wine… maritime perhaps?”
Both Moret and Brodtmann had this amongst their top-six picks. “Rich tropical notes of pawpaw, guava and fig evolve into jonquil, lemongrass, basil and thyme, and licks of sea spray,” wrote Moret. “A great display of vermentino’s herbaceous characters without being green or over the top. The embodiment of what I call an ‘island wine’, the flavours of fresh pineapple, apricot and kumquat are balanced with a lovely saline touch. Great length and weight, with a sweet musk stick note on the finish.” “This wine is like a blend of my preferred wines,” noted Brodtmann. “The hay bale and honey joy aromas are underwritten by a fresh minerality. Chalky in texture, with orange, lemon and lime citrus fruit and an intriguing samphire finish. A perfect example that wines don’t need to be complex to be brilliant. Really refreshing and would be the ideal mate to spicy dan dan noodles.
2021 Ricca Terra Vermentino, Riverland $27
Kidd had this in the top half of his top six. “Pithy lemon water,” he wrote. “As delicate as one gets while still delivering layers of fruit. Palate is dry, fine long and revels yet more delicate pithy notes. The texture here is what defines this wine. Overall, a very refined example with lovely length.” Trembath also had this in his top six. “Stylistically in the fruit-driven melon/guava style, but also has a touch of powderiness to it that adds to the interest and stops the wine from being too straightforward. Clean, dry with beautiful fruit richness – couldn’t have too much of this in the fridge.”
Baker had this in the top half of her top six. “A lightly coloured and feminine wine, this vermentino showed a complex balance between zesty lemon and apple and richer flavours of mandarin and lemon balm, while a sea salt character added interest. Both fine and lustrous in texture, the wine gracefully danced across my tongue.”
“Lovely Riesling-esque aromas on the nose of lime juice, wet stone and honeysuckle,” wrote Brodtmann, placing this in the top end of her top six. “The flavours are more reminiscent of vermentino with mandarin and lemon pith. Rounded on the palate with a fine line of acidity to finish, demanding that you drink more. Don’t think, just drink!”
Both Maisano and Brodtmann had this in their top-six selections for the tasting. “Pomelo, kaffir lime, green apple, black and green olives in vermouth, salted nuts,” wrote Maisano. “Lemon verbena and green orchard fruits kept unfolding. The perfect mix of citrus, salt and acid tingling to the end.” “This is showing some development with aromas of honey crumpets and nougat,” wrote Brodtmann. “The richer style stood out in the tasting as did the layers of complexity – white florals, orange blossom and a touch of sea spray. A unique style of wine with a different flavour profile to keep it interesting.”
Maisano had this in the top half of her top six. “Lemon pulp and pith, white peach, green pear, raw cashew, thyme and marjoram,” she wrote. “The palate shines with white stone fruits, vibrant acidity and linearity, balanced alcohol and a tinge of sea spray. Divine drinking. The cashew note lends a subtle creaminess.”
“Lots of apricot here, mixed with a lovely ‘floreale’ aspect and a little bit of musk,” wrote Trembath, placing this in the top half of his top six. “A feature is the light textural elements that complete the wine. The palate has a fruit richness nuanced by musk. Delicious.”
“Is this Fino?!” wrote Kidd, including this amongst his top selections. “I like it. The flor is a teeny bit volatile, but then it so often is in great sherry. Excepting that minor note, this is one of the better examples of flor-influenced wines around because it still flies the flag for the variety, when so many lose their original fruit characters. Salty, fine almond nutty with a long tail of delicate nut and lemon notes. The finish is very persistent. Yeah, it’s also a bit funky, but a great example of a wine with flor.”
2020 Jacob’s Creek ‘Our Limited Release’ Vermentino, Barossa Valley
Maisano had this in her top six for the tasting. “Lemon balm, cucumber, celery, green olives in brine, hint of smoked almonds and spring herbs intertwined with wet stone minerality,” she wrote. “Fleshy and juicy stone fruits on the palate, with raw hazelnut and smokiness lingering. Delicious and memorably rich.”
2021 Seppeltsfield Vermentino, Barossa Valley $27
“I really enjoyed the clean flavours, linear shape and crunchy nature of this wine, crisp apples and lemon, alpine herbs, and a little stony,” wrote Baker, placing this in her top six. “Light bodied and simply moreish, it reminded me of eating freshly picked golden delicious apples as a child.” Kidd also selected this for a top-six finish. “Lovely, elegant fragrance. Crunchy, like biting into a grapefruit/lime/cumquat sorbet while sitting next to a lemon verbena bush. Zing! Great line. Taut.”
2019 Wines of Merritt Vermentino, Geographe $35
Kidd placed this amongst his top-six picks. “Lemon, lemon, lemon,” he wrote. “Then after the lemon punch comes earth – earthy in the real red gravel earth sense. Somewhat broader than many of the other examples but not fat or overdone. The palate zings with crisp mineral and faint lemon notes. Lovely palate and nice textural notes. Would like just a smidge more length, but very refreshing.”
2020 Mount Towrong Vermentino, Heathcote $35
Maisano gave this a top-six place for the tasting. “Finger lime, cumquat, jasmine and white lilies, rock salt, giardiniera pickles,” she wrote. “Bright and pithy acidity, lime peel and grapefruit pulp, wet stone. Ethereally light and crisp. Sunbaking in Sicily.”
“Intriguing notes of green peppercorn, smoky stone and saltwater give this wine some real interest,” wrote Moret, giving this a top-six finish. “Lemon, salted grapefruit, sweet-fruited pineapple and apricot provide a lovely harmony with the savoury notes. The palate is crisp fruited with a silky texture, and some traditional almond notes add some grip and structure. Another wine that begs for creativity in the kitchen.”
2021 Wedded to the Weather ‘Cirrus’, Riverland $30
“My first comment was ‘a pop of freshness’,” wrote Brodtmann in giving this a place in her top wines of the tasting. “The pineapple juice, mango and preserved lemon suggest a riper style. Balanced acidity keeps the wine fresh and almost spritzer like. Another one to take outside to enjoy in the summer air. There is plenty of white floral and tropical fruit to work with food.”
Australian Vermentino – The Backstory
There’s much contention about the origins of vermentino, and very little in the way of hard facts. Some suggest that it came from Spain originally, and it was brought to Sardinia during the multiple occupations of the island, while also spreading across the Mediterranean through France and Italy. Others contest that it came from Greece in ancient times to Sardinia, then spread out. But there’s no clear trail to follow, whether genetic, etymological or based on historical records. And while its origins may be a mystery, it has certainly found its home in Italy and France, with Spain not apparently growing the grape anymore – if indeed it ever did.
The Italian Connection…
Vermentino is generally considered a coastal variety, with the grape tracing the Mediterranean from Languedoc-Roussillon through Provence (it is called rolle in France) and onto Italy where it is grown in Liguria, with vineyards arrayed on the towering cliffs above the Italian Riviera. It is also grown minimally in Piedmont, further inland. Arching along the Ligurian coast, it is picked up along the coast where the region gives way to Tuscany and the vineyards of the Maremma.
The Maremma is an area that is a relative newcomer to serious Italian viticulture, with the land only made viable after what was essentially swampland was drained by Mussolini – a rare high point in his career. Today, Tuscany has around 14 per cent of Italy’s plantings – and growing – eclipsing Liguria (though the crescent-shaped region retains the fame), but it is on the island of Sardinia that the bulk of the grapes are harvested, with nearly 70 per cent of Italian plantings.
In Sardinia, vermentino is a large part of the island’s vinous identity, with an island-wide DOC, Vermentino di Sardegna, as well as the island’s only DOCG, Vermentino di Gallura, which is in the north, and though many vineyards are inland, with some quite elevated and cool, the impact of the at times wild maritime climate and granitic soils help to shape the gently aromatic and often saline wines.
Liguria’s key DOCs are Riviera Ligure di Ponente to the west and Colli di Luni further south-east towards Tuscany, with the sub-alpine and maritime influences, along with ample sunshine, generating bright-fruited wines, which are also often kissed with sea spray notes. A local variant of vermentino called pigato is also less widely grown, though it is prized. Vermentino also crops up as more of a curio in Piedmont.
And the French Connection
As rolle along France’s Mediterranean coast vermentino is largely unsung and often absorbed into blends, though in Provence it has a starring, if not widely celebrated, position as the main white variety. As the New France’s Andrew Jefford said: “Côtes de Provence’s most underestimated wines, in my opinion, are its Rolle-based whites: filmy, soft wines of lamb-like gentleness – the finest tissue paper or silk chiffon rendered liquid.”
The other main growing region for the grape is in the French Island of Corsica, where it is called vermintinu, most famously grown in the Patrimonio region on the north-west coast. Corsican wine is less internationally recognised, and given that the grape is absorbed by appellation names in the rest of France, rolle/vermentino has less of profile there, but the volume of plantings is only marginally less than in Italy.
What’s in a name
Pigato is a Ligurian specialty, with the vines catalogued separately for the sake of surveys. A little further inland and to the north, in Piedmont, vermentino is known as favorita. Again, favorita was considered as a distinct variety for some time, and indeed was declared as such by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture in 1964 due to enough variation in leaves, buds and bunches. It is still treated as such, though it is recognised as a clone or biotype of vermentino.
The vines of Liguria’s pigato and vermentino indeed present differently in the vineyard, with the leaves a slightly different shape and the buds of vermentino green to pigato’s pink. The grapes of pigato also have a mottled appearance, with the name pigato derived from the word ‘pighe’ in Ligurian dialect that means freckles, spots, speckles or the like. How different the resultant wines are is hard to assess, as pigato is often made to a fuller style and not infrequently with oak, where vermentino is treated as an earlier drinking wine.
And while DNA evidence has confirmed that vermentino and pigato are essentially the same variety, there is little doubt they perform differently in the vineyard and glass, albeit sometimes subtly. They are essentially clones of each other, or rather selections made from vine material that has mutated and is then propagated for perceived benefits or distinct characters.
The DNA evidence proves that the three ‘varieties’ are born from the same source, with mutations and vine selections for propagation over time creating material differences in the vines. What it doesn’t tell us is if there have been meaningful genetic mutations that have genuinely created new varieties. A full genome sequencing would be required for that, and with 220 hectares of favorita and 265 hectares of pigato planted (there are over 4,500 hectares of vermentino in Italy), there’s little call for that deeply involved and costly endeavour.
In Liguria, there are vineyards where vermentino is favoured over pigato, and vice versa, much as clones of pinot noir or chardonnay are selected based on climate and site nuances. Whatever the view on the validity of the different cultivars (a favorita variant is also available, though not yet imported) being separate varieties, treated as vermentino – as they are by international cataloguing – this variation is a boon to New World growers seeking to add complexity through clonal diversity or just to better match clone to site.
And while the clones perform a little differently in the vineyard, in general vermentino holds its acidity in warmer climates while reaching good flavour ripeness at modest alcohol levels. Taken further, those flavours will become fuller, and the acid will generally still hold well, making quite different styles possible. Vermentino will lose its acidity in very hot conditions, so careful viticulture is required, with enough sun exposure to ripen but not so much that freshness is lost. The grape is naturally seen as a good white prospect in Australia’s warmer regions, and with those more maritime, such as McLaren Vale, the suitability to coastal conditions is especially attractive.
Vermentino has hardly become a major player in New World vineyards, but there has been some growth in the past decade, notably in Australia and to a lesser degree in the USA, or more specifically California (which just happens to be responsible for 85 per cent of US wine production). In 2012, there were just under 20 hectares planted, growing to just under 50 hectares in 2020. It’s a modest representation, but the growth has been steady. Perhaps vermentino’s most famous exponent is Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, who planted it in 1993 and first bottled it solo in 2002.
In Australia, vermentino was first imported by the CSIRO in 1974, with the vine catalogued as rolle. It wasn’t until the Chalmers family imported cuttings that the grape established a footing, though. In 2001, they imported a clone of vermentino (VCR1) selected from Tuscany, then in 2011 a pigato clone (VCR367), which was released from quarantine in 2015 and planted in their Heathcote vineyard in 2015–16, with the first crop coming in 2018.
It’s hard to know how much vermentino is currently planted in Australia, with national records not frequently updates, but based on the 2021 vintage report, around 70 per cent of the national harvest of vermentino came from the Riverland, Murray-Darling (both Victoria and New South Wales) and Riverina regions. The tonnes harvested were 1,752, with that figure fluctuating over the last few vintages, both up and down, certainly due to vintage variation, but also these reports rely on self-reporting, so they are a more general guide than a definitive one. The last vine survey in 2015 tallied 121 hectares or so.
The first commercial crop off the Chalmers family’s original plantings at their old Murray-Darling Vineyard in Euston (they are now in Merbein) came in 2004, and it was a foundational wine for what has become Australia’s most significant nursery project for Italian varieties, along with Chalmers being one of Australia’s preeminent producers of Italian varieties.
A Murray Cod Called Bruce
“We launched the Murray-Darling Collection in 2003,” says Kim Chalmers. “We had a tempranillo, a viognier, lagrein… but 2004 was the first Italian white.” That wine was a vermentino called ‘A Murray Cod Called Bruce’ (in homage to family patriarch Bruce Chalmers, the region and a suitability of vermentino to seafood), and it was launched at Stefano Pieri’s eponymous restaurant in Mildura in the same year.
It was an important moment in Australian wine, and one that marked a turning point in the way we drink, but Chalmers notes that it was also the beginning of a lot of hard work. “I remember Max Allen writing about it, and it’s when people were just drinking chardonnay, and it was really well received,” she says, but helping the broader Australian public understand its natural charms would take time.
Even in 2004, the Chalmers family had a decent amount of vermentino in the ground, with di Lusso Estate debuting a varietal bottling in the same year from Chalmers fruit, and they were selling nursery cuttings, too. It wasn’t long before larger companies were experimenting with the variety, but it was losing some of its soul. “We thought vermentino would make a big splash because it makes such fresh, beautiful white wine, but it got derailed for a time,” Chalmers adds. “People started making it like sauvignon blanc, which was big at the time.”
Chalmers notes that in the push for clean aromatic wine, much was lost, with many missing the textural component that she sees as so vital. “It took time for it to get back to its salty, delicious roots,” Chalmers says, but she believes that the true identity of vermentino is now showing through again. Additionally, she stresses that it can thrive in many growing conditions, excepting those without enough sunshine.
“In Merbein, we get a clean chalky character, while in Heathcote we get much more complex minerality, but both vineyards have that saline sea spray character,” says Chalmers. “You don’t need to plant it on the coast, like the Italians insist!”
In the Clare Valley, the Koerner brothers have been taking vermentino as seriously as anyone in the country, now making three versions, employing minimal to extended skin contact and raising in some in large oak and some in steel. “Dad planted the vines in 2009, on the northern side of the hill just above a block of riesling in Watervale,” says winemaker Damon Koerner. “He was basically looking for something different to offer winemakers who bought his riesling, and he’d done a bit of research into what was best suited to his vineyard and came up with vermentino. He was on the money!”
Koerner began to experiment with the grape in 2013, a vintage before their eponymous label was launched. “I was instantly hooked on it due to the intense flavours and textures the wine produced,” he says. “We work a lot with the skins and the solids. I find the juice on its own can be a bit neutral, boring. The skins bring in some fresh flavours, lemon, lime, peach iced tea, sea spray. The solids add more lemon curd, oyster shell, fresh seawater-like flavours.”
In the Clare climate, Koerner says the vine handles the heat very well. “It has big leaves that create a good amount of shade for the fruit, and it doesn’t require huge amounts of water,” he says. “The berries that do see the sun actually provide the wine with interesting flavours with skin contact. Vermentino is also very good at maintaining natural acidity up until ripeness, and it also ripens early, producing lower alcohol wines.”
Chalmers believes that sunshine and enough warmth is vital, with trials in places like Macedon (notably at Cobaw Ridge) proving too cool. “It’s a big-berried grape and it needs sunshine,” she says. “And though it doesn’t hold its acid as well as say fiano, it does much better than the classic French varieties.”
Koerner sees a growth for the variety not just in the Clare but in many other regions that are adapting to a shifting climate and changing drinkers’ preferences “We are definitely seeing more wineries adapt to the changing conditions, which is not only climate based but also consumer based,” he says. “I dare say we’ll see lots more of these styles of wine entering the market over the coming years, which is great to see as it helps continue to create Australia’s wine identity.”
Today, there are vermentino vineyards planted right around the country, with South Australia’s Riverland by far taking the lead in volume, but it is planted in at least 20 other regions, from the cool of the Alpine Valleys to the blistering heat of WA’s Swan District. “There’s been so much work going in to getting where we are, and it’s so lovely being where we are. It’s so exciting – it’s just a part of Australian wine now,” says Chalmers, who says that their Chalmers vermentino, though priced as an entry level wine, is a flagship of sorts. “We made 30 tonnes this year, and we’re even exporting to the US!”
Outtakes from the tasting
We gathered every Australian varietal vermentino we could find and set our expert panel the task of finding the wines that compelled the most. All wines were tasted blind.
Our panel: Meg Brodtmann MW, head of Education and Global Outreach at Rob Dolan Wines; Cameron Kidd, owner Rathdowne Cellars; Abby Moret DipWSET, owner Atlas Vinifera; Michael Trembath, director Trembath & Taylor; James Scarcebrook, owner and winemaker Vino Intrepido; Kara Maisano DipWSET, Wine Director Masani; Iona Baker DipWSET, Trembath & Taylor.
“The thing people may or may not realise about vermentino is that it perhaps has Spanish origins, but the jury’s out on that, but it’s made in France, in Sardinia, Liguria… up in Piedmont as favorita…” said Trembath, opening the discussion. “So, there’s plenty of scope for lots and lots of styles.”
“When I think of vermentino, I think of freshness. Zippy, a mandarin character…” said Brodtmann. “The thing that I liked was there was diversity, but there was that familial link of being vermentino. So, even though they played around, they were still clearly vermentino. I can tend to be a bit technical, but there were so many different representations and still there was that familial link, and that was key for me.”
“The tasting had a greater proportion of wines that represented what I imagined was going to come from vermentino,” agreed Kidd. “Frankly, I thought that was really nice.”
“I wrote a few times, ‘Don’t think, just drink.’ And I think that’s what was so delicious about them…. There was that ozone sea spray note… For one note, I wrote, ‘Capri’!”
“I saw mainly the fresher style, which is kind of what I like to drink… nice melon, apricot, fleshy, reasonably crisp, dry… they can take a big chill, sit by the pool, that kind of thing,” said Trembath. “But there were a couple that played around with a bit of oak, a couple of skins ones. It’s good to see people work with it and try to do something a little bit different… I found them quite interesting, but I just preferred the fruit drive in the others.”
“My preference is generally for that cleaner more aromatic style, with a nice line of flavours with some silky texture to envelop,” noted Baker. “But I was also quite impressed with some of the skinsy, cloudy wines. I thought they still had some good fruit purity with texture and interesting mouthfeel. They were still quite clean… there was that leesy yeastiness to them… Overall, it was a really strong line-up.”
“I think the overall quality was high,” agreed Trembath. “A couple might have been a bit hard, a couple a bit sweet and sour, but as a grouping, I thought it was a pretty well-made batch of wine.”
“I get apple in vermentino, and I think some showed nice apple, and a flinty, almost a briny oyster character. I had cucumber, and I found quite a bit of herbaceous character, thyme and also dill, and lemon balm… some that were riper verged on stone fruit and even tropical characters… I thought the wines were strong.”
“I was also quite impressed with some of the skinsy, cloudy wines. I thought they still had some good fruit purity with texture and interesting mouthfeel. They were still quite clean…”
“One of the things I really love about wine is that it’s a passport to somewhere else without going,” said Moret. “I really like wines that can transport you to a place. With a grape like vermentino, which is such a coastal grape, it’s like being on an island, or next to a pool. It’s got that bright, upfront personality, and it sort of does taste like the coast of Italy! I know they’re Australian, but it’s a really joyful experience. You want to sit in the sun, and you want to have another glass.”
“I agree!” declared Brodtmann. “I wrote a few times, ‘Don’t think, just drink.’ And I think that’s what was so delicious about them…. There was that ozone sea spray note… For one note, I wrote, ‘Capri’!”
“But I also liked that you could see a bit of terroir in these wines,” added Moret. “There were a few that had really lovely river stone qualities to them, and ones that had lovely sea salt and sea spray aspects to them, and that herbal aspect of vermentino came across almost as saltbush in some wines. So, I thought that was really lovely.”
“One of the things I really love about wine is that it’s a passport to somewhere else without going. I really like wines that can transport you to a place. With a grape like vermentino, which is such a coastal grape, it’s like being on an island, or next to a pool.”
“There was a samphire character,” noted Brodtmann. “I think it’s a distinctive Australian vermentino character. I have never written it in a tasting note for Italian or French vermentino.”
“I saw these green olive notes, and had cucumber as a note, and I had sea spray, too, and rock salt, and this green herb element,” added Maisano. “But then there were some that had some nuttiness, and I put them in my line-up. Probably as a somm, I was looking at wines that would carry through some dishes, maybe some seafood, maybe marlin on the chargrill… So, I did see some nuttiness along the lines of raw cashew and some hazelnut, which I liked.”
“I get apple in vermentino, and I think some showed nice apple, and a flinty, almost a briny oyster character,” said Baker. “I had cucumber, and I found quite a bit of herbaceous character, thyme and also dill, and lemon balm… some that were riper verged on stone fruit and even tropical characters… I thought the wines were strong.”
“When we started playing around with vermentino, phenolics were a real problem, and they were really hard and grippy, and there wasn’t enough of a line in the wines to support that. And a lack of acidity was also a problem. They were growing it in very hot regions, and if you go to Sardinia, it can be very hot, but they get a lot of shade on those grapes. They leave a lot more leaf on than we do here. So, I think handling and viticulture has improved, and you’re seeing that in the wines.”
Even the simple wines were quite good, and I didn’t think there were any howlers in there,” agreed Moret. “What I really liked was that you don’t need to know a lot about it to enjoy it.”
“The thing I like about vermentino is that even with the simple styles, there’s still texture, you get crunch and that saline character,” said Scarcebrook. “I thought the variety was clear in almost all the wines today. It likes that cooling influence… it still needs to be cool enough to ripen it, but it doesn’t hold its acidity as well as fiano.”
“When we started playing around with vermentino, phenolics were a real problem, and they were really hard and grippy, and there wasn’t enough of a line in the wines to support that,” noted Brodtmann. “And a lack of acidity was also a problem. They were growing it in very hot regions, and if you go to Sardinia, it can be very hot, but they get a lot of shade on those grapes. They leave a lot more leaf on than we do here. So, I think handling and viticulture has improved, and you’re seeing that in the wines.”
“I think that’s right, Meg,” said Trembath. “I think we’ve come a long way in our understanding.”
“I found these wines to be very balanced, on the whole,” agreed Brodtmann.
“Vermentino fits very well into the style I think a lot of people want to drink,” noted Kidd. “There are aromatics and acidity that kind of mirror riesling, but then there are textural and fuller components that mirror other varieties, whether they be chardonnay, pinot gris, fiano… whatever. I feel like it’s a variety that adds a lot of complexity that the average punter can get a lot out of, and with a range of foods.”
“It’s a real occasion wine,” said Brodtmann. “In that, in my notes I wrote things like it’s a real end-of-the-pier fish-and-chips wine. Capri was another tasting note. In the park was another. There’s something about this bracket, as you said, Abby, that really transported me somewhere.”
“It works perfectly with Australia, with the sun and the barbecues, and the fishing, and the food… there are so many aspects to why this works as something Australians will love,” added Moret.
“It’s a remarkable line-up of Australian vermentino; excellent renditions of this quintessential Mediterranean variety were in abundance,” concluded Maisano. I can see why everyone loves this grape. Furthermore, I can pour our local versions with confidence. Australian vermentino is enjoyable from aperitif to seaside picnics and long lunches.”
Meg Brodtmann MW began her career as a medical research scientist before studying winemaking at Adelaide University. She worked internationally as a consultant winemaker throughout Europe and South America while also completing her Master of Wine qualification – the industry’s toughest test. Today, she is head of Education and Global Outreach at Rob Dolan Wines in the Yarra Valley.
Cameron Kidd is the owner of leading independent retailer Rathdowne Cellars. Although he studied mechanical engineering, the family business has kept him occupied for the past 24 years, with him having sole ownership since 2016. Kidd divides his time between Melbourne and Henty, where his wife, Belinda, runs her family’s vineyard, Crawford River.
Abby Moret has been working in the retail wine industry since she was 18, including working in London for Majestic Wine, gaining her WSET Level 3 Certificate while there. She was the Promotional Manager of Vintage Cellars, before moving into buying and product development for the national chains. After gaining her WSET Diploma, Abby founded Atlas Vinifera in 2017, an independent, boutique wine bar and wine store in Richmond that specialises in small-batch, interesting, hand-crafted and cult wines from all over the world.
James Scarcebrook graduated from The University of Adelaide as a Master of Wine Business before a 16-month global wine adventure saw him visit ten wine-producing countries, including working two vintages in Germany. Scarcebrook has worked in fine-wine retail, as a representative for two leading importers, both with a focus on Italian wines, and now makes wine full-time under his Vino Intrepido label. That label is centred on Italian varieties and a quest for finding Victorian sites where they excel, teased out in a way that reflects on Italian tradition but seen through a new lens.
Michael Trembath is one of the pioneers of importing Italian wine to Australia. After a stint working with Neil Empson in Milan in the early 1990s, he established Trembath & Taylor with Virginia Taylor in 1994. T&T is a dynamic key importer of Italian wine to this day. Trembath is a graduate of Roseworthy Agricultural College at the University of Adelaide and is one of Australia’s foremost experts on Italian wine.
Kara Maisano is the Sommelier and Wine Director for Masani in Melbourne’s Italian heartland, Carlton. Maisano is a VIA Italian Wine Ambassador, Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier, WSET Diploma holder and WSET Certified Educator. She was the Gourmet Traveller Wine Young Sommelier of the Year for 2018.
Iona Baker is a key account manager for leading Italian wine importer Trembath & Taylor. She is an WSET Diploma holder and has worked for lengthy stints as sommelier at both St Kilda’s Stokehouse and for the Grossi Restaurant Group.
It’s hard to mount an argument against the Yarra Valley being Victoria’s most important wine region. It is the home to some of the most hallowed names. It is also the cradle for some of the country’s finest winemaking talent, and for a zone with a distinctly classical feel, it is notably progressive, with vignerons both fledgling and established shaping a new future. Over the years, the Yarra has provided a wealth of YGOW finalists. This year’s Top 50 includes DCB Wine’s Chris Bendle and Tim Perrin from Oakridge.
In recent years, as the effects of global warming are becoming more evident, Australian winemakers have started exploring Italian and Spanish varieties such as fiano, sangiovese and tempranillo, which are well suited to our climate. But what about the grape varieties of Portugal?
The variety of sparkling styles is expanding, from those that are Champagne inspired, to prosecco, to quirky pét-nats, the choice has never been so great. The 2021 Top 50 features Cavedon, North Wine, Dirt Candy and Wines by Jean-Paul who are all pushing the boundaries of sparkling wine in this country. Tasting notes appear at the end of the article.