Sick of boring wine lists?

This Grapevine story was featured in the April edition of Bartender magazine.

By Edward Washington


Have you recently tried offering a customer a glass of McLaren Vale Sagrantino or a King Valley Nebbiolo? What about a taste of Picolit from Mudgee?

If you’re a Francophile on a mission, then go right ahead and showcase Condrieu, Nuits and Muscadet – but if you’re a bar operator who simply wants to showcase good wine and an interesting range of styles, there’s more than meets the eye on our national wine market.

Stalwart varieties like Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cabernet are the backbone of our industry for sure, and we eagerly look to South America and Europe for wine to fatten out our lists. However wine lists can sometimes fall short of being considered diverse in the ‘by the glass’ department, especially from home grown producers.

So what alternatives are on offer? And why do wine bars often look past Australia’s other great drops when it comes to the ones they serve by the glass?

Aussie Soils – Italian Grapes

In Australia, varieties like Vermentino, Fiano, Lagrein, Barbera and Sangiovese are all capable of producing quality wine that is a little bit off the beaten track. Not only do they offer something exciting by the glass, they’re totally food friendly and a good match for our climate, so why don’t we see more of them on display?

Why do wine bars often look past Australia’s other great drops when it comes to the ones they serve by the glass?”

Price can be a factor, as well as not being aware of what’s in your backyard (or shying away from it). Often it’s a reluctance to have them by the glass in case they simply don’t move because they’re unknown. Hey and let’s face it too, Pinot Gri(gio) is no longer an ‘alternate’ style – it’s mainstream.

Our developing drinking/ dining scene is showering us with ‘tapas’ and share-plate foods that are smaller in serve and more varied in their ingredients. So it’s a perfect chance to have people try more than one style of wine through an evening.

This alone is a great reason to look for some new Aussie wines to match the menu, rather than immediately looking overseas or offering the usual, but sometimes unconvincing suspects that just don’t quite hit the spot.

While chatting to a wine maker in Orange recently he stated that, “people thought we were mad to plant Barbera thirteen years ago” – but it’s probably one of the ‘alternate’ varietals most suited to our regions.

Small batch fermenting in McLaren Vale - but what's being produced?

Australian Barbera now boasts a number of different ‘styles’; Orange produces wines with high acid and noticeable red fruits, while McLaren Vale’s can be dark and brooding with lovely rich plummy dark fruits, but still showing some savouriness and good balance.

Sangiovese is a really smart wine too, and McLaren Vale has been home to the variety since the mid 1980s. Another ‘alternate’ from this region is Sagrantino; a big mouth-filling dry style of red that has rich flavour without the weight of a Shiraz that would match meat dishes suitably.

On a different track, Freeman’s Vineyard, Hilltops NSW, are using varietals like Corvina and Rondinella to make wine that is styled after the great drops of Valpolicella, Italy. A portion of the grapes are dried so that when they are fermented and pressed the resulting wine benefits from a developed richness in fruit flavour.

As far as an all round food or ‘company’ wine goes, the blend of Corvina and Rondinella would be a good pick for a spot of difference and does well on wine lists by the glass, matching a range of foods from cheeses to Charcuterie.

On the white wine front, customers are usually looking for a ‘dry-style white wine’ so this leaves it pretty wide open for what you can pour. They also want you to guide their education when it comes to wine and you’re in the most powerful position to do it.

Offering something such as King Valley Arneis or a McLaren Vale Fiano is sure to be a hit. Vermentino is another style proving to be a quite an achiever in Australia, and is a wine that does well with fuller flavoured sea food dishes – Mudgee has one that’s worth hunting down.

While these wines will certainly be stylistically different to the whites that are doing the rounds, like Riesling, Sauv and Gri(gio), they’re wines that lend well to appetizers and lighter style dishes – perfect for a by the glass option.

Wine lists should be as accessible as possible for the customer and a diverse range by the glass is a step in the right direction. Making sure a couple of these are from Australian producers is something we should all work towards promoting.

So what are you serving by the glass?

Alternate White
Fiano, Mclaren Vale (SA)

Fiano is a good match for appetizers and lighter style dishes. It only takes a moment of explanation to introduce customers to a new variety and it also makes your list more diverse and interactive.

Feel a bit sweet…?
di Lusso
Aleatico, Mudgee (NSW)
There are other options to the sometimes cloying and botrytised wines you’ll often come across. Aleatico, found commonly in southern Tuscany; and Picolit, from Italy’s north-east, are wines that match up well to a cheese plate or dessert and Mudgee is a good place to look. Noticeably lighter in body to more traditional botrytised wines, they have a certain ‘freshness’ and ‘life’.

The Nightly Special
Coronamento Nebbiolo, King Valley (VIC)
Victoria’s King Valley is showing some stunners when it comes to ‘alternates’ and Nebbiolo is a good wine to have open throughout the evening as a ‘special’ or to offer with cheeses. This is a cracker – deep brick red, rich flavour and strong tannins. A great winter wine with a lovely mouthfeel. 

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