The hardy grape that could be the next big trend in Australian wine

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A wine grape steeped in old Mediterranean tradition is finding its way into the glasses of a fresh new generation of Australians, as they continue to swelter in the heat.

Vermentino is primarily used to produce Italian wine, mostly found on the island of Sardinia that lies west of the Italian Peninsula, but is being grown more and more in Australian vineyards.

Vermentino is primarily used to produce Italian wine, mostly found on the island of Sardinia.

Winemaker Alex Russell described the grapes as having a unique aroma that produces a dry white.

“It’s a little bit salty and citrusy and smells a little bit marine-like, like white pepper or oily oyster,” he explained.

And while the taste might be appealing to many, the best part for wine grape growers is that it can handle the heat.

A grape built to withstand the heat

In a time when growers in Australia are resorting to new methods of protecting their grapes from heat stress, such as early irrigation, under-vine watering, cover-crops, and even applying a sunscreen-like spray, what makes vermentino grapes unique is their ability to withstand hot temperatures.

University of Adelaide viticulture lecturer Dr Vinay Pagay said changes in climate and extreme heat events are making these varieties more interesting for the grower and for the winemaker.

“If you have a short season because you have these extreme temperature events, you want a late-ripening variety.

“Vermentino is certainly one of the later-ripening white varieties, almost as late as some reds.”

Dr Pagay said vermentino suits some of our most intensive viticulture regions like the Riverina, Sunraysia and the Riverland.

The crop has good yields and production costs are relatively low and he said it is also finding a new generation.

“I think part of the interest is exploring new varieties for new millennials … they definitely don’t want to be drinking what their parents drank, like a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc,” Dr Pagay said.

“There is obviously this curiosity and an interest in exploring or they’ve tried it during their travels in Europe and it’s now available in Australia.”

Italian grape varieties are well suited to the Australian climate.

Just ‘like in Sardinia’

Michael Partridge from the Ben Ean Winery and cellar door in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley said there is also appeal for those seeking a taste of home.

“I think those with the long-lost love of things from home will certainly also embrace it as well.”

But Mr Partridge said while vermentino is becoming a hit at cellar doors, he questioned whether it would survive on the retail market.

“I think if we were just wholly and solely retailing this product on a bottle shop shelf or on a restaurant wine list, it might be a little more difficult,” he said.

“But once you actually get it into the mouths of people, it gives us an added advantage as far as switching them over to the likes of the variety.”

A cheap wine?

So does a wine that has a relatively low production cost and is made from grapes that have been through heat stress make it something of a “poor man’s wine”?

Dr Pagay does not think so.

He said that while vermentino is often just a generic, inexpensive table wine for every day consumption in Europe, Australians do not tend to see it that way.

“I think that the styles of wine we are making from vermentino grapes tend to be a bit more refined, a little bit more sophisticated and are also selling at a slightly higher price point than, for example, chardonnay,” Dr Pagay said.