First published on 12 Dec 2011. Updated on 13 Dec 2011.
Some of my favourite artworks show ‘chiaroscuro’; it’s an Italian word that means light-dark and in great paintings reveals itself in the contrasts of colour. So too with wine – on the one hand we can be presented with a wine of bold presence and stature, while on the other we can see delicacy and buoyancy. It’s a great part of the excitement of wine; more so when it occurs in the same region.
The Barossa Valley has an incredible history – craggy, gnarled vines sit in ancient vineyards, old stone buildings with faded advertising logos speak of times past, and generational winemaking families till their soil with knowledge that comes from years on the land rather than course-work.
The Barossa has known many guises over the years, but the big hype came with wines of big flavour, big ripeness, big new oak barrels and big alcohol. The local and international market chased down the red wine blockbusters the region so readily produced. But in the olden days it wasn’t all about stature and presence. There were wines of lower alcohol, made in older oak and more reflective of their individual sites in the Valley.
Fast forward to the last few years and a clutch of small, younger producers have clambered through the Barossa seeking out unique parcels of fruit. They’ve taken the grapes off the vines before maximum impact of ripeness, fermented as close to naturally as possible and sought the truer flavours of the varieties by using older oak to age the wines in. These red wines are approachable, hedonistic and more delicate in flavour - less obscured by winemaking practices and show a genial, more natural expression of the fruit. The wines’ lower alcohol content makes for easier drinking, matching better with a broad range of foods, and showing a alternative facet to this much-admired and historical wine region. Let’s celebrate the Barossa’s chiaroscuro.
THREE TO TRY –
Spinifex Esprit 2009 ($27) – A blend of Mataro, Shiraz, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault, this wine shows earthy, brambly fruits with a dusting of sweet spice and pepper. It’s a little piquant in the palate, but this lifts things and delivers great freshness. Lithe, supple and good. Drink up.
Shobbrook Nouveau 2011 ($23) – Made from Mataro by ‘minimal-winemaker’ Tom Shobbrook, whose handprint is gentle from grape, to winery, to bottle. Shows wild characters of blue fruits, nuts, cranberry and briar but drinks with a seamless yet loose knit and light feel. Smashable and delicious.
Ruggabellus Fluus 2010 ($25) – Winemaker Abel Gibson hit the ground running with this blend of four ‘Rhone’ red varieties. Its earthy, smoky-yet-sweet aroma beguiles while the slippery, bright-fruited palate also shows savoury complexity. It’s satiny to drink, with great light and freshness.