Wine Talk

Snooth User: Terence Pang

Australians do Rhone blancs too! Perfect for summer.

Posted by Terence Pang, Jul 28, 2013.

Game of Rhones 27th July 2013, Ormond Hall, St Kilda Rd

It is well-evident that there is no shortage of Rhone-inspired wines in Australia. We certainly have vineyards which bask in similar weather conditions as the Rhone Valley. One could argue that a key missing element would be the round river rocks atop the clay soils which retain heat to intensify the summer climate. But try telling that to the guys in SA over the years of baking conditions. An abundance of Shiraz and Grenache pack the shelves of winestores nationwide. But why isn’t it more obvious that there is an apparent deficiency of white Rhone varietals locally? We certainly do well for Bordeaux varietals – sauvignon blanc and semillion. Is there a need for an aggressive marketing campaign to expose wine-drinkers to these other options? Viognier is probably the most popular Rhone white varietal and the best Australian producer has got to be Tim Kirk at Clonakilla. But don’t forget about Marsanne and Roussanne which round off the Holy Trinity of Rhone blanc.  The other white grapes are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin, Piquepoul Blanc and Ugni Blanc. However, plantings of these other grape varieties in Australia are highly limited.

The inaugural Game of Rhones showcase highlight the imbalance in the red/white preference of Rhone-esque winemaking. Of the 160+ wines available on the day, I counted 20-ish whites, some of them either experimental or limited release. I highly recommend the Clonakilla, Tim Smith, Spinifex, Torbreck and Frankland Estate.

Clonakilla Viognier 2012, Murrumbateman, NSW
RRP$50. The pinnacle of Australian Viognier, this wine leaps at you from within the glass. Rich aromatics, concentrated florals on an apricot base, oily spice. High acidity as required to lift the ripe stone fruit flavours, fading off with blackberry and anise on the finish. Drink 2015 – 2022. 

Spinifex Lola 2012, Tanunda, Barossa Valley, SA
RRP$24. A blend of Ugni blanc, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. A lovely, delicate bouquet of lemon, melon, lanolin and exotic spice. Crisp mouthfeel, tart acidity that doesn’t linger too long, allowing the lemon and pear flavours to kick back in. There’s a residual mineraly finish. I’d stock a few of these for delightful summer drinking. Drink now – 2015. 

Tim Smith Viognier 2013, Eden Valley, SA
RRP$28. Fermented by indigenous yeasts, with barrel ageing for added texture to the palate. An interesting aromatic profile, not your typical Viognier. Notes of white peach, sweet capsicum and ginger spice? It has a robust, yet crisp mouthfeel in stark contrast to the oily sensation you get for those other over-baked attempts. Lovely cleansing acidity, flavours of green lemon, squeeze of mandarin with touch of white pepper. This calls out for grilled king prawns wrapped with fresh crisp salad leaves, dipped in freshly sliced chilli and soy sauce. Drink now – 2016.

Torbreck ‘The Steading’ Blanc 2012, Barossa Valley, SA
RRP$37.50. A blend of Marsanne Roussanne and Viognier. A youthful intense nose of white peach, apple florals and jasmine. A very well-balanced wine showing crisp acidity, rich lemon tart flavours with a rounded apple mid-palate, sprinkling of baking spice on the finish. A lovely wine, drink now – 2016. 

Yalumba Roussanne 2012, Barossa Valley, SA
RRP$25. This Roussanne undergoes 18 months of maturation in aged oak barrels which imparts a complex layered texture to the wine. Notes of vanilla custard, a squeeze of lemon, tart acidity fading off on a soft finish. This has a release date of 1 Sept 2013. Drink now – 2015. 

Yalumba Viognier 2012, Eden Valley, SA
RRP$25. 60% of the harvest was pressed directly into barrels and the remaining 30% pressed in a stainless steel tank. Fermented by indigenous yeasts, left on lees and stirred every now and then over 10 months. Intense youthful aromas of apricot, honeysuckle and mandarin spritz. A full-bodied wine possessing rich acidity with a creamy mouthfeel. Caramelised apricots, bit of vanilla, freshened by a generous splash of citrus.  Drink now – 2016. 

Mitchelton Wines ‘Airstrip’ 2011, Nagambie Lakes, VIC
RRP$30. A 58/27/14 blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. This wine is named after the source block on the estate which was once a landing area for light aircraft. Soft perfume of citrus scented talc with vibrant flavours of unripe peach, lemon, pinch of lime. Good balance of intensity and texture. Drink now. 

Mitchelton Wines Marsanne 2011, Nagambie Lakes, VIC
RRP$22. Fruit for this wine is sourced from mature sections across several blocks. Part of the wine is barrel fermented and this imparts med+ weighted texture to the mouthfeel. There is an element of nuttiness to the soft stone fruit flavours, bit of spice and minerality. This would be nice with a Thai prawn salad. Drink now.

Syrahmi L’Imposteur Blanc 2011, Collioure, France
RRP$45. The Collioure AOC is situated in the Roussillon wine region of France. It’s a 60/30/10 blend of Grenache Gris, Roussanne and Rolle (aka Vermentino) fermented in old French barriques with wild yeast. Soft floral scents of apricot, pear, honey and talc. Nice acidity to balance the rich flavours. I sense this is one white that doesn’t need to be chilled too much. Lovely citrus-y finish. Try with pork and fennel sausages. Drink now – 2016.

Tellurian Marsanne 2012, Heathcote, VIC
RRP$27. Fruit was sourced from a select vineyard on the eastern side of the Mount Camel range in ancient Cambrian soil. Hand picked grapes were whole bunch pressed and the juice was fermented in 6 French oak barrels, one of which was new. The wine was then aged on lees without stirring for 6 months before bottling. Youthful notes of lightly grilled pear, stone fruit and aged oak. A med+ bodied wine with rich fruity flavours, touch of flint and a good level of spice. Cleansing acidity, mineraly finish. Drink now – 2017.

Wanted Man ‘White Label’ Marsanne Viognier 2011, Heathcote, VIC
RRP$30. A blend with 25% Viognier. This Heathcote white wine is inspired by white Hermitage. It has a highly spiced nose, lifted florals, fleshly nashi pear and peach. A med+ bodied wine, touch oily on the palate, slightly reductive flavours of lemon, apple and green plum. Interesting layered texture. Drink now.

Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Marsanne 2012, Frankland River, WA
RRP$30. You’ll need a bit of effort to locate this one, but take my word for it, it’ll be worth the while. With only 4 rows of vines on the estate, that’s only 500kg of fruit harvested into a single barrel. This will be a cellar door and mailing list wine. A vibrantly scented wine with notes of citrus, white peach and spice. Plenty of acidity, it has a creamy texture flavoured by lemon and stone fruit. A long lingering finish. Drink now – 2020.

2 wines tasted prior to event:

Tahbilk Marsanne 2011, Nagambie Lakes, VIC
RRP$15. Always a no-brainer for a high-quality wine at a low-ish cost, Tahbilk is Australia’s best representative of Marsanne. Youthful aromas of apple blossom, lemon scents, Asian spice and ripe honeydew. A well-rounded mouthfeel with a waxy texture, this medium-bodied wine has lots of apple and lemon citrus flavours. Crisp, cutting acidity leaves a savoury citrus finish. Drink now – 2015.

Elderton Marsanne Roussanne 2012, Eden Valley, SA
RRP$20. This is the first release of the Eden Valley Marsanne Roussanne. The low-yielding vines are planted on a very hilly part of the vineyard in rocky soils so the fruit produced in is intensely flavoured. This wine spent 6 months on lees in French oak barrels. It has youthful aromas of peach, pear and sweet spice. A medium-bodied wine of high acidity, 12.5% alc. Very nice flavours of pear and lemon fruit, long finish. Drink now – 2016.


Reply by GregT, Jul 28, 2013.

Australia does some great whites period, whether or not they're "Rhone".  Particularly, in my estimation, Riesling and Semillon, but also Chardonnay.

Eldridge North Patch Chardonnay from Mornington Peninsula, nice body, some notes of pear, not as lemony as some, clean, long finish with a slightly bitter close.

De Luliis Semillon from Hunter Valley - unusualy for a Semillon in that it doesn't have the grassiness of some, lots of citrus, very tart all the way through the finish.

St Hallett Poacher's Blend is a combo of Semillon, Sauv Blanc and Riesling - a bit grassy but mercifully without the grapefruit juice aspect of much Sauv Blanc, unwooded as far as I know, fruity but bone-dry, crisp and delicious and an example of Australian strength - they're willing to do blends like these instead of monovarietal bottlings.

Then the great Peter Lehmann Layers - a blend of Muscat, Semillon, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay - one of the more unusual blends I've ever had, slightly bitter and somehow has cheesy notes? Weird wine but give them some credit for effort.

From Tasmania, probably the coolest region in Australia, Glaetzer-Dixon Uberblanc Riesling - another of the more different wines I've had from Australia, even with a slight fizz? Or maybe it was just the acid? It's been a while and I'm not sure. But good anyway.

Reply by zufrieden, Jul 28, 2013.

I agree... for what it may (or may not be worth).  The Australians have the climate, the knowledge, the experience and the verve to produce almost anything they set their minds to.  The proof is in the variety; there is the cool climate variety of Riesling which, if one were pressed, might not expect the wonder of products from the desiccated regions of South Australia e. g.  So, like most else, human intervention is the key.

Reply by Terence Pang, Jul 29, 2013.


I'll second you on the De Iuliis wines. The 2012 whites are looking very smart indeed, and all for under AUD$20.  They produce a Chardonnay Pinot Noir sparkling wine for $25, a very nice drop.  I'm a fan of the Peter Lehmann Layers too, if someone claims whites are boring, this is one wine which might make them change their minds.

My biggest gripe with Tassie wines is that, IMO, they are massively over priced. Few high the right notes for me within the affordable price range. But make no mistake, quality is certainly there. I'll probably have more to report on this after the Tasmania tasting I'm doing next week.

Reply by GregT, Jul 29, 2013.

You're doing a Tasmania tasting? Cool. I would be very interested.

I guess I understand their pricing. Maybe not in Australia, but in the US. It's an out of the way place to ship from. Not helped by the current exchange rate of the Australian vs US dollars. That's got to be killing some of those winemakers.

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