In conjunction with the wealth of new red varieties arriving on Australian shores has also been new white varieties.
Personally I think the quality of the new whites is behind that of the reds at present, but improved vine age and further experimentation between region and variety could see that change.
To me it seems that viognier and pinot gris/grigio are the most established of the new whites. The often criticised and at times lifeless pinot gris has found a niche with what some call the 'lunchtime cafe crowd', whilst the distinctly apricot/stonefruit-like viognier can thank its ability to partner shiraz to an extent, as many are planting viognier with blending as a priority.
Two of the most important 'other' white varieties in Australia are the Rhone duo of marsanne and roussanne. Many Australian regions already possess mature vineyards of these two varieties (most notably in Victoria and South Australia) which always benefits wine quality.
Chenin blanc, verdelho and gewurztraminer are three other styles which Australia has been pushing for some time. Gewurztraminer in particular is capable of excellent wines in Tasmania, as well as some of Victoria's cool alpine regions.
Newer plantings of varieties like fiano, albarino (more recently referred to as savagnin blanc) and arneis have created a fuss in some circles, but not with me.
I'll also include any white blends in this section, with the exception of semillon/sauvignon blanc which gets incorporated into the sauvignon blanc section.
The whites I've chosen to review here are Coriole Fiano 2008, Joseph d'Elena Pinot Grigio 2008, SC Pannell Pronto Bianco 2008, Tahbilk Marsanne 2007, Tahbilk Vioignier 2007 and Tim Adams Pinot Gris 2008. The two Tahbilk wines are the only ones here which aren't current. I honestly felt 2007 was an exceptional year for these two wines, which are regarded as some of Australia's most iconic cheap wines, well, the marsanne is anyway.
CORIOLE FIANO 2008
- Region: McLaren Vale, SA
- Price: $14-$24
Coriole has reinforced their passion for Italian varieties by becoming one of the first to release an Australian fiano. Unsurprisingly it's made from very young vine material, 4 years old I think.
Mid-yellow in colour, it opens to a lemon citrus infused nose of honeydew melons with slightly herbaceous notes of straw. Slippery in texture, the palate reveals flavours of melon, straw and lemon tart. With an extract of spiky, greenish acids the wine exits the mouth in a dry fashion.
X A relatively simple, dry white wine. I feel that Coriole's Fiano would benefit greatly from the improved varietal definition which would be imparted by more mature vines, helping it to stand out from the pack, like their chenin blanc. Drink now.
JOSEPH D'ELENA PINOT GRIGIO 2008
- Region: McLaren Vale, SA
- Price: $26-$36
Sourced from Primo Estate's Clarendon vineyards, the d'Elena Pinot Grigio has quickly become one of Australia's better renditions of this popular variety. The 2006 d'Elena (92pts), with its great depth, texture and length, was easily one of the best I've had.
Lemon scented with tight tones of pear and spice, the 2008 d'Elena's restrained aromatics precede a smooth palate with an almost bitter, acidic aftertaste and a crisp finish which dips towards the back palate. It presents rather passive fruit flavours, but unlike other d'Elenas it lacks the texture, complexity and length which usually makes it one of our best.
X At around $30 retail the d'Elena must excel to be considered good value; unfortunately, the 2008 has not succeeded. Drink now.
SC PANNELL PRONTO BIANCO 2008
(Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling/Pinot Gris)
- Region: Adelaide Hills, SA
- Price: $24-$30
The solo project of highly respected and experienced winemaker Stephen Pannell, SC Pannell is among a number of new, boutique South Australian wineries gaining cult status for their wines in a ludicrously short period of time. Interestingly enough, some of the best of these also start with the letter 'S' (see also Samuel's Gorge-McLaren Vale and Spinifex-Barossa Valley).
A fascinating blend which highlights the winemaking abilities of its maker, the 2008 Pronto Bianco presents lemon citrus and light spice aromas with strong accents of apple, before revealing a smooth and viscous palate of pleasing balance and shape. Mouthfilling and packed with savoury complexity, its pear, lanolin and light pastry flavours finish with a wash of lime juice and clean, crunchy acids.
ü From an unusual, perhaps mismatched set of varieties, Stephen Pannell has crafted a surprisingly complex, savoury white wine with an impression of Italian Bianco which extends well beyond its name alone. Drink now.
TAHBILK MARSANNE 2007
- Region: Nagambie Lakes, VIC
- Price: $10-$20
Tahbilk's specialist white wine, marsanne, is Australia's most instantly recognisable of the Rhone variety. Over a proven period of time Tahbilk's Marsanne has built a solid reputation for its ability to develop into a rich, complex white wine with around 5-10 years cellaring.
Beset with austere, waxy aromas of limey minerals and wet slate, the 2007 announces a palate with much more complexity, texture and shape than most young marsanne. Its steely lemon/lime citrus flavours build in a finely structured fashion, with a framework of chalky acids carrying the wine into an incredibly long (for the style) finish of sharpness and definition.
ü+ An exceptionally good young marsanne which retails for around $12, this could be a serious bargain for your cellar. Drink to 2017.
TAHBILK VIOGNIER 2007
- Region: Nagambie Lakes, VIC
- Price: $10-$20
Viognier has certainly been one of the most influential new white varieties to hit Australia. Unfortunately it seems to me that low quality, overly tart and apricot syrup-like viogniers are outnumbering the better wines, but as long as winemakers keep successfully blending it with shiraz, I'm sure there'll always be a place for viognier in the Australian landscape.
More reserved, savoury and complex than most, Tahbilk's 2007 presents lightly buttered aromas of apricot kernels and grilled nuts with exotic spice overtones. Smooth and refreshing, with clean acidity holding together bell-clear notes of mandarin and lemon citrus along a slightly juicy, viscous undercarriage, the balanced palate shows significantly more refinement than usual, delivering outstanding restraint, delicacy and finesse for its price point without sacrificing varietal quality.
ü+ Other critics continuously rave about Yalumba's Y-Series and Eden Valley Viogniers, but after visiting Yalumba recently and tasting these wines; I'm convinced Tahbilk's 2007 is Australia's best value viognier. Drink to 2011.
TIM ADAMS PINOT GRIS 2008
- Region: Clare Valley, SA
- Price: $18-$27
In my opinion pinot gris has become Australia's most overpriced white wine. To put it simply, too many wineries charge over $20 for wines which should clearly cost less. There is however, a growing number of producers making good quality pinot gris at fair prices. Tim Adams certainly falls into the latter category.
The 2008 Tim Adams is laden with aromas of musky apples, pear, lime and spice, showing much more aromatic character than many Australian pinot gris. Clean and fresh, with good shape and biting acids, tantalisingly zesty flavours of musky pears and lemon zest finish sharply with brightness and surprising length, revealing a smart influence of honeyed nut undertones.
ü+ Packed with life, flavour and great acid structure, the 2008 is probably Tim Adams best pinot gris to date, making it essential drinking for the lunchtime cafe crowd. Drink now.