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Thirsty work: smashable reds, skin-contact whites, ciders, beers
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So: what will we be drinking this year? As the last hangover of 2015 fades, it’s time for me to make some predictions.
MAX ALLEN The Australian
We’ll be drinking more very young red wines. A decade ago, it was unusual to see reds hit the bottleshop shelves in the same year they were harvested, but in the past few months I’ve slurped my way through dozens of crunchy, juicy, smashable 2015 vintage pinots and grenaches and gamays and shirazes.
Not that I’m complaining: I really enjoy these vibrant, bouncy wines and it appears you, Australia’s wine drinkers, do too.
Also, we’ll be drinking more skin-contact whites this year — although we may not always know it.
This is another dramatic style shift: in the past, winemaking students were taught to press the juice of white grapes off from the skins as soon as the fruit was picked, and to ferment that juice clean and cool, to avoid any rough “phenolic” texture on the tongue.
Now, an increasing number of rebellious winemakers are embracing phenolics and fermenting their white grapes skins and all to produce some really exciting, textural, although often startlingly amber-coloured fluids.
Interestingly, quite a few conservative winemakers are toying with this technique, too, by fermenting some white grapes on skins and then blending that more textural component into their more conventional ferments.
The results can be deliciously interesting versions of familiar wines.
Both these trends — young, smashable reds and skin-contact whites — are offshoots of the natural wine movement, which has thoroughly disrupted conventional wine wisdom during the past few years.
We can expect to see more natural wines this year, and I think on the whole this is a good thing.
And while I just spent two paragraphs myself explaining technique, I’d love to hear winemakers this year talking less about process — what percentage of whole bunches they used in their pinot ferment, how long their riesling spent on skins, how much sulphur dioxide they added — and much more about how and where the grapes were grown.
In fact, I’d like to hear greater discussion in general about soil and terroir and a sense of place in Australian wine.
Hopefully this year we will.
In the ever-expanding world of craft brewing, expect to see more wild-fermented ales this year. Again, this is about tasting place. Employing the native populations of bacteria and yeast, rather than adding cultures from a packet, produces a beer that is unique to that brewery.
Wild ferments also, in my experience, produce more profound, vinous beers that are exceptionally good accompaniments to food.
In cider land, a number of orchards planted or grafted a few years ago to proper cider apples (Kingston Black, Frequin Rouge) are beginning to produce commercial crops, so we can hope to see some more interesting, complex and tasty ciders hit the market from about mid-year.
And we can expect to see even more new Australian spirits — artisan, small-batch gins, whiskies and vodkas — and locally produced spirituous drinks such as vermouths, bitters and digestifs.
I hope you’re thirsty, Australia.