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Albarinho suffers an identity crisis

The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and Wine Grape Growers’ Australia are continuing to monitor the work being done to verify the identity of vines described as Albarinho (or Albariño) in Australia.

Evidence has been provided that some Australian vines thought to be of the Albarinho variety may in fact be examples of Savagnin, a variety more closely associated with the Jura region of France, than the Iberian Peninsula. The investigation into this issue has only recently commenced and more work needs to be performed in order to replicate and validate these findings.

In particular, the CSIRO is providing expertise and assistance in the identification of the material in Australia. When the science surrounding the issue is clear, an independent body in South Australia will perform the DNA testing required to verify varietal status.

The results of this work should assist to dispel the confusion surrounding the true identity of this variety, confusion that also exists in other parts of the world according to published scientific literature. It is extremely difficult to conclude that any misidentification has occurred, until this work is complete.

Australia has a robust system to ensure truth in labelling. The work currently being performed in response to the Albarinho matter can only assist in demonstrating the strength and worth of Australia’s approach to wine regulation.

Winemaker and proprietor of the Barossa Valley’s Tscharke Wines, Damien Tscharke, pioneered Albarinho in Australia and is the nation’s largest commercial producer of the variety.

“As a passionate supporter and producer of Albarinho, spending years researching its suitability to Australian viticulture and specifically the Barossa terroir, it has come as a shock to me, and to other producers of this popular variety, that Albarinho has been commercially released in Australia by the CSIRO, possibly not true to type,” Tscharke said.

In response to the speculations, Tscharke has undertaken his own field analysis to identify the variety based on vegetative growth and cluster characterisation. Using physical markers determined by the Spanish to identify Albarinho, Tscharke has found the growth habits of Albarinho in Australia are parellel to that observed in Spain, including:

• Albarinho clusters are conical and have wings, Savagnin clusters are cylindrical • Albarinho have two clusters per fruiting branch, Savagnin only have one • Albarinho contain two seeds per berry, whereas Savagnin only have one

In every situation in the Tscharke vineyard, the above habits have been observed.

“Every day I am learning about the variety and its potential with each vintage is getting better and better. Regardless of the findings, Albarinho or Savagnin (or both), the fruit growing in the Tscharke vineyards is spectacular and has proven its suitability to the Barossa winegrowing climate to produce a wine that is aromatic, approachable and anything but ordinary,” Tscharke said, adding that he has volunteered his vineyard to the CSIRO for research purposes.

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