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29/04/2009

Albarino growers, meet Savagnin – and love her

Anita Donaldson

In late 2008 the AWBC says it became aware of questions being raised within the wine community relating to the veracity of the grape variety Albarino in Australia. A flurry of media, comment and confusion resulted with growers of Albarino justifiably concerned that wines they were labelling as Albarino, may well be something rather different.

Doubts about the identity of Australian Albarino are not new. In 2004, Dr Chris Bourke wrote a paper in The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker titled: Is Traminer Gewurz, or is it Roter or Rose, and if Bianco, what about Albarino? Goodness only knows. The current confusion about Albarino has seen the 2004 paper, and Dr Bourke, referred to widely in media coverage on this issue.

In April 2009, the CSIRO released results of DNA profiling that showed DNA profiles of Spanish Albarino and Savagnin Blanc samples were different, confirming Albarino and Savagnin Blanc are different varieties.

CSIRO advised on the basis of the study, plants labelled as Albarino in the CSIRO’s collection were actually Savagnin Blanc (Traminer) and would be relabelled as such. The AWBC released a statement saying if growers had Albarino vines that were sourced from the CSIRO collection, then wine produced from those vines could not be described using that name and if the Albarino vines were sourced elsewhere the grower should confirm their identity.

It sounds bleak for producers of Albarino, especially those who have established the variety at cellar door or with restaurants, bottleshops or export markets. It remains to be seen just what the fallout might be, and no doubt there will be legal rumblings as industry tries to find a culprit in this mix-up.

Dr Chris Bourke, writing exclusively in this month’s issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker says the confusion has arisen as a result of the two varieties being co-planted in Spanish and Portugese vineyards… and because both look very similar. His article traces the origins of Savagnin and the many mutations and changes in the variety’s name, through to its importation into Australia. It is a lengthy article but will do much to clarify and advise growers of the variety, Savagnin, they are most likely to have growing in their vineyards. And he finishes with a positive note: “I wish Savagnin and those who may have unknowingly planted her, the best of luck. May they resist the temptation to pull her out and instead explore her for her own sake and for the ability she has displayed over the centuries to produce age-worthy wines of great interest and difference. I believe that the co-fermentation of a small amount of this variety with its cousin Cabernet Sauvignon can perform a similar role to Viognier in Shiraz and produce a better balanced cool climate dry red.”

Dr Bourke’s article will be published in the May issue of The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker, out soon. To subscribe, visit www.winebiz.com.au

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