The myriad of grape growing regions of New South Wales are distinct and fascinating. Established regions like Hunter Valley, Orange, Mudgee and Cowra, have earned reputations for their unswerving wine styles and pitch at the upper echelon of fine wine.
New South Wales has shown us warm climates producing glorious and variegated expressions of shiraz, cooler regions (and the odd Hunter wine!) with emerging class from righteously flavoured chardonnay. There’s pockets producing lesser-seen grape varieties with an enthusiasm and energy, and of course, there is the state’s crown jewel of laser-like Hunter Valley semillon which has produced an obscure but indelible mark on Australia’s global wine reputation.
There’s been a wealth to learn and digest in breadth of expressions of wine.
While the higher profile regions enjoy a reputation for not only good wines but lifestyle tourism, there’s a collection of often overlooked wine regions that fly under the radar, or are yet to fully emerge as wine growing areas of collective consciousness. Indeed, these are some of New South Wales’ most interesting places for wine, creating diverse styles that often pitch well out of the norm for either what’s in the glass, or a future potential.
The path less travelled
New South Wales wine has plenty of personality, it’s just that most regional messages of large bandwidth tend to preach from a similar pulpit. While ‘noble varieties’ of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc have great carriage in consumer land, there’s an increasing kitty of other regions and wines that are attracting a gaze.
The New England wine region is officially one of Australia’s youngest geographical indications. The region is curious for its variegated, diverse vineyard locations and soils. Many vineyards sit at or above 1000 metres above sea level, with reds that have an inherent freshness and bright, crisp white wines resulting from most sites.
The region’s hero producer would have to be Topper’s Mountain. Vigneron Mark Kirkby has eschewed pursuing classic wines and styles, instead offering a clever diversity of wine styles built around sessionable blends, or unique varieties given personality through judicious winemaking.
While other New South Wales wine producers scrap for pole position in noble varieties, Topper’s Mountain has excelled with idiosyncratic but superb whites, including a savoury-edged, mouth-watering petit manseng. Alongside the manseng, Kirkby releases two versions of gewürztraminer, a straight laced, floral style and one that uses well-judged oak handling to eke out additional complexity. Both are outstanding.
Red wines from Topper’s Mountain are thrilling too, with, notably, the ‘Bricolage Rouge’ extolling the virtues of unconventional multi-variety blends for early complexity. Bricolage Rouge combines tempranillo, nebbiolo, barbera and tannat, and though ostensibly hyper-exotic, manifests in a medium bodied, spicy, finely tannin hewn red of immense interest and drinkability.
While Kirkby has been plying his trade just north of the town of Tingha, young winemaker Jared Dixon had based himself in Clunes, New England, with an eye on producing, young, fresh, vibrant expressions of various varieties and blends.
Using a free-wheeling aesthetic, fermenting naturally, using no additions and bottling young and without filtering or fining, Dixon has created a small cult around his quirky yet finely wrought wines under his Jilly label.
Dixon’s oeuvre of winemaking, sourcing grapes and producing wines naturally, is scant in New England, but he is joined by the duo of Sam Cook and Alastair Reed who make up the driving force behind a similarly ambitious project under the name Konpira Maru.
Cook and Reed have wine industry backgrounds in retailing and wine/viticulture teaching respectively. They’ve taken a fun but considered approach to their offerings, and have been sourcing fruit from Kirkby’s Topper’s Mountain site, and a second vineyard located in Kurrajong Downs, just outside of Tenterfield in the very north of New South Wales.
The Konpira Maru wines are loose knit, fresh-feeling, focus on shiraz, chardonnay, semillon and a quixotic red blend, though the wines feel decidedly different to typical regional expressions, or even those seeking global benchmarks. These are wildly charismatic, un-tinkered with and bright in their make-up.
The South Coast greater wine region comprises Shoalhaven Coast and Southern Highlands wine regions. The bucolic regions are well-travelled as New South Wales holiday destinations, but are often overlooked for their wine culture. Arguably, the regions are relatively young and yet to hit their high-water marks in quality, but there’s distinguished pockets and noteworthy producers amongst both communities.
Shoalhaven’s maritime influence is marked with vineyards running from proximate, undulating farmland almost right onto the region’s golden beaches. The shining star of the region is Coolangatta Estate, a perennial winner of accolades for their semillon wines in a wide spread of wine shows.
Coolangatta Estate was established in the 1820s, and saw original grape plantings in the mid 19th century. While the first vineyard went by the wayside, vines were replanted in the 1980s and first wines produced under the Coolangatta Estate label in the 1990s. The semillons are pure-feeling, tight and lean in youth and mature with finesse.
Notwithstanding the viticulture is dedicated and thoughtful, the wines are made by the wine team at Tyrrell’s in the Hunter Valley. Semillon nous of a grand New South Wales wine family is applied to the wines of Coolangatta Estate. Coolangatta’s semillons are worthy exploration.
Located in and around Bowral, Mittagong and Berrima, there’s also discovery to be had in the Southern Highlands wine region. The area is abundant in native bush and verdant farmland, and amongst the rolling hills and dales is a burgeoning cellar door scene showcasing regional wares.
Highlights are increasingly many, but it’s Tertini wines that shine with their derring-do, planting newer to Australia varieties like the Piedmontese white grape arneis. The sense of adventure manifests in a brisk, faintly savoury white of high interest and drinkability.
Alongside this wine, Tertini produces one of New South Wales’ best pinot noirs, notable for its lithe form and succulent texture. A work in progress and showing great potential, riesling embodies a leaner, lighter feel, but carries a fine mineral character that lends further interest.
Wine tourism is scant in the picturesque wine growing region of Tumbarumba. At the tail end of New South Wales’ ‘alpine region’, viticulture was first significantly enacted in the 1980s, and the focus had more or less been production of sparkling wine grapes for big company interests.
The region has shifted gears. Younger generation producers are eking out smaller batches from vineyards reclaimed from generic sparkling wine making. Perhaps the first to make a serious inroad was the Canberra District-based producer Eden Road.
Eden Road’s suite of chardonnays and pinot noirs have been marked. Chardonnay is racy but in full flight of the grape’s flavour. They are coiled, precise and extraordinarily fine.
Pinot noir is more a work in progress, but recent releases are building beguiling texture and further weight into sheaths of fine tannin.
Courabyra wines, one of Tumbarumba’s only cellar doors, are a grower-turned-winemaker who set palates alight with their initial, 10-year-lees-aged sparkling wine release. The first wine was guided by master sparkling maker Ed Carr, with subsequent releases also stellar. These are sparkling wines of immense presence, finesse and class.
Fringe winemakers of great interest are also turning to Tumbarumba for inspiration and available grape sources. Keeping an eye on the ultra-boutique undertaking of Sassafras wines is highly rewarding. Petillant naturel, a form of naturally sparkling wine, is one of Sassafras’ best releases over the past few years with the 2014 wine born from Tumbarumba gamay. Stay tuned for more.
Tucked up in and around the banks of the mighty Murray River, Perricoota wine region is often completely overlooked. The region is set just a stone’s throw from Victoria on the New South Wales border, and has a handful of cellar doors. A small clique of wine makers call the region home, and recent tastings have revealed Mofro Wines as a fun, interesting producer calling the wine growing area their home base.
The father-son combo of Alan and Trent Eacott hone a small range of wines best drunk in their youth. Young, fresh, vibrant wines from estate vineyards, this is one of those great discovery moments where you unearth an unsung producer doing valuable, interesting things. May there be many more from New South Wales.