Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
THE idea came to winemaker Danial Conte during harvest at his family vineyard in McLaren Vale. As he plucked bunches of plump sugary grapes from the vines, Conte had a flashback to a moment on holiday last year in Naples.
“I’ve always been a fan of fresh, fruity, vibrant young wines,” says Conte. “And at one of the best pizzerias in Napoli I tried a kicking house red: a current vintage wine with natural effervescence from the primary ferment. It was zippy, crisp and aromatic, and drinking it with the best margarita with bufala mozzarella and porcini I’ve ever had in my life — mamma mia!”
With the spritzy flavour memories fizzing through his mind, Conte looked at his vineyard and wondered whether he could make a “vino fresco” or two that captured the freshness and vivacity of that house red in Napoli.
He chose the moscato grape to produce a sweet sparkling white and the northern Italian red grape, lagrein, to produce a fruity, sweetish deep-purple bubbly. And then he worked fast: he wanted to get these two wines into bottle as soon as possible after harvest, essentially while they were still fermenting, so the carbon dioxide of the ferment would be trapped inside the bottle, giving the wine its crucial effervescence.
What sets these two apart from almost every other sparkling moscato and sparkling red out there in wine land is the fact that Conte also decided to not add any sulphur dioxide as a preservative because, as he says, sulphites can have a “slight but evident masking effect (on flavour)”, and he was aiming for maximum freshness and character.
He’s succeeded, too. Both of these new Conte Estate wines are terrific, quaffable examples of their respective styles, and I believe the lack of preservatives has indeed had a role to play in their deliciousness.
The moscato is called Il Bacio d’Oro — kiss of gold — and, although it’s quite sweet, it makes a delicious aperitif with fried cheesy drinking snacks such as parmesan-crumbed artichokes. It’s not as pale and bright as other, more conventionally handled moscatos (indeed, it’s slightly cloudy) but it is bursting with character and flavour: like taking a bunch of freshly-picked, dawn-chilled, spice-scented muscat grapes and squeezing them on your tongue.
The lagrein is called Lacrima di Terra — teardrop of the earth — and is a spectacular demonstration of one of this grape variety’s particular strengths: colour. The wine is a dense, vibrant purple — very ripe-looking, very enticing. And it’s full of purple fruit flavour, too: crunchy berries, luscious juiciness, balanced by lagrein’s fine, snappy tannin. It’s not too sweet, either, so it works well with savoury food: I really enjoyed it with some steak and garlic-and-herb-rubbed chook that had been grilled over charcoal.
Both are a welcome addition to the growing number of excellent Australian preservative free wines.