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Mr. Riggs

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Ben Riggs
 
23 January 2015 | Lifestyle, Wine Education | Ben Riggs

Celebrating my Summer with Alternate Varieties

I plucked my motivation and inspiration for experimenting and use alternative varieties in my range from my travels and work across Europe. Particularly, Spain and Italy.

Let's start with Tempranillo. Whilst working in Bordeaux in the late 80’s, which is a beautiful part of the world but a little restrained for a 20 something Aussie bloke, a friend suggested we head to San Sebastian for the weekend. Well restrained it isn’t! The food, the friendly people, the girls, the free poured G&T’s... oh dear, what a place. Anyway did I mention the wines? Well I had known about Rioja but that was my first immersion in all things Tempranillo. I’m not sure if it was just the wines or my fond memories of the above but that kick started a bit of a quest to play with Temp. One of my first jobs in my new consultancy business in 2002 was to do a report on Scott Hicks and Kerry Heysen-Hicks Yacca paddock vineyard, as the contracted winery was trying to lower the price for the fruit. My report was: I will buy it! The fruit looked amazing, and so, the 12 year odyssey began.

For 3 years I consulted to Wineries on the East coast of Italy, Marche, Abruzzo and Puglia where I fell in love with a few things: the amazing coastline, beautiful sleepy ancient towns, incredible food, and of course Montepulciano. Most of the vineyards I worked with had a mixture of Verdicchio, Sangiovese and Montepulciano as well as some Shiraz, Petite Verdot and Cabernet. But by far the standout variety was the Monte.

I was amazed with how resilient it was to disease, how versatile it was being grown with both modern viticulture trellis VSP etc and traditional Tandonne pergola trellis, how adaptable it was to being grown in the cooler northern parts of Marche along with the hot southern parts of Abruzzo as well as performing in rocky incredibly low vigour hillside vineyards, and also fertile high vigour river flats. In every case, I made better wine from Monte than any other variety made from the same vineyard.

Some speculate that Monte is actually the genetic parentage for Sangiovese as well as being related to Agioritiko (St George, Nemea) from Greece. But whatever you want to say about its parentage,  Monte makes amazingingly structured, fleshy, exotic wines and I just had to make some in Australia. Enter Caj Amadio, who was born in Abruzzo and who keenly planted some for me on his Kersbrook Vineyard.

It was in Marche, also in Italy (see map below) that my inspiration for making a sticky Viognier heralded from. Here I was captivated by a similar style of sticky made by drying Verdicchio on racks in a shed, to then concentrate it, then crush, press and ferment in mostly new oak. The wine is delicious, and who would have thought! Verdicchio shares a couple of traits similar to Viognier: firstly it starts with V, and secondly, it is an aromatic variety which has a lot of tannin (almost as much as some red grapes). By drying the grapes you concentrate the sugar, acid and flavour, but unlike using botrytis to make a sticky, you get to keep the aromatics intact - making a crisp refreshing style of sticky.

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