Like it or not, the traditional grape varieties that built Australia’s reputation as a great place to make wine are not necessarily the best contenders with the current climate change forecast. The Chalmers family have been leading the way in future-proofing the industry with their devotion to Australian-grown Italian varieties. They also supply vines to growers across the country looking for more sustainable varieties to plant in this wide brown land.
In 2017 it was time to march bravely into new ground. A block was selected on the family property at Merbein in the Murray Darling. It was established organically to ensure soil health. Unlike many vineyards in the area, a region known for volume production with sophisticated and widespread irrigation, just a small amount of water (less than the minimum typically required for grape production) is delivered by an overhead sprinkler.
Two varieties were selected for their thick skins and drought tolerance, qualities that offer resilience in a dry climate; inzolia, a white grape from Sicily, and negroamaro, a black grape from Puglia. Rather than trellising, the vines were allowed to grow naturally as “bush vines”, well spaced to avoid competition for water and provide natural shade for the berries. The results speak for themselves…
Chalmers Bush Vine Inzolia 2021 – 94 points
Initially the wine is restrained and very mineral – sea shells washed up on the beach, a waft of waxy Meyer lemon, a whisper of rockmelon, a nostalgic hint of pink musk sticks in white paper bags from the corner store. But then POW! On the palate it is tropical sherbet – tingling your tastebuds. The texture is incredible, a hint of grip that makes your mouth water but silky and rich in the same moment. Wrapping your head around a new variety is so exciting. For me, this dances between the boldness of ripe chardonnay, the zingy acidity of riesling and the spice and perfume of viognier. Drink big glasses, not too cold, with a crispy skinned, spicy porchetta. Drink now to 2025.
Chalmers Bush Vine Negroamaro 2020 – 92 points
The aromas remind me of my grandfather – soft-eating licorice hidden from his wife in the back of the wardrobe (he wasn’t supposed to eat sweets), sarsaparilla and rich freshly tilled earth. A hint of fragrant leaf tobacco wrapped in an age-softened leather pouch. On first sip it tastes almost sweet but finishes dry. It’s the mind-tricking flavours of super ripe blood plums, juice gushing down your chin as you take that first bite. With time in the glass more savoury characters come to the fore – dried oregano and crushed slate rocks. A refreshing acidity balances the richness. Pair with something suitably bold, perhaps an oxtail and eggplant ragu with sauce-catching homemade orecchiette. Drink now to 2025.