Smidge is a McLaren Vale-based, family-owned winery you may not have heard of but which should definitely be on your drinking radar. Owned and run by winemaker Matt Wenk and his wife Trish Callaghan, the business started as a side project while Matt made wine for others, before Smidge became his main focus in 2014.
Matt makes more than 20 wines over different labels, from fruit sourced in the Vale, as well as the Adelaide Hills, Rutherglen, plus the Barossa and Eden Valleys. There are a few surprising grape varieties on offer, such as Saperavi, Montepulciano and Carignan, yet Shiraz is definitely the star.
2022 Smidge McLaren Vale ‘Il Piano’ Fiano – 92 points
‘This handpicked Fiano was 10% destemmed with skin contact for one month, the balance was whole bunch pressed with 35% barrel fermented and 55% in stainless steel. Fermentation was all wild, with no malo occurring, this wine was then blended and bottled after 4 months.‘
Fiano is quickly becoming one of my favourite white grapes. ‘Il Piano’ (Italian for “the plan”) is an extremely zippy, silky and salty drop, with intense aromas of orange blossom, lemon, chalk, lime, hay and apple that unfurl slowly and then never leave you. It pairs incredibly well with food, particularly chicken, and it goes extra-smashingly with soft or hard cheese.
2020 Smidge Barossa Valley ‘Adamo’ Shiraz – 94 points
‘Sourced mainly from two blocks in the Barossa Valley, predominantly in Greenock on the western range and Penrice on the eastern range. Both subregions have soil profiles of moderately deep red/brown clay loam with small fragments of ironstone and quartz. Matured in 100% French oak, predominantly 300L hogsheads for 24 months. All parcels were kept separate until final blending resulting in a wine full of red fruits, spice, fine tannins and focus.‘
“Adamo” comes from the Latin verb “adamare”, meaning “I love greatly”. It’s a fitting name for a wine which no doubt has many admirers, and I’m certainly one of them. It’s quite a chameleon in the glass, initially coming across as dark and brooding, but before too long, it turns very bright and lively after some air. There’s an enticing mix of red and black fruits, both fresh and dried (blackcurrant, raspberry, mulberry), a spicy edge from nutmeg and liquorice, and a slight touch of tertiary characters coming through in the form of leather. It has a chalky, drying finish in the mouth with dusty tannins, and it still has some very good years ahead of it.
2019 Smidge McLaren Vale ‘La Grenouille’ Cabernet Sauvignon – 94 points
‘La Grenouille from Smidge Wines is a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from an immaculate vineyard in the western Willunga area at the southern end of greater McLaren Vale in South Australia. The vines on the block are approximately 60 years old.’
Named “the frog” (for a ‘frustrated Frenchman’), this cab sauv comes from a so-called “immaculate vineyard”, and I had a hard time arguing with that. The fruit is rich and pristine, being both full of depth and vibrant on the nose and palate. Characters range across the fruity and savoury spectrum, from primary to tertiary: blackcurrant, raspberry, tomato leaf, clove, coconut, chocolate, cigar box, leather, and truffle. There’s a silky mouthfeel with a lick of spice, and the wine goes exceptionally well with food, especially if it’s also laden with spice.
2018 Smidge McLaren Vale ‘Uno Momento’ Montepulciano – 95 points
‘The source of the fruit for this wine is from a block in the subregion of Tatachilla and the soil is very similar to that of many of the high quality vineyards of Abruzzo; red clay loam mottled with ironstone over limestone. 2018 was a great year with warm to hot days and cool nights. Hand-picked in late March and being true to variety, the acidity was high, and no adjustment was required. Destemmed only, wild ferment in open top fermenters with 28 days “on skins”. The free run and pressings were combined before going to 2yo French barrique for 18 months before being bottled unfiltered.’
This is about the third Monte I’ve had recently which has been nothing short of amazing. With some bottle age behind it now, it’s moving towards the tertiary realm, yet primary fruits of cassis, mulberry and raspberry still spring forth from the glass, and there’s an undertone of chocolate and dried red and black fruits, with a bit of toastiness, too. The palate is inky, juicy, energetic, and velvety, with rich flavours that permeate your entire mouth, and dusty tannins that grip your teeth for dear life. It’s fantastic with food, and just as nice to sip on a cold, winter’s night.
2017 Smidge Barossa/Eden Valleys ‘Smitch’ Shiraz – 95 points
‘Hailing from the cooler vintage of 2017, this wine is a blend of 71% Greenock Barossa Valley Shiraz and 29% Menglers Hill Eden Valley Shiraz. After approximately six months in oak, all the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley barrels are classified in a blind line up and a number of barrels are selected for the ‘S’ project. These barrels are then tasted against each other in a second round. 5 barriques were selected, which were then blended together and returned to 2 year old barrique. Total time in barrel was 30 months before bottling and spending 30 months in bottle before release.‘
Even at six years of age, the ‘Smitch’ is still looking mighty youthful. Despite the preponderance of tertiary characters (dried red and black fruits, leather, prune, soy, mushroom), the fruit and spice (blackberry, raspberry, nutmeg) are still quite resonant. The well-integrated tannins and medium+ body convey that this wine means business, and the alcohol is hidden behind layers of flavour and texture. Everything is in perfect balance here, with no rough edges at all, and it will continue to develop for at least another decade.
2021 Smidge McLaren Vale ‘Pedra Branca’ Saperavi – 95 points
‘On skins for 15 days, with a fermentation lasting 9 days. The fruit was handpicked and destemmed only, while the must had no acid adjustment and went through with a wild fermentation. Upon pressing, both the free run and pressings were combined and after racking off gross lees, the wine was matured in two 2-year-old French barriques. The 2021 vintage was cool and dry and the wine had a certain subtlety about it, so it was French oak all the way! After spending 11 months in oak, the wine was lightly fined and bottled unfiltered.’
There’s not a huge amount of this wonderful Georgian grape grown in Australia, so the Pedra Branca Saperavi is a great example of what can be achieved from it, and it was the highlight of the six wines tasted, for many reasons. Not only was it superb straight out of the bottle, it was even better on the second night, still retaining its freshness of fruit but also gaining some more depth after breathing. The nose leads with succulent notes of mulberry, boysenberry, blackberry, raspberry, and cinnamon, and some subtle oak. It’s silky and smooth on the palate, almost mouth-watering, with a core of fruit sweetness, and the cinnamon moves towards rich baking spices on the second night. A truly breathtaking wine.