Mention the name “Heathcote”, and “Shiraz” invariably follows. So it was quite refreshing to find a winery in the region that was bucking this trend, producing wines inspired by northern Italy, full of verve and character. Vinea Marson is run by Mario, Helen and Madeleine Marson and is situated on the east-facing slopes of Mount Camel, with some fruit also obtained from vineyards on the banks of the Ovens River in the Alpine Valleys.
Mario gained extensive experience at Mount Mary in the Yarra Valley, as well as at Isole e Olena in Tuscany and Domaine de la Pousse d’Or in Burgundy. Since 2015, he’s been joined in the winery by Madeleine, and the energy and shared passion for winemaking of the duo is palpable.
The wines lean heavily towards Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Friulano, Prosecco, Pinot Bianco, Malvasia d’Istria, Friulano, and Picolit – with Shiraz and Viognier also making an appearance (both together, and the latter separately). I’ve been a big fan of Mario and Madeleine’s wines since I first tried them a few years back, so it was quite a treat to open these nine little beauties.
Vinea Marson 2021 Alpine Valleys Prosecco ‘Col Fondo’
91 points – AU$34
‘With production growing from 20 to 100 dozen with this release, we’re delighted to present the 2021 Prosecco Col Fondo. Preserving more crisp, primary fruit character than previous vintages thanks to the cool growing season, we’ve spent a year cellaring this cloudy ancestral method sparkling so you enjoy the best of both worlds.’
Made using the ‘metodo ancestrale’ (ancestral method) of sparkling production, this is a cloudy and pretty complex Prosecco, presenting a compelling array of fruity and savoury characters. There’s a burst of fresh apple and pear at the beginning, followed by peach, lemon and pineapple. As it breathes, you get some pepper, biscuit, yeastiness and honey coming out, with a sour edge running right through it. Like a liquid fruit salad, it’s refreshing and bright while also being a bit serious and contemplative.
Vinea Marson 2018 Alpine Valleys Picolit
92 points – AU$28
‘On arrival in the winery, the Picolit was whole bunch pressed directly into barrel, where it was inoculated with cultivated yeasts. The resulting fermentation occurred in a new French oak barrique and second or third fill barrels before the ferment was stopped. The wine reached 20 grams per litre of residual sugar and was then matured on lees for the following 10 months.’
Picolit hails from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy, where it’s usually made into a sweet wine, and is only grown in a few pockets of Australia. The Vinea Marson version is ripe and flavourful, with relatively high alcohol (14.5%), but it hides it well behind its rich flavours of lemon, quince, spice, nuttiness and honeysuckle. As it sits more in the medium-dry point of the sweetness spectrum, it’s definitely best suited to post-dinner treats like cheese or nuts – rather than sugary desserts – where its savouriness can enhance, rather than compete with, your meal.
Vinea Marson 2019 Alpine Valleys Friulano ‘#10’
92 points – AU$32
‘The fourth release of this skin-contact and textural white spent 10 days on skins with twice daily plunging and temperature control during the 2019 vintage. Once pressed, the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks with minimal additions and just a touch of sulphur.’
While Friulano is believed to have originated in southwestern France (with the name ‘Sauvignonasse’), it has been well and truly adopted by winemakers in northern Italy – and some industrious ones here, too. Friulano lends itself perfectly to skin contact, producing phenolic-rich wines with sumptuous texture and palate weight – which is exactly what you get here with Friulano #10. It’s bright from the get-go, with oodles of hay and citrus supported by honey, caramel, yoghurt and nuttiness. It’s the kind of wine that feels as good as it tastes – and it tastes pretty delicious.
Vinea Marson 2021 Heathcote Rosato
93 points – AU$28
‘A playful move away from our typical sangiovese / nebbiolo blend – with nebbiolo yields down in the 2021 vintage leading to a stand-alone Sangiovese rosato. This easy-drinking Rosato is best enjoyed with antipasto and pizza for up to 4 years.’
Rosato (the Italian name for ‘rosé’) is such a versatile style, suitable for cold weather or hot, by itself or paired with food. Vinea Marson’s Sangiovese Rosato is one of those wines, with no jagged edges, as everything fits together nicely. It’s fruity (raspberry, red cherry), spicy (pepper) and floral (rose water and violets), with intense aromas permeating from the glass. Food enhances all of its positive qualities, bringing forth salty and silky attributes that make this a really quaffable drop.
Vinea Marson 2018 Heathcote Shiraz Viognier
93 points – AU$42
‘Approximately 4.5% viognier was added at the crusher and co-fermented to enhance the wine’s savoury characters and produce a more elegant, complex wine. 10% whole bunch was included for the 1127 clone, providing lift in addition to the viognier. Following crushing, the fruit was sulphured and underwent cold-soak and inoculation. Post-fermentation the wine was macerated for approximately 30 days to soften the grape tannins. The wine was then matured for twelve months in French oak barriques, of which 30% were new medium-toast barrels.’
Sitting amongst its Italian cousins, the Shiraz Viognier may seem a little out of place, but it fits perfectly flavour-wise and pairing-wise. The nose is overtly savoury, offering tomato leaf, rhubarb, violets, toast and leather, with some added prettiness and depth from black cherry, raspberry and dried red and black fruits. It’s smooth and silky on the palate, the fruit turning darker and richer – but still juicy – and the integrated tannins bring some grip. Like the other Vinea Marson wines, it’s fantastic with food, particularly if it’s rich and/or spicy.
Vinea Marson 2022 Alpine Valleys Prosecco
94 points – AU$32
‘Made from pristine fruit sourced from our friend’s vineyard on the banks of the Ovens River in the Alpine Valleys, the prosecco shows the characteristic balanced flavour, dry and savoury notes you know and love! With the Marson winemakers’ signature addition of 1.5% pinot bianco, the prosecco is the perfect addition to any celebration. With just 400 dozen made, it is sure to sell out.’
I was honestly not prepared for how good this Prosecco would be. It’s youthful, vivacious, and positively brimming with gorgeous aromas of orange blossom, apple, pear, lemon, chalk, and pastry. The palate is creamy, bright and floral, with an exquisite mouthfeel full of acid and energy. Having drunk many Proseccos/Prosecchi over the years, I can genuinely say that this is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, even better than a number of DOCG Italian versions. Whether you like your Prosecco by itself, in a cocktail, or with food, this is a superb option.
Vinea Marson 2019 Alpine Valleys ‘Grazia’ – 94 points – AU$32
‘The 8th release of the flagship of our Heritage range, the 2019 Grazia is a complex blend of Pinot bianco and indigenous varieties from Friuli – Friulano, Malvasia d’Istria & Picolit.’
The Grazia is always one of my favourite Vinea Marson wines, so it was immensely comforting to find that the 2019, to me, is the best yet. After several years in bottle, it’s developing some beautiful aged characters, such as honey and nougat, while still throwing at you lots of grapefruit, orange blossom, cucumber, lanolin and hay, with a phenolic kick, sinewy body and velvety mouthfeel that make imbibing it a pleasure. It goes exceptionally well with food, bringing out a briny, salivating quality. Scrummy.
Vinea Marson 2017 Heathcote Nebbiolo
94 points – AU$48
‘A brilliant vintage for nebbiolo, with an even growing season and extended autumn. Heading into 2017, the summer was without the extreme heat that can sometimes occur in Heathcote and for which Nebbiolo is at times the most susceptible of our Italian varieties.’
Heathcote seems like a natural fit for Nebbiolo. Climate-wise, it’s somewhat similar to Barolo in Italy (warm and temperate), though without the obvious cachet – I think the Vinea Marson Nebbiolo could help to turn that around, at least a little bit. It’s currently displaying some glorious tertiary characters – tar, leather, dried herbs, truffle, ink – while the fruit (red cherry) and savoury primary and secondary characters (rose, conifer, coconut) are quite prominent. It’s bright, smooth, has great structure, and eats up spice, so sip it over a few hours or guzzle it down with food. If you can find it, the 2012 Nebb is even better than this gem.
Vinea Marson 2018 Heathcote Sangiovese
95 points – AU$42
‘2018 saw a return of Heathcote’s typically warm summer, creating conditions for a perfectly balanced growing season. Combined with the benefits of soil moisture in our rich clay-loam Cambrian soils thanks to the rains of 2016 and 2017, alongside an extended autumn provided the ideal growing conditions for our 12 clones of sangiovese.’
I opened the Vinea Marson Sangiovese last, and my patience was duly rewarded. This is an outstanding wine, with everything I love about the grape, and so much more. Black and red cherry predominate, alongside blackcurrant, raspberry, bay leaf and toast, with leather and dried red fruits pointing to its five years of development. No matter what food I threw at it – Japanese beef udon, spaghetti bolognese – it absolutely shone, still appearing youthful and fresh, with mouth-watering acidity and juicy, vibrant fruit flavours. Looking over my notes of previous Sangiovese vintages, I’d always rated them highly, but the 2018 just seems to take everything to a higher level, and it has a long future ahead of it.