Verdelho – the rounded wine

By Ian Hickinbotham
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Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

Ian Hickinbotham, author of Australian Plonky

White wine grapes in a New South Wales vineyard


Much emphasis is applied to growing the right grapes in the right region: this can be summarised under the all-embracing word 'terroir'. 

However, it is unusual (but no less significant) if a grape variety is associated with a particular oenologist and such a person must be David Traeger.

Traeger is a very experienced winemaker, but significantly he has mostly worked in Victoria, during the exciting renaissance of that State – which used to make three times as much wine as New South Wales and twice as much as South Australia, before the advent of phylloxera, the aphid that destroyed most of the vineyards of the world some 130 years ago.

He has now installed himself with the new brand, 'Maranoa' near Nagambie (which must surely be associated with Tahbilk in the minds of most oenophiles) and it is reasonable to assert that his flag-ship wine is again, verdelho.

The Maranoa 2008 Verdelho was the most popular wine at a recent charity fund-raising luncheon. One of the spate of new grape varieties imported into this continent, following some 150 years of stringent quarantine, verdelho makes a wonderful example of what they describe as a 'rounded' wine:  as a generality, its aroma of tropical fruits leads into a palate that could be considered halfway between a chardonnay and riesling.

Though grown in France where it makes a table wine, verdelho is very much perceived to be a Portuguese variety, and is especially associated with madeira, that sweet fortified wine of history made by various interpretations of the 'estufa' method, whereby the wine is artificially aged by storing it at 40 plus degrees.

The island of that same name is in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, but thousands of kilometres above that other well-known Atlantic island, St Helena, the famous second exile home of Napolean.

Madeira attained strange fame during the American War of Independence. It seems that the mighty British navy effectively blockaded the few American ships of the period from reaching Europe. So the elite Americans of the time settled for the wine of Madeira, the island being relatively accessible for them.

It figures that those pioneers enjoyed sweet wines, as surely, in this context, they were no different to the early Australian settlers who overwhelmingly preferred such wines as 'Sweet Sherry' and 'Port' before our age of enlightenment only some 60 years ago.



Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related review below).


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January 31st, 2011
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