Australia Dispatch No 1. Savagnin: Mistaken Identity with Great Potential‏

M I S T A K E N  I D E N T I T Y
Similar to the California’s Viognier scandal, Australia suffered through a mistaken identity crises of its own. What was assumed to be Albarino turned out to be the obscure Jura grape, Savagnin. Genetic test results went public just 5 years ago.
Today, most producers continue to make light, crisp wines, in the typical style of Spanish Albarino. They merely switched the varietal name on the label, and the wine remains quaffable and refreshing.

Rollo Crittenden, second generation winemaker at Crittenden Estate, chose a different path. We discovered Rollo through his uniquely delicious 2012 Oggi white blend of 50% Friulano, 30% Savagnin, and 20% Arneis. Sommelier Laslo Evanhuis at Gills Diner Melbourne featured the wine by the glass – based on his description – there was no way we weren’t going to try it. The wine delivered: full-bodied, zesty, with loads of complexity – somewhere right in the middle of the L’Avion and Timorasso zen spot. Interesting white wines, perhaps revelatory.
Rollo changes the blend of Oggi, Italian for Today, every vintage. This flexibility gives him a great advantage in adapting to wild swings in Australian weather over the past decade. It also serves to keep customers engaged, what’s Rollo doing this year?
After trying his wine, I immediately contacted Rollo to set up a meeting at his winery on the Mornington Peninsula. In a region known for safe, expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this guy blended a white La Croce, a cross of Italian and French grapes – and not only that – he skin fermented them, not afraid of deep yellow-gold hues.

We met Rollo on the vineyard, and walked his small parcel of Savagnin adjacent to rows of Pinot and Chard. Like the other Mornington folks we encountered, Rollo had heard only faint rumblings of the Jura frenzy presently occurring among US somms turned funk-fiends. We made our way over to his cellar, and Rollo revealed that back in 2011, he became one of the only Aussie producers to embrace the grape’s old world profile.
He handed us a bottle of 2011 Crittenden Estate Cri de Coeur Savagnin Sous Voile, the wild wine surreptitiously packaged in his family’s sleek label. During the problematic 2011 growing season, Rollo went for the Jura style, and allowed a flor, or voile, to develop on the wine’s surface. He let the flor naturally lie for the better part of year before finally sulfuring and giving the wine a light filtration prior to bottling. While unbridled French Savagnin can only be truly appreciated by those indoctrinated into the world of dry sherry, Rollo hit the middle ground. By letting the wine run wild for a year and then cleaning it up, crisp malic acid flavors – lime and orange rind – remain alongside almonds and yeast.

C A T A L Y S T  F O R  C H A N G E
Mornington Peninsula is certainly one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous wine growing regions of the world, and the vineyards produce a plethora of pretty wine. Will Savagnin be the next star?
Like Jura, Mornignton’s summers often run cold and wet, elements that can lend to funk. In a region largely reliant on synthetic fungicides to combat mold; a more natural, ancient, laissez-faire attitude towards Savagnin might serve to shift the viticultural attitude of the region towards organic and perhaps a wider offering of interesting wines.


G O N E  F O R  N O W
With 5 six packs left in the cellar, one bottle to us, and another six destined for a Master’s class; the 2011 Crittenden Estate Cri de Coeur Savagnin Sous Voile will remain unicorn blood until Rollo decides to do it again, or, until other Mornignton Peninsula neighbors awaken to the potential of their Savagnin plantings.
The fortuitous mistake in identity leading to the grape’s proliferation here seems like an opportunity too good to be squandered on safe, refreshing white. This one barrel could serve to unveil Mornington’s Savagnin potential to the international wine drinking community, or, the plantings will remain just a notch on cellar door lists next to Pinot Gris.