You may remember the embarrassing mix-up over the cuttings of fashionable Albariño that were disseminated in Australia that turned out to be Savagnin Blanc – see Spanish mix-up caused Albariño confusion. Those with Savagnin Blanc vines in the ground were left with the option of pulling them out, grafting them over to a more familiar variety, using the unfashionable synonym Traminer or calling them by the potentially confusing name Savagnin, a name virtually unknown in Australia and easy to confuse with the super-popular Sauvignon Blanc. (I was amazed, on my recent visit, to see just how dominant Sauvignon Blanc, or 'Savvie', has become in Australia. Very prescient, Shaw + Smith.)
Veteran experimental vigneron Garry Crittenden of Mornington Peninsula and his son Rollo have taken the bull by the horns and made this extremely interesting and successful version of Savagnin Blanc in the image of a Jura Savaganin, under a thin layer of surface yeast, a bit like the flor responsible for fino sherry. He wrote to me recently, 'As you may recall we fell foul of the Albariño/Savagnin fiasco a few years back but continued to make our Savagnin in the fresh or typical Galician style. However, in 2011 we made a Jura-style Savagnin, albeit without the very lengthy barrel maturation. We made the wine totally without intervention: juice from whole bunch pressed fruit; spontaneous primary ferment in older barrels; 100% natural malolactic fermentation; no sulphur, fining or filtration; and we encouraged a natural flor yeast to develop on the ullaged surface of the barrels. It had 20 months in old wood. We think it brings a new dimension to our Australian understanding of the variety. We believewe are the first Australian winery to attempt this.'
A sample bottle of Crittenden Estate, Los Hermanos Tribute Savagnin 2011 Mornington Peninsula followed and I must say I was very impressed. The acidity is a little lower/less painful than in most Jura examples and the fruit is quite in-your-face, but the wine while being very recognisably Jura flor style, is fruity enough to enjoy already. It's pretty and I would have thought a fine archetype for all that Savagnin that went into the ground in the belief it was Albariño.
Unfortunately it is so far available only in Australia (for the equivalent of about £20 or US$30 a bottle). For rather less money (Aus$24 a bottle) you can get their super-fresh, unoaked young Petit Manseng, which they call Crittenden Estate, Los Hermanos Txacoli 2012 King Valley in honour of this prickly Basque wine style. Txacoli of course is made from other local grape varieties, but what the heck. This is lovely, appley, refreshing wine, just 11.5%, bottled in a witty copy of a genuine País Vasco Txacoli bottle commonly used on the north coast of Spain. Full marks to Crittenden for enterprise. Here's my tasting note: 'Very spritzy and appley but, perhaps because it is made from Petit Manseng, a variety definitively more noble than those usually used for this Basque speciality style, this has more fruity core. Real zest. Cool and clean. On a hot Australian summer's day, this would be manna from heaven. It even has a little persistence!'
I gave both these wines the high mark of 16.5 out of 20. I would drink the Txacoli this year or next and the Savagnin some time in the next four years. During our exotic grape varieties wine tasting at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this month, Max Allen and I suggested the Savagnin was a pioneer of the style in Australia and no one contradicted us. I'd love to see more wines like this.