​William Downie, Biodynamic Petit Verdot 2015 Riverland


From AU$20, NZ$32, £17.50, 215 Swedish krone, 209.90 Norwegian krone, 3,240 yen 

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This delicious wine is remarkable in myriad respects. I must say that whenever I taste a 100% Petit Verdot in Bordeaux I absolutely understand why it is viewed as quintessential blending material there. It seems to lack flesh and sometimes is a little too herbaceous. 

But Australia, or more specifically the irrigated inland Riverland region of south-east Australia, seems capable of producing fully ripe, almost lip-smacking examples of this Bordelais variety. And to find this is made from bumptious, biodynamically grown grapes is another bonus. 

Put this together with the fact that the winemaker is one of Australia’s most admired new wave young(ish) producers and you have a bit of a winner. Bill Downie runs a small estate – just half a hectare – in Gippsland on the Victorian coast, where he makes seriously ambitious Pinot Noir grown there, in Yarra Valley and on the Mornington Peninsula. (See, for example, Some great Australian verticals and Off-piste Australian tasting notes .) He realised, however, that to keep his little family show on the road financially he needed a bit more cash flow so looked for opportunities to make an interesting faster-maturing product and looked to a biodynamically certified planting of Petit Verdot in Riverland, all of it contracted to the substantial family company Yalumba.

‘The inland areas get an unfairly bad rap', he told me last May, citing operators such as Ricca Terra, Chalmers and 919 Wines that are also busy proving that good wines can come out of the irrigated inland wine regions that depend for their existence on the lazy Murray river.

He added, ‘Petit Verdot is virtually bombproof. You can vinify it without acidification, although you will always have to irrigate.’

When I tasted it then, I wrote this tasting note: ‘Lovely bright crimson. Definitely Bordelais. Picked early February. Vinified and screwcapped at Yalumba (Downie is a firm believer in old-fashioned corks for his terroir-driven Pinots.) Fresh and fruity par excellence. You wouldn’t want to keep this but it has lots of clean, fresh fruit. Absolutely aimed at wine-bar drinking. 16/20 Drink 2015-17. 13.5%’

But when I tasted this unfiltered, unsulphured wine made with wild yeast again recently I was most impressed by how well it had lasted. It’s really at its peak now but it still has some structure and real vigour. Today I would give it 16.5 and suggest drinking it right through until the end of next year.

Downie is a particularly thoughtful winemaker. Saying ‘it has taken me 14 years to learn to do nothing in the winery', he is currently trying to analyse the micro-organisms in the wines as they are being fermented in order to predict the likely course of the fermentation. He’s also experimenting with Australian wood for barrels, trying blackwood that’s ‘a sort of acacia-like silver wattle. Are many people doing that?’ he asked me rhetorically. ‘Most people think I’m an idiot.’ He has also planted a little of the extraordinarily prolific variety Gouais Blanc that is the parent, with Pinot, of so many important wine grape varieties (see  Wine Grapes).

Wine-searcher.com lists stockists in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Australia and New Zealand but Mr Downie assures me it is also available in Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Canada (Ontario), Sweden, Singapore and China. In the UK it is sold online by Oz Wines and other retailers include Swig and  The Old Bridge wine shop.

Downie is far from the smoothest online operator. His website is fairly rudimentary but is enlivened by the image above.

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