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Cool whites for south of $15


Philip White likes two of the five new white Ys from Yalumba.

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The cool old family image of Yalumba is a coveted advantage on today’s crowded shelf. One expects it to do a bit better than its rivals.

Which I see it does below the $15 per bottle zone. Bottled wine under $20 is our biggest-selling sector after the bladder pack: on the other hand, those fabulous expensive glories that captivate columns like this are really a tiny part of the whole, which is what you generally expect of the best of anything.

The bladder-pack sector is shrinking slowly, as more of that wine goes into cheapo bottles.

Which is probably the sort of behaviour you’d expect of the worst of anything.

Keith Richards said “The ratio of good stuff to bad stuff doesn’t change: ninety-seven bad; three good. ” He was speaking of music but I’ve always found that a handy rule in this wine racket.

Anything launched at a recommended retail of $15 in broadacre volumes like these are likely to be discounted. The Y is not too hard to find around – even below – the $10 mark.

Can anything in that price bracket be at least cool and fairly good, even if it misses catching the fancy 3 per cent train?

Well, sort of.

I thought a good scouring of this famous five was deserved. Five sound, well-regarded wines for a tenner apiece on discount. A cross-section of the hottest blondes. And typical of that cool the old family can sometimes ooze, these Ys are very modern. All are made with wild yeast ferments, which are the sorts of things that could eventually lead to dissolute fads like orange wine if you’re not careful.

Such a notion in a price bracket like this would have been outrageous just a few years ago.

To push even further into hipster ground, they are all “vegan friendly”, whatever that means. I can’t begin to imagine how vegans handle drinking all those trillions of poor little wild yeasts while they’re still alive. The yeasts, I mean. If they’re dead, you’d think that would be even more challenging.

Not to mention what the poor bloody yeasts think of the deal.

Yalumba The Y Series Barossa Riesling 2017
($15; 12% alcohol; screw cap)

Delicately fragrant, this baby, with an aromatic texture like the pale creamy flesh of the magnolia petal with the odd stray waft of jasmine … That creamy thing is the key: this is not your simply austere lemon and lime juice Riesling. Maybe the acid is firm and limy, but this is more sensual and gentle than most of our upland Rieslings. Its perfumes seem more fatty than herbal. Maybe that’s the wild ferment. The texture of yeast lees.

The label contradicts me. “Orange blossom and citrus fragrances complement refreshing flavours of lemonade,” it says. Damn. So I go back in the glass. Maybe there’s a tweak of smoky rind, like when Mum would put the mandarin peel on the woodfire stove to ease that hot croft of the smell of the six men she managed. But overall, it’s creamy, like cosmetics, like rambutan, lychee, or that lovely runny egg and vanilla custard the Chinese pinched from the Portuguese.

Then there’s that solid slab of acid in the basement. It is a Riesling, after all.

To me this seems more Germanic than typically Australian. More precisely, it reminds me of the Rieslings of Pfalz, or some from over the border in Alsace. But I doubt that you’ll find many Rieslings of this calibre anywhere at a price like this.

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Sauvignon Blanc 2017
($15; 11.5% alcohol; screw cap)

This time that wild yeast has whipped up an aroma like bienenstich: more than the mown green grass and gooseberry edge usually at the front of your Sauvignon blanc, this winemaking pushes toward the creamier, yeastier aromatic style of the Riesling. It’s kind of homely.

But then, just as Riesling’s acid must shove its stubborn head up eventually, so too we see the blonde Sauvignon poke its thorny tendrils through here. Just consider them wrapped so they don’t cut your lips.

When you start pursuing spritely alcohols this low, the winemaker must be smart about wrapping those acids in something. Too much of today’s Savvy-b has acid as crunchy as a smashed windscreen. The wild yeast seems to have taken some of that edge off this wine. And that softening leesy cream sure beats sugar.

There are a few winemakers attempting these more cushioned Sauvignons at sensibly modest alcohols like this, but I don’t know many good ones pursuing such modest prices.

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Pinot Grigio 2017
($15; 12.5% alcohol; screw cap)

“Don’t plant Pinot gris (or grigio) anywhere you can’t grow good Pinot noir” has been my tiresome mantra since Kath Quealy began her impassioned grigio/gris/grey campaign on the Mornington Peninsula in the early ’90s. She was the pioneer. You can grow good Pinot noir down there.

The grey Pinot is a mutation of Pinot noir. Their DNA is so close grape doctors think the colour of the skin is the only physiological difference.

“They gotta have the right amount of slime,” Quealy sagely advised me of her attitude to the greys.

This particular one doesn’t seem to bring too much good Pinot noir to mind. Like I doubt that if you tracked down its vineyards you’d find any memorable Pinot noir growing there. Neither does this wine, despite its wild ferment, have much slime.

I imagine you could find quite a few Pinots grigio/grey/gris from many places, at prices and quality like this. Mainstream.

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Viognier 2017
($15; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap)

Closer to the target style, this wine’s made the best job of that wild yeast, being scary plush with the sort of folds of flesh that got a lot of baroque artists deep in it. Like you could lay this wine on with a trowel.

It is delightfully, calmly creamy to breathe, like slimy white peach slices in sabayon. Maybe a clove, a sprinkle of fresh-ground nutmeg. Just one fleeting zephyr of Mum’s mandarin peel. Dried apricot soaking in water before it goes in the crown of a hearty streuselkuchen. But mainly folds and folds of steamed white flesh-dough.

More than the above trio, this delight slides very smoothly from aroma to flavour to exhalation: one doesn’t have to think up a new vocabulary for each step. And it all adds up to Viognier. Critically, the one bit of Viognier that so few Australian winemakers cope with – its dry phenolic tannin – is really well displayed here, providing a crisp macro focus to all that carnal pulchritude. It tidies up the mess.

I don’t know of any other Viognier of this quality at anything near this price.

Yalumba The Y Series South Australia Chardonnay 2015
($15; 13% alcohol; screw cap)

I haven’t said it yet, but most of the time the words “South Australia” appear in place of “Barossa” or “Clare” or “McLaren Vale” on a wine label, it usually means “Riverland”. As Chardonnay and Pinot come from Burgundy, where it snows, it would seem unlikely that even if irrigated, the red sandy dirt of our hot desert could produce flavours similar to those French ones we presume our growers were intending to emulate.

This wine does not smell or taste like Burgundy. Stylistically, it fits somewhere between the Riesling and the Pinot grigio, but with a fair shade of the Sauvignon. The Riverland tends to do this with the various white grapes: they can very quickly start to look the same.

The Riesling is obviously not from the Riverland. And it didn’t make me think of lemonade. That, and the Viognier, are the ones to pick from this bunch. Especially at 10 bucks each.

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