With spring bringing more opportunities for outdoor drinking, Mike Bennie runs the rule over the freshest WA drops to keep both eyes on.
That whole spring malarky about rejuvenation and rebirth that comes with the change of season doesn’t really ring all that true for me, but it sure is an exciting time for drinks. This is the period in my year where my tasting bench boughs under the weight of new releases.
All those wine and drinks producers seem to lay dormant through winter and rush us their tastiest, most sunshiny liquids just in time for September and all that the warmer weather promises. Young, fresh, vibrant drinks spanning wines, beers, seasonal cocktails and ciders, all seem to hit the spot for plein air consumption as on our plates the focus shifts from the heat and heft of winter far to things rawer and lighter.
The fresh-as pet-nats come hissing and fizzing off the bottling line. The electric rosés and aromatic whites promise thrilling acidity and thirst-crushing refreshment. Peppy, zesty orange wines are bolshie, bold and stink of fresh flowers, stone fruits and a wide array of citrus, while the promise of lighter, squelchy, chilled reds move the conversation from the broad-shouldered fireside wines of winter. What a time.
The shift to spring 2020 in WA comes with so much promise. First up, what the heck is that beer with cloudy white wine in it? Yep, Feral Bones Verdelho + Pale Ale is bonkers and so damn awesome. This collaboration between avant garde producer Dormilona (from the wonderful Jo Perry based in Margaret River) and Feral Brewing Co sees the much-maligned tropical fruit-laced white grape combined with the grassy, mull-leaf stank of hoppy pale-ale goodness in one ultra-refreshing and compelling drink. I see this being chugged on every blanket from Cottesloe’s grassy fringe to Sir James Mitchell Park. What a thing we have here.
The fresh-as pet-nats come hissing and fizzing off the bottling line. The electric rosés and aromatic whites promise thrilling acidity and thirst-crushing refreshment. Peppy, zesty orange wines are bolshie and bold, while the promise of lighter chilled reds move the conversation from the fireside wines of winter.
Pétillant naturel, or pet-nat, is in simple terms naturally sparkling wine. Pet-nats are produced through an ancient winemaking technique where the primary fermentation is captured in the bottle to create naturally occurring bubbles in the wine. Western Australian winemakers are increasingly fine tuning their approach to the production of pet-nats, and excelling. What was once a fringe product is now being touted by prestige, blue-chip wineries like Cullen and Voyager Estate in Margaret River, while the Swan Valley set, including Vino Volta, Swan Valley Wines and Chouette, are acing the slightly more wild-edged styles. Pet-nats are fun. They’re easy to drink. They go with seafood and salads and cut through the grease and char of anything barbecued. They’re pure and vivacious and great to drink. Compulsory attendance through spring and summer, thanks.
Meanwhile, WA’s flair for creative brewing is not to be ignored, with the rise and rise of sour or hybrid beers placing them firmly at the top of my drinking list. I’m loving the nous of brewers like Rocky Ridge, Beerfarm and Otherside Brewing Co who are pushing boundaries but delivering high-quality gear. Rocky Ridge’s Rosé Gose has been a staple for blazing hot days and drinking while standing in the sun. I’m grateful for my last cans of the insanely revitalising Beerfarm Bubblina, a Frankenstein brew that sees wild-fermented sémillon and sauvignon married to Beerfarm Berliner Weisse in a fizzy, tangy sour – it’s legs-dangling-in-swimming-pool drinking made flesh. Otherside Brewing Co seem to nail the hybrid-brew sours with ease, delivering a crazy-cool range of original beers that marry thirst-slaking tang with super-high drinkability, which is essential in spring.
I’m loving the lighter, fresher reds too. It seems a sect of winemakers are nailing Western Australia’s own version of “nouveau” or “joven” wine styles through earlier picking of fruit and less concentration of the grapes, generally producing styles that fit the outdoorsy, seaside lifestyle of the state. Producers like Brave New Wine, Express Winemakers, Green Door, Otro Vino, LS Merchants and Sittella are part of a group that understand that chilled, even cold reds, are pretty smart things to drink as the haze of heat rolls through.
The hot tip this spring, though, is Swan Valley. That hot, old region is brilliant for crisp, lean and light white wines. Verdelho and chenin blanc are the tried and tested varieties and done righteously by local producers. Swan Valley winemakers know that these varieties show refreshing tension and purity in their youth, with high drinkability in tow. Visits to Swan reveal gnarled old bush vines and stalwart producers who know the contours of their land like the back of their wrinkly hands. Olive Farm Wines, Talijancich, John Kosovich, Faber and Harris Organic are some of the prized jewels of the old school-good school and produce scintillating, fine-boned whites that scream “crush me in the sun”. Dig in.
All up, drinking WA this spring is thrilling. The diversity, distinction, quality and originality is writ large in a state that has long held up the mantle of innovation in the drinks scene. With so many traditional producers embracing the inherent culture of outdoors lifestyle and seaside living, and a new generation creating drinks that fit the same scene, it’s a potent time to be consuming the wide array of booze and non-booze that’s being produced in the diverse, colourful and captivating expanse that is Western Australia.