2020 didn’t quite turn out as planned for winemaker Sarah Fagan, who works for De Bortoli in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. The vineyards escaped the worst of the bushfires, but the company couldn’t avoid the challenges of Covid, which is where Zoom tastings came in. “I did a couple of them,” says Fagan. “If it helps people engage, then they’re great.”
“We also found that Zoom tastings, where you’re engaging with the customer, saw good sales and feedback from higher pricepoints. It wasn’t all about bang for buck. I think last year also saw people drinking uncomplicated and enjoyable wines.”
According to Nick Rose, Dan Murphy’s wine buyer and judge in the Decoded Wine Awards, punters are showing an interest in “alternative varietals”, such as lighter reds (say, gamay and tempranillo) and Mediterranean whites (fiano and vermentino). He’s already noticed customers being more international in their choices this year. “I think with the lack of travel, people might start exploring the world through their wine glasses,” he says – but he also notes that “Australian chardonnay has never been better”.
With Fagan’s De Bortoli La Bohème Act Two Pinot Noir Rosé a winner of the Dan Murphy’s Decoded Wine Awards rosé category, we asked her predictions for the wine trends to watch out for in 2021 – including some lesser-known varietals (and a couple of old favourites) you’re likely to see popping up on shelves.
Fresher, fragrant reds
“We’re pretty excited by things like fragrant reds – lighter styles [which] still have depth of flavour,” says Fagan.
“Light can convey ‘simple’, but they’re still highly complex wines with lots of depth, there’s just a slight shift in the palate and aroma spectrum,” she says. “More primary characters rather than the real bottle-aged secondary, developed characters.”
With pinot noir booming in popularity, expect to see fragrant reds such gamay and pinot meunier at barbeques in 2021.
While pinot meunier is most often seen in champagne-style sparkling wines, Fagan says ut’s really coming up as a red table wine. “There’s a bit of rustic grunge about some of those meuniers, but they’re beautifully perfumed and nice and light and fresh,” she says. “I love pinot noir and everything about it. Whereas pinot meunier, it’s a little more edgy sometimes.”
Gamay on the other hand, is “bright and crunchy” with “a lovely complexity and layer upon layer of different characters,” says Fagan. “If we can get more and more people out there interested, there’s huge potential. I think it’s really well suited to the Yarra and other parts of Australia.”
Both gamay and pinot meunier are bright enough to take a bit of time in the fridge too, making for excellent summer reds.
“Gamay on a warm day straight out of the fridge, it’s pretty nice,” says Fagan. “You don’t want it quite chilled, but just taking the edge off.”
Justice for “misunderstood” wines
It’s not always about finding the most obscure varietal – sometimes the next trend is hiding in plain sight, and such is the case with two “old-fashioned” and often misunderstood wines, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
“I think things like cabernet are still going to be really important,” says Fagan. “Not a lighter style, but more fruit freshness and primary characters rather than secondary and aged notes. There’s some nice stuff coming out of the Yarra at the moment that’s not heavily handled with oak, not held onto for too long in the winery. It’s more about freshness and fruit, rather than the real secondary characters that come in with aging; [it’s] trying to really capture the bright cassis or blackcurrant fruit characters.”
Chardonnay, too, is on the way back – but forget those butter bombs of the ’90s. “I think there’s a meet-in-the-middle style,” says Fagan. “The pendulum is coming back to a little bit more fruit character, fruit flavour, rather than being so acid-driven. Nowadays it’s much more focused and doing well in the regions where it’s suited – so Yarra Valley, Margaret River, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania. All those slightly cooler regions. Everyone’s a bit smarter about what they’re trying to do. They’re definitely not buttery or full or too oak-dominant. There’s a really nice balance going on at the moment with chardonnay, which I think a lot of people are gravitating towards.”
If you’re looking for a great entry point to examples making a splash this year, try Decoded Wine Awards winners and finalists, Devil's Corner Chardonnay, Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2019, and the Woodlands Margaret Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2017.
With an increasingly unpredictable climate, it makes sense that wineries are beginning to lean on hardier varietals, particularly in warmer growing regions such as McLaren Vale.
One of these is fiano. Growing predominantly in Campania and Sicily in Italy, fiano is a heat-tolerant grape that’s gaining popularity in McLaren Vale. “Fiano is from down in the south in Italy where it’s bloody hot,” says Fagan. “It holds its acid well and stands up well in warmer sites, where they retain their natural acid and freshness.”
She says you can expect to see a new wave of these heat-tolerant varietals as winemakers learn to love their adaptability and hardiness. “It just makes sense to grow a variety suited to our climate,” says Fagan.
Though it’s not everywhere yet, lovers of both chardonnay and riesling should seek it out. The flavour profile runs from light and bright through to a rich and nutty style, depending on the winemaker. A great entry point to this style is the Serafino Belissimo McLaren Vale Fiano 2020, a finalist in the 2020 Decoded Wine Awards.
Keen to explore more wine trends of 2021? See the full list of finalists and winners of the Dan Murphy’s Decoded Wine Awards.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Dan Murphy’s.