‘What if we were to tell you this was a new fandangle variety called Ohledrev.’
That was on the sticker stuck on the box of this Bremerton Mollie & Merle Verdelho. What a wonderfully provocative statement. Verdelho badly needs a makeover, and instantly that statement forces you to think about just how kindly we treat new varieties, while the stalwarts (like Verdelho. Or Merlot) slip into the background.
I once wrote a treatise on the value of Verdelho seven years ago for the GT WINE New Writers Competition. My essay didn’t win (I came second, largely because Huon disagreed with the origins of the variety in Australia) but it’s worth revisiting that piece now if just to remind about Verdelho’s Australian history…
Indeed, Sir William Macarthur once described the grape (in 1844) as ‘the most valuable grape for wine we have hitherto proved in the colony’, and McLaren Vale pioneer Dr Alexander Kelly who called Verdelho the ‘best white wine grape’ in the land.
But despite all that, Verdelho has never really lifted above the label that Jancis gives it – as a ‘tradesmen-like variety’. Even its fortified importance is minimal given the equally waning popularity of fortified wines.
Going nowhere fast.
Of course, some winemakers still see the value in ‘ol Verdelho, and Bremerton is one of them. I can see why you’d appreciate the variety too – its tough, relatively disease resistant and gives a good yield. As a crop, its not bad at all. But as a drink, it is devoid of excitement.
Sadly, that’s the story with this Mollie & Merle Verdelho. It packs plenty of pear juice, mango and more pear flavour, the palate a veritable bucket of ‘Three fruits in juice’ and capped off with some late grip for texture. However, it’s still a workman-like wine, with flavour aplenty, but also rugged acidity and a very simple personality.
I guess what must grate for winemakers like Bremerton – who can see the value of this rather juicy white wine – is the flood of boring white varietals that are taking Verdelho’s place on the table. Oceans of sweet (Verdelho can do sweet!) and underripe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The odd flavourless and utterly boring Arneis (even in Piedmont Arneis is not all that exciting). The flood of monotone Pinot Grigio. Even the modern love of boring Vermentino, which is typically no more than a Sardinian quaffing white.
All of this must grind when you’re pushing flavoursome Verdelho.
I’m glad that the Bremerton crew are pushing the Verdelho case along, and this has no shortage of juicy fruit for $17. But I’m still not sure that it’s going to change people’s minds about the variety.