While Australia is awash with French varietals, a relatively unknown one is Savagnin, which is wonderfully made by Crittenden Estate Wines. Elegant and powerful, the Savagnin wines of France have been compared to Sherry due to its yeast flavours, but Crittenden’s wines from the Mornington Peninsula are very much their own, with a definite WOW factor.
Savagnin or Savagnin Blanc (not to be mistaken with Sauvignon Blanc) is a white wine grape mostly grown in the Jura region in France’s east. It is an aromatic grape and better known by its more common name Traminer. The grape was mistakenly planted by Crittenden and several other Australian wineries some years ago thinking it was Albariño, the Spanish grape, but DNA testing by government labs proved otherwise. The grape is also grown in Switzerland, which borders the Jura, where it is also known as Haiden.
Vin Jaune – yellow wine
Crittenden’s Savagnin wines are inspired by the great white wines of Jura, ‘vin jaune’ (yellow wine), which are made using the surface yeast flor, or ‘voile’ (pronounced VUAL) during the maturation process. In French wine making, ‘sous voile” means “under a veil”, in this case, the veil is the flor yeast that forms a film over the surface of the wine in the barrel where it is matured for some years. This protects the wine from oxidation – and imparts great yeast flavour. This has vin jaune compared to the Sherries of Spain – but there are many crucial differences – the Jura’s vin jaune is not fortified and just one barrel is used rather than a solera system used to make Sherry. And of course, the grape varieties differ.
And Sherry is easier to say. Not much is easy about French pronunciation. Savagnin is pronounced SA – VA –GNAN – the ‘gn’ sounds like the ‘n’ sound in onion. There are just a handful of Australian wineries making Savagnin.
The 2016 Crittenden Estate Cri de Coeur Savagnin (RRP $80) is an elegant wine, with incredible length and flavour, made more enjoyable by its brilliant gold colour. The wine was whole bunched pressed to old French barriques before natural fermentation and malolactic conversion. The wine has sat under a flor blanket in barrels for four years (compared to the minimum of three years prescribed for the Jura’s vin jaune wines), giving it deep nutty, yeasty and spicy flavours. The flor has protected the wine from air contact and excessive oxidation. Bottling took place in May 2020 without any filtration, fining, stabilisation or the significant addition of sulpher dioxide. Despite its age, the acid keeps the wine fresh and lively – and it is thoroughly enjoyable, with great character and mouthfeel!
The 2016 Savagnin, like its 2015 counterpart, has tremendous length with mouth-filling chalky texture and character. Both wines will age and develop over the next 20 years, aided by the relatively high acid levels of Savagnin. Both vintages display many of the desired nutty and spicy characters that can be expected after prolonged ageing under flor yeast.
The Crittenden Estate Cri de Coeur Macvin ($90) adds to the Savagnin range. It is a dessert-style wine, made with a blend of flor-aged Savagnin from 2015, together with 2019 Savagnin juice, fortified to 17%. The wine features incredible length, powerful flavours and a lingering nutty aroma and finish. Spices and sweet luscious fruits are balanced by the wine’s acidic trace. The wine will cellar for many years to come, but is ready to drink now.
Elegant and thoroughly enjoyable; all three wines are so substantial in flavour, it almost feels like you’re eating them. And they really add to the diversity of Australian winemaking. I hadn’t tasted anything quite like these Savagnin.
Crittenden Estate Wines was established by Garry Crittenden, a pioneer who introduced alternative wine varieties into Australia, from Italy and Spain, on the Mornington Peninsula. He was the first vintner to grow vines on the Mornington Peninsula and the wines are marked by their quality. Garry established the family vineyard nearly 40 years ago and while much has changed – and continues to change – the business remains a family affair, with son Rollo now in charge of winemaking and the business and daughter Zoe responsible for marketing allowing their father Garry to ease into retirement.
Editor’s note: Don’t attempt to say ‘vin jaune’ unless you practice: it something like ‘VAN JORN’. In French, ‘in’ sounds like the ‘an’ and is ‘van’.
Sous Voile sounds like ‘SU VUAL’ Don’t pronouce the ‘s’ at the end of the word – it’s French! See more here on my guide to French pronunciation and Champagne brands.