Blind tasting 180 wines in two days at a competition is an über-fast way to track trends and discover terrific bottles. This 2009 Zonte’s Footstep Sea Mist Verdelho was one of my standouts at the annual Critics’ Challenge, held a week ago in San Diego.
After being tapped for a platinum medal by one of my co-judges, the wine turned up in a lineup tasted by all the judges in our quest for the best white wine of the competition. It lost the runoff to an excellent “medium-sweet” California riesling, but I thought this mouth-filling yet zingy Australian Verdelho should have won. It has fragrant aromas of herbs, ginger and limes, a tantalizing flavor mix of chalk, citrus and tropical mango, and a crisp finish, perfect to sip both as an aperitif and with spicy grilled shrimp.
Verdelho isn’t the first white grape that comes to mind when I think of Australia. Its home is the Portuguese island of Madeira, where it’s both a grape and a style of wine. But it clearly thrives Down Under, especially in the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia, where well-known winemaker Ben Riggs and a group of friends launched Zonte’s Footstep in 2004.
This region just southeast of Adelaide is a cool desert. Zonte’s Footstep’s Sea Mist vineyard is an oasis that lies on the shores of the country’s largest freshwater lake. Morning and evening mists and a chilly afternoon breeze off the Great Southern Ocean roll across Lake Alexandrina to the vines, keeping natural acidity in the grapes and freshness in the wine.
The name comes from the Zante currant variety once planted on the property and Footstep is a reminder of the fact that now-extinct giant wombats, the world’s largest marsupial, roamed here for 20 million years.
And this easy-drinking wine’s a bargain too.
Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”