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Making Waves in the McLaren Vale with Alpha Box & Dice

Back in 2008, Alpha Box & Dice embarked upon a journey to create an 'Alphabet of wine', with each letter embodying an individual wine-making project.

Based in the McLaren Vale just south of Adelaide, but working with a network of growers all over South Australia, young winemaker Sam Berketa really does take your senses on a journey with every bottle. Joining the winery when he was just 26 and having already worked at vineyards across Australia, Germany, Italy and the USA, he's now at the helm of this exciting project.

In his own words, he's looking to illustrate how New World environments interpret the best of the old world styles. There's a focus here on Mediterranean grapes, with lots of Italian and Southern Rhone varieties in the series so far. Each wine's name is perfectly pitched too, encapsulating something special about the bottle's inception, or the character of the wine itself. For instance, at first glance, Alpha Box and Dice's Fog Nebbiolo owes its name to the Nebbiolo grape (Nebbia being the Italian for fog, relating to the fog-like milky veil which forms over the grapes as they mature). But in a clever play on words, it also hints at the idea of the wine cutting through the fog - as for a long time, winemakers have struggled to make Nebbiolo shine away from its native hills in northern Italy. 

Australia and the new world have never been shy with their wine labels, often shunning the more old school, European styles. It's hard to talk about Alpha Box & Dice without mentioning their labels. The look and feel is certainly contemporary and quirky - from star wars style space scenes to a chap with a mullet who looks like he could've come straight out of the Ned Kelly Gang. There's a cheeky little story on the back of the bottles too, bringing each of them to life.

alpha box and dice

We currently stock 7 of the Alphabet of wine series, and I'm sure that more will join the collection in the future. In fact, we're eagerly awaiting the shipment of their O Gruner Veltliner to land as I type this!

Here I've picked out a few of my favourites. If you'd like to try a few, why not buy our triple pack? We've thrown in delivery too.

Alpha Box & Dice, 'Golden Mullet of Fury' Semillon/Riesling

'You don't just do a "half mullet" - you have to be all in' is the AB&D philosophy to skin contact white wine.

This style of wine-making has been around for centuries, coming and going, before recently becoming ever so fashionable yet again. It's a bit like the mullet which has seen a resurgence amongst hipsters and international athletes alike. The New Zealand cricketer Colin de Grandhomme sported one of the very best throughout 2020 if you want a point of reference.

Here we have a blend of Semillon and Riesling. It's had wild fermentation, 3 weeks of skin contact, malolactic fermentation and ageing in oak barrels for 24 months total, 12 of which were spent on the lees (dead yeast cells). After all that, we're presented with an orange wine with furious intensity. Aromatics jump out of the glass. Nectarines, marmalade, curry leaf and preserved lemons attack the senses, combined with a pithy texture, chalky tannins and a utterly mouth-watering finish. If this sounds like your thing, then do be sure to check out my previous post on orange wines here.

alpha box and dice golden mullet of fury

Alpha Box & Dice, 'Mistress' Touriga Nacional/Tempranillo/Carignan

Here, 'The Mistress' pays homage to the grape-picking. During harvest time when the hours in the vineyard and winery grow long, wine-makers return home in the evening covered in purple kisses from the grapes.

I think Touriga Nacional is one of my favourite grapes for Autumn/Winter. There's just something warming about the rich dark fruits it brings to the blends of the Duoro Valley in Portugal.

Here in the Adeleide hills it's doing much the same job, combining with Rioja's most famous grape Tempranillo and Carignan, a variety from the south of France that's often blended.

Here the three wines were fermented and aged separately in old Burgundy barrels for 9 months before being mixed together and aged in tanks for 6 months - just to marry those complex flavours together. There's lots of wild berries and dried herbs on the nose, before the richer dark fruits coat the palate like a warm hug. It's well balanced with juicy acidity and a soft, smooth finish. AB&D suggest you drink this with fried things on bread - and personally, I couldn't think of anything better. 

Alpha Box & Dice, 'Xola' Aglianico

Aglianico, southern Italy's premier grape variety, has been transported to the McLaren Vale with all of its powerful, structured tannins and dense dark fruits.

It needs to spend around 30 months in seasoned oak barrels to soften that muscular core and harmonise with the fruit and minerality. There's a familiar yet intriguing aroma of freshly shaved graphite pencils which jumps out of the glass and sets you on your journey. Expect dense dark berries and a forest floor earthiness.

Rather bonkers, but this wine has been described as 'A summer pudding with cream served in a pencil case'. Sounds like the sort of dish you'd find on a very out-there Michelin starred tasting menu. A big, serious red with a real interesting streak of minerality that just screams out to be paired with red meat. 

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