A passionate winemaker who aims to make a drink with great texture

All about the texture: Atsuko Radcliffe with a selection of wines from Small Forest. Picture: Daniel Honan
All about the texture: Atsuko Radcliffe with a selection of wines from Small Forest. Picture: Daniel Honan

It feels good to drink wine, especially if the wine you’re drinking feels good to drink. Winemaker Atsuko Radcliffe of Small Forest wines in the Upper Hunter knows all about that.

“I think texture is a very important feature of wine,” Radcliffe says. “In Japan, we not only think about the taste and flavour of food, we think about the structure and feeling of the food in your mouth … which, I think applies to wine as well.”

Most people, when confronted with a glass of fermented grape juice and asked how they would describe it, will land somewhere superficially between good and bad. If pushed, they may begin to remark on certain smells or tastes that the wine elicits from the sensory compartments of their memory; “tropical fruit flavours like honeysuckle, melon and lemon” for some whites, or “black cherry, plums, spice and liquorice” for some reds.

Seldom will you hear people talk in terms of texture; the way a wine feels in their mouth – quite literally, the mouthfeel of the wine – slick, supple, slippery, silky, smooth or coarse; crisp, chalky, chocolatey, creamy, or fat.

To think about texture, think about how water feels when you drink it and go from there.

“I try to create texture in all my wines, but I find verdelho to be a really great grape to play around with, texturally, because it’s usually a pretty simple, easy drinking wine,” Radcliffe says.

One way Radcliffe creates texture is by leaving her fermented verdelho juice on the lees. This is a winemaking technique that allows the spent yeast cells (lees) to break down further in the wine and impart richer, creamier textures, which can add greater depth of flavour and complexity to the finished wine.

Another way Radcliffe builds interesting textures into her wines is with extended skin contact maceration.

“Basically, I make my verdelho like I would make a red wine, by leaving the skins of the grape soaking in the juice to give it colour and flavour and texture,” she says. “This gives the wine a deep golden colour and makes it taste very different to other wines [made with white grapes].”

Where the 2016 Small Forest verdelho ($22) is bright, white and clear, bursting with loads of tropical fruit flavours and an unctuous texture, more akin to chardonnay, the 2016 Small Forest Golden Verdelho ($36) is a gorgeous golden colour that smells and tastes like spiced pineapple and ginger with a gently tannic, pear-skin mouthfeel.

Both are beautiful wines and great examples of building texture into wine.

“I love drinking Hunter Valley verdelho,” Radcliffe says. “I just think leaving the juice on the lees or giving it extra time on skins gives the wines better mouthfeel and adds another dimension to them.”

Tonight, when you’re swirling, smelling, sipping and savouring a glass of wine … Go pro and think about how the wine makes you feel. Because, if it feels good, drink it.