Dark Horse of the Year

By James Halliday and Jane Faulkner
The production of prosecco has boomed in recent years – a fact reflected in this year’s National Vintage Report, which saw it jump up into the top 10 white wine varieties in Australia. This year’s Dark Horse has played a crucial role in that movement, being the first winery to plant prosecco and release an Australian style. You might think that incredible foresight, but the decision to pursue prosecco has to do with Dal Zotto’s heritage and is a wine extremely close to its heart. While many have jumped on the bandwagon since, producing the fun, bubbly styles that make prosecco so popular, few have invested in making serious, premium wines. Read on to hear what James Halliday and reviewer Jane Faulkner have to say about this pioneering Dark Horse of the Year.

James Halliday on the Dark Horse of the Year

Dal Zotto has been part of the Wine Companion story continuously for decades and has finally broken out of the 4- and 4.5-star ring. The Dal Zotto family cantered to 5 stars and Dark Horse status this year – and front of the field, at that, with no less than six wines receiving 95 points. The taster was Jane Faulkner, who shares more ahead. 

Jane Faulkner on the story of Dal Zotto

There’s no doubt the Dal Zottos have been championing Italian varieties and particularly their place in the King Valley for several decades now. However, one variety sets the Dal Zotto family apart from every other producer: prosecco.

Dal Zotto is synonymous with Australian prosecco. It was the first to commercially plant it in 1999 and release a wine five years later. Today, prosecco accounts for about 65 per cent of its total production, and there is no question it is an industry leader for the variety and its various styles.

At first, Otto Dal Zotto, who hails from the true prosecco region of Italy, Valdobbiadene in Veneto, wanted a wine that connected him to his homeland. His winemaking son, Michael, once told me: “We had an unwavering faith in prosecco. Maybe we were just optimistic, but we felt it was going to work in Australia.”

Of course, they produce other wines, for example, nebbiolo, barbera, fiano and arneis, and these too show confidence with the winemaking. That’s what struck me about the wines across its range – while they respect where these varieties come from and how they are made, they are making distinctly Australian styles.

This point is an important one to make – it could have been easy for the Dal Zottos to ride the prosecco wave and produce cheerful, simple fizz, but instead they are trailblazers making quality King Valley prosecco. Yes, they are producing fresh, easy-drinking examples that people love, but they are also making more complex renditions – namely the col fondo styles. Those wines sealed the deal.

Otto and wife Elena are still part of the operation but in late 2017, Michael and his brother Christian bought the family winery from their parents. I sum up their overall approach as committed. And honest.

Previous ‘Dark Horse of the Year’ recipients were Singlefile Wines (2014), Haselgrove Wines (2015), Terindah Estate (2016), Arlewood Estate (2017), Boat O’Craigo (2018) and Principia (2019).

Sign up to view these tasting notes and ratings

By becoming a member of Wine Companion, you'll have access to the largest database of wines in Australia.