I’ve written a lot about French wines in the first 3 months of the blog and also had a go at trying to decode Italian wine lists (Navigating Italy). In my looking forward to 2013 post I talked about discovering more about the delights of Australian wine so here is an overview of some of the key Aussie wine regions and the grape varieties to look out for, along with some recommendations. I’ve tried to concentrate on wines that are easily available to everyone.
The great thing about Australian wine is the simple labeling. 99% of the time the label will tell you the name of the producer, the region it is from, and the grape varieties used to make the wine. This is one of the key reasons for the success of Aussie wines, but so too is the quality at the mid to high end of the market. Also, some of the names of the wines are superb!
South East Australia – a note of caution
The regional identifier of South East Australia (or SE Australia) is a catch-all which covers most of the major wine producing states (except Western Aus). Quite often the grapes used to produce these wines have been deemed not good enough to go into the regionally labeled wines. They will have been bought by a high volume wine maker to produce cheap and cheerful wines, so could be a blend of grapes from 3 or 4 different states. It’s not to say these are poor wines, it’s just they won’t have the complexity or sense of place (terroir) that you will find from location-specific wines. These are the wines you find in the cheap supermarket promotions.
Although WA accounts for a small proportion of Aussie wine (under 5%), the quality is excellent. The vast majority of wines from the region are in the premium category. The Margaret River region is the most famous in the area. The key grapes grown in the area are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay. My pick of the producers is Leeuwin Estate, who’s “Art Series” Chardonnay is regarded as one of the best white wines in the country. Other regions to look out for are Great Southern and Swan Valley.
Ring Bolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2097, Margaret River (Tesco £10.99)
Plantagenet The Lioness Pinot Noir, Great Southern (Tesco £12.99)
Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2010, Margaret River (Majestic £13.99)
Could be called the wine state of Australia. When we come to looking at the names of the sub-regions I’m sure you will recognise many of the famous names from bottles you have drunk. When you see the names Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale, the grape that immediately screams out at you is Shiraz. Look out for Barossa wines from Peter Lehmann, king of the valley. These areas have very hot and dry summers and produce blockbuster red wines, which are rich, chocolaty and spicy. Yum! For Cabarnet Sauvignon, look no further than Coonawarra. The wines have lovely blackcurrant and eucalyptus characteristics and are a brilliant accompaniment to rare red meat.
And don’t forget the white wines. Some of my favourites come from the Clare and Eden Valleys, especially the precise citrus-led bone-dry Rieslings, which can be stunning.
D’Arenberg One Hundred for Four Shiraz, McLaren Vale (The Wine Society £7.50)
Jacobs’s Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Adelaide Hills (Sainsburys £9.99)
Tim Adams Riesling 2006, Clare Valley (Tesco £10.49)
Peter Lehmann BVS Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley (Majestic £12.49)
Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale (Waitrose £12.99)
The coolest of the mainland states in Australia, so the emphasis is more on cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Yarra Valley region is a great place to start for both of these grape varieties. For wine connoisseurs head for the Mornington Peninsular, where winemakers are starting to make quite a noise with their high quality output. Giles, an ex-colleague of mine who spent some time in the area, has pointed me in the direction of “Main Ridge Half Acre” – Giles, I’ve found a source and got some on order! www.houseoftownend.com
And for something completely different, head towards Rutherglen and their luscious dessert wines made using Muscat – a very wine that works as well with fruit-based desserts as it does with chocolate.
Brown Brothers Late Harvest Muscat 2010, Rutherglen (Majestic £8.49)
Billi Billi Shiraz 2008, Grampians (The Wine Society £8.50)
De Bortoli DB Reserve Pinot Noir, Victoria (Majestic £9.99)
Willing Participant Chardonnay 2010, Yarra Valley (Waitrose £12.99)
New South Wales
Home of the Hunter Valley, the most northerly and tropical of Australia’s wine producing regions. The Shiraz is from the region is often described as softer and spicier than those from further south, and are generally thought to age very well. For white wine, the region is famous for Semillon, although many of the other regions are beginning to produce more and more of these grassy, citrusy wines. A region I keep reading about (well I definitely notice it!) is the superbly named Tumbarumba – I’m on the look out for some Chardonnay from he as the write-ups get better and better.
Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley (Tesco £9.29)
Taste the Difference Semillon 2010, Hunter Valley (Sainsburys £9.99)
Robert Oatley Finisterre Chardonnay 2011, Mudgee (The Wine Society £16.00)
The cool climate of Tasmania provides new opportunities for Aussie wines and the primary grape growing in the state is Pinot Noir. The island is producing nuanced and delicate wines from this notoriously difficult grape and I look forward to discovering more. White wine development is also very exciting, with precise and fruit driven Rieslings, as well as a growing reputation for Pinot Gris, in the style of the Mosel – very exciting.
For special occasions
The very best Australian wines are up there with the very best in the world. If you really want to push the boat out and try something really special, here’s a premium list to choose from.
Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Coonawarra (The Wine Society £18.00)
Kooyong Beurrot Pinot Gris 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £18.00)
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River (The Wine Society £23.00)
Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay 2010, Mornington Peninsular (The Wine Society £23.00)
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2008, McLaren Vale (Majestic £27.00)
Sandalford Estate Cabenet Sauvignon 2007, Margaret River (The Wine Society £29.00)
Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Mornington Peninsular (Majestic £35.00)
Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River (Majestic £55.00)
Not another French post! Well no actually, it isn’t. Well not really. I know I’ve written a fair bit about French wine over the past couple of months but I do think its the best place to start and is a great introduction to most of the well known grape varieties. But most of these varieties are grown all around the world, so this post highlights the places to look. I’ll use the recent articles about decoding French wine to take us on a trip around the world. It’s a bit like Amazon… If you liked that, then you might like this!
My love of Burgundy has also taken me to a few other places over the past year and back in February I even bought a case of 6 bottles from Majestic of Pinot Noir from everywhere but France! New World wines, particularly New Zealand and USA,I have found to be more fruit focused, which lots of people like, but often without the earthy, forest aromas and flavours of Burgundy. Getting any Pinot for under £10 is never easy, but it can be done, and the best example I’ve found comes from Pfalz in Germany (M&S – find it!). Ive been told that the best up and coming region for Pinot is Tasmania, owing to its cool climate, so I’ll keep my eye out for a couple to try for you. I really am sooooo selfless!
From the epicentre of fine wine in Bordeaux, Cab Sav is grown all over the world and thrives in hot climates. We only need to go back to the famous “Judgement in Paris” in 1976 when the Californian wines whooped the asses of the Borderlais in a blind taste test to realise there are great Cabernets around the globe (get yourself a copy of the film “Bottle Shock” to learn more and to enjoy another superb performance from Alan Rickman). Then there’s the fabulous region of Coonawarra in Australia, famed for Cab Sav. And for value head to South America – Argentina and Chile are making some great stuff.
Same grape, different name! In fact Aussie Shiraz is probably better known to most casual wine drinkers in the UK than Syrah from the Northern Rhone! So where better to start than Oz! The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia produce some stunning Shiraz, as does the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Try “The Hedonist” from Waitrose at £12.99 – one of my favourite wines of the year.
The Grenache blends of the Southern Rhone are available all over the World. In Oz they are often referred to as GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre). The famous Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Papes even transported and planted some of their wines in Paso Robles, California! I’ve also written a lot about my love of Priorat in north-east Spain, usually made primarily from Garnacha (yep, same grape!). Hot country = spicy and fruity and often excellent.
This grand grape has had a tough time over the past 10 with the ABC gang getting into a tizz. Now it’s true that the supermarket shelves have been full of basically crap stuff from Oz and the States… But what do you expect at 3 for £10? There is so much great winemaking around the world now that Chardonnay is regaining its place as one of the most fantastic and flexible grapes out there, both with and without the use of oak. I’ve found some amazing wines from the US and Oz over the past 12 months and recently tasted a stunner from NZ. Also look to Chile for value. I also tasted truly excellent Spanish Chard on our recent trip.
Where else to start but New Zealand? Since the inaugural 1986 vintage of Cloudy Bay ( not Oyster Bay, repeat not Oyster Bay – never pay more that £5 for it!) those clever Kiwis haven’t put a foot wrong. Supermarket shelves are packed with the stuff, and there is some great value to be found as well as some real class if you’re prepared to go above £10. The up and coming country for this often gregarious grape is Chile, but prices are rising with improved quality. Also look to the south of France for some lovely clean wines.
Germany is the place to start as they probably produce some of the best anywhere in the world, but as usual the top stuff comes with a hefty price tag. However, if you like something really fun and a bit sweet then give the Dr. Loosen from Sainsburys a go. I’m a huge fan of Australian Riesling, especially from the Clare or Eden Valleys. They offer real concentration of limes and tropical fruit and lovely minerality. Also look to NZ who are really starting to get into the grape more and more. Recently I also tasted a lovely example from South Africa… Expect to see more and more on the shelves over the coming months.
Not unlike Oz and Shiraz, Chenin has become synonymous with South Africa and there are bottles at all price levels. I am really getting into these wines at the moment and have a blockbuster lined up for Xmas day. Australia is another country making some Chenin waves and these are generally easier to find in the supermarkets than the French bottling from the Loire Valley.
When you’re having a dinner party, try buying a French and other country example of a white and red wine and see who prefers what… My guests are probably getting fed up of the same old game but I’m still enjoying it!