Ask a friend to name an Australian wine and you’ll likely get Yellow Tail. Beer? Foster’s probably tops the list. This mass-market association, dubbed Brand Australia, has been a blessing and burden for Australia’s wine sellers.
While Yellow Tail’s clever advertising campaign and label-friendly critter introduced the wines to novice sippers, it positioned Australian wine in the low-quality and inexpensive market. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Take the Margaret River region, for example, where four other Americans and I began a 14-day trip hosted by the Wines of Australia in search of the regional identity of Aussie wines. Located in Western Australia, the sun-drenched vineyards of the Margaret River are cooled by breezes from the Indian Ocean. Parcels planted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon vines, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and spicy Shiraz, express the flavor of the region with bright fruit, high acidity and mineral notes.
Head south and the landscape changes. South Australia, responsible for almost half of the country’s wine, produces plenty of everyday box wines and a great number of regional specialties. Perfect for winter fare, spicy, full-bodied Shiraz from the famed Barossa Valley and distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the terra rossa soil of the Coonawarra region are wines of character. For whites, try a fruit-driven Riesling grown in the higher elevations and cooler temperatures of the Eden and Clare valleys.
Farther south, the cool Yarra Valley Pinot Noir produces medium-bodied wines with bright red fruits and crisp acidity. Northeast of Melbourne, the region is also home to fantastic Chardonnay and excellent bubblies.
“We express region or soil flavor in the wines by paying careful attention to pruning, harvesting and sorting methods instead of simply producing sun-drenched wines,” says Steve Weber, winemaker at De Bortoli Wines. A third-generation producer, De Bortoli captures the regional differences with wineries in the Yarra, King and Hunter valleys and in the warmer Bilbul.
Australia produces wines at all ends of the spectrum, so hop beyond what you already know and explore all the country has to offer.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by her tasting consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
2007 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia ($20): Lots of citrus and mineral notes jump out of the glass while the crisp acidity dances on your palate. A great partner for starter courses such as salad with vinaigrette and almost any white fish.
2007 Yalumba Wild Ferment Chardonnay, Eden Valley, South Australia ($14): Harvested from the cool Eden Valley region, it is fermented using the natural yeast found in the vineyard. Doing so gives the wine more complexity and creamy apple, pear and citrus aromas.
2005 Yering Station Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($18): One of the top producers in the Yarra Valley, Yering Station has been crafting fine wines for more than 150 years. Sweet cherry, tobacco, dried violets and anise star aromas make it great for drinking right now.
2005 Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($17): Cool-climate Margaret River keeps acidity levels up while plenty of sunshine ripens the fruit. Sweet black fruit, licorice and bittersweet chocolate with firm, ripe tannins make it a great value.
2002 Charles Melton Nine Popes, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($45): Like Chateauneuf du Pape from the Rhône Valley, this wine is a blend of Grenache and Shiraz. Mint, blackberry, raspberry, licorice, soy sauce, pepper and baking spices along with mouth-warming alcohol result in a long, lingering finish.