Eleven wines for Australia Day
Wines of the week: Twelve wines for Australia Day
Raise a glass to our cousins Down Under this Australia Day with the finest Antipodean wine. Terry Kirby takes a look at 12 of the best variants
So, you think you know your Australian wines? Those lovely big after-work glasses of Chardonnay, all oaky and buttery? And spicy, violet-and-blackcurrant-flavoured shiraz and ballsier-than-Bordeaux style, cabernet sauvignon-based blends with your red meats. And, er, that’s it?
Well, that might be the total of what’s in your local bar or corner shop, or dominating the aisles in many supermarkets. But look a little further, spend a little more, and it is not difficult to find wines of real character and originality that buck those stereotypes and reflect on the diversity and originality of modern Australian wine-making, one which takes advantage of different climates, varied growing areas and a range of grapes. And what better occasion than today, Australia Day, to celebrate some of those wines...
Penfolds is one of the biggest names in Aussie wines, producing a range for the higher end of the market, including the remarkable shiraz-based Penfolds Grange, recognised as one of the world greatest wines and attracting appropriately high prices of several hundred pounds a bottle, depending on the vintage.
So, if you want the best Aussie shiraz, slightly more accessible to the average consumer, look for the entry level Penfolds Max’s Shiraz 2016, (£19.99 waitrosecellar.com) named after legendary former chief winemaker Max Schubert and drawn from grapes grown across their south Australian vineyards; velvety and rich, those characteristic violets and pepper notes are present and correct, but also restrained and subtle – and a perfect introduction to their well-made, elegant style. Simply perfect with a rare steak or roast beef.
But there are other wines where typical Aussie brio and verve turns familiar European grapes and styles into something special. Petit Verdot – a lesser player in Bordeaux blends – takes the spotlight in spectacular fashion in Bill Downie’s Petit Verdot 2015, (£17.99 ozwines.co.uk; £18.00 reservewines.co.uk) biodynamically made in the Murray River area of South Australia. Concentrated and powerful, with black and dried fruits, hints of fig and tobacco and a rustic edge; one for robust winter casseroles.
And tempranillo, the grape synonymous with Spain and Rioja which barely features elsewhere, is matched with Portuguese staple touriga (this is not heresy – in Portugal, tempranillo is tinto roriz and features in red blends and ports) in S C Pannell’s Tempranillo Touriga 2016 (£18.99 nywines.co.uk; ozwines.co.uk) made by one of the key figures in new Aussie winemaking in the Mclaren Vale area of South Australia. Still quite potent, it is nevertheless a bit lighter than the Petit Verdot, a Mediterranean style joy, with juicy, brambly, black fruit flavours, some gentle sweet spices and a long finish. Drink with Middle Eastern lamb dishes, grilled sausages or robust vegetable dishes.
For something a little more affordable and utterly different from most other full-bodied Aussie reds, the wonderfully lip-smacking Dried Grape Shiraz, SE Australia, (£8.99, normally £11.99; until February 19; ocado.com) will appeal to lovers of the Italian appassimento style in which semi dried grapes are added to the fermenting grapes to give dark flavours of baked plums, blackberries, a touch of chocolate and a long finish.
And Australia, despite its reputation and current condition of being mostly very hot, has places where lighter cool climate wines can be made, the southern island of Tasmania being a region with terrific potential: try the Tamar Ridge Tasmanian Pinot Noir (£20.00 winesociety.com) a wonderfully classy pinot, with lovely aromas and flavours of clean red fruit, cranberries, hints of smoke and light spice, with an elegance; medium bodied but with all the restrained power and elegance for which you might pay twice the price for in Burgundy.
Budget supermarket Aldi has spotted the potiential of Tasmania and last year launched a trio of varietals under the Artisan Tasmanian label. Grab them while you can because they are ridiculously good wines at great prices. The Artisan Tasmanian Gerwurstraminer (£10.99 aldi.com) is aromatic, vibrant and full of exotic flavours of lychees and pears and a terrific introduction to a grape which has never enjoyed great popularity in the UK. That other Franco-German grape, Riesling, once very popular in the UK, is now latterly overshadowed by chardonnay and sauvignon.
But for a classy, modern take on the grape, try the organically produced Grosset Springvale Clare Valley Riesling (£25.99 ozwines.co.uk) from one of the best white wine areas of Australia. This has clean, bone dry citrus flavours, a hint of florality and a beguiling taut intensity. A perfect wine for fine fish dishes or, especially, oysters.
Much more boisterous is the D’Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier- Marsanne 2017 (£11.95 exelwines.co.uk; £11.99 ministryofdrinks.co.uk; £131.00 for case of 12, winesociety.com) from the McLaren Vale region, a blend of two French staples, delivering fulsome flavours of apricots and honeydew melon, creamy Marsanne smoothing out the robust edges of the viognier. Brilliant with pork or richer seafood dishes.
Still in McLaren Vale for more Italian influences, the Robert Oatley Hancock and Hancock Fiano 2017/18 (£12.95 ndjohn.co.uk; £14.50 oxfordwine.co.uk; £14.99 noblegrape.co.uk) is a lovely take on an Italian grape – light, refreshing, plenty of fresh fruit flavours of white peaches and lemons, with just hint of a nutty, savoury edge; a lovely aperitif or fish wine for Spring, when it comes.
The orange/natural wine movement has also reached Australia. From Western Australia, the extraordinary Cullen Margaret River Amber Wine 2017 (£27.49 thewinereserve.co.uk; £29.00 oldbridgewine.co.uk) from one of the country’s leading biodynamic producers, is a semillon/sauvignon blanc blend fermented partially in new oak, partially in amphorae and other vessels. Complex and impossible to pin down, but unlike some other natural wines, there is little sense of oxidisation and the flavours are fresh and clean, encompassing notes of tangerines, honeysuckle, hints of dried fruits, nuts and herbs. It can be drunk with a wide variety of foods – from salty canapes to charcuterie and baked fish or even lightly spiced Oriental dishes.
Australia is not always known for its extensive range of dessert wines, but they are well worth seeking out. Try the luscious Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat (37.5cl; £12.10 exelwines.co.uk; £12.95 winetrust100.co.uk) rose petal aromas, flavours of raisins, molasses and some citrus notes, with clean, balancing acidity that keeps it fresh and zingy on the palate or the even richer, darker and port like De Bortoli Old Boys 21 Year Old Tawny (£20.99 waitrose.com) made by a family descended from Italian immigrants – complex layered flavours of nuts, dried fruits and caramel and excellent with blue cheeses and rich puddings. One to warm the soul in front of the fire on a grey January day, thinking of all those Aussies with their barbies on the beach, drinking all these lovely wines...