April 11, 2021

Aussie Wine Advocate

Many people in the wine industry can recall a moment early in their career when they tasted something absolutely memorable. My moment happened in the Barossa Valley, Australia during the 1997 Culinary Festival, a now defunct event that brought together the best of Adelaide cuisine with Barossa wine.

I was at the Elderton Winery and it was their 1995 Barossa Shiraz. It tasted like someone had taken a pepper grinder to my glass. I’ve been a wine geek ever since.

I’ve also been an Aussie advocate ever since. Australian wines enjoyed a boom during the 90s food culture revolution here in the States, but lately have devolved into what I call the “furry creatures.” They’re the cheap, ubiquitous, simple wines that come with some cute little animal on the label more often than not. This is hardly the best of Australian wine.

Luckily, in the American import market there still exists a large selection of wines from down under that are exceptional quality at affordable prices. This month I wanted to look at some Australian wines that represent the best that a world leader in the wine industry has to offer.

Barossa Valley

You can’t talk Australia and great wine without mentioning the Barossa Valley. It’s arguably their most recognized quality wine locale. The Barossa is located just over an hour northeast of Adelaide, and centers on the small towns of Tanunda and Nuriootpa. It’s home to iconic names like Penfold’s and Wolf Blass. It’s renowned for its big, powerful Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhône style GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre) blends. Go one hill over and the region includes the cool climate Eden Valley known for its crisp Rieslings.

Some of the names to look for on the import market are the previously mentioned Elderton, Bethany, Henschke Cellars, Peter Lehmann, Peter Seppelt, Seppeltsfield, St Hallett, Torbreck, Two Hands, and Yalumba. There are countless other outstanding producers in the Barossa Valley as well, all sans kangaroo labels.

The Vales

The next region I’ll mention is the other direction from Adelaide along the coastal southern foothills that lead away from the city called the Vales. The particular Vale recognized for wine is the McClaren Vale. The grape varieties are similar to those you’ll find in the Barossa, with many specializing in the GSM blends. The wineries tend to be on the smaller side, and it’s not uncommon to see the occasional wine tour being done by camel rather than limousine. The wines from this region are difficult to find as the properties are smaller, but worth the buy if you can get them. The two standouts that are most commonly found on the import market are d’Arenberg and Mollydooker.

The Western Vineyards

Some of the best white wines I’ve ever had come from the western vineyards of Australia’s Swan River and Margaret River Valleys. They specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends, similar to great white Bordeaux. Don’t discount the reds though as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are just as good here as they are in the Barossa. The wines aren’t common to the American import market given the remoteness of the region, so snap them up when you find them. Evans and Tate, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, Houghton, and Sandalford are probably the easiest to get your hands on.

If it’s Pinot Noir you’re after, look to the cool climate niche of the Yarra Valley north of Melbourne. Again, the wineries are a bit smaller, and may not be readily available, but Yarra Yering and Yering Station are two you can probably get.  Three other well established regions that tend to be tougher to find on the import market but are worth mentioning are the Hunter Valley northwest of Sydney, known for its Sémillon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz; the Clare Valley north of Adelaide, known for its Riesling and crisp whites; and the vineyards of Tasmania, gaining a reputation for excellent sparkling wines.

The Australian wine industry is easily as old as any in the new world, and has been a leading force in wine quality for several decades. The range of wines produced in the Australian market is extensive as well, including all the popular varietal wines, a range of excellent dessert and fortified wines, and even the increasingly popular sparkling red.

While the “furry creatures” are suitable for pleasing the masses, if you want to enjoy some serious Aussie wine, look for the serious labels. You won’t be disappointed.

Drink responsibly.

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