ARGH. All this talk about boring, high-alcohol, industrial Australian wines. Usually by people who believe Australia is one large hydro-dam of Chardonnay. Yes, really. When I worked in Mayfair in London, someone actually asked me whether Australia has vintages. Someone who buys a lot of wine, and frankly, should have known better.
So to avoid further embarrassment: here are five regions around Australia producing cool, elegant, dynamic wines that you should know so you don’t look like a parochial, ignorant, cheap wine fool. A cheat sheet for my “Anti-Flavour Elite” friends to get you up to speed with what is really happening in this diverse country.
Example: Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir, Stonier Pinot Noir
Great Ocean Road
What you need to know: Mornington Peninsula is a wealthy part of Victoria, only one hour’s drive from Melbourne. No expense is spared in these small vineyards; in some places you wonder if they also iron the grass. The cool air from the huge expanse of ocean, which leads to Antarctica, benefits Pinot Noir especially. In Melbourne and Sydney, Mornington Peninsula wines often feature on restaurant lists as it’s excellent with food. Generally, the style is slightly more savoury and not as “bright” as New Zealand Pinots. Also, Mornington is well-known for its good Pinot Gris but I have never seen it in the UK. Moss Wood produces their new Pinot Noir there, their only operation outside Margaret River, which is a big step for a winery whose image is strongly associated with Margaret River (in Western Australia). Sandro Mosele, winemaker at Kooyong Estate, said at a tasting in London last year he won’t drink anything other than Sangiovese in Tuscany – which gives you an idea of how committed he is to the idea of terroir. Definitely one of the most dynamic regions in Australia today.
Example: Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier and Riesling, Lark Hill Pinot Noir and Riesling, Helms Riesling, Mount Majuro Graciano
What you need to know: Canberra is renowned for being a very cold, boring place full of politicians half way to nowhere between Melbourne and Sydney. In other words, it leads one to drinking. Over the past 30 years, they have found it is also a good area for growing grapes. It has a climate similar to the Northern Rhone; Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier has the same meaty characters – although, don’t worry Anti-Flavour Elite, it’s not macho and blockbuster and 07 CdP. The very cool climate creates an incredible intensity in the fruit and excellent perfume on the nose. Canberra definitely has vintages (and bushfires).
Example: Henschke Riesling
Hill of Grace, Henschke
What you need to know: Drive from Adelaide into the hills, keep going up up up and you’ll be in Eden Valley. Of course, Eden Valley (and Henschke) produce excellent Cabernet Sauvignon but what you really should know about Eden Vallay is the Riesling. Especially, the LIME character, which I had a good conversation about with Randall Grahm. You won’t find the same lime character in any other Riesling anywhere in the world except Australia, and its greatest expression is from the Eden Valley. This makes it an excellent choice with Thai and Asian food – dry, lacy minerality, lime and sapidity works well with sweet and sour flavours. It’s distinctly different from any other Riesling I have ever tasted from around the world and speaks of its landscape.
Example: Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon
Domaine A Vineyard
What you should know: Go south from Melbourne towards Antarctica, and you’ll find Tasmania; it is the large island under Australia. Now we have established that, let’s look at the wines. This is food and wine heaven. Pristine air and environment means the cheeses are exceptional. Because it is cold, some Champagne houses have set up shop in Tasmania. However it’s the Cabernet Sauvignon that is the most interesting. As Jancis Robinson wrote in April 2009:
“My suggestion is that as many wine lovers as possible should try wines from (Domaine A), an example of those who make wines hugely superior to the current Australian stereotype.”
Example: Moss Wood Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon, the list could go on….
Margaret River, Western Australia
What you should know: Margaret River is not only known for it’s premium wines, but also as a famous destination on surfing circuits. Moss Wood has been called Australia’s first growth (Jancis Robinson, thanks again). The region was determined by Dr Gladstone in the late 1960s, who recognised Margaret River had strong similarities to Bordeaux, particularly in a hot vintage. Perhaps that is why Bordeaux varieties do so well in the region: Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, in particular. There are many excellent wineries in Margaret River: Pierro, Cullen, Leeuwin… but, over and over again, at expensive Bordeaux tastings when I bring out the Moss Wood for blind tastings – Moss Wood Cabernet wins hands down. (As a side note: the Cabernet is excellent with English cheddars I have found. Semillon is the “lemon” to accompany salmon). It is not cheap, although it seems to be a better price in the UK than it is to buy in Australia. However, Sydney is five hours flight from Western Australia – you could say, the east coast of Australia is almost another country.