POWER FROM DOWN UNDER
Australian Wines Deliver Big Flavor
in Affordable Bottles
By Bryan Miller
Powell, a former lumberjack, is a big guy with an outsize
personality and fervent opinions about South Australian
wine—not the kind of bloke you want to aggravate in
a wine debate. The selections at his Torbreck Vintners in
the Barossa Valley, the country's prime winemaking region,
match his gutsy, down-to-earth character, and are classic
examples of the Southern Australia style: lush with fruit,
well balanced, and with a delightful finish that is light
on tannin, thus easy drinking. His boutique winery and its
handcrafted vintages are but one success story among the
1,700 wineries now operating in Australia, part of the staggering
escalation of Aussie wine production and exports.
1985, Australian exports have increased sevenfold, and now
exceed 261 million gallons annually. More impressive, reports
Wine Business Magazine, Australia has now surpassed Italy
as the major supplier to the U.S. market by value, or total
dollars wholesale. A large part of the country's success
is due to its populist approach: offering fruit-saturated
wines at affordable prices—and in innovative ways,
as pioneers of quality wines in boxes and with screw caps.
kangaroo visits a vineyard
innovation hasn't stopped there. Traditionally known for
its Shiraz and Chardonnay,
Australia has evolved into a vinous petri dish of grape
blendings, utilizing Pinot
Grenache, Mourvèdre and a variety of European whites.
Many of the best new offerings come from the vineyard-carpeted
Barossa Valley and, farther south, the Adelaide Hills and
the sea-scented expanse of McLaren Vale. Anchored
by the flourishing city of Adelaide and located 850 miles
southwest of Sydney, Barossa is among the oldest wine areas
in the country, first tilled by stout German immigrants
in the mid-19th century, followed by dissident (and wine-loving)
Polish Lutherans fleeing persecution in Brandenburg and
Barossa embraces 180 wineries, most of which have tasting
rooms open to the public. We went calling at as many as
we could until our palate staged a mutiny—about nine
days. What follows are some highlights of this bibulous
behind a small tasting bar in a stucco-and-beam cabin at
Torbreck Vintners, David Powell proffered his 2004 Woodcutters
Semillon white ($14), which is exceptionally vivid and refreshing,
one of our favorite whites of the trip.
reds, the winner was a 2004 Woodcutters Shiraz ($19)—again,
a big, assertive Barossa wine, yet supple and easy drinking.
Others worth considering are the 2003 Woodcutters Shiraz
($19), a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (it's the
stage name for Mourvèdre), and "The Steading,"
its premier label, which unconventionally marries Shiraz
and Viognier ($30).
The "Descendant" ($90) is a two-fisted Shiraz-Viognier
that is aromatic of dried fruits and vanilla, and with enough
tannin that you could hide it in the closet for a decade
and it would be even better.
Lehmann, also in Barossa, is a tireless promoter of his
region's wines. His handsome, brick tasting bar in the winery
that bears his name usually has on hand the light and flowery
2002 Semillon ($13; get as recent a vintage as you can),
and the subtle and elegant 2001 Cabernet
there is Penfolds, the General Motors of Australian wines.
As the flagship of a winery group that includes the renowned
Rosemount, it is the largest vineyard owner in the country.
Penfolds wines are known for their quality and consistency
even in less than ideal vintages. The concentrated 2002
389," a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon,
is a steal at ($21); however, its iconic "Grange,"
albeit a wine of great depth and finesse ($165), could be
2003 Chenin Blanc
Vineyards, in McLaren Vale, is a must-visit both for its
first-class wines and for its stunning setting, high on
a ridge offering a view of the Gulf of St. Vincent. The
circa-1860 fieldstone "tasting" cottage has a
lovely trellised outdoor cafe. One of the older wineries
in the region, dating to 1920, Coriole produces a wide range
of wines employing a variety of grapes.
2004 Sangiovese we tasted there is an agreeable wine that
is layered with flavors of cherries and vanilla. It is dry
and somewhat tannic, best paired with food. A bigger, more
generous wine is the 1999 Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz,
elegant and rich on the palate, and with a lingering finish.
Of the whites sampled, we liked the dry 2003 Chenin Blanc
(ask for the more recent vintages, which will be brighter),
especially for the price (under $15).
you are a fan of the full-bodied, hold-your-hat style, pull
into Fox Creek Wineries, in McLaren Vale. Relatively new
on the block, the winery specializes in Shiraz, although
other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel show
up alone or in blends.
It did not take long for us to appreciate how Australian
winemakers are so enthusiastic about their products that
they can't wait to pour you one selection after another
in quick succession until you cry, "Hey, mate—enough!"
JSM Shiraz Cabernet Franc
Fox Creek, the upbeat barman commenced with a 2000 Cabernet
Franc ($20), followed by a 2000 and a 1999 Villa Mount Eden
Grand Reserve Zinfandel ($16). Surprisingly, this Native
American grape thrives here and is increasingly popular.
The Cabernet Franc was delightful, stratified with ripe
fruit flavors, full-bodied but not overpowering, and definitely
a red-meat wine. You get a lot of bang for the buck with
the 2000 Fox Creek JSM Shiraz Cabernet Franc, a lively,
high-acid wine with rich berry flavors and a smooth finish
($20). Too bad other Shirazes are not available in the United
Zinfandels available are commendable, both the 1999 and
2000 Villa Mount Eden Grand Reserves ($16). We have rarely
seen a grand reserve, which is traditionally a winemaker's
"ne plus ultra" and aged for a number of years,
for less than $20 (both are $16). We wouldn't call either
characteristic reserves, but they are charming and ready
novelty from Barossa/McLaren Vale that may soon sail up
the Delaware is the sparkling Shiraz, or in the case of
Fox Creek, a sparkling Shiraz-Cabernet Franc. These are
love-it-or-leave-it confections, grapey and light, faintly
sweet and big on the bubbles. They may take a bit of time
to grow on you.
were offered a sampling of the 1999 Coriole Lloyd Reserve
Shiraz, elegant and rich on the palate, and with a lingering
you continue south of McLaren Vale along the Fleurieu Peninsula,
and you should, you'll end up at a speck of a fishing village
called Cape Jervis. From there is a distant view of the
fabled Kangaroo Island. Next stop, Antarctica.
Pairing for Aussie Wines
"BIN 389," 1999 Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz;
2000 Fox Creek JSM Shiraz-Cabernet Franc.
Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz; Torbreck "The Steading";
Penfolds "Grange"; 1999 Coriole Lloyd reserve
2000 and 1999 Villa Mount Eden Grand Reserve Zinfandel.
"The Steading"; Torbreck "Descendant";
1999 Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz.
Torbreck Woodcutters Semillon; 2003 Coriole Chenin Blanc;
Fox Creek sparkling Shiraz-Cabernet franc; Fox Creek
Family Winemakers Shiraz; Fox Creek sparkling Shiraz-Cabernet
"BIN 389"; 1999 Coriole Lloyd Reserve Shiraz.
"The Steading"; 2004 Coriole Vineyards Sangiovese;
Burge Family Winemakers Shiraz.
or apple pie
Creek sparkling Shiraz-Cabernet Franc.
and Wine Pairing
Guide to Australia
Hours in Adelaide
Top photos courtesy of Australian Wine Export Council