I have a friend who was lucky enough to play Test cricket for England. He told me the first time he went to Australia he breathed a sigh of relief when the pilot said that they had just reached Perth. Five hours later he touched down! My point isn’t that English cricketers fly on rubbish airlines but that Australia is a big place.
However, I think you can make a case to divide its major wine growing areas into five, with four major grape
varietals. I’m ever so slightly nauseous as I’m writing this as I know I’m going to receive all manner of “trolling” emails castigating me for leaving out Adelaide Hills, Yarra Yering or the Hunter Valley, but I thought we’d start with major areas as I see them and perhaps re-visit the rest next year. Thus I flounced over to Majestic in an attempt to find some standout examples. The following is the result.
I absolutely love Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in the bottom right corner of south Australia. There are expressions of blackcurrant, sweet dark fruits with tomato leaf (if you don’t know what I’m talking about next time you buy fresh tomatoes pull off the stalk and take a smell). It’s a very well-known aroma and a useful adjective when tasting Cab Sav. My current favourite offering is Dark Horse at £14.99. I found the blackcurrant I was looking for in a well-balanced, fruit-driven and really enjoyable glass. I served it slightly cool and it showed beautifully from the first sip to the last.
As an aside, I was recently lucky enough to try the Dominus 2015, as yet unreleased in the UK. It’s a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The best wine I’ve tasted in 2018. It’s super expensive but it is truly exceptional.
Next up is Shiraz from Barossa – South Australia again but further north. Mint, eucalyptus, blackberries. Often massive mouthfeel with big alcohol, it’s the same grape as in the northern Rhône where it’s called Syrah. In my top ten favourite wines of all time is Penfolds Grange which is 100% Shiraz. I opened a bottle of the 2001 when my son got into university and it’s one of the most profound bottles I’ve ever tasted. The following doesn’t really come close but I really liked it.
I went long on the Shiraz front but the pick of the bunch was the Gnarly Dudes Shiraz from Two Hands. Only 13.8% (I’ve had some up at 16% before now) but with classic aromas as above. I bought this as the tasting note from Majestic hinted at “notes of chestnut, burnt toffee, chocolate and lavender”. I confess they are better tasters than I am, as I was in the mint and blackberry camp again, but the structure and flavours were really good. It’s £18.99 as we speak. Bizarrely, this wasn’t my favourite Shiraz. The wine I enjoyed most was the least expensive. It came from Clare Valley and was the Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2016 at £8.99. I found it had a softness to it and some elegant aromas with a touch of parma violets once it had been opened for half an hour. Not going to knock your socks off (even though 14% alcohol) but a really enjoyable glass of red.
McLaren Vale. There’s lots of variety in McLaren Vale with pretty much all the major grape varieties represented. I’m back with Cab Sav and the really well made Kangarilla Road. Currently £13.99 or £9.99 for the six. Not light at 14.5% alcohol but good fruit and a long finish.
Barossa Valley, Australia
I’m lumping the next two in together: Eden Valley and Clare Valley, both just north of Adelaide. The cooler climate here makes for the perfect setting for Riesling. The grape made famous for some of the greatest wines in Germany flourishes here, making some beautiful, fresh, dry wines. I often find lime juice and grapefruit in these with that touch of petrol aroma which this grape is so well known for. I have also found decent options from the Hunter Valley. From the Majestic offering, I’d currently recommend the Lodge Hill Riesling 2017 Jim Barry at £14.99 (or £9.99 for six). They weren’t long on stock of white wines from here so I can’t go into too much depth but I thought this could definitely be used in an emergency.
Lastly there’s Chardonnay from Margaret River. The furthest west of the wine areas I’ve written about here. This varietal has taken a pounding over the years. Sure the Aussies led the way with big buttery over-oaked examples which a lot of people took offence to. The ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement really turned on them which I think is a shame. If I want finesse I can go for a Chablis Premier Cru or Puligny-Montrachet. Sometimes though, I crave a glass of rich, buttery, hazelnut Chardonnay and Australia does that really well. I’m happy to recommend Vasse Felix Filius 2017 at £12.99.
I’m sure I’ll get a few comments on Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot (I think New Zealand is a safe bet if you’re looking for entry level versions of these) and possibly Grenache and Mourvèdre but I think the four grape varietals above are the mainstay and fortunately my perception is my reality!
In brief it’s a big place with big wines.
Whether you enjoy the occasional glass of Sancerre or you're looking for a vintage to invest in, it's worth knowing the expert recommendations.
Paul Bolt, our wine expert, was recently inducted as a Chevalier de Champagne and actively trades on Livex.