I haven’t discussed Australia much recently but some rather exceptional trade tastings in recent weeks have put Australia at the front of my mind.
Sales of Australian wine have dipped a little but we still buy almost 20% of our wine from them (only Chile sells more).
A brief history is probably no harm.
Grapes were first planted near Sydney Harbour in 1788 and the most of the Australian regions you have heard of were established within a few decades.
After some good initial growth, the deadly phyloxera bug arrived in Geelong in Victoria in 1887 and within a few decades all regions were affected.
There was no cure except replanting on immune rootstock and the industry was devastated.
By the mid-20th century over 50% of Australian grapes went into fortified wines, a style that particularly suited shiraz (one reason there are lots of old shiraz vines around).
The quality boom began in the 1970s and 80s and Ireland saw its first interesting Oz wines in the late 1980s and we quickly warmed to their rich fruity styles.
Nowadays, Australia is arguably the most technically advanced of all countries and they can make you any style you like — even cool-climate riesling and pinot noir (eg, Tasmania).
Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds Grange, was first released in 1952 but it took over a decade for the wine’s potential to be realised.
Creator Max Schubert ignored the instruction to stop making the wine by his bosses knowing that the wine would show better in time.
I remember seeing Grange for £55 in the 1990s. The sumptuous 2009 is for sale in The Corkscrew in Dublin for €650.
While 2009 is charming and delicious (as you would hope for this price) it will please for many decades yet.
The 2010 was even finer and more layered with spice, cherry and a liquid silk character.
The 2011 was the first for decades made without cabernet (usually up to 5% of the blend) and is rather classical in style but still admirably drinkable.
Obviously these are Lotto wines but if you have had a windfall the top Penfolds wines (Bin 389, Magill, Bin 407) can all now be purchased as mixed cases.
Some cheaper suggestions are recommended below.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Nugan Estate Personality Series Scruffy Shiraz — €12.99
The Nugan family wines from SuperValu are usually worth a look. This is part of a new range from the estate and has typical ripe Australian fruit with a touch of spice and plum. Obviously at this price the wine does not really compare to some other wines mentioned this week but this is well made and not without ‘personality’.
D’Arenberg Stump Jump GSM — €14.99
Stockists: SuperValu, The Corkscrew, Cases Galway
I’ve written about Chester Osborne a few times before and presented one of his wines at my LitFest Mourvèdre tasting in May. This also contains Mourvèdre plus some grenache and shiraz (the same basic blend as in the S Rhone) and has lots of spicy rich blackberry fruit with a dark cherry character.
Yalumba Organic Viognier 2015, South Australia — €14.95-15.95
Stockists: O’Briens, Vintry, Ardkeen Stores, Independents
A delightfully ripe and fragrant viognier with luscious peach and apricot aromas and good fruit-driven intensity. Viognier is at its best from Condrieu in the northern Rhone where it is expensive and very fine but it grows well in Australia (better than in the Languedoc in my view). Try with some shellfish — prawns or crayfish.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz 2013, Australia — €68.99
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Sweeneys, The Corkscrew, Greenacres. Available on order from almost all independents.
Bin 389 is also called Baby-Grange as wine intended for Grange sometimes doesn’t fit with the vintage profile or the mood of the winemaker. This is 51% cabernet and 49% shiraz and is multi-regional like its big brother. Mineral and densely fruity with a fine tense character.
Penfolds Koonunga Hill Autumn Riesling 2014, Barossa, Australia — €19.99-€20.99
Stockists: Bradleys, Ardkeen, O’Briens, Vintry Rathgar, Egans Portlaoise, Independents.
This has a pleasingly vintage label in homage to how it first looked when Grange creator Max Schubert introduced it in the 1970s. Bright apple and floral aromas, supple and fresh on the palate and tons of acidity and freshness. Tart lemon-apple character; with seafood or Thai green curry.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Australia — €57.99-€58.99
Stockists: Greenacres, O’Briens, Jus de Vine, Sweeneys, on order from Independents
A small apology for the expense of the wines this week. A blend from classic cabernet regions such as Coonawarra this has a minty and eucalyptus character (gum trees), plus chocolate and rich plum fruits. Tight still with structure and cedar still present, perhaps lay down for 10 years.
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