Australian wines used to be big, brash and broad-shouldered but now they’re finding their delicate side, writes Natasha Hughes MW
It’s not all that long ago that Aussie wine was perceived by us Brits to be all about ‘sunshine in a bottle’, which suggested that all the country’s wines were good for was easy-going glugging. There’s nothing wrong with easy-going glugging, mind you – I’m a fan of the style. But I’m an even bigger fan of the elegant, world-class wines being made in Australia these days.
In the name of poise and food-friendliness, Aussie winemakers are increasingly choosing to plant in cool-climate zones or dialling back on the alcohol, the oak and the over-ripe fruit. The overall aim is to make refreshing, aromatic wines, often based on an exotic portfolio of grapes that reaches far beyond the classic varieties of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay (although devotees of these grapes should be reassured that there are plenty of new-wave takes on their favourites).
Los Hermanos, Saludo al Txakoli, King Valley, 2015 If you’ve ever been on a tapas crawl in the Basque country, you’ll be familiar with txakoli (pronounced shack-oh-lee), a refreshing white wine that froths gently in the glass. This wine offers slightly brighter green apple and citrus fruit than the original, but slakes a summer thirst just as well (£13.50-£14.99)
Long Gully Road, Ancient Vine Semillon, Barossa, 2014 Australia has a significant share of the world’s oldest vines, many of them planted in South Australia’s Barossa region. You can taste the complexity that comes with age in David Franz’s wine. The 129-year-old semillon vines deliver huge concentration of honeyed lemon and lime zest flavours, while a year of ageing on lees prior to bottling gives the wine some textural weight to balance out the zippy acidity. (£20)
Laissez-Faire Field Blend, Pemberton, West Australia, 2016 Larry Cherubino is a talented winemaker with a track record of delivering deliciousness. His Laissez-Faire Field Blend, combines pinot gris, gewurztraminer, riesling and sauvignon gris to great effect. This blend results in a wine that is ridiculously easy to drink, with layers of exotic fruit flavours that make it the perfect match for an equally exotic Thai meal. (£17.95-£20.95)
Le Blanc Plonk, Victoria, 2015 Gary Mills is at the forefront of Australia’s wine revolution. For the most part, Mills works with ‘conventional’ grape varieties, but deviates from standard winemaking techniques in order to create the unexpected. Le Blanc Plonk is a case in point. The wine is always based on citrus-scented riesling, but the grape with which this is blended changes each year. In this instance, the leaner riesling forms an unusual partnership with barrel-fermented chardonnay, resulting in a pleasing balance between zestiness and lush mid-palate richness. (£19.90)
Shaw & Smith’s M3 Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills, 2015 This is widely acknowledged to be a true blue Aussie classic – and it’s also a pretty good barometer of where the action is, style-wise. The 2015 version is, I reckon, the best yet, offering a pleasing midpoint between the overworked chardonnays of yesteryear and the stripped-back joyless wines that represented the opposite extremity of the stylistic pendulum swing. It’s a polished wine with refined flavours of citrus and white peach, with just enough toasty oak to lend it some weight and complexity without detracting from an overall impression of freshness. (£22.49-£27.99)
Thistledown The Vagabond, Grenache, McLaren Vale, 2015 Aussie grenache was once a swaggering bully of a wine – all high alcohol and flavours of boiled raspberry sweets – but the most recent take on the grape has tamed the beast. These new-wave wines are lighter, brighter and more polished than their forefathers and you can see why winemakers like to like to talk about the similarities between grenache and pinot noir. Thistledown’s The Vagabond, with its gorgeous, lifted notes of spicy, floral red berries, is a standard-bearer for the new take on an old favourite. (£17.98-£19.99)
Vinteloper Park Red, Langhorne Creek, 2016 If a picture paints a thousand words, one glance at this should tell you that you’re in for a less-than-conventional wine experience. A swirlingly modern label design, a stubby milk-bottle shape and a crown cap hints heavily that the normal conventions have been left behind. Dolcetto (a grape whose origins lie in Italy) is picked early for freshness then crushed underfoot to create a juicy, berry- and cherry-packed delight. It’s a bit like Beaujolais on steroids. The perfect partner for a barbecue – especially if you chill it lightly for an hour before opening. (£20/50cl)
Koerner, La Corse, Clare Valley 2016 If you enjoy your grapes left field, you’ll find much to love about La Corse. As the name suggests, this lively red wine is based mainly on grapes found on Corsica (sangiovese, grenache and sciaccarello, since you ask, bolstered with a bit of malbec). The result is a very pretty, floral wine whose intense flavours of red plums and herbs, underpinned by gently grippy tannins, hint at its Mediterranean heritage. (£25)
Stargazer Tasmanian Pinot Noir, 2014 Female winemakers are still very much in the minority in Australia (and elsewhere). You can show your support for the sisterhood by investing in a bottle of Samantha Connew’s world-class pinot noir. Enjoy the fruits of positive discrimination by drinking it now for its smoky, savoury dark fruit and abundance of fine tannin, or cellar it and watch it develop layers of complexity as it ages. (£31.75-£35)
Luke Lambert, Crudo, 2016 Luke Lambert is based in the Yarra Valley, where he makes sinewy, savoury shiraz. Crudo is his entry-level wine, and it has a hint of wildness to it that complements the bright blueberry and raspberry aromas. There’s something about the notes of smoked meats and the suggestion of dried herbs that lift the wine beyond obvious fruitiness and turn it into something altogether more feral and thrilling. Food-wise, it’s a real all-rounder, with a particular affinity for summer’s barbecued pork or autumn’s roast game birds. (£25.50)
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