Celebrate Australia Day with Australian Red Wines

As mentioned in the previous piece on Australian White Wine suggestions – below are some suggestions for currently available Australian Red Wine.   With Australia Day (on January 26th, the Australian equivalent of the US 4th of July) right around the corner we can all get ready with some great grilled foods (from an outdoor grill if you live in a warm enough climate – or you are very ambitious with your winter-charcoal techniques) and some great wine.  I’ve included links to the wineries so you can get the back story on the wines.

West Australian Cabernet and Blends – seems like the Margaret River and Great Southern regions including Frankland River, have become very popular Cabernet Sauvignon making regions.   There is press that suggests these areas are some of the coolest wine regions on the mainland of Australia (the island state of Tasmania is cooler still), but don’t be fooled, Australia’s mainland is generally VERY hot and while these areas are cooler relative to the hotter areas, they are still warmer than most regions in France and Italy for instance.   Recently I had a 1997 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet from Margaret River – it was beautifully balanced yet the concentrated fruit was still structured – an impressive wine for more than 10 years old.  I’ve also tasted 1999 Redgate Cabernet and more recent Moss Wood Cabernets – all truly fine wines that compete with some of the better French Bordeaux.   Some reliably good West Australian Reds:

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon any vintage (www.leeuwinestate.com.au) Margaret River – received 90-95 pts from various reviewers.

Ferngrove Majestic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (www.ferngrove.com.au) Frankland River – multiple medal winner.

Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (www.redgatewines.com.au ) Margaret River – 94 pts from reviewer James Halliday

Tasmanian Pinot Noir – although the wineries in Tasmania are still quite young compared to the Australian mainland (most Tasmanian wineries have come into existence in the past 20 years), there is an excitement about the cool climate Burgundian style Pinot Noir wines.   I am a huge fan of the old-school French Burgundy and not a big fan of new world Pinot Noir wines – so I was skeptical of the new Tasmanian Pinots – until I had a few.  The results are surprisingly good, and some are quite faithful to the Burgundian style that is close to my heart.  Here are some that I like:

Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir any vintage(www.frogmorecreek.com.au) – from a winery run by a kind and interesting American from California.  Tony Scherer has years of large scale organic farming under his belt, so when he decided to focus on wine grapes he had little difficulty with the transition – he says that he chose Tasmania because of the climate and the fact that Tasmania is generally free of pests, so organic grape farming organically is less challenging than other parts of the world.  

Pirie Wines “SOUTH” Pinot Noir any vintage (www.pirietasmania.com.au) – a much lauded wine-maker Andrew Pirie is the proprietor of this self-named estate.  The “SOUTH” Pinot Noir is a fine example of the current crop from Tasmania’s cooler wine making regions.

Shiraz and Shiraz Blends – Australia’s signature grape!   While much of the world thinks about this grape as Syrah, and that debate will likely continue, I just like the stuff.   Whether a Syrah or a Shiraz, from France (Rhone Valley) or Australia (or the USA), it is a grape that brings big, spicy flavors to the table.  Australia’s wine making regions are covered nearly 50% with Shiraz vines, some of them over 100 years old and still producing dense, flavorful, complex wines.   There are so many Shiraz choices that I get questions about how to locate a ‘Good’ Shiraz (in other words, a non critter-labeled-manufactured-tasting wine).   My answer is to stick to the names that have long term reputations for quality wine production and try a few new ones every now and again.   For me the interesting part of looking at an array of Australian Shiraz is that the source region really can make a difference (that French concept of Terroir again) and price point is not necessarily a determiner of quality.   To validate this point, if you were to try a South Australian (hot climate) Shiraz you would likely find the wine to be rich, heavy, thick with fruit and spice, whereas if you try a Shiraz from West Australia, New South Wales, and parts of Victoria (comparatively cooler climates), the wine would likely be leaner, peppery and more savory.   The price element is interesting too – some winemakers created wines for the export market as an attempt to cash in on the legitimately earned Australian wine reputation for great value wines – and sadly many of these were not good efforts and have since slightly diminished the overall reputation of Australian wines – but thankfully at many Australian wine estates there is a new emphasis on quality, right down to the least expensive wines produced.   This is a good thing for all consumers!   Here are some Aussie Shiraz /blends that I recommend:

Yalumba Y-Series Shiraz or Shiraz/Viogner 2009 (www.yalumba.com) South Australia – Australia’s oldest family owned winery, and one of the most successful as well.   The Y-Series wines present great consumer price point while delivering great wine value as well – these two reds are bright and spicy – more lively than many reds of the Barossa Valley.

Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet 2008 (www.jacobscreek.us) South Australia – A popular Australian blend of two grapes that in most parts of the world would not be put together, but it works successfully in this case.   The Jacob’s Creek business is huge (literally millions of cases produced every year), yet the wines, especially during the past few years, have seen a quality increase due to a great commitment by the wine makers to the smallest details, even when working on their least expensive line of under $10 wines – a success story for the consumer!   As a side note – Jacob’s Creek is an actual creek, or more of a dried up stream bed when I was there, but it does add some authenticity to the back story of this 150+ yr old winery.

D’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz 2008 (www.darenberg.com.au) McLaren Vale, South Australia – I would probably drink anything from this quirky yet highly regarded producer.   Located south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale region, d’Arenberg may give light-hearted names to its wines, but there is nothing un-serious about their approach to wine.   The least expensive line, the Stump Jump series is a constant favorite and best value winner in popular wine magazines, and as you go up the range in price the wines become truly impressive – their top of the line “Dead Arm” Shiraz (approximately $60) is one of my all time favorites.

Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2008  (www.peterlehmannwines.com) Barossa, South Australia – Peter Lehmann once said that when God created Shiraz, he did so with the Barossa in mind!  While that comes across as boastful, I’ve visited the winery and it is actually modest compared to many.  The wines however are well constructed and I like them for their balance and depth of flavor – not to mention consistency – in fact Peter Lehmann’s Shiraz has been featured so often in so many top 100 lists that it seems an annual event to receive the awards.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet 2008 (www.penfolds.com.au) Barossa, South Australia – This inexpensive wine, first released in 1976 to huge reviews for the quality of wine at such a low price point, continues to impress.   Nearly every year I have a glass of this wine and wonder how Penfolds manages to create, in such large volume, a wine with flavor and character like this, at around $12 per bottle.   Of course if you feel like celebrating something significant you can always try to find a bottle of the Penfolds’ most famous wine (probably the most famous Australian wine), the Grange.  I’ve been fortunate to taste a couple of these $500 per bottle wines and while anyone could argue about the value presented in a bottle of wine costing $500, I would always argue that the wine is sensational, even if I might only rarely get a taste of it…

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Celebrate Australia Day with Australian White Wines

Australia Day: Australia’s national holiday (sort of like the Aussie 4th of July).   Since Australia is celebrating its being a country, I thought I would celebrate the country’s wines…   For the past decade or so, Australian wines have gained popularity around the world.  However, in recent years the economic downturn, Australian currency strength and keen competition have somewhat softened the popularity expansion of Aussie wines.   Another factor that many critics point to is the massive expansion of inexpensive, mass marketed “critter labled” wines produced in Australia but meant only for export.   These wines meet popular price points and ‘lowest common denominator’ flavor profiles, which in some ways created an impression that Australian wine is cheap, while quality is but a secondary consideration.   I think this is too bad, because there are many high quality, large production Australian wines on the market that still meet competitive price points without sacrificing quality for the sake of marketing gimmickry.  

Now that Australia Day (January 26th) is nearly upon us, I thought it appropriate to present a few Australian white wine suggestions to consider for your Australia Day celebrations (no matter where you are!).

Dry Riesling – this variety seems little known in the US, but I hope it is gaining in popularity.   The brightly acidic, lime and citrus flavors dance on the palate, and sometimes these wines will exhibit slight ‘petrol’ notes (in a good way) before the crisp mineral finish.  Counter to how most people think about white wines, dry Rieslings can age especially well, in time developing interesting honey elements that counter the fresh acidity of the wines when younger.   Many of the best Australian Dry Rieslings come from South Australia’s Claire and Eden Valleys, West Australia and recently Tasmania.  Price points for these wines is very inviting, great examples can be found for well under $20.   Some of my favorite, widely available Dry Rieslings are: 

Leasingham Magnus Riesling (www.leasingham-wines.com.au) – Claire Valley, South Australia

Yalumba Y Series Riesling (www.yalumba.com) – highly rated yet inexpensive, from Australia’s oldest family owned winery in Eden Valley, South Australia.

Unoaked Chardonnay – right now I am very excited about Australia’s un-oaked chardonnays.   This is not to say that traditional style chardonnays cannot be excellent (anyone who has sipped a Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay will attest to that), but the un-oaked style is inviting due to the clean and fruity crispness of wine as well as the price – no expensive oak barrels means less expensive production, which means lower price point for the consumer!  Some Unoaked Chardonnays worth trying:

Elderton Unoaked Chardonnay (www.eldertonwines.com.au) – A well-regarded South Australia wine maker – this medium bodied chardonnay has tropical fruit, green apple and mineral notes.

Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay – from Margaret River (south of Perth) West Australia, this chardonnay is positively zesty – Bright flavors of apple, peach, pear and citrus show through nicely with crisp finish that reminds me of the Burgundy Whites from the Macon region – clean, fruity and crisp.

Semillon – Another grape varietal that gets less attention in the US than it does in other parts of the world.   An anchor grape of the famous Bordeaux Blanc wines, Semillon is known to be a lean and fresh wine that subtly wraps complexity inside its lemon/apricot flavors.   Australian Semillon is said to have two lives; young wines are crisp, fresh citrusy wines, then after five years aging there will be complex toast and nutty characteristics – fascinating!   I like Semillons from Hunter Valley New South Wales:

Hope Estate (www.hopeestate.com.au) Hunter Valley Semillon

De Bortoli Wines (www.debortoli.com.au) Hunter Valley Semillon

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Two Ohio Wine Shops – House Wine and Colonial Wine and Beverage

On a recent trip to Ohio, I visited two very well run wine stores with vastly different personalities.   The first shop, in the beautiful early 1800s era town of Worthington, Ohio which serves as a northern suburb of Columbus, is called House Wine (http://www.housewine.biz/).   This shop was planned while owner Donnie was in business school, and as far as I can tell, he deserved good grades in marketing and merchandizing.   The shop is bright, clean and modern from all angles from the floor layout to the shelving – a very inviting space indeed.  The wine selection is mainly aimed at entry level wine customers; although there is a selection of high dollar wines in the back of the store that likely keeps the connoisseurs happy.   Unlike traditional wine shops that divide wines along standard country or grape groupings, House Wine groups wines by characteristics like: Robust, Finesse, Bright or Vivacious.   On my visit, there was an infectious energy about the place with many enthusiastic patrons enjoying the Sparkling Wine tasting of that evening (hosted by Chris Hutchinson of Vanguard Wines, LLC who served a quartet of sparkling wines and Champagne from their boutique listings www.vanguardwines.com).   Continuing along the theme of creating interest in wine, one of House Wine’s distinguishing characteristics is the wine tasting/dispensing machine that permits self-service purchase of 1-3 ounces at a time, of 15+ wines kept temperature controlled and free from oxygen in an attractive, easy to figure out format.   This provides an opportunity to try wines that normally might be too expensive to risk a bottle purchase, but after a taste to confirm with one’s palate, the buying decision is easily settled.  I would like a self-serve dispensing machine like this in all wine shops!

Colonial Wine and Beverage (www.tastewine.com) is equally compelling, yet very different.   Situated about 15 miles east of downtown Cleveland in Chesterfield, Owner Bob Eppich took control of Colonial 12 years ago and since then has enjoyed a steady stream of positive press and “Best Wine Shop” awards.   Although the shop resides in a relatively innocuous suburban mini shopping center, one step in the front door and the multiple “Best Wine Shop” awards are easy to understand – there is so much wine in the store that, other than the exterior walls, no shelving is used because the countless wine cases are neatly stacked in a way that creates aisles of wine.   The huge inventory might be intimidating to most people, but each wine has an easy to read description, so browsing is fun and interesting.   I had endless questions, and Bob Eppich and his knowledgeable staff stood up to my barrage of questions with a smile and lots of great information.   Unlike many wine shops, I got the feeling that every wine in Colonial had been chosen and tasted by the staff, so that anyone working there could give a solid description of the wines in question – very impressive.   Speaking of choosing wines, it appears that Colonial features a number of non-mass-marketed wines that may be little-known but present great value to the Colonial customers, including a number of Napa Cabernets from a négociant (someone who purchases wine from an estate, but then bottles it under a different label with no reference to the original wine maker or source) – I sampled several of these and was highly impressed by what tasted like $100 per bottle cabernet in a $20 bottle – worth seeking if you like serious Napa Cabernet.

In summary – House Wine does a fantastic job in merchandizing and bringing new fans to the world of wine, Colonial Wine delivers a knowledgeable staff, and huge wine selection with competitive pricing.   These are both successful stores that I plan to visit each time I am in Columbus or Cleveland.

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