People who drink wine with me and who buy wine from me know I’m not a huge fan of Australian red wines. It’s not that they are improperly made, but for me they are a little too fruit forward and lacking in complexity at the ten to twenty dollar level, although some of the more expensive examples can be wonderful.
The whites, however, are a different story. Australia has been able to assimilate grapes from other countries and make wines from them that rival the country from which they arrived. Chardonnay arrived in Australia in the 1920s but became popular in the 1970s, and now it is the most widely planted varietal in the country. Those from the warmer parts of the continent show flavors of melon, vanilla, and peach, while those from cooler areas are citrusy with lime and grapefruit. Yalumba’s “Y” Series Unwooded Chardonnay from South Australia is a great bargain at $10.99, letting the vibrant apple and citrus flavors show without any oak to mask them.
More interesting are the Rieslings. Unlike the U.S and Germany, the Aussies make their Riesling in a dry style. People who appreciate the food friendliness, wonderful aromatics, and beautiful balance of bright fruit, minerality, and acidity found in dry Riesling are often astounded when I lead them from Germany to the Australian section, but they are not disappointed. The best come from the Margaret River and Clare Valley regions. Leeuwin Artist Series at $19.99 rivals any German Trocken, and Jim Berry’s Lodge Hill Dry Riesling may be the best $16.99 dry version of this grape that money can buy.
Verdelho (not to be confused with Spain’s Verdejo) is a grape that is grown in Portugal and is one of the grapes used in Madeira. It has been brought to Australia, and some wineries have done amazing things with a grape that it often unexciting and acidic. Molly Dooker (meaning left handed), which is famous for its full throttle reds, makes a highly extracted, mouth filling version called The Violinist, which is awesome at $22.99. Huge flavors of honeyed melons, tropical fruits, and crisp citrus blend together in a wine with a remarkably creamy texture. This is a wine to seek out and buy if you are looking for something quite special.
Those familiar with French Rhone Valley wines know that Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne grapes can be made into wonderful wines. Viognier, native to the Northern Rhone Valley, is a member of the aromatic white group of grapes, and the wines are very floral on the nose. The wines are rarely oaked, yet are medium to full bodied with vibrant fresh citrus and tropical fruits. Although tricky to grow, the grape does well in Eden Valley and McLaren Vale areas of South Australia. Yalumba does several versions, with its “Y Series” entry level being very good at $10.99. The bottling from Eden Valley, however is outstanding for $19.99 and is especially good with seafood that has big texture and flavor, like scallops or shrimp.
Marsanne produces wines that have aromatics and flavors of dry honey and stone fruit. The acidity tends to be low, so this grape is often blended with other grapes to give it a little more acidity and backbone. D’Arenberg’s The Hermit Crab, at $16.99, is a blend of Viognier and Marsanne that is reminiscent of the southern Rhone with flowers and stone fruit on the nose and tropical fruit and mineral flavors that make it wonderful both with food and on its own.
Finally, Roussanne is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, originating in the Rhone Valley. It does rather well in the Eden Valley, and although it is often blended with Marsanne, it can stand on its own. Yalumba again comes through with a beautiful version, the Roussanne Eden Valley, at $20.99. Full bodied, creamy, and complex with aromas of flowers, blood orange, and biscotti and flavors of pear and citrus with a touch of honey. This wine stands up to food very well and is quite interesting by the glass on the back deck.
If you are making a meal that is calling for white wines, or if you just enjoy a refreshing glass now and then, do not forget Australia. You will definitely be glad you tried them.