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…