Pull out as much kitsch as you can, practice your best Aussie accent and throw some shrimp on the barbie, it’s time to revisit the wonderful reds and whites from Down Under.
The fertile growing regions of Coonawara, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, among others, in the southeast region of the continent-nation have produced well-made, delicious wines for decades. Top varietals include shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon (usually blended with shiraz), merlot, semillon and sauvignon blanc.
Across the way in New Zealand, winemakers recently rode the Aussie tide to make their own mark on the wine world. Sauvignon blancs from Kiwi Country can be gorgeous and astonishingly pure and clean. I rarely find one I don’t like. Other cold-weather varieties such as pinot noir also do well there.
Australia and New Zealand represent a potent onetwo punch with lots of flavor and value for wine fans.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in shiraz and shiraz blends, sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and more requests for unoaked chardonnays,” says Roger Carpenter of Down Under Wines of Chandler.
Good point. One of the knocks against Australian chardonnay for a long time was the heavy use of oak barreling during maturation; it was a style in vogue until the mid-’90s, when interest in wine came on strong and consumers wanted clearer varietal expressions without the weight of wood.
And the popularity continues to grow. Everywhere I go, it’s Yellow Tail this and Lindemans that, which is a good thing. The accessible wines and reasonable prices mean more people are enjoying good wine. I recently sought out a cross section of Aussie and Kiwi chardonnay, sauv blanc, shiraz and others in varying price ranges, and the results were very positive. Here are a few highlights:
Black Opal Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: One of the most recognizable nameplates from Australia and still one of the most consistent. The crimson color with blue hues speaks to earthy shiraz. I like the cherry-prune aromas and flavor and chalky notes. Pair with beef satays and grilled veggies. $8.
Fernleaf 2005 Sauvignon Blanc: Great example of good New Zealand sauv blanc. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks to maximize fruit flavors and aromas, which is packed with ripe melon and grapefruit impressions. The brilliant visual clarity is something to behold. $10.
Wolf Blass Yellow Label 2004 Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia: Yes, it’s an ’04, but it spent some time aging, and mellowing, before wide U.S. distribution in the third quarter of last year. What results from that extra time maturing is a soft, rich wine packed with rich berry and pepper-spice notes. Chew on this with a steak. $12.
Kim Crawford 2005 Unoaked Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand: We mentioned Crawford’s vivid pinot noir last week, and the unoaked chardonnay, too, is a thing of beauty. The tropical and stone fruit impressions spring from the glass. The wine is full and rich without being heavy. Drink on its own or with seafood or chicken. $17.
Tyrrell’s 2004 Lost Block Shiraz, Southeast Australia: Don’t let the screw cap throw you for a loop; this venerable brand knows what it’s doing with the Lost Block line, allowing source grapes to ripen longer than usual. This results in rich, concentrated wines. I love the dark inky fruit and spice characteristics. Pair with lamb or beef. $14.
OK, stop pretending your cat is a koala bear and cool it with the Paul Hogan accent; it’s time to make dinner. Just keep a glass of wine from Down Under handy.
Grey Goose lovers, check this out. The first flavor launched by the venerable vodka maker since its luscious vanilla-flavored spirit hits shelves tomorrow: La Poire, a delicious pear-infused elixir. Early samples show the smooth, full-bodied essence of the fruit. Don’t mix this one. Chill and serve with a pear wedge. $35.
Mark Nothaft will discuss wine and spirits trends Friday on “Sonoran Living
Live,” which begins at 9 a.m. on KNXV-TV (Channel 15).