Australia….really cool!

I travelled recently to the state of Victoria in Australia.  I had one goal in mind: to taste wines made by small makers in the cool districts of Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley. My mission was to see if these winemakers could change my perceptions of Aussie wines from big, over-ripe, monochromatic and ultimately tiresome to something more appealing, whatever that might be.

I remember vividly my first taste of Australian Shiraz many years ago.  It was a modestly-priced wine named Waterwheel Shiraz.  This wine is offered by LCBO Vintages every year and is popular and attractively priced.  I recall enormous ripeness on the palate, dark fruit and chocolate, spice and the appealing power and drinkability of that wine.

Despite these attractive elements, the wine was problematic: it didn’t have much complexity, it seemed to overpower the food and it gave me a headache shortly after dinner: it simply had too much alcohol. Since then I have tasted many more Australian Shiraz wines at various price-points and they have all left me uninspired with their sameness. These wines are typically from the hotter regions of Australia where the fruit ripens to very high sugar levels, and the resulting wine shows high levels of alcohol, enormous flavor concentration and a sweet palate.  Many people love these wines but there are signs that tastes and markets are starting to shift.

There is currently more Australian wine made than there is a market for. In Ontario Australian wine sales in the Vintages program declined in dollar value in 2009 -2010 and the LCBO projects this trend will continue in 2010-2011 with the decline led by red wines.  There have been calls within the Australian wine industry for radical uprooting of vines where economics or quality don’t justify continued cultivation. Some major players, such as Constellation Brands and Fosters Group, have sold Australian properties and  recorded write-downs on their balance sheets to properly value assets that have depreciated due to over–production.

Despite these trends major efforts are underway in Australia to move up market and better exploit the potential of distinctive wines of character and complexity made by craft winemakers throughout the country.

This is where my journey bore fruit, so to speak.  I visited several small properties in Victoria and I was astounded by the wines I tasted.  The wines were made from fruit grown in slow-ripening cooler regions and were delicate and full of fruit, acid and minerals.  Many were Old World in their style, and stand up well against some of the great wines of the world – astounding!

Many of these wines can be found in your local Vintages store.  They come from places like the Yarra Valley in Victoria, Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills in Southern Australia and  the cooler parts of Western Australia, on the coast of the Southern Ocean.  Look for these wines.  They are notably different – more elegant, more structured, more balanced and complex – than the wines from the hot regions.  Ask your product consultant for cool climate Australians

Selected wines available in LCBO Vintages locations

These wines are excellent examples of the cool climate style I found when I visited Australia.

Tasmania – Josef Chromy Riesling 2008

This wine is a beauty – just off-dry and full of juicy fruit.  It has bright aromas of lime, pear and green apple.  The palate is medium-bodied and luscious with flavours of lime, grapefruit, green apple and spice. It has oodles of juicy acid so it is a perfect food wine to accompany your Christmas turkey. The finish is long and rich with stony minerals. Your guests will love this wine.

Product 162966 – $20.60 per bottle

Victoria – Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2009

This wine is made by a premium producer from a blend of grapes grown in the state of Victoria. It has great structure and is attractively priced.  The nose is assertive and earthy showing black cherry aromas, black loam, smoke and spice. The mouth feel is firm and medium/full-bodied with sleek tannins.  The black cherry flavours are concentrated and accompanied by beet root, intense spice and stony minerals.  This wine is no light weight but it is elegant and refined – another great wine to serve with your turkey.

Product 178897 – $21.95 per bottle

Western Australia, Frankland River – Ferngrove Shiraz 2007

I had to include a cool-climate Shiraz in this tasting and here I found one that reminds me of an elegant Syrah from the Northern Rhône valley in France.  It is lean, structured and full of spicy black fruit. The nose and palate show the classic Shiraz/Syrah character of smoke, savoury meats, forest floor, blackcurrant and black pepper.  There is some chocolate to remind us this is an Aussie Shiraz but there are firm tannins, stony minerals and medium acidity to let us know this is a wine made with slow-ripening fruit from a cooler climate. Decant for an hour before serving.

Product 90282 – $19.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Photograph: Willow Creek in Mornington Peninsula.

This article originally published in Humber Happenings Fall 2010 issue. Copyright© W. John Switzer 2010

Author: John Switzer

I am wine writer, educator and tour guide. From 2005 to June 2014 I published a bi-weekly newsletter, the Winesights Vintages Newsletter (WVN). This Newsletter was closed in July 2014 when the Government of Canada put in place the onerous administrative requirements of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation. The legacy of WVN continues on this blog spot where I post wine-related articles as well as reviews of a small selection of best-value wines from each bi-weekly LCBO Vintages release. I hold the WSET Diploma, I am a WSET Certified Educator, I teach in the WSET program at the Independent Wine Education Guild in Toronto where I am the past Director of the WSET Diploma program. Since 2010 I have been a judge at Decanter World Wine Awards on the Rhône panel and I am a member of the Society of Wine Educators.

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