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Aussie Wines that Hit the Mark --- and Miss, Too PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Citara - BT Contributor   
September 2012

Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less

Pix_Vino_9-12There are some things even those of us whose knowledge of The Land Down Under comes mostly from Crocodile Dundee recognize as quintessentially Australian.

Crocodile Dundee, for example. (“That’s a knife!”) Shrimps and barbies (the grill, not the anatomically impossible doll). Aborigines. That weird-looking opera house. Kangaroos. Wallabies. Saying things like “G’day” and “fair dinkum” and “good on ya!” Calling people “mate.” Foster’s beer.

And did you know that Australians have 57 different ways of saying “vomit”?

Good on ya!

To our list of all things Australian we have to add one more: Shiraz, or what the Aussies call Syrah. But this is not a column about Shiraz. This is a column about Australian wines other than Shiraz.

The last few years have not been kind to the Australian wine industry. The economic collapse that devastated most Western economies -- including those of the two biggest foreign consumers of Australian wine, the U.S. and Britain -- caused a drastic drop in sales. The Australian dollar has been high against the U.S. dollar and other currencies, making exports more expensive at a time when affordable wines from Latin America, Spain, and elsewhere have been gaining popularity. There’s also been a glut of Australian wine grapes, which helped drive wine prices down.

But Australian winemakers did a pretty good job screwing themselves, too. Jumping on the bandwagon of the incredibly successful Yellow Tail wines, they flooded the market with millions of bottles of soft, flabby, characterless wines the sole virtue of which were their low price. As consumers grew more sophisticated, they turned to more complex and interesting wines, but not before leaving affordable Australian wines with the (not always justified) reputation as the oenological equivalent of Kool-Aid.

The results of our sampling of not-Shiraz bore that out. I wouldn’t buy either of the red wines we tasted for this column, not when so many reds from Spain, Latin America, California, even France deliver higher quality for the same or less money.

Let’s get them out of the way first. Please. The only drinkable one was the 2008 Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet, a 71/29 percent split of those two grapes (which was perhaps why it made the grade). The vintage is relatively old for an inexpensive wine and it showed in the tasting; its red and black cherry fruit was beginning to fade and be overtaken by tannins and acidity.

Another Cabernet Sauvignon never would have made it out the door of any self-respecting Napa Valley winery. Evans & Tate’s 2010 Split River Cab was a mess, with an earthy, grassy, candied nose, flavors of underripe cherries and plums, and a finish like sucking lemons. Fail.

And speaking of sucking, let’s speak of the nonvintage Gumdale Sauvignon Blanc, a blend of grapes from Australia (86 percent) and New Zealand (14 percent). It too was an aromatic tease, offering scents of green apple, apricot, and tropical fruit with a sturdy lemon-lime backbone. But then I had to go taste it. I could say it was an extremely odd wine -- the richness and viscosity of a ballbuster California Chardonnay with the paint-stripping acidity of turpentine -- but it’s easier to just say it sucks.

You don’t often see a 100-percent Semillon from Australia (or elsewhere) on the market, so the 2011 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon was a rather pleasant surprise. A pleasant wine, too, with lots of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, but with some balancing richness, not an acrid tart bomb.

What’s really ironic is that the best wine of the tasting was a new version of the original “critter wine” that started the whole Australian wine boom: Yellow Tail’s Non-Vintage “Tree Free” Chardonnay. With no oak aging and remarkably low 11.5-percent alcohol, it is crisp and refreshing without searing your taste buds with an acidic blowtorch. And with a little citrus, some apricot, and pear, it’s a clean, simple expression of varietal character. A good deal for six bucks.

One of those Yellow Tail descendants is the 2010 Fish Eye Chardonnay, a wine that will appeal to those who like a slightly fruitier, fuller-bodied, oak-tinged Chardonnay, not to mention one that’s a good value. It tastes of red and green apples and apricots, stiffened by a bit of Meyer lemon acidity, and delivers a long, enjoyable citrus finish.

And that really is fair dinkum, mate.

 

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