G’day mates! Welcome to the land down under. Australia has a long history producing wines. Vines arrived on the continent with the First Fleet of British prisoners in 1788 and Australia has continued producing wine ever since. Australia’s appellation system is called Geographical Indications (GI’s). They indicate geographical boundaries and nothing more. Australia has six GI’s: Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and also South Australia which encompasses much of the land across South West Australia.
Today, Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in volume, behind Italy, France, and Spain. The state of South Australia annually produces over 50% of the nation’s wine, and five of Australia’s six largest wine groups are headquartered there. It has earned its title as the wine state.
South Australia was settled by German immigrants in the 1840s. Many of these immigrants had already been involved in viticulture in Germany and took vine cuttings with them to plant in their new home. Because South Australia is more remote and has lighter soils, it escaped the blight of phylloxera which affected much of Australia as well as the world. In fact, South Australia remains one of the few wine producing regions of the world where phylloxera never struck.
The wine state of South Australia is divided into 8 zones with unique weather, elevations, and soil types affecting each zone and allowing a range of beautiful wines to be produced. Barossa is one of Australia’s most celebrated wine regions, the source of some of Australia’s finest wines, and the heart of the Australian wine industry. Most large companies are based here. Typically the wines are opaque, dense, heavily extracted and full of dark fruit and chocolate flavors.
Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles ($17.99) is made in a style emulating wines made in the Rhone Valley. Old vine Grenache, Mataro, and Shiraz and aged entirely in stainless steel. 60% Grenache and 20% each of Shiraz and Mataro. “Bright red. Sexy aromas of candied red berries, spicecake, anise and rose, along with a sneaky note of white pepper. Refreshingly brisk redcurrant and strawberry flavors give way to deeper cherry and put on weight while retaining urgency. There’s a pinot-like precision here that’s very suave, and the finish is brisk, focused and very persistent. I could drink this all day.” – Stephen Tanzer
Yalumba is Aboriginal for all the land around. Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family owned winery and is a unique winery because of the fact that they craft their own barrels for aging their wines. Yalumba The Octavious ($89.99) is matured in French and American oak octaves of 100 liter capacity. It is the only red wine in the world that is matured in such small barrels.
Yalumba FDR1a ($32.99) Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend. ”In 1974 Yalumba created an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend known simply as FDR1A. The wine soon became a legend in winemaking circles, appreciated both for its fruit expression and restrained power. Vintage 2008 Fine Dry Red 1A is a continuing example of Yalumba’s commitment to, and mastery of, the quintessential Australian red wine that is Cabernet and Shiraz. Aged for 13 months in French & Hungarian Oak barrels which were hand-made in our own cooperage, FDRIA is a testament to winemaking craftsmanship.” -Yalumba Winery
Penfolds 389 ($45.99) – Penfolds is a winery most known for Penfolds Grange Hermitage, a wine with the first vintage being produced in 1951, considered to be Australia’s “first growth” and most collectible wine. Penfolds 389 combines the structure of Cabernet with the richness of Shiraz with a reputation for consistency and longevity and has earned its well deserved moniker of “baby Grange” from time spent maturing in oak hogsheads used the previous vintage for Grange.
Two Hands – Bella’s Garden ($69.99) – “ The ‘two hands’ are Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz who formed the company in 1999 with the clear objective of making the best possible shiraz based wines from prized shiraz producing regions within Australia. In 2000 they started with just 17 tonnes of fruit from the McLaren Vale and Padthaway wine regions. From the beginning the wines were very well received at home and abroad with a healthy stream of reviews, culminating in 2004 with Robert M. Parker pronouncing Two Hands as ‘the finest negociant operation south of the equator.’ Since the winery opened, Two Hands success has gone from strength to strength with numerous accolades defining the culture of the organisation. Two Hands Wines were listed in the Wine Spectator Top 100 for the last seven years with two listings in the top 10, the 2005 Bella’s Garden Barossa Valley Shiraz at #5 and most recently the 2008 Bella’s Garden Barossa Valley Shiraz at #2. Consistent 90+ reviews from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, James Halliday’s Wine Companion, Wine Spectator and the UK Decanter magazine is further testament to the company’s ability to capture the terroir of each vineyard and carefully nurture the characteristics of each parcel.” - Two Hands Winery
Eden Valley is also in Barossa. Riesling is the most important white grape (and wine) of the region, initially developing fragrant yet strong lime juice aromas with great intensity of flavor on the palate.
Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling ($14.99) – “With an altitude varying between 485 metres and 500 metres, Pewsey Vale sits 250 metres above the Barossa Valley floor. The cooler temperatures found at this height encourage a longer ripening period which extends well into autumn. This longer ripening period is essential for producing superior quality grapes with exceptional flavour and character – hallmarks of Pewsey Vale wines. Block to block variation enables winemakers to select from separate parcels of fruit to tailor wines to the Pewsey Vale style, ensuring consistency from vintage to vintage.
The planting material at Pewsey Vale is the Pewsey Vale Clone, which was planted in Eden Valley in the 1800′s and can be traced back to some of the original vine cuttings brought into Australia by James Busby. Any new plantings at Pewsey Vale are propagated from the original vines.
Pewsey Vale Riesling flavour profiles range from fresh grapefruit and limes to lemons in cooler years, with hints of tropical fruit – mainly passionfruit tending towards pineapple. The palate is long and finishes crisp with high natural acidity. With bottle age, the flavours develop elegantly moving towards toast, orange blossom and honey, yet retaining the classic fresh citrus lift and palate weight that is the hallmark of Pewsey Vale Riesling.” Negociants USA Importer
Heggies Vineyard Chardonnay ($19.99) “Heggies could be called viticultural “struggle country”. The winters are cold and wet, summers mild but very dry and the soils are thin and gravely on well drained slopes. This gives low yields but consistently produces grapes of outstanding flavour intensity. There are seven different selections of Chardonnay in Heggies Vineyard with three favoured Burgundian variants comprising the majority of the vines. The vines are shy bearing, giving grapes of intense flavour. Hand picking and gentle whole bunch pressing minimises the extraction of tannins and preserves natural fruit aromas. A pale straw with green tints, this wine shows great intensity on the nose, with fruits such as nectarine and white peach complemented by subtle nuances of fine-grained French oak. Line and length on the palate are the hallmarks of an outstanding Chardonnay and the Heggies Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 has those in abundance. The palate opens with fleshy stone and barrel ferment with further flinty textural complexity given by the wild yeasts. The wine will peak in 5 to 7 years and will continue to offer pleasure and interest for at least 10 years.” Negociants USA Importer
Mclarenvale is another region within South Australia. It is home of the small winery and is predominantly a red wine region focusing on Cabernet and Rhone varietals. Grenache, Shiraz, and mouvedre (mataro) are typically blended with a rich textural full body and tend toward jam or dried fruit flavors.
Two Hands Cabernet Sauvignon Sexy Beast ($34.99) - 91 points The Wine Spectator: “Ripe and supple, offering a velvety mouthful of blueberry, dark plum and currant flavors, shaded with hints of smoky meat and roasted herbs. Finishes with intensity. Drink now through 2017. 1,250 cases imported.”
The Limestone Coast in South Australia has a cool maritime influence over much of its vineyards and is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon grown on terra rossa soil. Coonawarra is an Aboriginal word meaning “honeysuckle.” Well drained, bright red Coonawarra soil is found in a tiny cigar shaped strip of land and can give the wines elegance, soft tannins, red fruit, and eucalyptus notes.
Jim Barry The Cover Drive ($17.99). “The combined efforts of many outstanding grape growers and talented winemakers have ensured that Coonawarra has produced wines of a truly unique style and quality. Accounting for less than 1.5% of Australia’s total wine production, these wines are now generally recognized as being amongst the greatest in the world.This wine is bright plum in color with purple tints. The nose shows intensely complex characters of blackcurrant and cedar spice. This is followed on the palate by an eruption of fruit flavors -primarily dark cherry and blackberry, with a distinctive Coonawarra cassis character. The tannins are fine grained and supple and the wine has a long, integrated finish.” – Jim Barry Wines
Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon The Cigar Coonawarra ($19.99) – 90 points Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar: “Opaque ruby. Powerful aromas of cassis, cherry pit, sassafras and tobacco and dried rose, with a subtle vanilla quality in the background. Smooth, sappy and well-focused, offering juicy dark berry flavors that are braced by tangy acidity. Tannins build with air and add grip and focus to a long, dark berry-dominated finish. You could easily drink this now but it has the depth to age.”
With so many different styles of wine made in South Australia, this is a great region to taste and explore all of the different options. Have fun trying them all!
Beki Miller, Beltramo’s Wine Consultant