edited by Sue Courtney
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from an Australian tour
My tour took me to the wine regions of the Goulbourn Valley, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in Victoria, and to McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley and the Clare Valley in South Australia.
This was no wine writer's junket.
Riesling was the star white wine variety of the trip. People who didn't like Riesling before the tour came away loving it. Gorgeous Rieslings came from everywhere. The style is generally drier across the board than we see in NZ and in some added acid was apparent.
Chardonnay was the most disappointing white wine variety. Mediocre styles abounded. My top taste was the Tarrawarra Estate Chardonnay 1999 from the Yarra Valley. A cool climate style, it is rich and yeasty with a lovely complexity, flavours of stonefruits and nectarines with a nutty and spicy oak finish. 30% underwent malo and it spent 11 months in barrel. At A$40 it is hard to compete with the top Kiwi's though.
Marsanne - there was no competition to the Tabilk Marsanne from Victoria's Goulbourn Valley. The 1996 was drinking superbly.
Viognier showed best from Yalumba, the Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2001 smelt of honey and blossoms while apricots, pears and honey with lemon oil and the lift of lime titillated the palate. The richly textured, slightly viscous wine was lovely and warm with excellent length on the lifted finish.
Take someone like D'Arenberg to blend Marsanne and Viognier together. The result is the D'Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne Viognier 2001. This first release has a 65/35 blend of the varieties. It's a vibrant peachy, perfumed, honeysuckle floral wine in a medium style, with a touch of herbs on the lingering, lifted nutty finish. Everyone loved this wine. I guess the 14% alcohol helped. Just A$15 at the cellar door.
Semillon - It is hard to go past the Willows Vineyard Barossa Semillon 2000. It's from a tiny vineyard, with low cropping vines at the top of the Barossa. That little bit of age, the gentle oak handling, the sensational balanced flavours. Yes, this is what Semillon should be like.
Verdehlo is little known in NZ. I do not think it is grown here and what I've seen to date from Aus hasn't inspired me to take pen to paper. But stop in Nagambie in the Goulbourn Valley and you'll come across David Traegar Wines. Now if all Verdehlo tasted like this one we would be hearing much more about this variety. David Traegar Verdehlo 2001 is rich, it's apply crisp, it's full of tropical fruits and has some lovely herbaceousness too. Refreshingly yum.
Sensational reds for under A$20 included Serafino Shiraz 1999 from the McLaren Vale (soon to be released in NZ) and the Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz 1999 from the Clare Valley. Don't believe what you read about the 1999 Australian vintage being no good. Believe you me - it is good. It is just that the wines are not the blockbusters from 1998. But they are seriously drinkable in the nicest possible way.
Best new find came from Kangaroo Island, not tasted on Kangaroo Island but at the Chains of Ponds Winery at the top end of the Adelaide Hills. Kangaroo Island Florance Cabernets 1999 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It is full of juicy cassis with mulberries, plum, mint and leather. "Bloody good", I wrote and bought a bottle to bring home. It cost A$25.
Visiting the Adelaide Hills, I found Australia's best Pinot Noir - the Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2000. This has lovely cherry profiles, with earth, spice, a touch of citrus and a chocolate complexity. Juicy yet elegant, it's long and savoury with good acidity and lovely sweet fruit tannins. Just a totally glorious wine.
We were so spoilt with the top end reds - how can one choose a favourite. Imagine a tasting and lunch at Orlando with St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Centenary Hill Shiraz from 1995 and 1996 and Jacob's Creek Limited Release reds. I just loved the Jacobs Creek Limited Release Shiraz Cabernet 1997 (about A$75).
Or tasting the Grant Burge range of wines with antipasto - something on the platter to accompany each wine. As if the Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 1999 wasn't enough (how this had come along since last tasted 6 months ago), we complete the tasting with the Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre 1998, Shadrach Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and Meshach Shiraz 1998. Awesome.
Wolf Blass wasn't to be outdone. Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 - the Jimmy Watson trophy winner - was sublime. It was the middle wine of a trio of Black Labels.
Up in the Clare we tasted Jim Barry Armagh Shiraz 1999. It had been poured into our glasses 4 hours before we had arrived. It was perfect.
But perhaps my red wine of the tour was the Peter Lehmann Stonewell Barossa Shiraz 1996 - so richly concentrated, vinous and heady. We had tasted the 1998 Eight Songs Shiraz beforehand and were singing eight songs afterwards.
Then there was Rutherglen and the Famous Fortifieds.
Of course one of the best wines of the trip, I have to say, was the one I took to dinner with the 'Axe Murderers'. No, not really axe murderers as wineoftheweek.com columnist Murray Almond explains in his seriously good review of the axe murderers' dinner in Melbourne. Click here to read his story.
As for my wine, it was last week's Wine of the Week, the Stonyridge Larose.
© Sue Courtney
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