"Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to show me a great Aussie Cabernet to drink with these steaks," I say to my dining partner, Jeremy Oliver, one of Australia's leading wine writers. We are at The Point in Melbourne, where he has been consulting with the owners to improve their wine list.
Why can't Australia solve the Pinot Noir equation? Oregon has. California has. New Zealand has. But you can count on your fingers the outstanding Pinot Noirs from Oz that we can find in America. I've had several conversations with winemakers, wine writers and folks in the wine business here, and I am convinced that most Aussies haven't a clue what great Pinot Noir is all about.
In the northern Rhône, some of the best-known wineries are right in town. In Burgundy and Bordeaux, even in the southern Rhône, most of the wines are made in village or rural settings. But in Tain-l'Hermitage, such famous names as Chave and Chapoutier built their wineries smack in the middle of houses and offices.
In Barossa, Robert O'Callaghan has attained icon status. And he's done it by steadfastly holding on to a way of life and a way or making wine that, frankly, is out of step with today's world. "I'm a link to a world we don't know," he says, leaning over a long wooden table that dominates his office at Rockford.
On the theory that you can't understand a nation unless you understand the sports it plays, I have been watching the cricket matches on Australian television. They are on late at night because they are playing the World Cup matches in the Caribbean, which is on the other side of the world.
The vines don't look so bad, considering that Australia is suffering its worst drought in memory. The grapes have been picked, for the most part. A warm autumn continues with temperatures in the 70s and 80s under clear skies.
In between tasting wines, some new, some old, most of them pretty darn good, I picked up these bits and pieces of interest to those of us who follow Australian wine. Brian Croser Goes for Pinot: Brian Croser has a 400-head sheep farm near Tunkalilla, way down the Fleurieu Peninsula on the ocean (below McLaren Vale) where he has planted a few acres of Pinot Noir because it reminds him of the Sonoma Coast.
When it comes to stopping up a bottle of wine, the choices go well beyond corks vs. screw caps. Get ready for glass on glass. Maybe. Conventional wisdom, if there is such a thing with this debate, says that screw caps are fine on everyday wines and even white wines you might want to age.
Anyone who thinks all Australian wines are alike should have been tasting with me the past couple of days. At three wineries within greater Adelaide, all of which have achieved outstanding ratings, you couldn't find three more different approaches.
The headline in the Sydney tabloid said that food costs were squeezing Australians' budgets. If my dining experiences the past two nights are any indication, I can see why. I stopped over en route to the wine regions around Adelaide, where I arrived this afternoon.
It's not even light here in Auckland, New Zealand, as I write this at the airport, changing planes for Sydney. I am on my way to Australia to visit some of the top producers and some of the up-and-comers.
Chateau Ste. Michelle thought it had corrected the winemaking errors that held down its 2001 and 2002 red wines , but it took another step backward with the 2004 high-end reds, being released now. The good news is that a preview tasting of the 2005s indicates that the winery will be back on track by the time those wines reach us next year.
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