Conventional wisdom says that Australia does great at Shiraz and pretty well at Cabernet. But Merlot? Pinot Noir? Not on the radar. Especially, you might think, at the low end.
So explain this. I am blind-tasting through a lot of low- to mid-priced reds as I prepare my next Australia red wine report, which Wine Spectator will publish in the fall. The high-volume wine brands from the big companies such as Foster's, Yalumba and Orlando-Wyndham seem to be doing better with Merlot and Pinot Noir than they are with Shiraz.
I can't tell you the exact scores before they are published, but try these tidbits for standing conventional wisdom on its head:
My favorite 2004 wine from Wolf-Blass Yellow Label, a $12 workhorse brand for Foster's, is the Merlot. My top '04 from Wyndham Estate, a $10 brand, is the Pinot Noir. I like the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 better than the Shiraz from Oxford Landing, Yalumba's mass-market brand. And my two favorite offerings from The Little Penguin, an $8 Foster's brand it got via the Rosemount acquisition, are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pinot Noir, both 2005s.
In each case, these wines rated in the very good range and outscored the same brand's Shiraz.
My theory is that these big companies make so many higher-priced wines from Shiraz that those more expensive brands get first dibs on all the good Shiraz grapes. They don't make as many Merlots or Pinot Noirs, so a higher-quality level of grape can find its way into the low-priced brand.
I tried out this theory on Chris Hatcher, the chief winemaker for Foster's. He agreed immediately. "No question about it," he says. "We have fewer places to put Pinot Noir and Merlot. Every winemaker is fighting over the good lots of Shiraz."
I could not have said this with a straight face only two or three years ago, but if you want the most bang for your buck in that $8 to $12 range, try the Merlots and Pinot Noirs. Until recently, Australian growers didn't produce enough decent grapes of those varieties. Now they seem to have figured it out, at least to the extent that they can make appealing wines from them.
The good wines in this price range tend to show juicy textures and bright, lively fruit character. That plays into the hands of Merlot and Pinot Noir. And Grenache. I like Rosemount's Diamond Label Shiraz-Grenache better than its straight Shiraz these days.
It's not that the low-end Shirazes are bad, but in that under-$12 category I find I prefer what the independent guys are doing with Shiraz, such as Wishing Tree, Redbank The Long Paddock, Razor's Edge and Nine Stones. Among the big guys, Penfolds Koonunga Hill still does well with Shiraz. Maybe Penfolds' winemakers get their hands on better Shiraz than their Foster's stablemates.
Rick Klotz — Lake — June 30, 2006 9:24am ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — June 30, 2006 10:45am ET
William S Weld — Boynton Beach, FL — July 1, 2006 7:01pm ET
Peter Ventura — St. Helena — July 2, 2006 1:52pm ET
Phil Priolo — San Francisco, CA — July 4, 2006 2:28pm ET
Michael Rubin — St. Helena — July 10, 2006 5:20pm ET
Alex Cobb — Fort Worth, TX — July 13, 2006 3:14pm ET
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