To add to my visit with Matt Gant and his offering of different-styled wines from some of of Australia’s young guns, I recently sat down with several other vintners who aren’t content to rely on Shiraz and Chardonnay.
Among the highlights were a distinctly minerally and fetching Pinot Gris and a pitch-perfect Nebbiolo, from two different producers in Adelaide Hills.
There was also a Chardonnay from Margaret River that didn’t taste like its model was Leeuwin Estate. Not that tasting like the best Chardonnay in Australia is bad, but, you know, diversity and all that. And a Sauvignon Blanc that didn’t taste like it wanted to be from New Zealand.
I find that encouraging.
The Pinot Gris came from a new label called Vinaceous, aimed squarely at producing fair value for solidly made wines. I tasted the freshly bottled 2009 vintage, which delivered its peach and melon fruit with generosity. I also tasted a 2009 Verdelho. This is Australia’s workhorse white grape, the one that usually makes forgettable but pleasant white wines for everyday drinking. This one, a blend of grapes from Margaret River and Pemberton, a cool area in Western Australia, had some density and juicy pear and lime flavors. The $18 price tags are a bit high for today’s wine scene, but the quality is there.
Vinaceous is a project involving Margaret River winemaker Michael Kerrigan and his U.S. importer. In 2006 Kerrigan stepped in to buy Hayshed Hill, which had been in receivership. He’s the one who made the Margaret River Chardonnay. His ’08 Hayshed Hill Chardonnay Block 6 comes from a vineyard on the north side of the appellation (Leeuwin is south of town) and it has a different profile, not unlike the classic wines from Pierro. I liked the open texture, and the crisp underpinning of acid to the nectarine, pear and melon flavors.
The Nebbiolo is from Longview, another winery that changed hands recently. Mark Saturno, who had been living in New York, returned to Oz to buy the property, which had earned a reputation for quirky but well made wines. The previous owner, the loquacious Duncan McGillevray, pursued the curious idea of having different outside winemakers known for their expertise in certain grapes make each individual wine. Interesting, but ultimately unwieldy. Duncan still lives on the property, but relinquished ownership.
I liked the Nebbiolo Riserva 2006 for its flavor and structure profile, which reminded me perfectly of the grape's home in Piedmont (Italy). Tangy, with red cherry and loamy earth aromas and flavors, it showed nice length. Not sure it’s worth $58 a bottle, but I approve of the effort.
Much more in line with today’s wine world is Whippet, the Sauvignon Blanc. The 2009 has classic citrus, herb and pear flavors in a delicious, delicate style. It sells for $18. Yakka 2007, the Shiraz, has classic Adelaide Hills structure, much lighter than you might expect from Barossa or nearby McLaren Vale, and a favorable balance of ripe fruit and loamy earth flavors. It goes for $21. I also liked the Cabernet, Devil’s Elbow 2007, very minty but not vegetal, with ripe currant in spades to balance.
Pike’s Clare Valley Rieslings are not exactly new on the scene, and they represent a classic Australian wine style, but it was fun to taste a few back vintages of them. I consistently have rated them in the 88-90 point range, but tasting them non-blind I get the clear impression they improve in the bottle. When they are young, they have Australian Riesling's classic steely structure but don’t show quite the explosive flavors of my highest-rated wines.
The older wines, back to the 2002 vintage, compensated for that with the bottle bouquet and extra flavors that age can bring to Riesling, including lanolin and mineral to go along with a stone fruit character that seems to get more prominent in the bottle. More importantly, the textures got silky to go along with that steely frame. My favorite was the 2002. If you haven’t discovered how well Clare and Eden Valley Rieslings can age, stash a few and find out.
All these wines demonstrate anew that Australia has plenty of good wines in categories it’s not (yet) famous for.
Michael Bonanno — CT — October 14, 2009 9:30pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 14, 2009 10:12pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions