Don’t be surprised if your favorite local sommelier suggests an Australian Pinot Noir, or maybe a nice glass of Down Under Sauvignon Blanc. The country’s wines other than Shiraz and Chardonnay apparently are making quite the impression in a series of six intensive immersion programs designed to “explore the less well-known corners of Australia’s viticultural landscape.”
Run by Mark Davidson, a former sommelier himself, the programs target restaurant pros in eight cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A resident of Vancouver, Canada, Davidson addresses the West Coast cities.
The program started in August with Riesling and Pinot Noir, and continued in September with sparkling wines, crisp whites and rosé. Upcoming sessions cover Grenache and fortifieds, Cabernets and blends, and a final comparative blind tasting of Australian wines with global equivalents. The examples include current and older vintages.
The sommeliers’ reactions to the first few sessions underlines how much some of them have to learn about Oz. “The Pinot Noirs shocked them. They were surprised at how refined and elegant they were,” Davidson reported. “Some of them said they expected fruit bombs with lashings of oak. None showed that.”
The Pinots on the table are among my favorites in Oz, all from cool climate areas around Melbourne in Victoria: Bindi Composition 2007 from Macedon Ranges, Kooyong Meres 2005 from Mornington Peninsula and Yering Station Reserve 2006 from Yarra Valley. The Rieslings in that session weren’t too shabby, either, including Grosset Polish Hill 2008 from Clare Valley and Pewsey Vale Contours 2003 from Eden Valley.
Wines like that have been around for a while, but clearly if sommeliers have missed them, the rest of us have a ways to go. That’s understandable, as we all grapple with a wine world that’s evolving fast. Outstanding wines are coming from places that weren’t on the map a generation ago.
For example, why should a sommelier even think of Australia Sauvignon Blanc when all the buzz is about New Zealand, California and of course the Loire in France? Maybe because there’s something about Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc from Adelaide Hills (shown in session 3) that’s unlike anything from elsewhere. It’s one of my go-to Aussie whites, and I can understand why the participants flipped over it. All the more fun for us, their customers, when they share their excitement over it with us.
That’s why the Australia wine industry has taken on the task of putting their less obvious wines in front of the gatekeepers. The wines can speak for themselves. Those of us who know the wines already understand how good they are, how their flavor and texture profiles deliver distinctive character. Even with Shiraz, which presumably the sommeliers knew about going in, the sommeliers were impressed with the balance and purity of fruit in wines such as John Duval, Mount Langi Ghiran and Langmeil Freedom.
This whole program seems designed to combat the prevailing notion that Australia makes nothing but big, oaky, overripe Shiraz. It's nice to see that the full range of wines Oz can do well is getting more currency.