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harvey steiman at large

Aussie Whites: Some Thoughts on Style

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 21, 2008 2:00pm ET

As I was tasting through a very impressive range of Australian Chardonnays and Rieslings this week, I couldn't help thinking how elegant and refined these wines were.

Granted, these were mostly wines that had scored well in the past with me, such as Leeuwin Estate Art Series from Margaret River, Shaw and Smith M3 from Adelaide Hills and Giaconda from Victoria, with several ringers to keep me honest. But what struck me about the Chardonnays was their crisp acid balance, beautifully modulated fruit and nice hints of minerality. None of them seemed oak-dominated. Big and buttery they were not. Nor were they excessively high in alcohol; the labels listed mostly 13 to 14.5 percent.

The Rieslings, made in Australia's signature dry, steely style, centered their flavors on citrus, often in combination with green apple, floral and mineral notes. Most of them were from Clare and Eden valleys, the two regions best regarded for Riesling. The regional character came through strongly, the Eden Valley wines being more about raw fruit, while the Clares were more about texture and minerality. Alcohols generally stopped at 12 to 13 percent.

The best ones in both categories lingered on the finish like champions. In my book, that's what separates outstanding wines from the nicely tasty. A wine can brim with flavor, but it must strike the sort of balance that gets those flavors into line so they have intensity, and persist after you swallow (or when tasting, spit) to get over the bar for me.

The best Australian whites do it, and in increasing numbers. Yet in the big wine world, this seems to be a fairly well-kept secret. That means the prices, especially for the wines still earning their reputations, are not as high as you might expect for this kind of quality.

Although specific tasting notes will have to wait for publication in our Insider or on this web site's Tasting Highlights, the message for now is simple: Don't ignore Australian Chardonnays and Rieslings, especially if you like wines with elegance that still have the sort of intense flavors that can wake up your taste buds with dinner.

Jason Carey
willow, ny usa —  August 21, 2008 5:05pm ET
I have to tell you that I have been drinking the Wynns 2005 Coonowara Riesling that was on special at the wine store I work at, and it is really really good.. It has a balance and pizazz that makes me keep opening bottle after bottle and it works with so many types of food too.I am a huge fan of Clare and Eden Valley Rieslings, but this Wynns is a revelation value wise, I think wine retailed for 15 bucks. I also love Petaluma, Pewsey Vale, Grosset, Henschke, and D'arenberg's just to name a few others.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  August 22, 2008 11:02am ET
Practically every region in Australia can make very good Riesling, Coonawarra included. Western Australia, especially Frankland River and more generally Great Southern, is also a good source.

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