Time was, Rosemount and Lindemans were near-iconic names. Their wines introduced a great many Americans to how good Australia can be. They offered modestly priced wines that sang a lilting tune of fresh fruit, with a smooch of sweet oak.
I know a lot of people who latched onto Australian wine when they opened their first bottle of Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz. In the early 1990s, it was a revelation, a mouthful of big, juicy berry and plum flavors, rounded out with a lovely balance of spicy oak. The wine sold for eight or nine bucks at discount, and our dirty little secret was that it tasted better than a lot of wines that cost twice as much.
Even more Americans found out about Oz with a five- or six-dollar bottle of Lindemans Chardonnay Bin 65. The style in the '80s and '90s was a revelation, fruit forward, barely touched by oak, silky smooth, and dry as a bone (unlike a lot of inexpensive California wines). Lindemans made some 2 million cases of it.
Both brands are now part of Foster's Wine Estates, the giant drinks company that owns Beringer, Wolf Blass, Penfolds and a long list of other well-known brands. I am not the only one who noticed that, even as the wines continued to sell, they didn't seem to have the pizzazz they once did. It's been a long time, for example, since Rosemount Shiraz scored 90 points, as it used to do regularly when it was the flagship wine of a booming independently owned company.
The more expensive wines in Rosemount's line, especially the GSM and Balmoral Syrah, haven't flagged at all. But at other price points, other brands in Fosters' own portfolio were performing better. Wolf Blass outperforms Rosemount in the $10-$12 range. And the Little Penguin consistently outdoes Lindemans in the low range.
This has not escaped notice at Foster's, whose chief winemaker Chris Hatcher is as sharp as they come. New winemaking teams have revamped the wines, and the company has redesigned the bottles and labels. I haven't tasted the wines yet, but the news from Foster's is promising. In an e-mail, Lisa Klink-Shea, who handles public relations in the U.S. for the wine company, describes the plans for Rosemount, which has been steadily losing market share:
"As part of the renewed effort behind this brand we are ... securing the grape sourcing needed to return the wines to the consistent high quality and the fresh, mouth filling profile that made them popular for so many years," Klink-Shea writes. "Winemakers Charles Whish and Matthew Koch have spent months on this project, identifying new vineyards for each varietal and keeping grape selection focused and specific."
The new Rosemount will keep the diamond label, with a twist to the bottle:
"The proprietary package will feature a diamond base that tapers upward to a traditional, round shouldered bottle. Early consumer response to the innovative new bottle has been extremely positive, and we are excited to introduce it to a broad audience of US wine enthusiasts in late winter/spring, 2007. The brand will also be simpler to navigate – with the full portfolio of current offerings going from five tiers to three in the US to include: the Diamond tier, the Show Reserve collection and the Flagship range. These tiers will be introduced here in stages, starting with the Diamond wines."
Lindemans will get an injection of new wines from, of all places, South Africa:
"The wines will be sourced exclusively from the Robertson Valley, one of South Africa’s most prized growing areas, situated in the Breede River Valley and known for its lime-rich soils and an almost perfect Mediterranean climate. Australian winemaker Peter Taylor will lead the charge crafting the new wines in collaboration with South African winemaker Abe Rossouw of Roodezandt Winery. Taylor believes pairing the Lindemans style with South African grapes is a great marriage -- yielding wines with marked elegance and complexity that also remain true to their locality. Comprised initially of Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz, the Lindemans South Africa range will arrive in the U.S. next month, with full distribution expected in early 2007. We think they’ll be a great way for people to comfortably explore an exciting “new” wine region with a wine brand they’ve grown to trust."
The news comes as Foster's posted a 22 percent gain in second-half profits, mostly on its beer brands. But the wine division posted an 82 percent increase in revenues. The stock price was up in trading on rumors of takeover bids by the brewing giants InBev and SABMIller.