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harvey steiman at large

New Looks for Rosemount, Lindemans

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 30, 2006 12:49pm ET

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.

Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 31, 2006 7:43am ET
Thank god, I made the mistake of buying half of case of the rosemount shiraz, and I must say it was not fun tasting. I ended up turning it into mulled wine. The wolf blass tho, very nice bang for the buck. Great suggestion Harvey from your previous post.
David A Zajac
August 31, 2006 9:49am ET
The red wine that made me sit up and say "WOW" was the 1990 Rosemount diamond label shiraz. It was one of those eye opening tasting experiences that took me out of the white wine binge I was on at the time and got seriously into reds. The last few times I have had that wine, well, it simply wasn't very good. I can't say its undrinkable, but with all the other value wines out there today, why drink that when there are so many other decent choices that offer more bang for the buck.
Michael Mock
West Des Moines, IA —  August 31, 2006 11:33pm ET
Back in the early 90s, just out of college, I got hooked on wine through Rosemount's Diamond Label Shiraz and its Traminer-Riesling--great taste, easy on the pocketbook. By the late 90s, I stopped buying Rosemount entirely due to its drop in quality.

Just this past weekend, I had the 2001 Rosemount GSM with lamb chops and it was absolutely delicious. Hopefully the lower price point wines will once again shine through as great everday values. Until then, I heartily agree that Wolf Blass is an excellent choice for a good value.
Rick Klotz
Lake —  September 1, 2006 11:42am ET
It seems to me that over the last three years or so all of the $8-$12 Oz Shiraz's have become rather non-descript in general. Not bad, but not anything to get you to sit up and take notice. There are exceptions (Jacobs Creek Reserve, Greg Norman, Wishing Tree, Wolf Blass), but either my palate has changed or they have all adopted the same basic profile...and it's rather ordinary. The net result is more of my $'s at that price point are going to other regions (South America, Washington and Italy) and to other varietals because they are simply a better value and more interesting to my palate.
Dave Joyce
Winston-Salem, NC —  September 1, 2006 1:23pm ET
Harvey,Don't you think that most of this drop in quality of these great old brands is due to the after effects of the massive merger that put all this together and the pressure for "corporate" winemaking? Not to mention the penny pinching, typical post merger "churn and burn" for the sake of the showing more profit on the books that takes place after any type of big merger like this.

Look at all the great talent that bailed, including the Grange master John Duval from Penfolds. I can't count how many new brands I have seen popping up around Australia whose press release says "former Penfolds", or "former Rosemount" winemaker, etc. What's bad for these old brands though, is certainly good for these new ones as some of the new stuff is not only great wine, but also better values than the old.

I echo David Zajac's experience as it was the 1990 Rosemount black diamond label Shiraz that ignited my passion for Aussie Shiraz!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  September 1, 2006 2:48pm ET
The after-effects of the series of mergers that first combined Southcorp with Rosemount, then got it all absorbed into Foster's, of course affected the way the resources were used. In Rosemount's case, my take is that it became a kind of orphan and wasn't getting first dibs on grapes as it had in the past.

While it's true that a lot of talent bailed out during all this corporate shake-out, I'm not sure you can blame Duval's departure on the merger. He's pretty happy doing his own thing. And I certainly can't be critical of Peter Gago, who replaced him at Penfolds. He's making some pretty smart stuff.

My take is that Chris Hatcher, the chief winemaker for the company, knows what he is doing, is building a great staff, and I expect the wines to take a step or two up in coming years. Stay tuned.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  September 1, 2006 3:59pm ET
I love Rosemount GSM. Just bought a case of 2002 at half price. Their Diamond Label wines aren't anywhere near the same quality. I haven't had any Lindemann's that I would rave about. In general, wineries that try to capitalize on their name and fame with low-end sub-brands (like Mondavi) do themselves and consumers a disservice.
Alan J Riegel
columbus,ohio —  September 2, 2006 1:16pm ET
Perhaps your magazine could focus on many of the newer import companies, that have discovered the "new talent" coming out of Australia. Wines currently being imported under the "Southern Starz" company (Ken Onish) are simply astonishing in terms of their quality for the price.With the exception of Bleasdale and Tait wineries many of this importers discoveries seem to have slipped under the radar.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  September 2, 2006 10:56pm ET
I am always on the lookout for new talent in all the regions I write about. Among the other Southern Starz wines I have scored in the 90s in the past couple of years are Cascabel, Craneford, Langwood, Oliverhill, Passing Clouds, Ross Estate and Water Wheel. Not exactly under the radar, that.
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  October 31, 2006 2:54pm ET
The Rosemount 2001 is incredible. Do your homework on the 2002. Somethings wrong when Trader Joe's has it for $10.00. Sure enough a cool wet season in the Mclaren Vale, and the resulting vegetive,green,austere wine is no surprise. Feel sorry for the fella who bought some.

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