I just spent the last few weeks in Australia and had the chance to eat and drink so wonderfully well. Tetsuya’s in Sydney was amazing, as was so much of the local fare at other spots. Of course, there was plenty of wine to accompany our meals, and we had a chance to enjoy many special bottles. However, what really stood out as a surprise was how good some of the “old classics” really were.
Much of what we hear about from Australia these days focuses on the new guys, the proliferation of small, family startups that are making some of the best wines from the continent. That’s exciting stuff for sure. But what really caught our eye and captured our palates were the wines of some of the big old firms (whose names are perhaps more recently associated with mergers and acquisitions). Names like Orlando, Seppelt, Penfolds and Peter Lehmann.
Here are some of the wines we really enjoyed:
Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707 1988: Really pretty and classy Cabernet in what we tend to call a "classic" style. This one showed about 20 minutes of a strong dill character (something I’m not known to love), which I attributed to American oak. But this dissipated and left a really noble core of mature fruit and dusty cedar that wasn’t unlike some of the wines from Mondavi and Diamond Creek in the 1970s.
Tyrrell’s Pinot Chardonnay Hunter Valley Vat 47 1989: It weighed in at a bantamweight 12.5 percent alcohol—really "old-style." Wow, what a showstopper. Totally mature but not merely old, it had awesome energy and minerality. Long, lifted and pretty like old Meursault. This is not something I thought I’d say.
Orlando Padthaway Shiraz Lawson’s 1989: This one had a very sweet fruit character and was especially floral. It didn’t have the structure to go any farther but hey, it has made it 20 years and is an awfully fun drink today.
Peter Lehmann Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec Barossa Valley Cellar Collection 1989—Stodart Trophy Winner: What a stunner! No one had any real idea what this would be about, and it delivered huge. So we had another. Both bottles were very lifted in the nose with pretty, floral perfume. Maybe a little VA and brett, but I like those things! Great structure and supercompelling. Reminded me a little of an older Brunello.
Seppelt Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley Dorrien 1991: It continues to rock! Again, you could describe it as more "classic" in style, with leather, cedar, earth, spice and some really pretty mature fruit like currant and black cherry. Nothing at all hard. Continuing with the analogies, this one felt like Dominus Estate from a similar time period.
Wendouree Shiraz-Mataro Clare Valley 1993: From a smaller winery but definitely of the same style. It was bloody, ironlike, deep with coffee, smoke, leather and currant. Its texture was amazingly taut, which gave it great energy while remaining rich. Finished with a long minty note that I sometimes find from Clare Valley.
I should also mention that we paid not more than AUS$100 for any of these and most were less than AUS$80. Considering that we’re talking about well-cellared, blue-chip wines, that's a relative bargain. I came away superexcited to have shared such tremendous wines and had the privilege to look back and see what tremendous quality was being produced at that time. I hope for as much in the future.
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 20, 2008 3:46am ET
Ryan Margolis — Philadelphia PA — May 20, 2008 7:45am ET
Peter Lehmann Wines Ltd — Australia — May 21, 2008 7:17pm ET
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