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Australia's Reds Roll On

Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet lead the pack
Harvey Steiman
Posted: October 8, 2003

Most of Australia's finest reds are Shiraz-based, but other grapes contribute.
Australian Geography 101
Top Wines from Australia
Smart Buys from Australia
Best Values from Australia

Australia has firmly established itself as the No. 2 import source for wine in the United States, outpacing France, Spain and Chile and taking aim at Italy for the top spot. Its success is largely based on its ripe, gutsy red wines. Of the wines reviewed in the past year in Wine Spectator, some seven of 10 are red.

That's not surprising. Shiraz is Australia's most familiar wine, and the best ones can match up well against the world's great reds. For the most part, Shiraz dominates the list of top-rated wines in this report, which comprises all the Australian reds reviewed since my last annual look (Sept. 30, 2002). The champ is Penfolds Grange 1998 (99 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, $205), an astonishing wine that gathers up its rich flavors and seems to suspend them in midair forever. In all, I blind-tasted more than 650 Australian reds, with Shiraz-based wines accounting for three out of four that rated 90 points or higher. But there's more than Shiraz to consider. Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache figure in a fast-growing crowd of wines, many of them from producers whose names are new to Americans. A scattering of wines made of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Mourvèdre fill out the top ranks.

Although Australian growers have suffered big swings in quantity, the wines likely to show up on the shelf have delivered on quality. There are no bad vintages to avoid. Most of the reds in this report are from the 2000 and 2001 harvests, both of which were concentrated in flavor by low rainfall in the prime growing regions of South Australia and Victoria.

Australia has 400,000 acres of vineyard, about 20 percent less than has California, planted across an expanse several times the size of California. The widely separated growing regions have distinctly different climates and soils, giving rise to a diversity of wine styles. (For more on Australia's wine geography, see Australian Geography 101.)

Many wines are blends of grapes grown in disparate regions, or of multiple grape varieties. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon often make appealing partners in a blend. Grenache, either alone or in blends with Shiraz and Mourvèdre, looks like the next hot thing, if it isn't there already. Australian Merlot, once thin and weedy, has recently emerged as worthy of attention -- if the price is right.

In the end, that's what most of us are looking for -- wines that are better than their prices would suggest. That's why I organized this tasting report by cost. Decide how much you want to spend, then seek the standouts in that category.

The low end, less than $10, can deliver pleasant, fruity wines, some with surprising intensity. Rather than succumbing to clever labels, look for blue-chip producers with a track record of

making clean wines. Try Oxford Landing Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Australia 2000 (87, $9), smooth in texture, with ebullient plum and berry flavors; Lindemans Shiraz South Eastern Australia Bin 50 2002 (86, $8), fleshy, peppery and full of berry; or Stonehaven Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2001 (84, $6), bright with raspberry.

In the $10 to $20 range, it's possible to find some reds with outstanding (90 points or higher) ratings, including Yangarra Park Shiraz McLaren Vale Appellation Series 2001 (91, $17), from Kendall-Jackson's new Australian venture. A serious Shiraz, built to last, it unleashes a sluiceful of fruit, with blackberry, plum and a wee touch of peppermint. The winery's Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, at the same price, is almost as good (90).

Lesser-known regions can emerge as stars in this price range. Out past McLaren Vale to the southeast, in Langhorne Creek, Lake Breeze and Bleasdale both do very nicely with Cabernet-Shiraz blends. Lake Breeze's muscular Bernoota 2000 (91, $19) drips with peppery red berry, currant, mineral and dusky spice, and Bleasdale's surprisingly refined Shiraz-Cabernet 2001 (89, $12) offers great value with its lovely cherry, berry and mint flavors.

Wines made from Grenache have an entirely different aroma and flavor profile. One standout in this price range is Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2002 (88, $15), with its strawberry and raspberry flavors on a velvety texture. Grenache is the predominant grape in the red St. Hallett Gamekeeper's Reserve Barossa 2002 (87, $13), which is finessed with Mourvèdre, Shiraz and Touriga and is redolent of raspberry and rose petal.

Stepping up to the $20 to $30 category finds more outstanding Shiraz, including Chateau Reynella Shiraz McLaren Vale Basket Pressed 2000 (91, $28), which is plush and beautifully proportioned while packing in plenty of blueberry, plum, anise and vanilla flavors. You will also find a greater percentage of excellent Cabernet blends, some serious Cabernet Sauvignons and several special wines involving Grenache.

Cabernets include the new Marquis Philips McLaren Vale S2 2001 (90, $23), from the partnership of famed winemaker Sparky Marquis and U.S. importer Dan Philips. This ripe, creamy red, generous with raspberry and cherry flavors, folds in all kinds of floral, peppery grace notes. Marquis Philips also rolled out the ripe, smoky and exotic Shiraz McLaren Vale 9 2001 (92, $30). Among the Cabernet-Shiraz blends is Penfolds Bin 389 2000 (90, $26), remarkable for its elegance and its pepper- and licorice-scented blackberry and cherry flavors.

One of the best Grenache blends in this price range is Rosemount McLaren Vale Barossa Valley GSM 2000 (91, $30), showing spicy, floral raspberry, blackberry and plum flavors on firm, fine bones.

The same $30 can buy several other top-notch collectibles, including Fox Creek Shiraz McLaren Vale Short Row 2001, which rates 91 points for its broad, generous flavors, and Rosemount Traditional 2000, a remarkably refined Bordeaux-style blend using grapes from McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek and rating 90 points. Dominique Portet, who made outstanding Shiraz for years at Taltarni, has an eponymous label now, and he packed a lot of gorgeous flavor into a deft frame in his Shiraz Heathcote 2000, earning 91 points.

Among the luxury bottlings with the highest ratings, Shiraz dominates. Familiar names include the well-buffed Penfolds Barossa Valley RWT 2000 (95, $69), dazzling for its aristocratic character; Jim Barry Clare Valley The Armagh 2000 (94, $100), a ripe and powerful but ultimately seductive wine; and d'Arenberg McLaren Vale The Dead Arm 2000 (93, $65), with its beautifully focused flavors.

But some relatively new faces are worth seeking out. These include the extraordinarily rich and spicy Forefathers McLaren Vale 2001 (94, $19), made by Aussie expat Nick Goldschmidt, who makes wine in California for Allied Domecq's properties. Two Hands McLaren Vale Lily's Garden 2001 (94, $40), layered with sumptuous fruit and exotic spices, is one of several appellation-specific bottlings from a partnership that debuted with the 2000 vintage. In its second vintage, Wolf Blass Barossa Platinum Shiraz 1999 (93, $75) is almost as plump and generous as the stunning 1998 version.

The only wines to break up this hegemony of Shiraz at the top are the remarkable Grenaches of Clarendon Hills Vineyard. Owner-winemaker Roman Bratasiuk bottles his favorite vineyards separately; all are from the Clarendon Hills above McLaren Vale, all are exemplary. Highest rated from the 2001 vintage, recently imported, are the tangy and amazingly complex Kangarilla (95, $38) and the always ravishing Romas (95, $62), enormously rich and layered.

Editor at large Harvey Steiman is Wine Spectator's lead taster of the wines of Australia.

Top Wines

Wine Score Price
PENFOLDS Shiraz South Australia Grange 1998 99 $205
Powerful and unexpectedly refined, with black cherry, blackberry, exotic spice, mineral, pepper and gamy notes.
CLARENDON HILLS Grenache Clarendon Kangarilla Vineyard 2001 95 $38
Bright and tangy, with blackberry, cherry, mineral and chocolate flavors that last beautifully on the velvety finish.
CLARENDON HILLS Grenache Clarendon Romas Vineyard 2001 95 $62
Rich and layered in flavor, offering black cherry, blackberry, plum and wild raspberry character on a refined frame.
PENFOLDS Shiraz Barossa Valley RWT 2000 95 $69
Rich, noble red that wears its subtle cherry, blackberry, chocolate, pepper and sweet spice flavors on a polished frame..
TWO HANDS Shiraz Barossa Valley Ares 2001 95 $90
An explosion of black cherry, plum and exotic spices, with peppermint, licorice and toasty notes on the finish.
JIM BARRY Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 2000 94 $100
Big, ripe and powerful, but ultimately seductive, offering velvety texture and rich plum, cherry, pepper and sweet leather.
FOREFATHERS Shiraz McLaren Vale 2001 94 $19
Extremely rich and spicy, with ultraripe blueberry, plum and currant fruit flavors that persist on the plush finish.
TWO HANDS Shiraz McLaren Vale Lily's Garden 2001 94 $40
Rich and spicy, with ripe blackberry, blueberry and exotic spice flavors. Oak flavor is balanced by sumptuous fruit.

Smart Buys

Wine Score Price
PIRRAMIMMA Shiraz McLaren Vale 2000 92 $21
Bright, distinctive and stylish. Firm-textured, with ripe blackberry, cherry and dusky spice, shaded with spicy oak.
PETER LEHMANN Clancy's Barossa 2001 91 $20
Generous and plush, with plum, blackberry, vanilla, white pepper and cream. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
YANGARRA PARK Shiraz McLaren Vale Appellation Series 2001 91 $17
A rich flood of fruit, with powerful blackberry, plum and a touch of peppermint, all echoing through the long finish.
D'ARENBERG Shiraz McLaren Vale The Footbolt Old Vine 2001 90 $18
Bright, with delicious blackberry and cherry and subtle touches of anise and pepper weaving through the long finish.
LEASINGHAM Shiraz Clare Valley Bin 61 2000 90 $21
Focused and lively, with blackberry, raspberry, mocha and black pepper flavors, echoing beautifully on the finish.
NINTH ISLAND Pinot Noir Tasmania 2002 90 $15
Bright, polished and refined, with berry, cherry, mineral and spice flavors, lingering effortlessly on the finish.
ROSEMOUNT Shiraz Mudgee Hill of Gold 2001 90 $17
A vibrant wine with crisp blackberry, plum and vaguely leafy-herbal flavors that persist beautifully on the finish.
TWO HANDS Shiraz McLaren Vale Angel's Share 2002 90 $20
Dark and juicy, with black cherry, blackberry and spice, echoing with white pepper, supple but lively with acidity.
BLEASDALE Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon Langhorne Creek 2001 89 $12
Beautifully built, with a sense of refinement to the finely graded cherry, berry and mint flavors.
JACOB'S CREEK Shiraz South Australia Reserve 2000 89 $14
Firm and focused, noble in structure, with minty blackberry and blueberry flavors that persist on the fine, dry finish.
GREG NORMAN ESTATES Cabernet-Merlot Limestone Coast 2001 89 $17
Firm in texture, generous with its peppery blackberry and lime flavors, with a minty note as the flavors linger.

Best Values

Wine Score Price
LINDEMANS Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Reserve 2001 88 $10
Bright and vivid, with blackberry and black currant flavors, weaving in hints of mineral, bay leaf and spice on the finish.
MCGUIGAN Shiraz Murray Valley Bin 2000 2001 88 $10
Rich in texture, with pretty blackberry and cherry flavors on a layer of extra-fine tannins, echoing the fruit nicely.
PARINGA Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia 2002 88 $10
Dark, deep and remarkably rich, with lots of berry and currant fruit on a supple texture, finishing with a touch of mint.
JACOB'S CREEK Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2001 87 $10
Smooth and polished, generous with its plum and berry flavors, finishing dark and appealing.
MITCHELTON Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz Victoria Thomas Mitchell 2001 87 $10
Nicely polished, displaying pretty black currant and blackberry flavors, shaded nicely with a touch of anise.
OXFORD LANDING Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Australia 2000 87 $9
Smooth and ebullient, with plum and berry fruit at the center, shaded with hints of mineral and spice on the finish.
PARINGA Shiraz South Australia 2002 87 $10
Pretty blueberry and plum flavors, shaded with white pepper notes, with a touch of coffee on the finish.
ALICE WHITE Cabernet-Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2002 87 $8
Bright and clear, with pretty blackberry, licorice and currant flavors, which echo enticingly on the finish.

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