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New Aussie Wines from Old Dogs

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 14, 2008 2:34pm ET

I recently got a preview taste of the first wines from Oatley Estate. I wrote about this project last year after sharing a few drinks with the principals, owner Robert Oatley and executive deputy chairman Chris Hancock. Those two started Rosemount Estate in 1976 and created the fruit-forward easy-drinking style that made Australian wines a hit with American consumers. Now they're starting all over, Oatley now a youthful 81, Hancock a sprightly 68.

Southcorp swallowed up Rosemount in 2001 and put the Rosemount team in charge. Four years later, Foster's Wine Estates bought them out. Oatley and Hancock, along with Oatley's son, Sandy, could have enjoyed an easy, well-fed retirement. Instead they went to work on something new.

What makes this project different is that the wines center on Oatley's 1,150 acres of vineyards in Mudgee, a region little known outside Australia. It sits at 1,000-foot-plus elevation in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. That's New South Wales, not South Australia, Victoria or Western Australia, whence come most of the better wines we see here in the U.S.

So when samples of the new wines arrived, I untwisted a few bottles (they're under screw cap, of course) and gave them a try. I'll rate them soon, when I taste them in the controlled conditions of my tasting room in San Francisco. But up here at 8,000 feet in my condo in Aspen, the style strikes me as especially refreshing.

Made to retail for around $20, the opening line for Oatley Estate has three bottlings from Mudgee—Rosé of Sangiovese 2008, Chardonnay 2007 and Shiraz 2007—plus a Pinot Grigio 2008 from South Australia and a Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Western Australia.

They are not like Rosemount wines, which aimed for ripeness and softness. These have some backbone to them, some real acid zip to balance the juicy, clear fruit flavors. I liked them all, but I think my favorite was the Pinot Grigio, perhaps because it was a pleasant surprise. Australian wines from this grape have been uninspiring, but this has minerally pizzazz and a fleshy freshness that make it beguiling. The rosé is dry and pale and has pretty watermelon and raspberry fruit that lingers.

The Sauvignon Blanc is slightly more serious, with bright passion fruit and star fruit flavors on a lively frame, more reminiscent of Marlborough than Margaret River. The Chardonnay uses minimal oak, but has enough of a nutty, toasty edge to round out the apple and grapefruit flavors. The lone red, the Mudgee Shiraz, shows peppery aromas and almost Zinfandel-like flavors against lively acidity.

Conspicuously absent from the U.S. debut is a Cabernet Sauvignon that's part of the range in Australia. This is only a guess, but based on previous conversations, I'm guessing they think it's too herbal to appeal to a wide range of Americans. Hancock is working on some viticultural tweaks that he thinks will make more balanced wines. Something to look forward to.

Tom Hudson
Wilmington, Delaware —  August 15, 2008 9:30am ET
Harvey - do you only rate wines that are available in the US?Even so, I'm sure the readers of WS would welcome your tasting notes of all of the Oatley wines, even if they don't receive US distribution. With the internet, the world has become a much smaller place.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  August 15, 2008 3:47pm ET
When I get a chance to taste the wines not sold in the U.S., I will certainly share my tasting notes on them. I only got the five I reviewed, for now.
William D Peet
Port Angeles, WA —  August 16, 2008 4:16pm ET
On our last trip to Australia, we spent a week in McLaren Vale and Barossa. While visiting tasting rooms in McLaren Vale, I asked for their recommendations of a good Grenache. One winery kept coming up, and that was Samuels Gorge. We managed to spend an hour with Justin McNamee, the winemaker. The Grenache was spectacular, as were the Shiraz and Tempranillo. These were by far the best wines that I tasted the whole trip. I went to many of the wineries that you reccommended. Samuels Gorge is available in the small town of Port Angeles, WA. It is distributed by Noble Wines. Just wondered if you had heard of them. Thanks - BillPS: Yangarra Estate was excellent also.

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