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 WINES OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Australian Cultivars

By

Neville Goedhals

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[Impress friends, family and lovers with your selection of foreign wines ... A series of articles offering practical advice on purchasing wines imported into the USA. Each article covers a different country of origin.]

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A walk through your supermarket’s wine section will convince you that Australian wines are here to stay. The U.S. now imports more wine from Australian than from France. So it’s no surprise that, despite massive planting programs, Australia’s burgeoning wine industry is struggling to meet international demand.

Australia’s dry climate means that most quality wines originate from the more temperate southeastern regions, and even there irrigation and technology are essential to producing quality cultivars.

Most wine estates center around the cities of Perth (on the southeastern point of Australia), Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne (on the southwestern coast).

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The Whites

Although Australia’s cultivation of Chardonnay only began in the 1920s, it has become one of their most versatile white wine grapes. Australian Riesling is often dry making it a favorite amongst white wine enthusiasts in the U.S.A. Other grapes worthy of note include Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

 A note to white wine lovers: Muscat (a sweet wine from Rutherglen in Victoria) is one of the tastiest dessert wines obtainable.

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The Reds

Australia’s abundant sunshine is perfect for growing full flavored red grape varieties. The warmer wine regions are more likely to produce the rich tastes associated with Australian red wine. 

Shiraz is the most important and widely planted grape variety and it consistently produces outstanding medium to full-bodied wines with a mulberry and slightly ‘wild’ flavor unique to Australia. These wines will benefit from oak maturation and may be kept for many years.

Other red wines of note include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache (usually blended), Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.

A note to red wine lovers: Australia’s Rosé style wines are usually drunk chilled, providing a refreshing option during the hot summer months. These wines are made by pressing the grapes and leaving the juice in contact with the skins until they acquire a pink hue.

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What to Buy:

Until recently many Australian wine producers were notorious for mislabeling their wines to sound like the more respected European brands and blends. Fortunately this practice has all but stopped and most Australian wines now proudly proclaim their heritage. However, any bottle that proclaims it is a Bordeaux or Champagne should be treated with skepticism.

Foster’s--yes, the beer people--manufacture a stable of over fifty wines (including Stag’s Leap, Cellar No. 8 and St Clement). This in itself tells a story of mass-produced wine for export dollars; not that Australian wine is bad, but that care should be taken when purchasing.

Vintage: Most Australian reds are produced to mature early and require only a few years in the bottle i.e. purchasing 2002 or older should ensure a smoother taste. Although most white wines do not require aging, the Australian Riesling can benefit from a couple of years in the bottle.

Some thoughts on food: The strong berry flavors in Shiraz make it an ideal compliment to the ‘barbie’ (BBQ), while its tannins help cut through the fat found in red meat. Gewurztraminer’s distinctive Turkish delight flavor is ideal for spicy Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine.

The wines listed below range in price from a paltry $9.00 to $30.00 for the most expensive. Australian wines are an excellent value purchase.

Recommended Reds: RockBare Shiraz; Arthur's Creek Cabernet Sauvignon; Craneford Petit Verdot; Ninth Island Pinot Noir; Margan Merlot.

Recommended Blends: Annie's Lane Copper Trail; Twelve Staves Glenn's Folly Shiraz Grenache; Bleasdale Frank Potts; Lindemans Shiraz-Cabernet Limestone Ridge.

Recommended Whites: Nepenthe Unwooded Chardonnay; Koonowla Riesling; Nugan Estate KV Frascas Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc; Wolf Blass Traminer-Riesling.

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Where to Purchase

On a cautionary note, Australian wine law allows for the use of over 50 additives that need not be listed on the label (these include collagen, enzymes, egg white, gelatin, lysozyme, isinglass, and milk products).

The wines likely to have higher levels of these additives will be in your supermarket where unreliable temperature fluctuations (shipper, dealer, warehouse, stockroom and aisle) necessitate chemical preservative agents. Additives are also used to improve the flavor in cheaper wines.

It is recommended that your Australian wine purchases be made in a reputable liquor store, preferably one that is known for their imported wines.

Your choice has never been wider now that premium wine can be purchased online. Enter “Australia online wine” as your search criteria and hold onto your credit card.