Faced with tanking sales, Australia’s winemakers are discovering smaller is better
Just three years ago, Australian wines were the darlings of the New World: cheap and cheeky, with cute critter names. But wine fashion is as fickle and furious as an outback brush fire, and Aussie sales around the world have been spiralling steadily downward. Recession-stricken consumers moved to cheaper wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa for their New World fix, and, let’s face it, Australia’s mass-produced shirazes and chardonnays were starting to seem monotonously similar. Add to this downturn years of vineyard-crippling drought, and it seemed Australia was down for the count. However, on a recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Aussie winemakers are focusing on regionality, single-vineyard production and distinctive new grape varieties and blends. The last couple of vintages have shown an improved balance of alcohol, acidity and fruit, without losing their easy-drinking appeal. This month, the LCBO will introduce more than 30 new Australian labels that are, for the most part, high quality, moderately priced and full of character. Here, my picks from the new wave of wines from Down Under.
Clare Hills 2009 Riesling
$14.95 | Clare Valley, South Australia | 90 points
The Clare Valley north of Adelaide is an iconic region for riesling. This textbook example sports a piercing nose of petrol, pepper, lime and green apricot. It’s slim, crisp, mineral and dry, with enough flesh and sweetness to avoid austerity. Excellent length for $15, and it will age five years. LCBO 215111
Fifth Leg 2010 Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 | Margaret River, Western Australia | 88 points
Bordeaux-inspired sémillon–sauvignon blanc blends are a signature of Margaret River, where the Indian Ocean’s cool climate encourages crisp, refreshing greenness. This white exudes subtle lime, nettle and passion fruit, with good weight and richness, as well. LCBO 212613
St. Hallett 2008 Gamekeeper’s Shiraz Cabernet
$14.95 | Barossa, South Australia | 88 points
Barossa Valley may well be the best place on the planet for blending the noble shiraz and cabernet grapes. Full bodied, creamy and soft, with dark cherry-prune fruit, this one cascades menthol, chocolate, pepper and clove nuances. Wonderful complexity at $15. LCBO 212670
Cooralook 2008 Pinot Gris
$14.95 | Victoria | 90 points
Rich Alsatian-style pinot gris is popular in Australia right now, especially in the cooler grape-growing region of Victoria. This ripe and complex (one third aged in neutral oak for added texture) white has aromas of pineapple, apricot, honey and wildflowers.
It’s full bodied, warm and spicy, with excellent length. LCBO 212712
Kangarilla Road 2008 Shiraz
$18.95 | McLaren Vale, South Australia | 89 points
Maritime McLaren Vale, an hour away from Adelaide, makes Australia’s smoothest, most aromatic and juiciest shiraz. Here, there’s a fragrant nose of black cherry, blueberry, pepper, chocolate and a touch of tobacco. Soft, yet poised enough for drinking anytime. LCBO 212738
Xanadu Next of Kin 2009 Chardonnay
$14.95 | Margaret River, Western Australia | 89 points
Aussie chardonnay producers are getting away from the overblown chards of yore, and Margaret River is making some of the best. This bargain offers almond, pear, vanilla and green cedar. It’s mid-weight, taut and dry, with a spicy finish. Excellent length. LCBO 212647
De Bortoli Deen 2008 Vat 4 Petit Verdot
$14.95 | Yarra Valley, Victoria | 89 points
Petit Verdot is a red Bordeaux grape that doesn’t ripen well in Bordeaux. It’s increasingly planted in Oz, where sunny conditions allow its violet and blackberry aromas to flourish. This one is full bodied, lush yet sinewy, with juicy blackcurrant acidity and dusty, slightly green tannin. Best 2013 to 2018. LCBO 222265
Lenswood Hills 2010 Pinot Noir
$16.95 | Adelaide Hills, South Australia | 88 points
The forested slopes east of Adelaide are an exciting source of cool-climate pinot. This example blasts classic cran-cherry fruit with cinnamon and pine forest underbrush. It’s light bodied, with zesty sour red fruit acidity, a slight spritz and green, gritty tannin. Could use a year to smooth. LCBO 215095
Yalumba Y Series 2010 Riesling
$14.95 | South Australia | 88 points
German Lutheran settlers introduced riesling to the Barossa and Eden valleys north of Adelaide.
This is a full-bore style with apricot, spearmint and typical riesling petrol. It’s full bodied, with a touch of sweetness, but the finish is dry and sparked by lime and minerality. LCBO 212753
Scores David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.