Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Think you know Australia? Think again

When Australian wines first burst into our collective consciousness, it was all about big bold flavours, oak and alcohol. More recently, however, Australia has been quietly producing more nuanced and sophisticated wines – structured and poised, yet full flavoured, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cooler areas, for example.

And there’s more to the story: it seems those “sunshine in a glass” wines that slapped you round the chops with their bright fruit and hefty alcohol were something of a blip in Australia’s wine history. 

The Aussies had long been making more elegant, food friendly wines and you can still find them now, if you know where to look. Here are a couple of clues to get you started.

Hunter Valley Semillon
If you drink these wines at under 5 years old you’ll wonder why you bothered – lightly alcoholic lime juice sums it up. But give them time and these crisp, naturally low alcohol wines will thrill with notes of lime marmalade, even toast – and over time they will only increase in complexity, while maintaining their fresh acidity. Sauvignon Blanc eat your heart out.

Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon is the daddy – Majestic list 2002/3 for £25 in selected stores; several independent merchants stock a variety of vintages for around £25-30.

Marsanne from Victoria
Tahbilk is the specialist with this white variety that originates in France’s Rhône Valley and they preside over the largest vineyard holding of Marsanne in the world.

Château Tahbilk, as it was then, was the first Australian white wine that I tasted on my very first wine appreciation course back in the 1990s, and what a shock it was to someone whose experience of Aussie white had hitherto been limited to Lindeman’s Chardonnay. Taut, only slightly fruity, definitely herbal – this is another white that ages beautifully.

Tahbilk Marsanne 2012 is £9.95 from The Wine Society and while you’re at it you can pick up a bottle of the 2008 for £11.95 to get an idea of how the wine develops. A range of independent merchants also stock various vintages from around £10.50 to the £13 mark.