Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Australia Education Part III

From one side of the country we now travel nearly 2,500 miles across Australia's large expanse. The country ranks sixth in total area behind Russia, Canada, China, the United States and Brazil. Western Australia accounts for about one third of the total area of Australia. The wine regions are incredibly remote.
Early cultivation centered around Perth but eventually spread south to the Margaret River (a GI), Frankland. Mount Barker and Albany ( all included in the Great Southern GI). As a reminder, GI stands for Geographical Indication and serves as their equivalent to appellations or the United States' AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Great Southern features a mostly continental climate with sunny days and cool nights. The calling cards are riesling and chardonnay but reds do well also. You will find bright acids but no lack of texture. Rieslings from here remind me of the fresh sunny style from Columbia Valley (Washington State) but with the structure of Austria while the chardonnays strike a balance between cool climate California and Burgundy showcasing citrus rather than tropical fruit. The rest of the style is decided in the cellars, so big, oaky examples can be found.
Look for Frankland Estate, especially the riesling and chardonnay from Isolation Ridge. Their Olmo's Reward can be riveting as well, featuring lots of cabernet franc and reminding me more of Bordeaux than Australia. They have come out with a more affordable level of wines called Rock Gully but I have no experience with these yet. Plantagenet has a great reputation but my experience is too limited to offer specifics.
Margaret River juts out into the Pacific Ocean and consequently the maritime influence is strong. People like to refer to 'cool breezes' mitigating temperatures but I hear more dramatic tales of strong winds and at least one producer discussed planting to guard against those 'sea breezes.' Consider surfing if you visit. This is cabernet, shiraz and chardonnay territory as the area is warmer than Great Southern.
Cape Mentelle makes a shiraz that can often be confused for a Rhone Valley version and they produce a zinfandel, although I have not tried the zin. Leeuwin proudly mentions their pioneering efforts in the area. They remain a top-notch producer but are so proud of their efforts that the prices have prohibited me from trying many. I have found their chardonnays too heavy for me but the cabernets offer some dusty earth tones and more nuance than many from California. Moss Wood is routinely written up as a leader in the area but I have never even seen a bottle, much less tried the wine.
Vasse Felix offers some terrific values, at least from this region. Production volumes do not reach the enormous levels of Southeastern Australia and therefore you will not see Western Australia wines for under $10, maybe not even under $15, most are in excess of $20. Dr. Tom Cullity established Vasse Felix as the first winery in Margaret River. Though I usually warn against animals on labels, this falcon was trained to guard the grapes from predators. It flew away the first day and never returned. Now it is captured forever on the label. I heartily recommend their estate cabernet and shiraz.
My next two posts will focus on South Australia, including Barossa, Eden Valley and my promised land of Australian wine, McLaren Vale.

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