Sunday, February 26, 2012

Australian Education Part V

Finally, more on Australia. It's a lot more work to post educational items than to just ramble on about whatever I feel like. Hope it's appreciated.
Heading north, northwest from Connawara we find McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. Adelaide Plains is another region near the city of Adelaide but I have never seen a wine with a Plains designation so I will not address them here.
McLaren Vale is the promised land for Australian red wine in my opinion. Less than an hour from Adelaide, the GI (Geographical Indication) enjoys a Mediterranean climate and no concerns about frost. Red soils can be found here, like Coonawara, but variety prevails. Old vines produce intense, juicy reds. Small, unique mesoclimates (incorrectly called microclimates by many - more on that in a later post) create a variety of styles. I find the shiraz and grenache offerings the most compelling with great concentration but also enough acid lift and freshness to keep them from being heavy or cumbersome. Good sauvignon blanc and chardonnay can be produced as well. I find the reds less flashy than those from Barossa (next post), they also exhibit more minerality, making McLaren Vale reds more complex and intriguing. Vineyard elevations can range up to about 1,000 feet but mostly remain lower than 500 feet.
Many outstanding wineries call this area home and I will share some here. d'Arenberg might be the most famous, their Dead Arm shiraz being their calling card. Their chardonnays are mostly clean and the rieslings are well made, although I prefer mine from Eden and Clare Valleys (next post). The Stump Jump line has always impressed but appears to have expanded significantly in recent years, not always a good sign. The Custodian is a kick-ass shiraz and the shiraz-grenache blend, d'Arry's Original, offers great value. (Note, not all of these wines come from McLaren Vale but since the winery is located there it seems appropriate to address it all here).
Geoff Merril always impressed me with their more old-world approach to wine, a bit more subtle than you might expect, but it has been years since I've tasted the wines and the name might have swayed me. Molly Dooker calls this region home but also sources from elsewhere. I find their wines ponderous and outrageously expensive but they get the critics all lathered up. Simon Hackett's Old Vine Grenache will make your toes curl for a reasonable price. Pepper makes its presence felt but is a mere accent to the wild fruit aromas. Moderate structure keeps the wine food-friendly but does not interfere with hedonistic enjoyment of the juicy texture. Tapestry also makes some delicious reds, among them the shiraz, Baker's Gully Shiraz and Old Vine Grenache. The whites are also solid, notably the verdelho. The chards will satisfy but do not carry enough unique appeal for me to seek them out. (As is the case with most Aussie chards for me).
Wirra Wirra is an outstanding producer mostly flying below the radar in the United States. The website and winery are playful but the wines are serious. Pay special attention to the dry Lost Watch Riesling and the Catapault Shiraz which will change your perspective about the grape if you only buy grocery brands. The Church Block, cabernet, shiraz and merlot, offers an impressive example of the style with enough stuffing but not too much tannin.
On a personal note, seek out the limited quantity of Tir Na N'og (Gaelic for Land of the Youth) Old Vine Grenache produced by John Larchet who runs the fantastic import house The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
Adelaide Hills features a cool climate where whites and more delicate reds thrive. The vineyards are at relatively high elevations, around 1,000 feet. The Plains area slopes down to the ocean and showcases bigger reds. A lot of Adelaide produced fruit is bottled elsewhere, including Barossa (next post). The brightness of the fruit makes it attractive to warmer regions that may end up with high alcohol levels while lacking acidity. The cool climate fruit of Adelaide helps.
A few producers of note send wines to America with Adelaide on the label. Grosset Picadilly Chardonnay is a big mouthful of flavor without being a big mouthful of wood. He also makes a mind-blowing riesling from Polish Hill, but that's in Clare Valley (next post). Petaluma led the modern charge in the area and still has a solid reputation but it has been years since I've had the wines. Shaw & Smith produce some lovely wines, especially the sauvignon blanc which is very racy and clean. The pinot noir shows promise based on tasting but needs more of a track record with me before I recommend it.
The next post will wrap up Australia by covering Barossa, Eden Valley and Clare Valley.