Sunday, March 18, 2012

Australian Education Part VII

Here are some recommended wineries and wines from Barossa, Eden Valley and Clare Valley: [again, remember that many wineries source from different GIs]
Elderton - makes "elegant monsters" - the estate shiraz is a standout as is the "sticky" (dessert wine) semillon.
Peter Lehmann and St Hallett have impressed me in the past with their shiraz but it has been a while.
Torbreck wines get expensive fast and the Woodcutter's Shiraz is no bargain ($20+) but it manages that rare feat for Barossa, hedonism and restraint.
Henschke also can get very expensive but produces some impressive and mostly reasonable options as well. Try Henry's Seven from Eden Valley (a blend of shiraz, grenache, mourvedre and viognier). A note here - I find their whites delicious, nearly across the board, but generally conclude, as I often do in Australia, that I can get more bang for my buck elsewhere for white wine.
Hewitson makes intense reds with firm, but understated, structure, including the brilliant Miss Harry's (grenache, shiraz, etc.), Mad Hatter Shiraz and Old Garden Mourvedre. I want to like Ned & Henry's (shiraz and mourvedre) more than I do.
My experience with Thorn-Clarke wines has been positive but too brief for a full recommendation.
Sit down for this one. A wholehearted Aussie chardonnay recommendation, Heggies from Eden Valley. The wine shows restraint but lacks for nothing and even displays minerality and complexity I rarely find for reasonable prices.
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling shows what the area can do, plenty of rich, nearly creamy, citrus dominates with good acidity to back it up. Makes me want to eat sushi by the pool.
Pikes entry level riesling might be my favorite ever. The intense lime of the nose and palate can brighten any gloomy day and the subtle minerality makes me salivate for more.
If you like these two, or either one, step up and try a Jeffrey Grosset riesling, especially his Polish Hill (same region as Pikes). It's pricy but well worth it if you love riesling.
Jim Barry also makes a tasty Lodge Hill Riesling, although it is simpler than the ones listed above.
Finally, Mount Horrocks makes some delicious versions as well. The dessert wine, Cordon Cut Rielsing, offers wild concentration yet stays light on its feet. Their Watervalle Riesling (dry) offers a sleek, sexy take on rielsing. I burnt out on their shiraz years ago but remain fascinated with it. Girl Scout cookie season reminds me I should try it again...the vintage I overdid tasted like liquefied thin mints.

Australian Education Part VI

We are still in South Australia, about 50 miles north and east of Adelaide. Barossa and Eden Valey share a border but Eden and Clare have more in common. As is so often the case in wine, altitude plays a major role in wine style.
Most everyone knows Barossa by name if not carnal knowledge. The calling card is shiraz and, more specifically, jammy, rich, exotic shiraz. An argument could be made to change the name to Bareossa since the wines leave little to the imagination...I might make a case for Boorossa since they can become heavy-handed and dull quickly. Eden and Clare Valleys, at higher elevation, produce exceptional whites and livelier reds.
The sheer intensity of Barossa reds commands attention and some wineries produce wines with balance that merit attention and experimentation. However, too many wobble around on structure that can not possibly support the over-amped girth of their flabby frames while simultaneously assaulting senses with unpleasantly high levels of alcohol. Cabernet sauvignon (and merlot for use in blends) enjoys success and a number of lesser known red grapes may give me good things to report in the future but until someone pours me a white that changes my perception I can only recommend avoiding them if labelled Barossa. [Note: a number of wineries that produce Barossa reds produce whites of note from Eden or Clare - always noted on the label]
Eden Valley lies right next door but at altitudes nearly twice that of Barossa, topping out around 1,500 feet. This height mitigates the heat and cooler nights preserve acidity making for better whites and more elegant reds. Best know for it's whites, like Clare Valley, the reds are well worth tasting. Elegant too often is read as light or delicate. The reds, shiraz and cabernet mostly, will reach out and grab you. Even better, they will keep your attention through the bottle...and perhaps the next. Soils change quickly here but there are some stony areas that complement riesling beautifully. If you roll your eyes about riesling, try one or two from Eden or Clare, they're dry, if you still don't like them then move on from the variety. Viognier performs particularly well from this area as well.
Clare Valley, a bit farther removed to the north and west (about 80 miles NNE of Adelaide) makes the best riesling in Australia, and perhaps the world, as far as I am concerned. There is some limestone subsoil that lends itself beautifully to this variety and shiraz and cabernet. Grenache also performs well. Think of this as similar to Eden Valley with the emphasis on white wine and acidity driven reds. For me the difference comes in the underlying minerality I find here that does not show as consistently from Eden. I love that nuance and it makes all the difference for me. If you like a more straightforward, easy drink, then try Eden Valley wines first.

I would just like to sum up, one last time, that if you have had bad experiences with Aussie wines being thick, heavy and boring do not give up on the entire country. You still may not find a soul mate but you'll have a better shot at compatibility if you get out of the tourist traps and explore some local favorites.