Sunday, March 18, 2012

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.

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