It’s possible that many were arranged in that far off world down under before the banks came tumbling down, but the result of the recent glut of tastings is that Australian wines have gotten lots of attention from trade and press in the run up to Christmas.
A big highlight was the ‘Alternative varietal tasting,’ which showed a selection of wines from grapes which are classic in Europe but less planted in Australia. The event aimed to compare the various styles and also to get a bit of feedback as to how ordinary wine drinkers might react to them. Both the European and Australian wines came out well from the comparison; different, yes, but in an interesting way. It was one of the year’s best tastings.
Hot on its heels came the annual Australian Landmark Tasting. This event is attended by application only, so Master of Wine Dermot Nolan followed it up in Dublin with a tutored tasting of around a dozen of the 578 wines he sampled during Landmark’s marathon sessions. Inevitably, these were premium wines but some were not too expensive to be considered for a Christmas treat or special gift wine.
Here’s some of what Australia’s been offering for Christmas, as well as some of the best of the Europeans from the comparative tasting. Prices approximately retail.
Europe and Australia
Guerrieri Rizzardi Pinot Grigio 2008 (O’Briens, €12.95). Italian. My favourite of the pinot grigios, with very developed flavours and touches of succulence. Lovely wine for Christmas starters
Oxford Landing Pinot Grigio 2008 (€10.99). South Australia. Delivers lots for the money. Fragrant and fruity, what it may have lost in spicy succulence, compared to the Italian, it gained in concentration and length.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2008 (Cassidy €18.99). There’s a lower tier Yalumba Viognier at around €13 and it’s a very decent one, but I think this is one case where spending more actually delivers better value pound for pound. Lovely, well-balanced wine, with lemons and exotic fruits on the palate, very good length of finish and an appealing touch of honeysuckle at the end
Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja 2005 (IDL €13). Always good value, this vintage has some slightly overripe but tasty summer fruits. Delicious wine with turkey and ham, it was winner of the NOffLA Gold Star award for Best Old World Wine under €14
D’Arenberg Sticks and Stones 2005 (Taserra €21.99). McLaren Vale. Made from Rioja grapes tempranillo and grenache, this is heartier and fruitier than the Campo Viejo. Enjoyable berry fruit with hints of soft coconut and vanilla spice. Great with game
Rutherglen Estates Nebbiolo 2005 (Findlater €14.95). Victoria. Softer tannins than Italian versions but has the sought-after tar and roses aromas. With lovely, gentle plum flavours, and good concentration and length, it carries its 14.5% alcohol very well
Ricossa Barolo 2003 (Cassidy €24). Italian. Soft plum and cherry flavours, and moderate structure and concentration. Pleasant but drying out a little, it’s decent Barolo for its price but the Australian has the edge here
Brown Brothers Sangiovese 2004 (Barry & Fitzwilliam €13.95). Fading just a little but still with lovely perfumes and soft cherry and berry flavours. This version of Italy’s most important grape has held on to much of its European character. Very appealing
Australian Landmark Tasting
Peter Lehmann Barossa Semillon 2003 (Comans). Not in Ireland at present but it should be, so retailers should get on to the supplier! Huge length, beautifully evolving lemon and nut fruit flavours, well-balanced acidity and just 10.5% alcohol. Classy yet different at the same time.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Chardonnay 2003 (Searson €50) Unashamed oaked chardonnay, enjoyably done. Lemon and melon aromas and flavours, with tasty hints of toast and just a trace of old fashioned oxidation to add interest to the finish. A special gift wine, perfect for turkey and all the trimmings.
Cape Mentelle Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Dillons €30). Familiar and classic and none the worse for that. Evolving notes of cedarwood and leather, smooth blackcurrant flavours and just a hint of peppery plum. A good wine for game.
Wynns Coonawara John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 (Gilbeys). Top wine of the tasting, with lengthy plum and blackcurrant fruit, supple tannins and perfect drinkability. You’re unlikely to capture this vintage now but 2003 (€60) is available, as is the regular Estate Cabernet 2004 (€21).
De Bortoli Reserve Shiraz 2004 (Febvre). Classic northern Rhone aromas of black olive and dark plum. Sweeter on the palate than its French counterpart, with soft plum and dark berry flavours. Contact supplier for availability details of the range.
Grant Burge 20 Year Old Tawny Barossa (Gleeson). Australia’s port and sherry styles are underrated by export markets and this is excellent stuff, full of rich, nutty fruit and fine alcohol balance. Only the 10 Year Old (€24) is on the Irish market but it’s pretty near as appealing. As the sweetness isn’t over high, it works both with pud and with cheese.