A few weeks back I attended an Australian wine event in Manhattan. This particular tasting was an interesting one indeed. Some of the country’s leading family-owned and multi-generational producers selected wines from their libraries to showcase to American trade and media. The main portion of the tasting was a sit-down seminar led by Mark Davidson, Australia’s worldwide wine educator. Alongside him, family members from each winery whose offerings were being poured that day were on hand to speak about their wine and Australia in general.
There are a couple of general misconceptions floating around about Australian wine. One is that the country’s producers make big, blustery wines that are long on upfront fruit and flash and short on finish and substance. The other is that that Australian wines don’t age. The problem is neither point is really valid; certainly not as wholesale statements. Every wine-producing country has great, good, and bad producers. Certainly, Australia still has some who make boatloads of overripe shiraz. However, there are many more making proportionate shiraz as well as a very wide range of other offerings. It’s time to realize that there are as many diverse styles coming out of Australia as any other wine-making country. Not to mention much, much more than just shiraz, no matter how tasty it can be.
By showing older wines (current vintages were available to taste after the seminar), the families walked the walk. It’s one thing to tell people they’re making great wines that can age, and another to pour those wines from their personal allocations and stand in front of them and answer questions about them. Over the last few years, I’ve personally made a point of tasting as much Australian wine as I can, always looking for the gems. This particular tasting was a boon; there was one delicious well-made wine after another. I certainly had favorites, but on any given day, and with a particular meal, any one of them would have satisfied, impressed, and, well, gotten the job done.
The fruit was sourced from a 75-acre block that was planted in the early 1960s. Only 40 percent of the juice was used in this wine. Lemon zest and hints of linseed oil waft from the nose along with toasted hazelnut. Lychee fruit and a host of fresh apricot flavors fill the palate, which also shows off an undercurrent of orange marmalade. All of these characteristics continue on the persistent and impressive finish.
The vineyards where the fruit was sourced were planted in 1908. These vines are dry farmed on their own rootstock. The lovely pale straw hue of this sémillon does not belie its 10 years of age. Nectarine aromas emerge from the nose with conviction. The palate is light but loaded with layers of flavors; stone fruits and bits of citrus are both in play. Preserved lemon and a hint of crème fraîche show up on the lengthy finish. Firm, racy acid makes this mouth-watering and delightful
The vines were planted in 1927, thus the name of this offering. The lovely pale hue has seemingly not darkened a bit despite 15 years of age. In fact, this offering is routinely sent to market with about nine years of age on it. Bits of orange and tangerine dot the expressive and gorgeous nose. The palate is fresh, vibrant, and full of appealing flavors such as yellow melon and grapefruit. Limestone, bits of salinity, and a touch of mesquite are part of the tremendous finish.
The fruit for this wine was hand-harvested and basket-pressed. Plums, earth, and bay leaf aromas are all in abundance on the heady and welcoming nose. Bits of smoked meat join black and purple fruit flavors on the weighty palate. Minerals, dark chocolate, and mission fig flavors are part of the finish, which has excellent length and proportion. This is a gorgeous wine that seems to be at the beginning of its peak drinking window. Grenache is one of the most food-friendly grapes on earth; this example is one measure of proof.
Wakefield 2005 St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon
This cabernet was grown in the Clare Valley in South Australia. Aging was accomplished in French oak, which was chosen based on grade of grain. Black raspberry aromas dominate the nose and are accompanied by wisps of savory herbs. A host of sweet red and black fruits, such as cherry and raspberry, fill the palate. Earth, black cherry, and minerals are present on the lingering finish. The tannins still have a firm grip, but they present within a package that is elegant above all else.
McWilliam’s 2002 “1877” Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz
This wine was named for the first year in which the winery planted in Corowa, New South Wales. The nose is studded with aromas of earth, mushroom, and tobacco along with red fruit. At 13 years old, the palate still shows off more-than-reasonable elements of fruit, but secondary characteristics are beginning to dominate. Chicory and earth along with a dollop of sweet chocolate dot the finish.
Brown Brothers 1997 Shiraz-Mondeuse-Cabernet Sauvignon
The blend here is shiraz (44 percent), mondeuse (32 percent), and cabernet sauvignon (24 percent). They have been producing this blend for more than 40 years. Leather, sage, and subtle red fruit aromas fill the gentle nose. The palate is loaded with blackberry characteristics and bits of black pepper. Black tea, a touch of espresso, and wisps of kirsch liqueur are each part of the complex finish.
Yalumba 1996 The Signature
The Signature has been part of the Yalumba line dating back to 1962. Its intent is to showcase the very best of each vintage. Leather, thyme, bits of chamomile tea, and somewhat subtle red fruit aromas all come together on the compelling nose. The stunning palate is strewn with red and black fruit flavors that are simultaneously gentle and generous. Morsels of cinnamon are in play as well. Black raspberry, sweet dark chocolate, and earth are all part of the finish. There is still sufficient tannin here, and firm acidity brings everything together in a lovely package.
The fruit came from vines with 94 years of age on them. This single-vineyard wine has been produced since 1952. Red raspberry and a hint of vanilla appear on the nose. Savory herbs and spices lead the palate along with red fruits tinged with hints of black. The velvety finish shows off heaps of black raspberry and a continuing parade of spices.
De Bortoli 1984 Noble One Botrytis Semillon
This offering has been produced since the 1982 vintage. It’s considered one of the most important dessert wines coming from Australia. A lovely light caramel hue shimmers in the glass when poured. White fig and apricot aromas dominate the nose. The palate is full-flavored and even-keeled; it also keeps on giving and giving. Apricot, lychee fruit, nectarine and yellow peach are all in evidence. Chamomile tea leads the prodigiously long finish, which has a mesquite honey edge to it. This is a beautiful and stunning dessert wine.
Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat
Merchant Prince is made using the Solera method; the oldest wines are 70 years old. In the glass, this wine resembles an amaro in color. Mission fig and toasted nuts inform the remarkable nose. The mouthfeel is thick and a bit syrupy in nature, but nor over the top. Dates, nuts, and fruitcake spices are all present in droves. The finish goes on and on, notably so. From the first whiff to the last sip, the cornucopia of flavors coats the senses. In weight and mouthfeel, this offering brings to mind the great Commandaria wines of Cyprus. More than anything, it’s an exquisite offering to be pondered and enjoyed with friends over a long evening.One of the most impressive things that tie these wines together is how fresh each of them still is.
One of the most impressive things that tie these wines together is how fresh each of them still is. Their useful lifespans will certainly vary. However, they each have plenty of time left in which they will evolve and be enjoyable. After tasting these I sampled the current vintages in a more casual manner. The differences of age and vintage variation were clear. However, it was also obvious that there are plenty of connective tissues between each wine and its older sibling. In short, grab any of the current vintages of these wines that sound appealing, either to enjoy now or to cellar for later.