Wines of Australia and New Zealand

Kangaroo

Australia has been gaining popularity in recent years for bold, refreshing wines.

Most (70%) wine production is controlled by four very large companies: Southcorp, BRL Hardy, Orlando Wyndham, and Mildara Blass. Southcorp (owner of Penfolds, Lindemans, Wynns, and others) alone controls 30% of the nation's fine wine production.

Most wine from Australia comes from South and South Eastern Australia. Within this region are the Barossa and Clare Valley regions north of Adelaide, which are known for Shiraz, McLaren Vale immediately south, which is known for Sauvignon Blanc, Coonawarra in the south, which is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and Hunter Valley near Sydney, which is known for Chardonnay.

Aussie Style

Many grapes are grown in Australia, but without doubt the star is Shiraz (syrah), a French Rhone Valley grape. The Aussies produce a very bold, spicy, fruit-forward wine from either straight shiraz or a two or three way blend with other strong red grapes. Since Australia has no traditions to break, their winemakers are very free to experiment with new blends, new combinations, and new winemaking techniques.

Winemaking in Australia can be described as very "scientific" and "high-tech." Production is heavily mechanized, and the wine is made in sophisticated, temperature-controlled, laboratory-sampled modern facilities. Not being bound by tradition, Australian winemakers are quick to adopt and experiment with the latest scientific techniques and advances.

Furthermore, unlike most fine wine regions, Australian wines are frequently blended across regions and varietals, instead of the single-vineyard single varietal wines that typify most fine wine. In fact, the legendary Penfolds Grange (supposedly one of Australia's finest, fetching hundreds of dollars a bottle) is a multi-region South Australia blend of primarily Shiraz with some Cabernet. The large producers of Australia control vineyards in dozens of regions, enabling them to use blends in higher end wines.

The popularity of Australian red wine is easily attributed to their young, vibrant, and bold fruity style, and the refreshing change of pace that it brings from the tired old run of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The fact that they are also extremely affordable helps. Many of the newer Australian wines on the scene, however, are made in the "fruit bomb" style that emphasizes fruitiness and chuggability over depth. Although these wines never taste bad, they aren't that interesting either. Fortunately, they are usually cheap and are easy to spot by their trendy-looking labels.

New Zealand

New Zealand is not a part of Australia, but I include it here because the wine is noteworthy and they are neighbors. For a country that has more sheep than people, it makes amazingly good Sauvignon Blanc. The New Zealand winemakers have latched onto this as "their" grape, and their wines are some of the finest exemplars of the taste and character of Sauvignon Blanc.

Lord knows if they bother to make anything else. I hear they are starting to play with Pinot Noir.

What's Good

Australia is famous for Shiraz, and the inexpensive production from Rosemount Estates is a good baseline to judge from. The Rosemount Shiraz is available everywhere and is consistently good at a low price point. You'll also see Wolf Blass, which produces excellent wine from many varietals; their style is a bit more intense and livelier. I am not a fan of Yellow Tail; if you are shopping in that price range Alice White is considerably better.

Lindemans is another large, well-known winemaker. Their "Bin 65" Chardonnay appears on many people's lists of decent Chardonnays at absurdly low prices.

Penfolds is one of Australia's best known high end producers, and their midrange production, while not inexpensive, are very sophisticated.

As mentioned above, New Zealand, especially the Marlborough region of South Island, is renowned for Sauvignon Blanc. Give it a try.

Wine Comments

Australia

White Penfolds, Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2002 (South Eastern Australia)
20 November 2004 Very green apples, moderate to heavy oak, otherwise well-balanced.
$9 / bottle
White McWilliam's, "Hanwood Estate" Chardonnay 2001 (South Eastern Australia)
2003 Fruity apple and pear flavors with a slightly floral fragrance and buttery character. Balanced oak. Livelier than most chardonnay.
$9 / bottle
White Beckett's Flat, Sauvignon Blanc / Semillion 60/40 2006 (Margaret River)
6 March 2009 Zippy grass and gunpowder over crisp tropical fruit. Long finish. Tasty.
$19 / bottle
White Lindemans, "Bin 65" Chardonnay 2002 (South Eastern Australia)
27 February 2002 Very buttery and creamy texture, with good oak and vanilla flavors and slight herbal and citrus undertones. Good bargain.
$5 / bottle
White Alice White, "Lexia" Muscat of Alexandria 2008 (South Eastern Australia)
1 July 2010 Zesty nose with sweet apricot, peach and citrus. Sticky mouthfeel.
$6 / bottle
White Vendange, Chardonnay 2008 (South Eastern Australia)
29 December 2009 Bright but undistinguished fruit with hints of lime and grapefruit. Moderate wood.
$4 / bottle
White Teal Lake Chardonnay 2005 (South Eastern Australia)
26 April 2008 Rich and flavorful, with bright tropical fruit, strong citrus notes, and refreshing crispness. Some wood. Very full-bodied.
$13 / bottle
White Alice White, Chardonnay 2006 (South Eastern Australia)
20 December 2007 Bright and fruity with tropical and pineapple flavors. Pleasant light buttery mouthfeel with minimal oak. Tasty.
$7 / bottle
White Green Point, Chardonnay 2003 (Yarra Valley)
2007 Heavy wood with moderate fruit and a very buttery texture. Slight vegetal notes in the finish.
$20 / bottle
White Peter Lehmann, "The Barossa" Botrytis Semillon 1999 (Barossa Valley)
24 July 2004 Heady and overblown, with biting sweetness and petrol flavors.
$13 / 375ml
White Southern Highland Wines, Golden Vale Botrytis Chardonnay 2004 (South Eastern Australia)
28 May 2008 Heady and overblown, with biting sweetness and petrol flavors.
$6 / 375ml
Red Jacob's Creek, Shiraz 2008 (South Eastern Australia)
4 June 2011 Raisins and barbeque with bold chewy tannins. Moderate wood and incense. Bell peppers on the finish.
$9 / bottle
Red Rosemount Estate, "Balmoral" Syrah 2000 (McLaren Vale)
26 January 2008 Plump fruit with slight minty flavors and barbeque. Enigmatic and complex.
$44 / bottle
Red Heath Wines, "Lizard Flat" Cabernet/Merlot 2002 (South Australia)
26 January 2008 Soft grapeskin and dark grape flavors, light hints of eucalyptus and mint, moderate wood. Playful and fun on the tongue.
$9 / bottle
Red d'Arenberg, "Laughing Magpie" Shiraz/Viognier 2005 (McLaren Vale)
20 December 2007 Spicy nose with powerfully strong, dry tannins. Bloody fruit with a touch of leather and herbs, and a strong minty note.
$30 / bottle
Red d'Arenberg, "The Footbolt" Shiraz 2000 (McLaren Vale)
2003 Spicy and tannic, blood-thick, with strong leather and tobacco flavors. Dark, gothic, and rich.
$18 / bottle
Red Penfolds, "Thomas Hyland" Shiraz 2000 (South Australia)
2004 Big, juicy dark berry and cherry fruit with heavy and lively spice. Rich coffee and leather flavors. Good value.
$13 / bottle
Red Penfolds, "Kalimna Bin 28" Shiraz 1997 (South Australia)
2003 Big and monstrous, powerful jammy fruit with earthy and chocolate tones. Very dry, extremely rich. Moderate oak and light spice. A powerful but contemplative wine.
$23 / bottle
Red Teal Lake, Cabernet Merlot 2007 (South Eastern Australia)
3 July 2009 Bold fruit with a hint of plums. Very smooth with light wood. Easygoing.
$14 / bottle
Red Rosemount, "Mudgee Hill of Gold" Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (Mudgee)
17 October 2009 Big and heady with rather excessively extravagant potpourri, incense, and wood giving it a somewhat confected feel. Relatively thin structure and watery fruit.
$12 / bottle
Red Pretty Sally, Estate Shiraz, April 2004 (Victoria)
29 August 2009 Rich potpourri and incense over lush fruit. Tasty.
$23 / bottle
Red Rosemount, Orange Vineyard Shiraz 2000 (Orange / New South Wales)
29 August 2004 Rich and dark, with berry, incense, wood, and tea. Very restrained cherry and plum fruit. Smooth tannin and a very long finish. Excellent.
$27 / bottle
Red Lindemans "Bin 50" Shiraz 2010 (South Eastern Australia)
25 July 2011 Medium bodied with big juicy fruit. Grapeskins on the finish. Mild tannins. Young and uncomplicated.
$9 / bottle
Red Buckley's Cove, Shiraz 2009 (South Eastern Australia)
20 August 2011 Bright berry fruit and grapeskins with touches of black tea and blood. Young and a little raw.
$5 / bottle
Red Lindemans "Bin 50" Shiraz 2006 (South Eastern Australia)
12 December 2007 Bright but simple fruit, consisting of plums, berries, and cherries, with a touch of smoke. Pleasant.
$6 / bottle
Red Australian Domaine Wines, "Alliance" Shiraz 1999 (South Australia)
2002 Rich hickory smoked flavor backed by very forward jammy fruit. Medium to full body. Excellent.
$17 / bottle
Red Teal Lake, Shiraz 2005 (South Eastern Australia)
23 February 2008 Simple fruit, moderate wood, chewy tannins. Heady but unremarkable.
$13 / bottle
Red Yellow Tail, Shiraz 2003 (South Eastern Australia)
March 2004 Spiced fruity jam with vanilla, with a very slight touch of tobacco and plum. Simple but smooth.
$7 / bottle
Red Yalumba, Shiraz (95%) Viognier (5%) 2003 (Barossa)
5 February 2008 Spicy and fruity nose, big chewy tannins and plump uncomplicated fruit, with a bold tobacco finish. Very crafted.
$18 / bottle
Red Piping Shrike, Shiraz 2002 (Barossa Valley)
24 August 2004 Big, plummy fruit over potpourri and wood. Tannic and heady.
$14 / bottle
Red Rosemount Estate, Shiraz 2000 (Australia)
Fall 2002 Very strong jammy fruit impression, with a spicy chocolate flavor. Hints of wood and earthy plum flavors.
$12 / bottle
Red Bleasdale "Mulberry Tree" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Langhorne Creek)
12 February 2008 Grassy vegetal nose with bell peppers and blackcurrant fruit. Massive wood that tastes like a mix of French and American oak, with musty wood shaving flavors. Long and heady finish.
$19 / bottle
Red The Little Penguin, Merlot 2003 (South Eastern Australia)
16 December 2004 Forward fruit and plum with moderate wood. Heady but smooth.
$7 / bottle
Red Lindemans, Reserve Merlot 2001 (South Australia)
29 January 2004 Very abundant plummy fruit and heavy wood with touches of cherries, stems, and spice.
$9 / bottle
Red Lindemans, "Bin 99" Pinot Noir 2010 (South Eastern Australia)
7 September 2011 Halfhearted fruit with a stemmy finish. Notes of stale tea and cigars. Muddled and a little watery.
$9 / bottle
Red Rosemount Estate, Pinot Noir 2001 (South Eastern Australia)
24 June 2004 Big, bold cherry lipstick fruit over leafy tea. Moderate tannin.
$9.50 / bottle
Red Penfolds, "Koonunga Hill" Shiraz Cabernet 2002 (South Eastern Australia)
26 September 2004 Deep plum and blackcurrant, with very mellow tannins. Smooth.
$10 / bottle
Red Black Swan, Shiraz Merlot (75/25) 2003 (South Eastern Australia)
13 September 2004 Big juicy plum and grape, a bit biting. Simple.
$6 / bottle
Red Penfolds, "Rawson's Retreat" Merlot 2003 (South Eastern Australia)
22 April 2004 Big, plump, and extremely extravagant "fruit bomb" style. Very soft. Minimal oak. Quaffable but rather simplistic.
$7 / bottle
Red Black Opal, Shiraz Cabernet 53/47 2001 (South Eastern Australia)
2004 Plump and spicy, with a very strong grape skin flavor. Round plums and moderately heavy oak.
$11 / bottle
Red Penfolds, "Bin 2" Shiraz Mourvedre 60/40 2001 (South Eastern Australia)
2004 Heavy mixed dark fruits and plum, with leather, tar, and licorice. More sharp than soft. Medium body.
$10 / bottle
Red Wolf Blass, Shiraz 2001 (South Australia)
2003 Very forward date and prune fruit, with a zesty spice that dances on the tongue. Pleasant smoke and oak flavors. A good benchmark shiraz.
$14 / bottle
Red Wolf Blass, "Red Label" Shiraz (62%) Cabernet Sauvignon (38%) 2001 (South Australia)
2003 Deep date and raisin flavor, rich and lush mouth feel. Light oak, very fruit forward.
$13 / bottle
Red Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Cabernet-Shiraz-Merlot 1998 (Coonawarra)
27 February 2002 Deep opaque red color, medium body, very dry, very spicy peppery flavors and rich taste, with floral and berry background flavors over jammy fruit. Good.
$12 / bottle
Red Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Shiraz 2003 (Coonawarra)
11 May 2005 Deep, spicy wood over dry grape and heady berry. Very astringent. jammy fruit. Good.
$13 / bottle
Red Beckett's Flat, Shiraz 2003 (Margaret River)
13 July 2009 Rich, powerful fruit over light wood. Hints of plums and roses. Very firm tannins.
$19 / bottle
Rose Beckett's Flat, Cerise Rose 2004 (Margaret River)
13 October 2008 Bright berries and currant and a touch of pepper. Off-dry with a hint of tartness. Cabernet-based. A favorite!
$20 / bottle
Fortified Yalumba, Antique Tawny NV (Australia)
24 December 2009 Dark raisins, wood, and nuts with sherry-like oxidization. Mellow and smooth.
$20 / 375ml
Fortified Chambers, Rosewood Vineyards Muscat NV (Rutherglen)
10 May 2008 Lovely oranges and peaches, rounded out with nuts and wood. Syrupy sweet and tasty.
$17 / 375ml
Fortified Benjamin, Australian Tawny Port NV (Mildara)
18 January 2008 Sweet and heady, with nuts and moderate wood. Lighter in flavor and sweeter than many Portuguese tawnies.
$10 / bottle

New Zealand

Red Goose Bay, Pinot Noir 2006 (East Coast)
20 March 2009 Rich dark cherries with a hint of plum, wood, and earth in the finish. Very zippy and lively mouthfeel.
$24 / bottle
White Shoreline, "Single Vineyard Selection" Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Marlborough)
14 June 2011 Crisp citrus, starfruit, honeysuckle, and tropical fruit with nice lemongrass and herb notes. Well-balanced and tasty.
$12 / bottle
White Omaka Springs Estates, Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Marlborough)
14 June 2011 Sour apples with citrus, starfruit, and lemongrass. Much tarter than usual.
$14 / bottle
White Starborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Marlborough)
23 May 2011 Exuberant starfruit, citrus, lemongrass, and guava with a bright grassy finish. Bracingly crisp. More grass than typical for NZ. Unsubtle but lots of fun.
$11 / bottle
White Craggy Range, "Te Muna Road Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Martinborough)
29 October 2009 Bracingly crisp with an overwhelmingly green nose. Bright citrus and starfruit notes.
$21 / bottle
White Goose Bay, Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (Marlborough)
28 August 2009 Bright green peppers and starfruit with a crisp yet supple mouthfeel. Well-structured and balanced.
$18 / bottle
White Omaka Springs, Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Marlborough)
27 February 2002 Medium body, grassy citrus and pineapple flavors, smooth, medium finish. Good, balanced Sauvignon Blanc.
$18 / bottle
White Seresin, Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Marlborough)
2003 Crisp kiwi and starfruit with moderate oak. Light green pepper and grass flavors complement grapefruit citrus. Sophisticated but enjoyable. Very good.
$22 / bottle
White Trinity Hill, Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (Shepherd's Croft / Hawkes Bay)
24 July 2004 Crisp and sharp, with balanced starfruit and passionfruit with grass and celery. High acid.
$16 / bottle
White Matua Valley, Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (Marlborough)
30 July 2005 Soft and smooth texture, powerful tropical fruit flavors, vibrant kiwi and starfruit. Slightly spicy.
$11 / bottle
White Nobilo, "Regional Collection" Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (Marlborough)
22 June 2005 Smooth plump fruit, very sharp grassy attack, starfruit and citrus flavors. Mellow finish.
$9 / bottle
White Villa Maria, "Private Bin First Release" Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (Marlborough)
2003 Tangerine and starfruit flavors over a leafy, vegetal base, backed up by kiwi, passionfruit, and lime. Very tropical nose. Very young and slightly pungent. Exeuberantly overenthusiastic.
$14 / bottle
White Wairau River, Sauvignon Blanc 1997 (Marlborough)
2003 Very rich and deep, overripe fruit. Slight grassiness and tropical flavors. Extremely restrained. Very Bordeaux style.
$19 / bottle