Antipodal whites, mate?
Wine from the land down under
by David Marglin
They've been making wine in Australia since the 1830s, but in the past decade
Australian wines have made huge gains in both recognition and market share in
this country, particularly on the East Coast. (Left Coast folks may feel
threatened by the competition -- or maybe they're jealous of the quality and
the eminently reasonable prices.)
Australian wines, made mostly in Victoria and the south, are often massive --
especially the whites. New Zealand, too, has been producing some impressive
sauvignon blancs and
but as befits the character of the country,
its wines are more reserved and understated. This week we'll explore some
precocious representatives of the species -- some of the finest white wines
available from the lands down under.
Many Australian wines are extreme, as if they were trying to one-up California
in every way. The first thing you find with pretty much every Australian
for instance, is a big, floral
that often yields to huge
on the front of the mouth. The wine industry in Australia is
dominated by major wine corporations, which own wineries like Rosemount,
Penfolds, and Lindemans. These conglomerates churn out quite satisfying wines
for moderate prices, yet they tend to be similarly styled: big, not too
complex, with approachable flavors.
I'll happily serve Lindemans Padthaway
Chardonnay for $11 a bottle, and I can also recommend as a party wine the
Penfolds sémillon-chardonnay blend for seven bucks a throw. And don't be
afraid to fork over 12 bills for your basic Rosemount Estate chard.
The dominance of the big companies means that these obvious wines may be the
easiest ones to start with. Another one to look for is Wolf Blass, which is a
negotiant -- in other words, it buys grapes to make into wine rather than
growing its own fruit (the President's Label chardonnay is a perfectly potable
But I'd really encourage adventurous buyers to look for niche wines --
affordable, quirky, harder-to-find stuff. My own mission is to find winning
wines that you can't just march down to your corner packie and pull off of the
shelves. Winemakers like Hardys, Henschke, Veritas, Yalumba, and Chateau
Reynella can all produce wonderful, big, mouth-filling wines, and these
cutting-edge vintners, while not yet particularly well known in this country,
are clearly destined to become stars.
Compared to the more extreme Australian whites -- such as the lush, melony
sémillons (the varietal that accounts for some 70 percent of Australian
whites) and the almost overwhelmingly oaky
-- the sauvignon blancs and
grown in New Zealand tend to be delicate and even a touch austere.
The hottest (indeed, you might say, the smokin'-est) region of New Zealand for
white wines is Marlborough. By now almost every wine drinker has heard of
Cloudy Bay, which may be New Zealand's most recognized export besides lamb and
Granny Smith apples. The country also produces a host of world-class
such as Kumeu River and Goldwater, that are more difficult to find
but entirely worth the search. And if you enjoy sauvignon blancs, you can find
great New Zealand examples for less than $20. Although sauvignon blancs have
than most chardonnays,
these New Zealand versions tend to be
and polished, with a light pale color and clean flavors. Very
quaffable, and very affordable.
So though big and renowned can be better in some instances -- and more
convenient in most -- when it comes to exploring the offerings of the Southern
Hemisphere, tremendous wines can come in
often more obscure packages. And you need not be sheepish about giving them
** Lindemans Padthaway Chardonnay South Australian 1996 ($9.95).
Your basic Aussie chard, barrel-fermented in French oak, not too
dry but a tad
offering hints of melon and fig with a subtle oak background. A good
grilled-swordfish wine, it needs food accompaniment. Serve really cold.
** Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne 1995 ($11.99). Vanilla bouquet, with slight
birch nose. A bit pétillant (that is, almost
bubbly) with some
wafts of orange and clove flavor. A pleasant potpourri wine, great with Peking
duck or anything pungent.
**1/2 Hermitage Road Chardonnay 1996 ($10.99). An opulent wine for the
money, reminiscent of bell pepper and citrus. Lush finish.
**1/2 Rosemount Estate Sémillon 1995 (Show Reserve, Hunter
Valley, Australia; $21.99). Loads of vanilla and still a bit young, but with a
sort of willowy mellowness. Hints of mace in the finish. A nice beast, if a bit
***1/2 Goldwater Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 1996
($19.95). This is the goods, with a full floral finish that lingers and even
loiters. More apple than pear, with an enticing bouquet and a honeysuckle
essence. Plenty o' fruit. One to cherish.
*** Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996 ($16.95). This wine has been out
for a couple of months (remember: it's harvested six months earlier than US
wines), and it is already almost impossible to find outside of restaurants. If
you see it, go for it: this is a clean specimen with a light foliage scent, an
almost vegetal bouquet, and wonderful
balance. It is never boring.
David Marglin can be reached at email@example.com.
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