Lots to offer in wines from Down Under

WirraWirra Catapult

WirraWirra Catapult - Credit: Archant

Australian wines were the ‘in flavour’ for years with deep cut offers on supermarket shelves creating unsustainable demand. However, the bubble burst and when exchange rate changes resulted in higher prices coupled with a sea-change in the tastes of the wine-drinking public their popularity waned.

One can have too much of a good thing and the high alcohol easy drinking reds and chewy oaky Chardonnays fell out of favour.

Australia’s popularity in the UK was built on the appeal of less tannic reds and soft whites that were easy to drink and led the way at most price points. As it became obvious that to maintain their 10 per cenr market share they were going to have to dispel the myth of only making cheap and cheerful wine and promote the wealth of other wines in their portfolio. When conducting a recent tasting for a local wine club I realised the wealth of wines Australia still has to offer with contemporary styles.

The number of white grape varieties now highlighted on wine shop shelves is ever increasing with crisp fresh wines made from Viognier, Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Fiano, and Riesling to name a few.

Yalumba is a long-established family owned company based in the Barossa Valley and under the guidance of chief winemaker Louis Rose they have become the leading producers of Viognier-based wines having pioneered its planting and experimented with wine styles over the last 20 years. They have extended their range with other aromatic wines such as Roussanne and also Riesling made in the cooler high altitude vineyards in the nearby Eden Valley.

The wines remain true to the inherent character of the grape varieties with an Australian twist of ripe slightly spicy fruit notes.

The most recent addition to the range of light whites available is from Peter Barry at Jim Barry wines in the Clare valley who are having fun with trials of the only known plantings in Australia of the Greek variety, Assyrtiko, have produced a refreshing textured white wine – I tasted an impressive sample of this wine last week, one of a very limited number of bottles made and once it is available will definitely buy it so watch this space!

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Oaky Chardonnays have not been totally forsaken amongst the flurry of new wines but the use of oak is now very judicious to ensure it enhances the natural wine flavours rather than dominating them whether in fermentation or aging in oak barrels. Even in the Barossa Valley at Yalumba the lovely mouthfilling Chardonnay has rich tropical fruit notes enhanced by an oaky creamy citrus minerality also seen in Chardonnays such as the 12th Man from Wirra Wirra in Adelaide Hills a cooler climate region.

Although grape varieties such as Tempranillo and Grenache have been increasingly planted amongst the Shiraz and Cabernet based wines and making delicious wines such as Running with Bulls Tempranillo and Bush Vine Grenache some of the most exciting developments have been with the traditional wines.

The Barossa Valley is a hub of Australian wine making and the climate lends itself to archetypal Aussie reds based on the Shiraz and Cabernet grapes. Alcohol levels though often still higher than in European wines are no longer pushing 15 per cent but often circa 14 per cent and better winemaking means that this is no longer obvious by a lingering hot fruitiness on the palate. By earlier picking and planting at higher altitudes such as in the Eden and Clare Valleys the wines have a better balance allowing the nuances of pepper spice and herby notes to shine amongst the rich damson and blackcurrant fruit.

In MacLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, a region of archetypal big robust Aussie reds Wirra Wirra have managed to retain the traditional savoury fruit notes with a delicious balance of creamy oaky coffee and mocha on the silky tannins. The Catapult Shiraz is enhanced with the addition of a tiny proportion of Viognier that opens up the aroma and lightens the flavour. This wine is named after the medieval siege machine or trebuchet that the late owner Greg Trott wanted to build and bomb neighbours with wine. It has now been built and is used fro friendly firing of water melons!

Western Australia in the Margaret River offers a range of different flavours in their wines based on their proximity to the sea which allows a more Mediterranean climate to affect the wines especially in the elegant Cabernets and Shirazes.