Tag Archives: shiraz

The Lightness of Being Australian Chardonnay

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting @ Corkbuzz

Today’s Topic: Chardonnay from Australia. Writing that took a lot of nerve, so please refrain from grumbling and hear me out. I probably elicited a cask’s worth of groans over my Shiraz post last week; maybe you are wondering how I can now press you to read about Chardonnay. Where are the Hungarian whites? The Romanian Pinots? Even the Australian Pinots! I will be getting to those too, promise.

Remember, the point of this blog is to not just uncover regions and wines you’ve never met, but to revisit categories whose cobwebs deserve to be dusted off. Carrie gave Mr. Big a second chance and they ended up married–yes, I just referenced Sex and the City and it felt icky, but I’m trying to make a point here. Should Australian Chardonnay get another shot at your affection?

As I mentioned in my Shiraz piece, I am in an ongoing Wines of Australia immersion class during which we explore different regions/styles/varieties in each session. This week we sampled Chardonnay.

I admit to never, ever, ever, never reaching for a bottle of Chardonnay, ever. Not when sitting down to dinner at home (truth be told, we eat sitting on the couch, but still) nor for a post-work aperitif with the ladies; not ever at a wine bar with a long list of white Burgundies (value problem in this case) nor when a restaurant only offers a choice of either Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Well, maybe then, but if that’s the extent of their wine program, I should probably be ordering a cocktail. Simply. Never. Do. I. Drink. Chardonnay.

Now that you know how low Chardonnay ranks on my personal beverage totem pole, here are 5 Australian Chardonnays that I would not only drink if I had to, but would twist open on my couch, sacred place that it is, because I want to. This demonstrates an overarching principle that I too must be reminded of: We have one shot at this life; always keep an open mind.

We tasted through two flights of wines populated with pretty examples of how refreshingly different Chardonnay can be. In fact, one reason Chardonnay is so loved by growers and winemakers is for its adaptability and malleability: Stainless steel; lightly oaked; Mediterranean sun; cool climate. Each unique set of circumstances and choices provides a distinct rendition on a general theme.

I prefer a lightness and brightness in my white wines; imagine the weight of a balloon drifting into the sky and the brilliance of a sunlit diamond. Many of the Australian Chardonnays showed those qualities and were fresh, perfumed, and perhaps most important to consumers, competitively priced. Gone were the heavily oaked, dull palates of many earlier forms of Aussie Chardonnay.

Australia does some other varieties extremely well, in ways that no one else can touch: Inimitable Clare and Eden Valley Riesling, and Hunter Valley Semillon, for example. So, I can’t agree I believe the way to America’s heart should be through Chardonnay, but at least these wines prove they have a place on the wine drinker’s table—or couch.

I have included some tasting notes with each wine. Truth be told, the personalities of each wine evolved so much, that each note is merely a snapshot of a moment in a glass.

  1. Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Mclaren Vale, SA, $12.00: Refreshing, good value offering mandarin-orange aromatics and peaches and pear on the palate.
  2. West Cape Howe Chardonnay 2011, Western Australia $17.99: Bright and fresh with kiwi, guava and lemony-citrus notes busting out of the glass.
  3. Stonier Chardonnay 2007, Mornington Peninsula, VIC $20.00: Elegant and lively showing ripe lemon and stone fruit laced with minerality. Interesting savory note on finish.
  4. Heggies Chardonnay 2011, Eden Valley, SA $20.00: Jasmine and orange-blossom evolve into ripe white fruits and citrus with an herbal edge. Well-balanced and priced.
  5. Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Yarra Valley, VIC, $35.00: Obvious but lithely applied oak-influence, balanced with bright apple and notes of garden herbs. Delicious.

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Australian Shiraz 2.0: Six Wines Worth Finding

Recent tasting of Australian Shiraz at Corkbuzz Wine Studio

Recent tasting of Australian Shiraz at Corkbuzz Wine Studio

I think we can all agree that Australian Shiraz went through a bubble not unlike the housing crisis in the U.S. But just as homeownership is making a slow, wobbly comeback, so is Shiraz trickling back into the market.

I addressed some of the issues the Australian wine market faced in a previous post, so this is old news. But to briefly recap the story of Shiraz, by winemakers’ own admissions, they glommed on to the trend of producing ripe, oaky syrup intended to please palates of critics and Coca-Cola loving Americans. But they made too much of it, and the style expired (or is still expiring—fingers crossed for the Mid-West!), as all trends do. Americans opened up their wallets and palates to different countries—Argentinian Malbec, for example—as well as to leaner wines with greater finesse. Shiraz was left to wither on the proverbial vine.

Enter Australia 2.0. The country has since come to realize their epic mistake for relying on one grape, one style, one low price point and a couple of critters to represent the country’s potential. Frankly, any thoughtful wine drinker can look at a map of Australia and conceive that there are many different micro-climates, varieties, producers and thus styles that should be heading our way.  However, Australians needed introspection; thus, the industry took a look at their own map, defined their regions, embraced them and are looking to share it with us.

In progression towards this goal, Wine Australia has hosted monthly regional immersion classes for industry folks in hopes we spread the good wine word. I have attended class the last four months, each one focusing on different grapes/styles/regions.

To be honest, when the Shiraz class came up on the schedule, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. I had recently been to a tasting that left me underwhelmed—many of the wines were too ripe, lacked acidity, and had the same profile for which we sent the grape packing in the first place. So, why relive the nightmare in the classroom, when there are so many other wines worth knowing? However, I kept an open mind because that is kind of the point of discovery and Australia is, by my own acknowledgment, a big place.

We tasted 22 wines in all price points, and surprise, many of them were wonderful! I felt like I was tasting the real Shiraz, or at least something different from the past 10 years. Don’t get me wrong—the wines still hold loads of plush fruit, but many had depth, complexity and finally some acidity. The class was a great re-introduction to Aussie Shiraz’ potential, and I kept notes on a handful of wines I believe deserve recognition.

What’s fun about this list is that good Shiraz is being made all over Australia, some regions with cooler climes and thus less ripe styles. Here are a few worth seeking out, and my simplified tasting notes from class:

2010 Inkberry Mountain Estate Shiraz-Cabernet, Central Ranges, NSW, $13: Black cherry, blackberry, black raspberry and a touch of menthol; good value.

2009 Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz, Strathbogie Ranges, VIC $20: Fruit and flowers nose; fruit leather, Christmas spice, Sichuan peppercorn and integrated oak palate.

2010 Shingleback The Davey Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale, SA $22: Mint-choco chip ice cream with silky, warm blackberry sauce; lingering, pepper and herb finish.

2008 Plantagenet Shiraz, Mount Barker, WA $29: Earthy, floral and fruity; lifting acidity and a chocolate-minty finish.

2009 Brokenwood Shiraz, Hunter Valley, NSW, $36: Potpourri of baking spice, dried orange rind, cherries with traces of white fruit; good structure and acidity.

2007 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz, Clare Valley, SA $70: Vibrant mint, tobacco and black fruits; silky tannins fine like turkish coffee.

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