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A Guide to the Wines of Australia
by Dan Berger


Hunter Valley, NSW

Hunter Valley, NSW




Americans consumed 53 per cent more Australian wine in 2002 than they did in 2001, most of it from south-eastern Australia, which makes good-value wines in the $7 to $12 range. But if you are willing to spend a little more, you can find real deals: distinctive wines from smaller regions.

Three things make these wines such great bargains: the relative weakness of the Australian dollar, a highly developed winemaking industry, and a huge surplus of wine that Australia's 20 million residents can't possibly absorb. But if you are going to find the good values of Australia, you have to know the subregions. These are the most promising.


RECOMMENDED PRODUCERS

COONAWARRA AND THE
LIMESTONE COAST
Katnook Estate
Lindemans
Majella
Parker
Penfolds
Petaluma
Rosemount Estate
Smith & Hooper
Wynn's
Yalumba
BAROSSA VALLEY
Grant Burge
Penfolds
Peter Lehmann
Rockford
Saltram
Seppelt
St. Hallett
Wolf Blass
EDEN VALLEY
Henschke
Mountadam
Orlando
Rockford
Yalumba
YARRA VALLEY
De Bortoli
Domaine Chandon
Mount Mary
Yarra Yering
Yeringberg
CLARE VALLEY
Grosset
Jim Barry
Knappstein
Leisingham
Mount Horrocks
Petaluma
Pikes
Tim Adams

McLAREN VALE
D'Arenberg
Kay's Amery
Normans
Rosemount Estate
Scarpantoni
Tyrrells
MARGARET RIVER
Brookland Valley
Cape Mentelle
Evans & Tate
Howard Park
Leeuwin Estate
Moss Wood
Vasse Felix

COONAWARRA AND THE LIMESTONE COAST
This long, narrow area southeast of Adelaide is quintessential Cabernet Sauvignon territory. A strip of red soil over a limestone substrate results in highly regarded wines that show mint and other herbal notes along with black currant and black cherry. Coonawarra Cabernet is in high demand among producers from other regions, who truck the fruit back to their own wineries. Excellent Shiraz is also made here, as well as a small amount of generally blunt Choirmasters, a recently created district just north of Coonawarra, is beginning to produce red wines of deep concentration. Moreover, Limestone Coast—a designation encompassing Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Chardonnay-friendly Padthaway, and several smaller areas—is producing some remarkably fine wines at value prices.

BAROSSA VALLEY
Australia's heartland wine region, north of Adelaide and home to some of the nation's largest wineries and a host of sensational boutique producers, has been making wine for more than 150 years: rich, powerful Shiraz; dense, full-bodied Cabernet; and soft Merlot. The area, which looks vaguely like California's Napa Valley, boats some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the nation, ancient spindly plants growing in brown, loamy sand. It's also the birthplace of the famed Shiraz-based Grange, first made five decades ago by the late Max Schubert. Always a powerful and very expensive bottle, it is Australia's top contribution to the great wines of the world. But the quality of some lower-priced imports from Barossa is sketchy, so stick to reliable houses.

EDEN VALLEY
A subregion of the Barossa Zone, Eden Valley is a barren plain some 1,200 feet above the Barossa Valley floor. Much cooler and windier, it makes startlingly fine Rieslings. A few areas do have sufficient sunlight to ripen Shiraz and Cabernet, and in fact the small Henschke winery makes a monumental wine here, Hill of Grace—a Shiraz whose adherents consider it better than Grange (at $250, it's even more costly).

YARRA VALLEY
East of Melbourne lies the green and hilly Yarra, Victoria's oldest and most respected wine region. Cooler than most others, it makes splendidly spicy Chardonnay and exotic Pinot Noir. A few producers are in locations warm enough to ripen more delicate styles of Shiraz and Cabernet. Yarra Yering, owned by Dr Bailey Carrodus, has made great wine here since 1969.Other subregions of Victoria export specialty wines, most notably Geelong and Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and Rutherglen dessert wines. The latest value area of Victoria is Yea Valley, over the Great Dividing Range from Yarra; though almost as cool, it has enough warmth to make superb Shiraz.

CLARE VALLEY
A geographical designation seen on relatively few importers' lists, Clare is a cool region 70 miles north of Adelaide that produces bright, dramatic Rieslings. A dozen top-notch wineries, headed by Jeffrey Grosset, have agreed to bottle their Rieslings with screwcaps, arguing that they're a better closure than cork. The wines (most under $20) are amazingly complex. Clare is home to some sublime reds as well, made from Grenache, Shiraz, and other Rhône varieties.

McLAREN VALE
McLaren Vale, just outside coastal Adelaide, may be Australia's most versatile appellation, since it can make a wide variety of wines, most from hillside vineyards. The Chardonnays are fruity (apple and citrus), but there are also stylish Sémillons, fruit-driven Shirazes, and a number of exciting Grenache-Shiraz blends. This region is rapidly gaining status as a dependable producer of excellent wine.

MARGARET RIVER
Located in the southwestern corner of the continent, this is a moderate-climate region. Most of Western Australia makes truly world-class Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, some distinctive cool-climate Shirazes, and a growing number of top-rate Chardonnays, including the most famous white in the country, Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Chardonnay ($65). But domestic demand for the best Western Australian wines makes them difficult to find in the U.S.

  

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