Having an opportunity to spend three weeks in Australia for our honeymoon we had a fantastic opportunity to dip into Aussie wines.
- Australian wines are amazing values
- Shiraz is a wonderful food wine
- Sparkling Shiraz is just plain yummy
- Shiraz really likes time to open up (30-60 minute minimum)
- Shiraz / Cabernet blends are great
- Pinot Noirs from Barossa or Hunter are boring and bland, stick to Victoria (especially Yara Valley) if you want to drink Australian Pinots but head even further south to New Zealand for the best Pinots down under.
- Most Australian restaurants serve wine from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. High end places will have some French and Italian wines. There are very few California offerings to be found. When you do find some they are astronomically priced.
Here is a PhotoShow of our trip to Australia's Hunter Valley wine region....
Here are some tasting notes....
Tastings @ Bedarra
We stayed at a small exclusive island resort Bedarra for the first 4 days of our honeymoon. There were a max of 28 guests on the island with a staff of 34 so it was nice and quiet and the service was spectacular. Food and wine were already included in the price of staying there so the more you drank the more you saved ; - ). The food was simply amazing and we definitely paired each lunch and dinner with plenty of wine to get to know most of their list pretty well. The staff was very cool about us showing up to dinner and saying thing like “We would like to do a Shiraz tasting with dinner tonight, can you please open these 4 bottles for us”. We were in heaven. Here is how we faired:
04 Knappstein, Clare Valley, South Australia ** - This was a great Shiraz that had lovely distinctive fruit and noticeable Oak that was beautifully balanced.
04 Saltram Mamre Brook Barossa Valley, South Australia * This was a great wine that really needed time to open. Once opened it paired great with Kanagroo (a real lean meat that you need to eat rare/ medium rare).
04 Plantagenet, Mount Baker, Western Australia * - This delightful Shiraz leads with a nice chocolate taste and has a pepper finish.
04 Brokenwood Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Hunter Valley, New South Whales ** - This is a superb food wine that will age well with great tannin structures. It definitely needs 30 minutes in a decanter at this stage.
01 Turkey Flat, Mataro, Shiraz & Grenache, Barossa Valley South Australia *- This was a fun blend. Mataro is Spanish (and Australian) for Mourvedre (think Shiraz / Syrah). This type of “GSM” combination is fairly common and a great blend.
05 Henscke Johann’s Garden (GSM), Barossa Valley, South Australia * This was a nice bottle that should be great after a couple years in the bottle.
06 Coldstream Hill, Yara Valley, Victoria- ** A very nice light and versatile Pinot Noir that pairs with food or is great on its own. I heard these guys just got acquired by Fosters so we may start seeing Coldstream Hill in the states.
06 Mt Difficulty ‘Roaring Meg’, Otago, New Zealand *- This was a big Pinot that seemed unmistakably New Zealand to me.
06 Stonier, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria- Okay but nothing special, light on fruit and complexity.
Hunter Valley Tastings
After enjoying island life we went to the Hunter Valley and spent 4 days and nights cruising around on bikes and tasting the offerings of “The Hunter”. Hunter Valley only produces 4% of Australia’s wines but is generally focused on small batch and single vineyard offerings so it has some great wines.
The predominant varietals in the Hunter are Shiraz, Semillon and Verdelho (originally a Portuguese varietal that I wasn’t familiar with).
The Semillon came in a few styles: young (normal) release, aged release, late harvest and Botrytis. Not being a huge white drinker, the young release I always found somewhat subtle and boring, missing any real character. The aged releases were bottle aged for about a decade and then released. These went from the clear white young release to a browner tint with a bit more distinction but still too nonchalant for my palette. The late harvest Semillon’s were delightful desert wines that were not too sweet but really enjoyable. The Botrytis Semillon was like the nectar of the gods. It was syrupy sweet and incredibly complex all at once.
Verdelho was a curious varietal. It was a primary offering at every vineyard and it was a nice cool crisp refreshing way to break the afternoon heat of the Hunter Valley. It pairs well with seafood including, bugs (think Australian lobster), oysters, scallops and crab.
Shiraz is the reason to go to the Hunter in my opinion. There are some amazing producers who are definitely creating some of the best Syrah / Shiraz in the world right now. Despite two of the premier offerings called, “Hell Hole” and “Grave Yard” Hunter was Shiraz heaven. Dollar for dollar it is simply amazing. Many of the producers (especially the larger ones) were also producing Shiraz in Barossa so we were able to enjoy plenty of Barossa Shiraz and blends as well. In general we found a few ways Shiraz was offered. Sparkling Shiraz is a champonaise style production using Shiraz grapes. This has to be the best kept secret in wine right now. We also enjoyed many pink Shiraz and Shiraz blends. There were certainly a ton of great single varietal (and even single vineyard) Shiraz offerings. There is definitely a strong focus on Shiraz blends too. Most commonly: Cabernet Shiraz, GSM (Grenache Shiraz, Mourvedre) and Shiraz Viogner. Here is what we found in the Hunter:
Hermitage Road area (The Hunter Resort where we stayed was in the middle of this area and we enjoyed tooling around on our bikes).
06 Barrel Fermented Rose (Shiraz) – ** Very Nice
04 Shiraz $20AU - ** Nice plum flavor
06 Semillon Gold Botrytis $18.50AU (375ml) ** This decadent gold wine is definitely extremely sweet and syrupy but still incredibly complex and fascinating.
Iron Bark Hill
This place was one of my favorite stops for sure. It was a very cool modern tasting room that served excellent coffee (somewhat hard to find in Australia) and was serviced but a super friendly Australian bloke. We had the opportunity t o chat with the winemaker too. He was a Drayton descendant (early Hunter Valley pioneer) and a real class act that shared some good stories and seemed just thrilled that we went to Bedarra.
05 Effervesce ** $25AU - Sparkling champagne from 80% Semillon and 20% chardonnay. This concoction was very tasty but also super light and refreshing. It seemed like a perfect expression of the Hunter as it would cool you down on hot summer days and why not make your champagne out of your local Semillon that is so definitive Hunter Valley.
04 Merlot * - This Merlot was the lightest Merlot I have ever tasted (common to find light Merlots in the Hunter Valley). It is actually picked at 14-16 Brix about halfway through the growing season.
06 House of Sticks Cab Merlot * Still a bit young but nice structure and should age well.
Little Pig Verdelho – This fortified is sold in a decanter. It was a bit on the medicinal side for my taste but there was still something incredibly interesting and complex that pulled me into this one. Serve with rice pudding.