Sunday, March 16, 2014

Australia: A Place for Wine but Not Wines of Place

This is my first post in nearly a month, and I apologize. I was in Australia for three weeks and, even though I was enjoying wine every day, I never found the time or energy to record my experiences. At this point, I cannot give detailed notes but only some general observations.

As you've probably discovered, I am a wine terroirist; I find it most interesting to explore the soil, micro-climates and vineyards that produce exciting wines. Even quality is less important to me than place, origin and the qualities they bring to what is in the bottle. In Australia, that approach is not so popular. The most revered wine, in fact, is Penfold's Grange Hermitage, a wine that refuses even to reveal the source of the grapes used, which presumably differs with each vintage. Even though the wine is generally recognized as a Shiraz, there is usually a bit of Cabernet in the blend as well. Grapes are chosen for their quality and their ability to represent the Grange's distinctive personality. Grange is clearly a winemaker's wine, not a wine of place.

Thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law, we enjoyed a bottle of the 1979 Grange. It was beautiful with a powerful fruit presence both on the nose and palate, even at 25 years of age. I think I could detect both Syrah and Cabernet, but they blended together beautifully with each other and with the oak. I remember dark cherry, cassis and leather. At $600 plus a bottle, Grange has never been on my shopping list. But this is an undeniably special bottle, even if it is not a wine of place.

We also had a bottle of the 1998 Penfold's Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, a wine that is matured partly in barrels previously used for Grange Hermitage. Bin 389 is a very good wine that has been increasing in price much more rapidly in Australia (where it now sells for upwards of $50) than in the United States (where buyers seem to balk at price tags over $20 for this wine). On our visit three years ago, this 1998 Bin 389 was showing beautifully; by 2014, its charms were possibly beginning to fade a bit. But it's still a very enjoyable wine that will carry on for several more years.

That said, I will now report on several Australian wine regions we visited--each offering distinctive traits deriving from what Europhiles call terroir.

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