Discover Australia and New Zealand wines
Recent reports from Wine Australia indicate that exports to the United States have increased over the past year, effectively curtailing a decade-long decline faced by the country’s wine industry. Add to that the fact that Australia is now the number one wine exporter to China (overtaking France), and things are looking decidedly good for a country whose wines had been waining in popularity.
Most Australian producers (who are being honest) will tell you the blame for this situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the industry itself. The tendency to promote the “popular priced” category over the higher end, higher quality numbers (the country gives us Penfold’s Grange after all) became a problem when other countries (Chile, Argentina, and the like) were delivering “fruit bombs” at even lower prices (which hasn’t exactly helped the sale of higher end Chilean and Argentinian wines…but that’s another story).
New Zealand came out of the gate as a producer of generally higher priced wines that have continued to gain in popularity (2018 marked the 23rd consecutive year of export growth). So, to celebrate the resurgence of Australian quality wines and those of New Zealand, I encourage you to track down the following.
Though often synonymous with Shiraz, Australia also produces some terrific whites (including a few exceptional Semillon-based wines that I personally don’t see enough). Take the Hay Shed Hill Chardonnay 2016 as a great example of what the country can do with this popular variety. Mouthwatering aromas of sweet melon, pear, vanilla and clove give way to equally intense flavours of pear, apple, and a touch of buttered popcorn. Its intensity is tempered by crisp, zesty acidity wrapped around a mid-weight package.
As Australia with Shiraz, New Zealand’s wine reputation has been based on Sauvignon Blanc. However, the country has much more to offer. Gewürztraminer, in my experience, is sometimes a tricky grape to work with. If not done right, the wines it yields can be flabby, hot, unbalanced and bitter. Well, hats off to the folks at Dry River Winery in Martinborough. The 2016 “Lovat Vineyard” Gewurz is, in a word, spectacular. Not so much because of its power, but because it manages to deftly balance the grape’s wild, rose petal, lychee and Asian spice characteristics with sublime balance. It’s incredibly exotic and rich, but absolutely seamless. I’m an admitted Gewuz fan, and this is quite possibly the best example I’ve ever tasted.
I was “accidentally” sent the 2016 vintage of The Barossan Shiraz, which was then replaced by the 2017 (since the 2016 had already sold through). I appreciate these sorts of errors. In any case, both vintages were extremely enjoyable, but I’ll focus on the 2017. Loaded with aromatic notes of black raspberry, mocha/vanilla, cedar, blueberry and just a bare whiff of smoked meat, it’s packed with ripe flavours of smoky dark plum, mint, cocoa powder and a dash of white pepper. It’s certainly full and powerful, but in no way overbearing. Try with BBQ ribs (if you’re still grilling at this point).
The Margret River of Australia is known for producing wines of elegance. A pair of reds from Hay Shed Hill – the 2016 Cabernet Merlot and the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 2” – certainly confirm the common consensus. The former is mid-weight and packed full of black raspberry, white pepper and graphite, with soft tannins and a memorable finish. The latter, made from fruit from the winery’s oldest vines, is powerful and complex with loads of cassis, smoke, wet gravel and lead pencil on the nose, and flavours redolent of blackcurrant, dark chocolate, blueberry and some char/smoke nuances. Both wines are poised and beautifully structured.
While New Zealand’s vinous reputation still rests mostly with its white wines, there are some terrific reds that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Take, for example, the 2016 Pinot Noir from Decibel Wines in Martinborough. This is a gorgeously aromatic Pinot offering up layers of sweet raspberry compote, red liquorice, cedar/sandalwood, vanilla bean and an engaging herbal note (basil?). From there it glides across the palate on a wave of baking spice, sweet raspberry and wild herbs. Silky, sexy, seductive and ethereal.
Looking for a bit more oomph? Try the 2015 Maison Noir Syrah. Certainly more of a French style than Australian, it’s a complex, medium-full Syrah showing classic white pepper, plum, anise and smoke on the nose that segue into complex flavour notes featuring slightly spicy dark plum, cracked pepper and nuances of smoke and wet slate.