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They come from a land down under

Australia’s first vineyards were planted in the late 18th century in a small area near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Today the Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine with approximately 750 million litres a year going overseas and only about 40% of production being consumed domestically. Ben Smith of award-winning wine importer Enotria celebrates the antipodean offering

Since the mid-1980s, the UK wine drinker has enjoyed an extended love affair with Australian wines. Back then, our jaded palates, tired of the same old insipid European styles, with labels that were hard to fathom, found the ‘up and at ’em’ freshness and vitality of Aussie wines – packed full of fruit and with names anyone could pronounce – hit the spot and have done so ever since. Nowadays it is hard to imagine a wine landscape that does not contain a buttery Aussie Chardonnay or spicy Shiraz.

Mount Langi Vineyard, VictoriaMount Langi Vineyard, Victoria

Early days

With the advent of the European settlers came Australia’s first vines, which were planted widely across the South Eastern region of the country, almost anywhere the European immigrants put down roots. The abundant sunshine of their new home led the settlers to produce powerful, often fortified styles that they named after wines they had left back in the ‘old world’: Port, Sherry, even Champagne.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the more switched on growers began to take note of the vineyards that really flourished and produced great fruit, year after year. Notable among these were the Barossa Valley in South Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Two particular styles emerged from there: Shiraz from the Barossa and Semillon from the Hunter. As these grew in popularity, the ‘old world’ began to take notice. One Shiraz-based wine in particular, Penfold’s Grange Hermitage, began to win international wine competitions and shake a few preconceptions around the world.

Celebrating diversity

Nowadays great Aussie wines are made across the continent, from east to west, and in a huge variety of styles. Here are some of the most popular wine styles:

Sparkling wine

Tooma RiverAustralian fizz has really made a mark in the UK; we love the bubbly stuff, especially when it doesn’t break the bank. Australian winemakers have taken the classic Champagne model – and often with the same grapes – and produced some refreshingly approachable examples. As with any good fizz, it’s just the drop to get celebrations off with a bang but also pairs nicely with salads, shellfish and even a decadent pudding. Look out for Tooma River from South East Australia or Yarrabank from Victoria.

Chardonnay

Yering ChardonnayFor a while it seemed as though Chardonnay was the only grape variety from Australia that anyone had heard of – then people started trying other Aussie wines. But ‘Chardy’ still rules for many a white wine drinker. Winemakers love it because it is easy to grow and very adaptable. Consumers love it because it is mouth-filling and fruity. Tropical fruits abound in most examples.

Recently we have seen much more restrained styles becoming popular, however there will always be a place for the rich, buttery style as well. Try Little Yering Chardonnay from Yering Station, one of the Victoria Region’s top names, and pair with white meat salads or canapés.

Shiraz

Billi Billi ShirazIf Chardonnay hits the spot for whites, then Shiraz is the king of the reds. Spicy, chunky with lots of dark fruit, it is the perfect match for red meats, stews, even hard cheese. But with its classic Aussie friendliness, it can be enjoyed with just about anything. A brilliant example is the Billi Billi Shiraz from Mount Langi Ghiran, which goes down a storm in all sorts of outlets.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Parker cabernet sauvignonThe other big star from South Australia is Cabernet Sauvignon. With its chocolatey, dark fruit and classical structure, Cabernet does very well in Australia and makes a great match for rare roast beef or aged cheeses. It is often blended with Shiraz to make a classic blend. Parker Estate from Coonawarra makes one of Australia’s most celebrated examples.

Other grapes and styles

Among the melting pot of wines doing very well in Australia, look out for the following three in particular:

  • Riesling – often lime-laden, very refreshing whites
  • Pinot Noir – the classic grape of Burgundy becomes big, buxom and very beautiful, especially from Victoria
  • Semillon – one of the original grapes planted in Australia, it makes classically ‘waxy’ white wines with real finesse.

Key regions

Australian wine: key regions

New South Wales:
Hunter Valley for Semillon and Shiraz

Victoria:
Mornington Peninsula for Pinot Noir and Yarra Valley for Pinot and Chardonnay

Coonawarra:
the famous home of Cabernet Sauvignon

Barossa:
Shiraz is the main feature here

Margaret River:
in Western Australia, Cabernet Sauvignon and white wine blends do especially well, but can be on the pricey side

How much should you pay for Australian wine?

This is a common question and it is not an easy one to answer. Australian wine is available at a whole range of price points – but the Australians’ winemaking techniques and great knowledge of their land mean you will very rarely find an Aussie wine you don’t get on with.

So buy the styles of wine that suit your particular menu or bar, and spend as much as you feel comfortable with. There are iconic Australian wines that can cost plenty, although even these are usually much cheaper than their European fine wine counterparts. In general, the mid-price examples offer tremendous value for money and very rarely disappoint.

Australian wines at Bestway and Batleys

Quarry Hill Colombard Chardonnay AustraliaQuarry Hill Colombard Chardonnay Australia

A fresh and fruity blend typical of Colombard and Chardonnay. This refreshing dry white wine has a lively floral aroma and real varietal character. It is ideal on its own or with white meat or fish dishes.

Quarry Hill Shiraz AustraliaQuarry Hill Shiraz Australia

One of Australia’s original bench-mark varieties is represented here as a wine showing distinctive redcurrant and peppery flavours with ripe tannins and a seductive softness. Perfect with hearty meats.

From its origins as an Italian wine specialist, Enotria now supplies quality wines from all over the globe. The company has been shortlisted as IWC Specialist Merchant of the Year for Australia for 2012.
www.enotria.co.uk

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