Flash back to 30 years ago and imagine yourself browsing through your local retailers’ wine racks. Think there is a section labeled Australia? Probably not.
Just five years later, in about 1989—when I spent some time working in a Manhattan wine shop—Australian wines were muscling their way onto the shelves. Back then, the $7 Chardonnays and $9 Shirazes offered terrific value, easily outdistancing California’s “fighting varietals.”
There wasn’t much interest in the wines at higher price points. Penfolds’ 1986 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon was terrific, but few of the store’s customers were willing to spend $25 to try it.
Inevitably, word got out about the great quality of Australia’s best wines. More and more of them found their way to America, and by the early 2000s, dropping names like Noon, Glaetzer and Riggs was a sure sign that you were in the know.
Yet a few years later, as quickly as you could say, “Global Financial Crisis,” interest in these wines crashed. Many of them disappeared from the American market following 2008. Others lingered on store shelves, overpriced memories of a passing fling.
Today, American interest in Australia’s middle-class and high-end wines is coming back. Even though exchange rate changes mean the wines are no longer the screaming bargains they once were, they can still represent good value. The best combine Australia’s beneficent climate, old, ungrafted vines and winemaking skill into modern masterpieces.
This issue’s Buying Guide includes a good number of wines that fit that description, as well as a number of Best Buys for $15 or less. At the macro level, focus on South Australian red wines from the 2010 and 2012 vintages, which look to be the best years for the region in some time.
98 Penfolds 2008 Grange Shiraz (South Australia). This has all the size and weight you’ve come to expect from Australia’s most famous wine. Huge fruit and huge oak combine in a full-bodied, richly textured package that delivers waves of toasted coconut, vanilla and intense dark berries yet remains embryonic more than five years after the harvest. That said, the texture isn’t quite as tight or as fine as some other vintages—expect this to be early maturing by Grange standards, and best from 2020–2040. Treasury Wine Estates. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $850
94 Leeuwin Estate 2010 Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River). Having earned its reputation as one of Australia’s finest Chardonnays, the challenge is then to maintain that level of quality. The 2010 Art Series certainly does that. Enticing aromas of woodsmoke, peach and pink grapefruit give way to intense flavors of citrus and stone fruit on the palate. It’s full bodied, yet with great focus and length, ending crisply despite the wine’s inherent richness. Drink now–2020, perhaps longer. Old Bridge Cellars.
abv: 14% Price: $89
93 Angove 2010 Warboys Vineyard Grenache (McLaren Vale). A venture into the deep end of pricing perhaps, but the proof is in the bottle. From vines planted in 1964, this is a rich, full-bodied and creamy-textured wine, with complex notes of smoke, vanilla, plum and roasted meat. Approachable now because of its lushness, it should drink well for at least the next several years. Trinchero Family Estates.
abv: 14% Price: $65
92 Pewsey Vale 2007 The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling (Eden Valley). How can one not applaud a winery that holds back some of its top Riesling for a museum release at such a reasonable price? Developed honey and cinnamon notes accent citrus fruit, adding weight and richness to the midpalate while still finishing crisp and completely dry. It’s drinking well now, but should easily hold another 10 years under its screw cap. Negociants USA, Inc. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 12.5% Price: $25
91 D’Arenberg 2010 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz-Grenache (McLaren Vale). A terrific value, this 50-50 blend displays gentle oaking and a hint of warm asphalt, just enough to highlight the wine’s plum and black cherry fruit. It’s full bodied and features a long finish, outlined by wonderfully fine, dusty tannins. Drink now–2018. Old Bridge Cellars. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.1% Price: $20