When the Australian Wine Club recently held a major tasting, I was able to put these assessments from Sydney-based auction house Langtons to the test. The AWC has a list of excellent wines put together by Craig Smith. Over the years this quiet man of Australian wine has done much to out Aussie wines with individuality in our supermarkets and restaurants. Maintaining much of the original cast list such as St Hallett, Tim Adams, Primo Estate and Chapel Hill, it brings some exciting new names to the list without an overreliance on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
On one of my first trips to Australia I sat next to an Adelaide man who extolled the virtues of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. Rockford, a classic old vine Barossa shiraz made by Robert 'Rocky' O'Callaghan, now takes its place in Langtons' "Exceptional" category of Australian "First Growths". It ages brilliantly, turning into a majestic Hermitage-like red and the 2002 Basket Press Shiraz, £23.99 (arriving next month) is no exception. Rockford's contrasting Eden Valley Riesling, £11.50, is a fine example of the variety with the "keroseney" character of cool climate riesling.
Clare Valley riesling, headed by Jeffrey Grosset's Polish Hill Riesling, the only Aussie riesling in Langton's "Outstanding" category, features strongly in the club's portfolio. Taut and minerally in its youth, the 2004 Polish Hill, £16.99, develops classic citrus scents. Sevenhill Riesling, £11.99, from the Jesuit Brother May of Sevenhill, is another classic Clare, while the 2004 Poverty Hill Riesling, £9.99, is in the "keroseney" mould. Hunter Valley's unique semillons meanwhile are well-represented by Tyrrells, with a fine 1999 Reserve Semillon, £15.99, and Tower Estate's classic, lemony 2002 Tower Estate Semillon, £12.99.
Accounting for 50 of the 101 entries in the new classification, shiraz, unsurprisingly, is a major feature of the Australian Wine Club list. Charlie Melton is best known for his cult Barossa classic 2001 Nine Popes, £21.99, but Melton's 2001 Barossa Shiraz, £22.99, is also a model of its kind with spicy richness and blackberry fruit concentration. Peter Lehmann's, long-lived, powerful 1998 Stonewell Shiraz, £30, displays immensely rich liquorice spice and bittersweet chocolate characters, while 2002 Thorn-Clarke William Randell Shiraz, £23.99, is another fine example of the opulent liquorice and chocolate style.
Doug Bowen and his daughter Emma's 2001 Bowen Estate Coonawarra Shiraz, great value at £13.99, displays an astonishingly aromatic degree of peppery cool climate intensity. Victoria's 2002 Pondalowie Bendigo Shiraz, £12.99, is a cool climate style with soft, liquorice spicy characters. For shiraz in an elegant style that apes the Côte Rôtie, Clonakilla's 2003 Canberra District Shiraz Viognier, £29.99, is fragrantly and flagrantly peppery with floral notes, silky tannins and savoury fruitiness. Yet another variation in a theme, underlining Langton's cogently argued case for "the extraordinary change in perception of Australian wine quality".