Anthony Rose: 'Tasmania is rapidly becoming Australia's 'little Champagne''
Saturday 18 June 2011
The main conclusion of a week of judging 1,000 Australian wines at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards – black teeth apart – was the extent to which the regions are coming into focus as champions of specific wine styles.
Once a country delivering value "Brand Australia" chardonnay and shiraz, Australia's higher quality wines today are no longer defined just by grape variety, but by region and producer as well.
Some styles are uniquely Aussie. Semillon, for instance, finds its best expression in the Hunter Valley. Time was when there were three distinct styles classified according to type as 'chablis' (lean), 'white burgundy' (full-bodied), or 'riesling' (the best).
Today, Hunter Semillon is a style in its own right, producing astonishing value dry whites like the mature, toasty 2005 McWilliam's Mount Pleasant Cellar Release Elizabeth Semillon, around £10, Majestic, Sainsbury's, Tesco. The 2006, arriving later this year, won gold, as did Tyrrell's 1999 Vat 1 Semillon and Brokenwood's 2005 ILR Semillon, both from the Hunter.
Semillon blended with sauvignon blanc à la white bordeaux is a Margaret River style that may not be unique, but it convincingly apes white Graves and Cape blends in wines like the zesty 2010 Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Margaret River, £14.19, Justerini & Brooks (020-7208 2508), expected in the UK shortly.
Dry riesling is not the exclusive preserve of Australia but here, too, specific regions are emerging as best for the variety. South Australia's Clare and Eden Valleys head the list, the latter home to the concentrated and intensely lime zesty/toasty 2005 Wigan Riesling, around £14, Great Western Wine, slurp.co.uk, winning gold for the second successive year; and the excellent 2004 McGuigan Shortlist Riesling.
Western Australia has its riesling pockets, one of which, the aptly named Great Southern, has produced one of Australia's consistently great value rieslings in the 2010 Tesco Finest Tingleup Riesling, £8.99, a mouthwateringly tropical dry white from Howard Park.
Tasmania's rapidly becoming Australia's "little Champagne". Both sparkling golds were from Tassie, the 2003 House of Arras Grand Vintage from Hardy's and the remarkable value Jansz Premium Rosé NV, around £13.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants (01223 568 993), Hanging Ditch (0161 832 8222), Selfridges, a raspberries and cream textured pinot noir and chardonnay blend from Yalumba.
Of all Australia's emerging regions, the most exciting for its elegant bordeaux-style reds is Western Australia, in particular Margaret River. There were gold medals for the relatively cheap 2010 Catching Thieves Cabernet Merlot, the 2007 Thompson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Houghton Great Southern CW Ferguson Cabernet Malbec and a very fine 2009 Amelia Park Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter around £20, Thorold Wines (020-8616 0503), Bottle Apostle (020-8985 1549).
Chardonnay is up there, too. Margaret River produced gold medal winners in the 2009 Streicker Ironstone Block Old Vine chardonnay and 2008 Evans & Tate Redbrook Chardonnay, but here it has to compete with at least three other great locations for chardonnay in Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Adelaide Hills. Could it be that of all white wine styles, chardonnay is now Australia's strongest suit? Watch this space, mate.
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