Aussie rules, OK?

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

In the beginning was the Word. Then came the List. The grandaddy of all wine lists, the 1855 classification of Bordeaux, ranked the Medoc's top 61 wines, headed by the five now world-famous First Growths. It was a league of quality, based on prices the wines had been fetching for over a century, and remains valid today. You may not expect to find a similar classification of wines in Australia. But using market prices obtained at auction, Australian auctioneers at Langton's have come up with just such an enterprise.

In the beginning was the Word. Then came the List. The grandaddy of all wine lists, the 1855 classification of Bordeaux, ranked the Medoc's top 61 wines, headed by the five now world-famous First Growths. It was a league of quality, based on prices the wines had been fetching for over a century, and remains valid today. You may not expect to find a similar classification of wines in Australia. But using market prices obtained at auction, Australian auctioneers at Langton's have come up with just such an enterprise.

Given an evolving market with yo-yoing reputations, Langton's requires a 10-year record of sales for wines to qualify. Its third Classification of Australian Wine shows that in little more than a decade, Australia has developed a critical mass of fine wines. As recently as the late 1980s, Australia was still in thrall to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. As the European classics became prohibitively expensive, Australia started to enjoy a golden age of home-grown expansion. From a tiny base, the numbers have grown significantly, as have the identities of regions such as the Barossa, Clare and Yarra Valleys, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and Margaret River.

Langton's list ranks the greats of Australian wine, starting with its exceptional-rated top seven "First Growths": Penfolds Grange, Henschke's Hill of Grace, Mount Mary's Quintet Cabernets, Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Chardonnay, Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet and Wendouree Shiraz. The remaining 82 wines are divided into three further quality bands. Reflecting growing confidence in the prestige of fine Australian wine, Langton's gavel-happy British auctioneer, Andrew Caillard MW, brought almost all 89, plus a handful of up-and-coming cult wines, to London for a tasting.

It was not a foregone conclusion that the best reputations would emerge unscathed. Of 18 white wines, the best for me were the youthful, minerally 2002 Clare Valley Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, and in the chardonnay section, the stylish, complex 1999 Giaconda, the exotically rich Leeuwin Estate and the Burgundian-style 2000 Coldstream Hills Reserve.

The small pinot noir section was disappointing, with only the silky Valley Mount Mary justifying its exalted reputation. Excitement kicked in with the cabernet sauvignon and shiraz sections, with 35 cabernet sauvignons or cabernet blends and 40-odd shirazes. Coonawarra confirmed the class of a number of its cabernet sauvignons with fine examples from Leconfield, Parker Coonawarra Estate, Orlando's St Hugo, Wynns John Riddoch and Penfolds Bin 707. Elsewhere, Margaret River's Cape Mentelle and Cullen, Tasmania's Domaine A and Seppelt Dorrien showed the diverse character of Australian cabernet.

Shiraz shone, although not universally. In the medium-bodied styles, the Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2 from Yarra Valley showed its elegant, Rhône-like class, while, also from Victoria, shirazes from Best's, Craiglee, Mount Langhi and Dalwhinnie confirmed the finesse of the cooler-climate style. Not surprisingly, South Australia dominated: Coriole's Lloyd from McLaren Vale and the Clare's Jim Barry Armagh were excellent (see Cellar Notes, right). Barossa Valley produced a raft of strapping reds from the likes of Grant Burge's Meschach, Torbreck's Run Rig, Barossa Valley Estate's E&E Black Pepper, Glaetzer and Peter Lehmann's Stonewell. Altogether, a feather in Langton's cap and proof that Jacob's Creek is no longer a synonym for Australian wine.

Comments