Fifty K’s South of Woop Woop

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Australian wine – let me rephrase that – Australian fine wine – hasn’t really been on most people’s “wine radar” in the US for the last 10 years. But it is interesting that even if you take away Yellow Tail (which is the second largest selling wine brand in the United States), Australian wine would still be our fourth largest source of foreign wine, still ahead of France and Spain. So why no interest in the higher end wines from Down Under?

Conventional wisdom gives quite a few reasons for the lack of interest in fine wine from Australia: the maturation of the Australian wine market; overproduction; drought and high costs; the strong Australian dollar; the fact that Australian wine has become synonymous with cheap wine; and high-priced Australian wine can be heavy, alcoholic, and oaky. All of this has served to make Australian wine unfashionable.

However, a hidden cause of the Australia problem (not usually discussed in the media) is the appalling conformity and lack of imagination among people that do what I do for a living – wine buyers, sommeliers, and the wine media. Gatekeepers of wine, the ones who make the lists, buy the wines, and those who decide what goes on the wine shop shelves can either be an inspirational source of wine information or the most small-minded barrier to getting delicious wine in front of you. For the last few years, wine buyers and sommeliers have become more of a hindrance than a help. For much of the trade media and for inexperienced buyers, producers just can’t make a wine that is too obscure or with production that is too miniscule. Portland is a prime example of this myopic thinking. Does it taste good? Would I drink more than half a glass? Not my problem!

We made up our collective mind long ago about Australia. No need to taste those wines. Bring me more Listan Negro from the Canary Islands!

There is nothing wrong with small and obscure, but obscure wines need to be kept in perspective and in context. I love unusual wines – if they actually taste good and are not simply intellectually interesting to taste. (I was leading the charge for unknown producers nearly 20 years ago here in Portland). But I care much more about whether a wine is actually delicious or not. Wine writing and being an effective sommelier or buyer is supposed to be about educating consumers and creating awareness of interesting and delicious wines – all types of wine – not just the obscure or hard to find. The wine media is always busy either chasing the next shiny bright wine or producer or busy dismissing anything that doesn’t fit into the current pantheon of what is in fashion among the cognoscenti.

So in large part Australia just became too familiar. We may not have tasted any wines from there in 5 or 6 years. What could have possibly changed?

Honestly, the wine industry is too arrogant for its own good.

Let people like what they like…If the trade actually bothered to educate folks in a less intimidating manner—a less “know it all manner”—with a dollop less ego involved, maybe consumers would be interested in trading up rather than scared of feeling like an idiot in front of the fixture of a wall of wine, not knowing where to start because of the shocking lack of information at the point of purchase.

Okay – rant over.

There have been some valid reasons for dismissing wines from Australia. Wines of place (regional or terroir driven) have been the exception and not the rule. The winemaking processes at some wineries have not always been one of restraint (some pretty rugged mechanical harvesting, acidification, etc.).

So yes, Australia produces loads of characterless supermarket wine, but you can also say the same about California – or just about any other wine region in the world. That doesn’t prevent anyone here from recognizing great California examples of Cabernet or cause anyone to pay less attention to all the goofy practices of the smallest of the small California winemakers. (Can anyone say biodynamic?)

I was fortunate to be invited to Savour Australia 2013 and to be able to spend the last half of September in Australia.

Savour Australia 2013 was the biggest and most comprehensive Australian wine forum ever undertaken there. It was a three-day business forum in Adelaide specifically designed to challenge commonly held perceptions of Australian wine.

After the conference I spent time visiting producers in Barossa and McLarenVale in South Australia. I then flew to Western Australia and visited some of the iconic producers of Margaret River. I have visited many Australian wine regions in the past, but I was particularly impressed with the changes that I saw this time.

A lot of Australian winemakers have been doing their homework. Many have taken the last few tough years to heart and started paying attention to the vineyard more than ever before. Wines of place are popping up more and more frequently. There is restraint, structure, and even lower alcohol levels where that makes sense. Some Australian producers have never stopped producing great wine; they just put their heads down and worked harder.

Here are a few examples of delicious Australian wine for you to try. Whatever your current thinking is about what Australian tastes like – you are probably wrong. We will be offering carefully chosen Australian selections over the next months along with the French, Italian, and Austrian selections we usually focus on. The wine world is far too full of people who think they know what they ought to like (and who disrespect people who don’t share their views and tastes).

Try one or two of these selections and rediscover a great wine growing country.

Vasse Felix Chardonnay Margaret River Western Australia 2012
Vasse Felix is one of the very best wine producers in Australia. The winery is located within the Wilyabrup sub region of Margaret River in Western Australia. They consistently produce a range of elegant, world class wines. Modern Australian Chardonnay is about as far away from the peaches and cream stereotype of the old days as you can get. Nowadays, it’s about select sites, picked earlier and valued not just for their fruit, but the natural yeasts which come with them.

Vasse Felix is on the cutting edge of modern style Chardonnay with their focus on lean, lively and aromatic characters. Vasse Felix always produces a proven medal and trophy winning wine and the Vasse Chardonnay has delicious stone fruit and purity of acid and minerality. It also has length that will accompany light seafood dishes wonderfully. Oak is well in the background. It’s a lighter, super fresh and racy style that will hold great appeal.

$23.50 per bottle

Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa South Australia 2010
Henschke is one of Australia’s most important producers. While Henry’s Seven isn’t the most famous wine from that producer, it is still essential, attention-grabbing, and delicious.

Henschke has been a family run winery since 1868. They make a range of wines (red, white, and sparkling) at their winery based in Eden Valley, which is a cool sub region of Barossa. They also have vineyards in Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, which give them a wide range of grapes with an emphasis on cooler climates.

Henschke has an icon wine, Hill of Grace, and there are many who argue that it is the greatest wine in Australia.

Henry’s Seven is the archetypal Rhône style fusion of Shiraz and Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre which dates back to the early pioneering days of Australia and reflects the history, religion, and culture of Barossa Valley. Henry’s Seven is a tribute to Henry Evans who planted the first seven acres of vineyard at Keyneton in 1853. He quickly developed a reputation for producing the best wines in the colony. Following Henry’s death in 1868, his widow, Sarah, exercised her principles of temperance by closing the winery and uprooting all the historic vines. So much for vision and foresight.

This is a completely delicious wine with aromas of raspberries and plums and hints of pepper and spice. Lively and complex with red fruits, nicely balanced, and a lush texture. It is medium to full-bodied, soft and supple in the mouth with wonderfully pure blackberry and spice flavors supported by crisp acidity and a medium level of velvety tannins. Serve it with grilled lamb.

$39.00 per bottle

Yalumba The Cigar Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra South Australia 2010
Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family owned winery, and they continue to produce wines from the famed Coonawarra terra rossa strip that offer simply amazing value.

This is a beautifully fragrant Cabernet of violet perfume with red and black currants. It has notes of cedar and tobacco. It is all underlined by subtle dark chocolate oak with very fine tannins that draw out the long and elegant finish. Listing the components like this does nothing to describe the overall effect of this wine. The Cigar has the depth to age but shows very well right now.

The Cigar is a brilliant modern take on Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and sells out quickly in Australia every vintage. Here in Portland, we also have a tendency – which is to ignore any wine that is famous or whose name you can pronounce or that you might actually want to drink more than one glass of – so The Cigar is still available.

$22.50 per bottle

Henschke Keyneton Euphorium Barossa South Australia 2009
Keyneton Estate is often the first premium wine from Henschke that people try. The attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship of this wine is a testament to the vision and passion of Stephen and Prue Henschke. Despite making wines at far higher prices, more detail at Henschke goes into this wine than almost any other. Euphorium really displays the house style of power, concentration and brilliantly balanced structural integrity. This is the complete dinner party prestige wine.

A blend of 63% Shiraz, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc that was matured in a combination of new and seasoned French & American hogsheads.

The nose shows scents of blackberry and blackcurrant followed by some spicy cedar and a touch of licorice. This is a full bodied wine but at the same time, one that is relatively elegantly constructed. It has velvet smooth tannins with a long aftertaste of blackcurrant, blackberry, dark chocolate, and spicy cedar.

Absolutely delicious now – but it will live for 20 years.

$58.00 per bottle
All wines are available through Guy du Vin. You can place your order by visiting us online at or emailing We can ship your wine as soon as it is ready, or we can hold your order until you’ve selected a full case. If we don’t have your credit card on file, we’ll give you a call.

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