Wine lovers looking to broaden their horizons and learn a little more about wine regions they don't try very often should keep an eye open for events like this one. Around Australia In 80 Sips - held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on January 12, 2012 - offered a chance to travel around Australia in a wine glass.
80 Sips is part of a series of tasting events - held in different American cities every so often - in which participants can discover different facets of the wine world. This time, Australia was the topic. Wine Australia and G'Day USA combined to bring a few dozen Aussie winemakers to the US to pour some sips and open some doors. Additionally, the event served as a fundraiser for St. Vincent Meals On Wheels.
About a year ago I attended an Australian wine dinner which was also presented by G'Day USA. This event, however, was a walk-around wine tasting, which offered a chance to sample many more wines than in a dinner setting. The downside, no dinner. That's alright, I came for the wine.
The way this event was set up was a table-to-table exploration of the different wine regions of Australia. This allowed tasters to get an isolated view of each region's grapes and terroir. There were 40 or so wineries participating in the show, each featuring multiple examples of their efforts.
The McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley of South Australia were represented by almost half the wineries present. Having had ample exposure to those regions, I tried to focus on the ones that were unfamiliar to me in the time available.
The Margaret River region seems to be the Napa Valley of Australia, with so many Cabernets and Chardonnays featured.
Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion, Margaret River - Very nice, grassy nose, quite fresh. Herbal notes on the palate, too. Refreshing. $15
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling, Margaret River - Not terribly fruity, but a very nice acidity. $22
Plantagenet Unoaked Chardonnay Omrah 2009 - Very clean taste. Would have sworn there was a bit of wood, at least.
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Margaret River - Rosy nose, black cherry on the palate. Great tannins. Was told '05 is a good year. Can't argue that. $30
Heathcote's cool climate Shiraz lead the way here.
Jasper Hill Occam's Razor Shiraz, Heathcote - Biodynamic. Very dark, full of minerals and dust, blackberry and spices. $38
Tahbilk Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes - Oldest winery in Victoria. Tropical fruit, salinity, nice acid, nutty finish. $14
Mt. Lahgi Ghiran Shiraz 2004 - Big jammy nose, very dark fruit, black cherry cola finish.
Look for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this region.
Bindi Chardonnay 2009 - Lightly oaked, great finish. From a high elevation vineyard.
Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay - A little heavier on the oak. $35
* Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley - Lively strawberry nose, strawberry soda on palate with a kick of lemon zest. $20 A great buy.
New South Wales
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in Orange, Semillon and Shiraz in Hunter Valley. A fellow named Mark poured me through these, and he was by far the best teacher at any table. Mark would come around pour from in front of the table so he could show on the map where the wines were produced.
Brokenwood Semillon, Hunter Valley - Nice zip. 10% abv. Distinct mineral nose, pears and tropical fruit on palate. From lower Hunter Valley, which Mark cited as a "crap place to grow grapes." due to heat and humidity. They try to harvest early and beat the monsoons. Heard it called the "anti-chardonnay." $19
Eden Road Wines Hilltop Shiraz, Canberra - Chalky mineral nose, tastes big with black fruit, good acidity $22
* Inkberry Shiraz Cabernet, Central Ranges - From a hilltop vineyard. 60% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Floral nose, spicy plum and cherry palate very, very smooth $14 Unbelievable value.
Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Mudgee - Beautiful, dry, light pink, strawberry and raspberry flavors. $19
This region is known for Rieslings which are dry and ageworthy.
Kilikanoon Mort's Block Riesling 2009, Clare Valley - Big petrol play on the nose and palate $20
* Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Clare Valley - BIG mint and eucalyptus aromas, great tannic structure and acid. $17 Great value.
Coonawarra's Cabs show great character.
Henry's Drive Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Padthaway - A refined nose, beautiful raspberry/cassis with mint on finish. $40
* Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz 2007, Padthaway - Brambly, brawny, blackberry nose, palate raspberry and blackberry, very masculine, burly. $35 Well worth it.
Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra - Floral minerals with a big grip. $26
This South Australia region likes ripe Shiraz and savory Grenache.
Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache, McLaren Vale - Cherry, good acidity, big tannins. $27
d'Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale - Big cassis and clove notes. $65
Mr Riggs Shiraz, McLaren Vale - Elegant and huge, tobacco on the nose. Tastes rich and red. $66
Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek
They like their Sauvignon Blanc in Adelaide Hills but it was a red from Langhorne Creek that grabbed me.
* Brothers In Arms Shiraz 2002, Langhorne Creek - Very much like a Cab with graphite on nose and palate. Great tannins. $20 A steal.
Penfolds Thomas Hyland Riesling 2011, Adelaide Hills - Fruity with nice acid. $14
Wakefield Estate Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills - Violets. $17
Zonte's Footstep The Lake Doctor Shiraz/Viognier, Langhorne Creek - Nice floral with black fruit. $16
Riesling is cited as the big thing here.
The South Australia region wows 'em with Shiraz and Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre blends.
I didn't see any Tasmania wines, but they may have been represented on the sparkling wine or dessert wine table - I ran out of time before reaching those delights.