11 Buyers, 1 Store, 8000 Wines

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

If ever there will be a day when Australia is no longer synonymous with Shiraz, it will probably won't come for a long time. It’s not as though the Aussies are trying to get away from this notion, either. Shiraz is by far the most planted variety on the continent, accounting for over 40 percent of the vineyard area planted to red grapes. Big and concentrated Australian Shiraz has firmly established itself as the country’s signature style, one that other New World countries have started to imitate— most notably, South Africa and Israel.

Still, there is much to Australian wine beyond Shiraz. A good deal of it, undiluted by mass-market demand for a predictable, homogenous product, is some of the most authentic and honest New World wine on the market today. I’ve tried to find as many of these wines as possible, and to populate 67’s shelves with a mix that represents the true breadth of Australian winemaking.

Take Cabernet Sauvignon, arguably the world’s most recognized red grape variety. Australian plantings abound — Cab is the second most-planted red grape here, after Shiraz — and many different styles have emerged. At one end are the dark, rich modern wines, high in extract and alcohol; in slightly cooler (and lesser well-known) regions such as South Australia’s Coonawarra and Western Australia’s Margaret River, we encounter a more balanced, structured and complex style of Cab, such as the 2010 Margaret River Cabernet from Ringbolt. The winery is named after a settler ship that sank off the coast of Western Australia in the 1800s. The wine also pays tribute to the hardships endured by the region’s early settler-farmers, and in more than name alone - the wine’s earthy, rugged core resembles that of some European Cabernets. Its intensity is still distinctly Australian, though — abundantly fruity, with a heady bouquet of wild red currants and a hint of smoke.

At the other end of the spectrum of French influence, we find Pinot Noir. One might argue that there are few spots in such a hot country where Pinot Noir should be grown... and they would be right. To find a suitable place, one needs to look to vineyards at high elevations, as well as to those at the continent’s extreme southern latitudes. One of the southernmost regions is the Mornington Peninsula, which sits almost directly across the Bass Strait from the island of Tasmania and whose maritime exposure offers a much more moderate climate than even that of nearby Melbourne. The Moorooduc Estate Winery, in the town of the same name, sits on hilly terrain and thus has excellent growing conditions for Pinot Noir. The 2010 Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir is not a shy wine; it shows off the warmth of the 2010 vintage with its bright, pure cherry fruit. Yet it has great elegance and nuance as well —the light, airy texture and complex yet subtle flavors are distinctly Pinot Noir. It’s amazing to think that this fickle and notoriously challenging variety has found a home on the Mornington Peninsula, almost as far as one can travel from its traditional home in Burgundy.

When I first started working with our Australian section, I decided (as something of a joke, perhaps) to come up with a relatively obscure and unlikely request of my suppliers: I asked around to see if anyone in Australia made a Dolcetto, a grape native to Italy’s Piemonte region. Sure enough, “сбылась мечта идиота” as my former compatriots like to say, and a young, enthusiastic Aussie named Gordon Little showed up with exactly that. Well, almost... The 2010 Route du Van Dolcetto-Shiraz is a blend, of which 30 percent is Shiraz. Its spirit, however, is that of Dolcetto,  a hearty, rustic variety that has been a staple at the tables of farmers and peasants in the Piedmont for centuries. Route du Van's philosophy is simple: make wines that are flavorful, balanced, and complementary at the dinner table. Their Dolcetto-Shiraz is exactly that - a fun, juicy wine with enough complexity to weave its way into the tapestry of a great meal.

All this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I’ve managed to find in recent months, as well as what still remains to be discovered. The search for Australia’s obscure and unique gems is a challenge I relish, and my greatest satisfaction is lies in taking others with me on that journey. I hope you make the time to try a few of these bottles, and to discover (or re-discover) Australian wine for the treasure that it is.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Dmitriy. I love the Moorooduc Pinot as it's not just great Pinot, but great Australian pinot. Interestingly, Mornington is climatically similar to Burgundy but with its own distinct subregions and soil types. Moorooduc is in the north, producing a more fuller-bodied pinot than some wineries in the southern part ("up the hill"). As you go further south Antarctica awaits, though the region is pretty small.

    As for Route du Van...Dolcetto-Shiraz! What a combination. The brightness of the dolcetto is enhanced by the length, roundness and structure of the shiraz. For folks who think that Australia only produces full bodied reds, this is something to change their tune!

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  2. I don't think there is such a thing as an Australian style of Shiraz - it is far too diverse. What the US saw for a long time was from the Barossa and Mclaren Vale, and it is now assumed that is the 'Australian' style. Shiraz is made in most regions and there are more than 60 around the country
    You are right about it being the tip of the iceberg on alternate varieties too. With no rules about what can be planted where and many regions still only 20-30 years old, there is a lot of trial and error going on so practically everything is made somewhere.
    Moorooduc isn't exactly a township - there is no real town there but there are some excellent wineries there and that Mooroduc Pinot is excellent. Also look to the Regions of Macedon and the Yarra Valley as well as Tasmania for pinot.

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