After 16 days on the road in Australia I have a few new thoughts on the place. More than just a few, in fact. #1 Wine Australia did a spectacular job of putting together a program for 10 geeky wine nerds. Between the logistics of just getting us around, to having everything on time and feel seamless, everything was so easy (for us). We were also incredibly lucky to have Mark Davidson, future MW, leading us around. Mark is clearly very knowledgable about Australia and the US market, where he lives in Des Moines (really), but made a very big but discrete effort to ensure that we all got as much from the program as we could, be it through asking lots of questions or pointing out things he thought we may have missed or encouraging us to relax and just enjoy the wines, too. Thanks, Mark, you’re a rockstar!
Take away #2: Australia has a pretty diverse array of wines; it ain’t all Shiraaaaaz. I knew this to be true because I have lovely friends like Simone who have exposed my palate to Jamsheed, Arfion, Journey Wines, William Downie, and Circe among a few others, but what I didn’t realize is that it’s not all happening in Victoria. Over in South Australia there’s a whole pack of experimental young winemakers doing some really interesting stuff. I had the wines of Lucy Margaux in Hong Kong at My House and LOVED them, but didn’t realize this was just a small piece of the Adelaide Hills awesomeness puzzle. Ochota Barrels, BK Wines, Murdoch Hills, and Jauma were revelations. The whole focus is on site and drinkability which means limited intervention in the winery: whole bunch with less extraction, less oak, less alcohol, less S02, with a goal of creating totally crushable wines. And that they are.
I also have to give a shout to some new discoveries in Yarra- Timo Mayer, Luke Lambert, Gembrook Hills- especially their new project the Wanderer. Interestingly the wines aren’t limited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there’s also Syrah (read: not Shiraaaaz), Chenin Blanc, Grenache (Mark pushed me over the edge- I’m officially a fan- but old vines are key), Semillon (more on this later), Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Gamay, Savignin- not to mention a range of styles from petillant, white, rose, and red in varying weights.
Take away #3: mature Semillon has got to be one of the world’s most interesting and deliciously weird white wines. Young Semillon has the potential to be quite kerosene-y, neutral, and off putting. Throw it in the bottle for 10+ years and you have yourself a masterpiece. The nuts and honey come out and you’re left with a totally savory, low alcohol, palate cleansing beauty. Semillon is also the perfect pairing with oysters, dare I say, better than Muscadet. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s totally underrated.
Take away #4: South Australia is on the ball. They may have lost market share after the GFC (Aussies love a good acronym) but they’re scheming to make a comeback. In McLaren Vale, which is essentially the breadbasket of South Australia for its near perfect conditions for grape growing, there is a push among the more forward thinking producers for alternative varietals. The winemakers have noted the extreme change in temperature- about 1.5C per year!- and coupled with the fact they live near the ocean and eat a ton of seafood, have thought about growing varietals that make more sense than full bodied reds. This means Mediterranean varietals like Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro from Sicily, Aglianico, Fiano, and Vermentino from Southern Italy, Mencia from Spain, and Assyrtiko from Greece among others. They may not all be to my taste, but they’re dialed back compared to the traditional Shiraaaaz and Cabernet Sauvignons of the region, and it’s still early days. These recent plantings show tremendous potential.
Take away #5: Aussies know good food. Breakfast is an occasion, lunch a feast, and dinner a party. If there is nothing else to be said about this trip, which clearly there is a lot else to say, it’s that we were fed well. Who knew that Australia makes a mean sourdough?
BBQ scallops. Seasonal veg. Lamb, lamb, and more lamb. Even a bite of camel curry, everything was really fresh and incredible delicious. And then there’s the coffee. Latte for breakfast. Flat white at lunch. Espresso at dinner…
Take away #6: Aussies like to have a good time. I think everyone knows this already, but the point was really drilled home. Everywhere we went we were met with totally open arms, and sometimes cellars, which, at the end of the day really is the point. This is an industry about passion and sharing, and let’s be real, hedonistic delight. We drink because we love it and it was nothing short of spectacular to meet a whole host of new people to wax poetic with about our common love of a drink, and what a drink it is.
Thank you Wine Australia for a deliciously epic journey!