Hooray for Australia Day!
Australia Day is the 26th January, and it was a year ago that we were able to have a sold out crowd at the Eastcott Community Centre, sampling six delicious Australian wines. At the time, we didn't have to wear masks, keep two metres apart, sanitise anything that's touched, take track and trace details... oh, they were the days!
As we are still all locked down, there's no tasting I'm afraid, but a recap of what we enjoyed last year, ready for you to enjoy again.
The geography lesson
Australia is huge, we all know that. Being able to fit the UK into the island thirty times over, and taking five hours to fly between the east and west coasts, gives you some indication of the diversity of topography, climate and range of wines. Most vineyards are sited south of the 30 degree line of latitude that spans the country from just north of Perth to the Gold Coast. Below this line is the golden area for vine growth, especially near water courses such as the oceans and rivers (Murray and Darling).
The Australian wines are like the people; bold and straight forward. Unlike many European wines, the Aussie label will usually tell you the grape and where it's from. On the supermarket shelves, the wines have been made to be drunk young, which makes them less expensive. It costs a lot of money to store wines in barrels and bottles whilst they age, so most of the Australian wine will be from recent vintages and best drunk as soon as possible. You can find some examples of classy Australian wines made for ageing, but you'll need to seek out the independent wine merchants for these.
When writing up this blog post last year, the wildfires had recently ravaged parts of the country, affecting swathes of vinelands. The actual footprint of affected vineyards was less than one per cent of Australia’s total vineyard area of more than 146,000 hectares, but the impact was still harrowing as lives, livestock and vines were lost. The majority of the vines that were affected were in Adelaide Hills in South Australia, which is reported to have lost a third of its vines, the equivalent of 1,100ha. Now, you probably don't need an excuse to buy wine, but if you can support the Australian wine industry by topping up your rack with some Aussie "beauts", then it will be appreciated.
Here are some suggestions based on our 2020 tasting:
Wine One - Yalumba Organic Viognier, Waitrose, £9.99 (on offer at £7.49 until 3rd February 2021)
Viognier is better known as a French grape that enjoys life in the Rhone Valley. It almost became extinct in the 1980s when there was only 80 acres identified the world. Thankfully it made a comeback, and can now be found growing in South Africa, California and parts of Australia.
Most loved for its perfumed aromas of peach, tangerine and honeysuckle, Viognier can also be oak-aged to add a rich creamy taste with hints of vanilla. It makes for a fruity alternative to chardonnay.
Jancis Robinson MW cites Yalumba as a great producer of viognier, and our tasters in Swindon agree. Yalumba (meaning "All the land around") is a family winery, founded in the 1800s, with vineyards in Barossa and Eden Valleys, as well as Coonawarra.
Their chief viticulturist visited the Rhone Valley in the 1970s and was captivated by Viognier, contributing to its success in Australia today.
This wine is suitable for vegans, and organic, meaning minimal intervention in the winemaking process.
Buy now from Waitrose
Wine Two - Clare Valley Riesling, Majestic Wine, £12.99 (but just £6.99 when bought on a "mix six")
Our next wine comes from the Clare Valley, 100km north of Adelaide, where there is a "Riesling trail" through the valley, taking in the town of Watervale where the Clare wine company produce this wine, which can be found in Majestic Wine.
Riesling is a German grape that is commonly made in a sweet style, but the Clare Valley rieslings are fermented to a dry style, although this wine was a touch sweeter than the previous viognier.
A bronze winner in the International Wine Awards, this wine should have zingy lime and apple flavours, although many of the guests were put off by the petrol smell.
It divided opinion with some tasters less keen on this wine, whilst others were new to the riesling grape and pleasantly surprised.
For those enjoying Clare Valley rielslings, some good examples can often be found at reasonable prices in Aldi and Lidl.
Buy this wine now from Majestic Wine.
Wine Three - Vasse Felix Chardonnay, Majestic Wine and Waitrose, £12.99
Our next wine takes us to Western Australia, where the area of Margaret River boasts a town known for boutique wine producers. Whilst the area is responsible for 3% of Australian wine, it produces 20% of the country's premium wines.
The area is on the coast, south of Perth where it enjoys a humid Mediterranean climate, cooled by fresh sea breezes that produce high quality fruit flavours in the grapes.
The Vasse Felix winery is Margaret River’s founding wine estate and was established in 1967. It acquired its name from a seaman called Thomas Vasse, who was believed to have drowned when swept overboard from his vessel in 1801. To bring luck to the winery, the word "Felix" was added, meaning "lucky". However, the grapes on the first vines planted were destroyed either by rot or got eaten by native birds, so a peregrine falcon was brought in to scare off the birds.
This also proved disastrous, as the peregrine flew off into the woods on its first release, never to return. The peregrine lives on as a depiction on the wine labels, and thankfully the winery is thriving in 2018.
This chardonnay is full bodied, having been fermented in french oak barriques (smaller than barrels to concentrate oak flavours better). The wine has been allowed to undergo its natural malolactic fermentation to produce buttery and toasty notes.
Opinion was divided. For those that love an oaked chardonnay, this was bliss, but there were others who were less impressed with it.
Wine Four - The Cigar Cabernet Sauvignon, Majestic £25.99 (or £22.99 as part of a "mix 6")
Our next wine was from Coonawarra, close to the border of New South Wales and South Australia. The Menzies vineyard is owned by our friends at Yalumba, where they concentrate on growing premium Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which thrive in Coonawarra's distinctive red sandy soils.
The area has a cool, long growing season and this grape accounts for over 60% of Coonawarra output.
The name "The Cigar" refers to the long, oblong shape of the Coonawarra vineyards.
The wine is full bodied, and deep red to crimson in colour. The tasters loved the aromas of ripe plum, licorice allsorts, and heady violets. There are complex smells and tastes of dark berries, both rich and showing great depth. The tannins were noticeable but not overbearing, and the wine was a real hit. "It's the best wine I've ever tasted!" exclaimed one guest.
It was the priciest wine of the night, but this didn't deter many of the guests who said they would buy this wine, especially as a special occasion wine.
Wine Five - Galway vintage Barossa Valley Shiraz, Waitrose, £12.49
Our final wine of the night was a shiraz, again from Yalumba. It was less full bodied than the previous Cabernet Sauvignon, but its flavours stood up to the demands of following such a great wine.
The grapes come from the Barossa Valley - a fertile valley floor where temperatures can be 2 degrees warmer than the surrounding Adelaide wine areas. This warmth is ideal for shiraz, which accounts for over 30% of the grapes grown in Barossa.
Yalumba has been making premium red wine under the Galway name since the 1940s. "Galway" was named in honour of L.T. Col. Sir Henry L. Galway, who was governor of South Australia from 1914 - 1920. He was a keen wine man with a good palate and a regular visitor to Yalumba in Angaston.
The success of the early Galway reds became the base on which all Yalumba reds were developed. Today, Galway is still made to a traditional style with rich colour, distinctive spicy fruit and perfectly integrated oak.
Buy now from Waitrose.