Most people don’t realize that Australia is an ancient piece of land: its soil and structure date back over 4.4 billion years, according to fossil records. And it’s believed that the Aboriginal inhabitants may have the oldest culture on the planet as well.
But this modern country and its culture are leaders in invention and innovation, which is true not only in technology but in winemaking as well.
There’s one thing for certain about the world of wine: it’s drenched in tradition. Most Old World wine countries, like Italy, Spain, and especially France, believe the old ways are the best ways, and many traditions have been written into law. In some places, the law says you must plant only certain grapes — the ones that have been planted there for hundreds of years. And you can harvest them at only certain times, and only at certain levels of sugar. It goes on and on.
The Aussies don’t care about any of that. The winemakers Down Under, while planting traditional varietals, are more than willing to try new approaches, new blends, and even strangely innovative marketing strategies. Example: they’ll name their wines Stump Jump and Woop Woop — and don’t forget their critter wines, like Yellowtail, The Little Penguin and Mad Fish.
The winemaking industry started in the late 1700s, with the importation of the first vine cuttings from France and Spain. The biggie was Syrah, which the Aussies call Shiraz, as well as Grenache. However, most of the wine production was sweet, or “stickies” in Australian slang. In the 1960s, winemakers’ attention turned to table wines, and since then they’ve produced an enormous range of styles and prices, from the budget-priced critter wines to international prizewinners like Penfold’s Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace and Clarendon Astralis, priced at thousands of dollars.
There are no grape varietals that are indigenous to the country, but the wine industry and culture have thrown their arms around all the major grapes, especially Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon. On the red side, the true Australian wine is Shiraz. Just about everybody makes one, and it truly reflects the culture of the country.
I say that because wine is a cultural artifact. The Australians are unfailingly open, genial and welcoming, and their Shiraz is always a bold drinking experience. The style of this wine slaps you (hard) on the back, and yells “G’day, mate!”
If you’re not into Australia, get there. If you’ve been away, go back. Meanwhile, here’s a look at some of our latest discoveries and favorites.
Mollydooker “The Boxer” Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia 2017 ($21) – The winemaker’s tasting notes describe this wine as “unashamedly bold,” and most of Mollydooker’s wines are like that. Spice, blackberry jam, cherry and vanilla mix with coffee and licorice notes. Big tannins are well integrated. WW 93.
Garofoli “Podium” Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi 2016 ($26) – This Italian white varietal deserves to be better known, so I’ll try to help. This version is entirely vegan and provides concentrated aromas of citrus and honey. The orange and lemon notes carry through on the palate with a prolonged finish. WW 89–90.
Domaine Bousquet Rose Argentina 2019 ($13) — Here’s a great end-of-summer wine. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Pinot Gris and Viognier from Argentina. It’s a festive shade of pink in the glass, with lively flavors of red berries — especially strawberry. A hint of orange peeks through on the finish. WW 88.
Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2018 ($18) – Made entirely in stainless steel, this wine preserves very crisp mouthfeel and well-balanced acidity with aromas of white flowers and mixed notes of green apple, melon and pear. Fuller-bodied than most Pinot Grigios, and very pleasing. WW 88.
Ask the Wine Whisperer
Q. What does the term “volatile acidity” mean in a wine?
— Sharon F., Atlanta
A. This term refers to the presence of acetic acid, one of the chemicals that spoils wine, because it’s the bacteria used to make vinegar. The bacteria act on glucose and other ingredients in grape juice. To prevent it from doing its awful work, winemakers add sulfites. ¦