Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Aussie reds – impressive but …

‘Australia’s First Families of Wine’ with its emphasis on the people behind the labels  is a clever approach to marketing.

The twelve happy families include some very big players indeed. They each selected a representative wine to accompany their press release in the UK. Most of them were very good indeed, and the distinctive top whites from Henschke, Tyrrell’s, McWilliams and Tahbilk prompted me to write a longer piece for The Journal (Jan 8). These dry whites, along with Campbell’s stunning Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat are all true Aussie originals. And the dry wines, especially two superb Hunter Valley Sémillons, are refreshingly low in alcohol. Great.

I found the red wines a little less attractive.  Every one was certainly every one packed with flavour, but some have a huge level of alcohol. The biggest wines remind me of one of those larger than life individuals, who with a rather over-inflated ego bursts into a party and insists on being the centre of attention. The noble exception to this is Brown Brother’s ‘Patricia’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which has a comparatively modest abv of 13.5% and both freshness and elegance of fruit – ripe, black and spicy – or at least, that’s the impression I gained through a bottle slightly tainted by TCA (£22.99 from www.everywine.co.uk ).  Yalumba, ‘The Scribbler’ 2007 – a Cabernet/Shiraz blend is another success and also 13.5 abv. With creamy black fruit and nice hints of cherry and spice, it too has a freshness of fruit and is good value (£9.99 at Oddbins). Wakefield Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 at 14 abv, with cassis, licorice and more sweet, black fruit is probably the hottest bargain of the bunch at Majestic’s special offer price of £6.49 (until the end of the month when it reverts to £8.49).

Jim Barry’s, Clare Valley  ‘The McRae Wood’ Shiraz 2005 is an alcoholic monster at 15.5abv (£9.99 at Majestic).  It’s hugely concentrated and jammy with a liberal dusting of pepper and almost as much toasty oak. There is black cherry fruit too, but it has a struggle to emerge from all the seasoning.  d’Arenburg ‘d’Arry’s Original’ Shiraz/Grenache 2006 (14.5 abv) is also peppery, but has much more obviously fresh fruit – plum and maybe loganberry – and is quite chewy (£9.95 from the Wine Society). Howard Park ‘Leston’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (£14.99 from www.bibendum-wine.co.uk ) is another, big 14.5 abv, black fruit-dominated, mouth-filler, but it has a distinct minty edge and surprisingly crisp, almost malic acidity (did they suppress the malo?).

I’ve tried the last red wine in the bunch, de Bertoli Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2007 (around £16.99 at Oddbins)  a couple of times in recent weeks and come up with rather different notes. Is it one of those wines that really benefits from being in the ‘right’ kind of glass? Certainly, when I popped it into a big round Pinot Noir glass it was far more velvety than in an ISO, when it seemed to have rather leathery tannins. Or maybe I drank one on a ‘root day’ and the other on a ‘flower day’. I must check – I’m having a lot of fun playing with ‘When Wine Tastes Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers’ by Maria and Matthias Thun (Flors Books, £3.99). I don’t believe a word of it – yet.

One Response to “Aussie reds – impressive but …”

  1. Roger Cornwell says:

    “a comparatively modest abv of 13.5%” … how times change! I can remember visiting Jean in France in the early seventies when 12% was the maximum you ever saw, and it was not unusual to see a white wine at 10%, particularly the cheaper ones in the returnable bottles.