Many, many years ago, I travelled to Australia for a museum meeting. Our week in Melbourne included a day-long excursion to nearby Bendigo and Balarat. Every time I watch the Doctor Blake Mysteries show on PBS, I’m reminded of that excursion. Our post conference tour took us north of Melbourne through New South Wales to Victoria and Sydney. Somewhere along the way we stopped at a winery, a bakery, and an artisan dairy for cheese and enjoyed a picnic at a public park. I wish now that I knew what winery we visited.
You must think by now that I spend my time at trade shows. It’s only a coincidence. I am usually at home, writing, reading, cooking, exercising. This time, it was a wine trade show – Far From the Ordinary, Wines of Australia. Wine tastings are difficult because the small amounts you have here, there, and at the next display quickly add up. This one was well organized. After checking in and passing a gorgeous arrangement of Australian flowers there was a generous table with cheeses, meats, and more.
Included on the table was bresaola and smoked duck. There was also a steady stream of passed hors d’oeuvres: shrimp, tartar, duck breast on a polenta coin with cherry preserves, lamb chops, and maybe an elusive foie gras. The caterer was Thierry Isambert, who manages the concession at the New World Symphony where I’m a volunteer usher.
My second handicap is that I don’t have a good nose for wine. I like some and don’t like others. With that admission, after a bite of food, I dove into the tasting.
A booklet with all the vendors and their wines listed is provided at the tastings. Information is given about each wine with space to take notes. This booklet had a map of Australia showing the wine regions, something with which people may not be familiar.
Here’s what I tasted in no particular order. Except that I learned at my first tasting a while ago to start with whites, than move to reds. At this one, I tasted only a few reds … as the whites were affecting my equilibrium!
Keep in mind that I learned some about wine from Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern and several movies. The discussions about barrels and tank reminded me of their commentaries. Also a great amount of comradery was at play; representatives of one winery recommended that I taste other labels. For example, once Matt Tallentire of Peter Lehmann Wines realized what a novice I was; he recommended other wineries to sample. He insisted that I return to him afterwards to taste his reds. On his recommendation, I tasted the family-owned Leeuwin Estate wines (see below). I also tried Kilikanoon ‘Mort’s Reserve’ Clare Valley Riesling 2016. Their Rieslings and shirazes are grown on 80 year old vines.
The Leeuwin representative sent me to Vase Felix. Their chardonnays are aged in oak, which they say lends to the light flavor of the wines. The Vasse Felix ‘Heytesbury’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2017 is their icon wine, using wild fermentation, not adding yeast. Other wines: Vase Felix ‘Filius’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2017- light, aged in oak; Vasse Felix Margaret River Chardonnay 2016.
Many of the wineries are family-run businesses. I was impressed by Kim Longbottom and her Vintage Longbottom. This mother-daughter owned business is located in the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. It was started in 1998 with Henry’s Drive their first wine, named for Kim’s late husband. Her 21 year-old daughter is finishing university and as Kim said, they are “starting a new chapter with her daughter.” The Henry’s Drive ‘H’ Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were very “nice” wines. The chardonnay is fermented in tank, and then aged in French oak for 8 months.
Another family-run winery is the already mentioned Leeuwin Estate, a Margaret River winery. It is run by the 3 generation Horgan family and was mentored by Robert Mondavi. I tried Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Margaret River Riesling 2018; Leeuwin Estate ‘Siblings’ Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc Semillon; Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2016. The latter was awarded 96 points with Wine Spectator.
A number of “Australia’s First Families of Wine” were represented. I tried two:
Yalumba Family, Jessica Hill-Smith is the 6th generation of the family which 170 years old, in 1849, founded this company. I tried their Yalumba ‘Samuels Collection’ Eden Valley Viognier 2017.
Tyrrell’s Wines, the 2nd oldest winery founded in 1858, has producing vines that are 60-75 years old. Wines I tried were Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2017; Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Semillon 2018; Tyrrell’s ‘Single Vineyard HVD’ Hunter Valley Semillon 2013.
A number of wineries from the Margaret River area in the far southwestern corner of Australia, south of Perth were represented. I was told that 20% of Australian boutique wines come from this region. The first wineries were planted in there in 1967.*
Wines from this area that I tasted (there were many more represented, but a girl cannot take them all in!):
Cape Mentelle – Savignon Blanc, and a very “nice” Rose;
Margaret River Wine Association Howard Park ‘Miamup’ Margaret River Chardonnay 2017;
and Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay 2016.
After tasting numerous whites I returned, as promised, to Matt at Peter Lehmann Wines. Usually, I need to have food with red wine, to cut the heaviness. Their wines ranged – on my sophisticated rating system “really good” and “really, really good”; I also used “nice.” Peter Lehmann ‘Clancy’s’ Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 2016 – “really good”; Peter Lehmann ‘Stonewall’ Barossa Shiraz 2013 – “really, really good”; Another guest said this make is always consistent.
Here are some labels that caught my eye:
Note: The organizers of this tasting also offer educational programs. Find more about this at: Australian Wine Discovered Education Program (www.australianwinediscovered.com).
*Please excuse any factual mistakes in this content. I was on a learning mission, wine is a new subject to me, and there might be some mistakes.