Australian wine is back! Trip Report 2019
The Land of the kangaroos, insects, snakes, spiders, beaches, the Great Barrier Reef, and some of the most amazing cities in the world; Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. Yet I was not in Australia for any of the above. I was in Australia, to discover the wine scene, and over a 2 week period, I tasted over 150 wines. What did I think? Worried, very worried, why? Because I don’t think the wine world is ready for you, Australia is back, and back in a big way. If you are not drinking Australian wine, you need to read on.
30+ years ago, Australia was known for its for its sweet and cheap wine. However this had significantly changed. Australia is home to some of the most interesting terroir on the planet. When you have access to the some of the best terroir on the planet, you just need a few passionate wine makers, and, well you can guess what happens next. I was lucky to spend the last the 2 weeks with some amazing and passionate owners, wine makers and brand ambassadors within the Australian wine industry. I was shocked at what I discovered.
Before arriving in Australia, I was expecting to be disappointed, disappointed with the quality, the lack of attention, the focus on producing large amounts of wine, and less on the terroir, the grapes, the vine. I found quite the opposite. I think I spent more time in the vineyards than in the tasting room. Everyone who I met was proud to show off their vineyard, and not their tasting room. Take note certain regions ;)
So I have come away from Australia, with a new learning, and understanding about Australian wine. I arrived, expecting Shiraz to dominate, all Shiraz to taste big, bold, fruity and spicy. Do not get me wrong, I did find this style of wine. However I was happily surprised, to find another, more soft and elegant style of Shiraz. Shiraz varied in styles from Barossa, Eden Valley and from Coonawarra to Victoria. I also found fantastic cool climate Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir’s. Cabernet Sauvignons are both fruit driven yet elegant. Riesling are very unique in Australia, bone dry, crisp with fantastic acidity. You will not find this style anywhere else in the world today. I believe that Australia is building a certain unique style of different grape varieties. I was also happy to see that producers kept experimenting to a minimal, no crazy blends or growing grapes varieties where they clearly should not be grown.
All the wineries that I visited continuously talked about improvements, and the future. They are continually wanting to learn the land, the soil, the different clones and how different planting techniques produce a different final product. The young winemakers I met, had travelled across the world to learn from the best, and were determined to produce wine at an extremely high level. Clone selection, soil type, well balanced oak integration, along with cultivation techniques were critical, to improve their already world class wines.
My tasting approach involved both vineyard tastings, as well as independent tastings. The styles of these wines varied significantly across the country and so being able to taste the same variety from different regions, taught me how to differentiate a shiraz from Barossa to the Grampians.
In terms of the vineyards visited, I visited Henschke, Torbreck, Penfolds, Wynns, By Farr and Bindi. Along with my own independent tastings, allowed me to taste over 150 wines.
Henschke, from Eden Valley, mainly produces fantastic cool climate Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends along with Chardonnays. I was impressed with their small scale, simple approach to wine making which is now in it’s 6th generation. This is very much a family run winery with a vision on quality. Their Cyril Henschke 2013 (96 points), Cabernet Blend and their Mount Edelstone 2013 (95 points),100% Shiraz were their highest scoring, and standout wines. These wines showed wonderful elegance and class, with a simple purity of fruit, along with great acidity, found in the Eden Vally. I also, particularly enjoyed their Julius Riesling 2017 (94 points), zesty, full on, grapefruit and lime juice filled the palate. If you can hold on to one of these bottles long enough(10+ years), you will be able to enjoy wonderful marmalade flavours, or so I was told. Most of the wines produced at Henschke, are estate grown, with sustainable methods practiced. Henschke is the benchmark of Eden Valley.
Torbreck from Barossa, produces some very powerful, big and traditional Barossa Shiraz and Grenache wines. These wonderful wines came across a certain elegance I was not expecting, along with a wonderful purity of fruit. The big stand out for me was the ‘Les Amis 2015’ a 100% Grenache aged for 24 months in French oak (96 points). This was one of the wines of my trip, and definitely the best Grenache in Australia. The purity of the sweet fruit, along with perfect balance and sweet spices on the finish, left me lost for words. Really impressive stuff.
With Penfolds, their wines are consistently some of the best produced wines in Australia. Grange 2014 (95-98), is just a monster of a wine, to even consider opening this, at this stage in its life would be criminal. This needs around 10-15 years, before this beauty opens up. I am a huge fan of St-Henri, the 2015 vintage (96 points) is just spectacular, with fantastic purity of sweet dark black and blue fruits, with waves of velvety tannins, that go on forever. On the white front, the Chardonnay of Yattarnara (95 points) is just so well balanced with great acidity and a round full finish. The wine maker Peter Gago and his team do a fanatic job to complement the purity of the fruit with the seamless integration of oak to produce this world class Chardonnay.
Wynn’s tasting was a real eye opener, and one of my biggest surprises in Australia. I was lucky enough to be guided around by Chief winemaker Sue Hodder. Sue, has been working at Wynn’s for over 20 years, in terms of knowledge, of this wonderful terroir, I could not have had a better guide than Sue. Driving around the vineyards of Wynn, I instantly knew this was a very special terroir. Coonawarra, known for its Terra Rossa soil, produces very soft and elegant Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz. This Terra Rossa soil is by far one of the most unique soils in the world. Sue was explaining to me the specifics of the soil, with the reddish, silty clayey soil on top of a limestone base. This soil composition changes the drainage aspects as well as how deep the roots grow, and hence produces these excellent balanced wines. What I appreciated about these wines was the soft but firm structure, and how the terroir was easily noted in the bottle. The highlights of this estate was the Wynns Shiraz Michael 2013 (97 points), this Shiraz, was not big and bold, yet soft and elegant with wonderfully silky tannins, bright fruits, cacao and soft spice, amazing length. My wine of the trip! The Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label 2016 (95 points), is a gem for the price. Fresh black fruit, sweet spices, grippy tannins and bright acidity led to a very well structured finish. Wynns wines produce some of the most unique wines in Australia, and worth going out of your way to find.
By Farr winery from Geeoling, Victoria, produces some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Australia, if not the world. I was lucky and privileged enough to taste with Nick Farr, the second generation of the By Farr winery. This was going back to school for me, Nick is one of the most knowledgable young winemakers I have come across in the wine industry. Having worked at Dujac, Cristom and Au Bon Climate, he knows his stuff. What is unique for By Farr, is the terroir, the clone selection, and how the wines tends to use a lot of whole bunch fermentation, along with slightly high oak use. You would expect therefore to taste, big, powerful wines. The wines though, are extremely structured, delicate with excellent balance and infinite length. The standout wines, was the By Farr Chardonnay GC 2017 (97 points), which showed crisp minerality, creaminess and fantastic energy, the structure of this wine is just mind blowing. The Pinot Noir Sangreal 2017 (97 points), was also a highlight, with fresh acidity, bright fruits, refined tannins and an endless length, this is at a 1er Cru Burgundy level. I was left in ore from By Farr, Nick’s wines will be showcased as some of the best made Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays on the market. Beg, borrow or steal these wines cannot be missed.
My Final stop was Bindi, Another talented winemaker, Michael Bindi produces Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay using significantly different techniques that Nick, even though the two live only about 1 hour apart. The altitude and climate meant these wines needed to be crafted significantly differently. With a maximum of 5% whole bunch fermentation for the Pinot and a creamy finish, these wines showed a different style of Australian Pinot. I love it! Two producers, one hour of driving, two completely different unique styles. The creamy finish on these Pinots got me intrigued, Michael put it down to the fruit and the soil. The vineyards are planted on an old volcanic lava bed and with the perfectly balanced fruit allowed for this style of Pinot. The Bindi Kaye 2016 (96 points), showed multiple layers of fresh fruit, herbs even a balsamic side with a full, rich palate and an elegant finish. Also, the Bindi Block 5 2018 (94-96 points), is a serious Pinot, it makes you take a step back, wild flowers, a little spice, quite savoury, this is nearly like a light shiraz like is texture. With such a unique terroir, Michael produces some phenomenal Chardonnays and Pinots, which cannot be missed.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was expecting to be more disappointed than impressed by Australia. Taste a lot of similar styles of wines, with a region of winemakers from bought fruit. Similar styles, big and bold Shiraz, with Chardonnays and Pinots well made but not unique. I tried over 150 wines, and I am leaving Australia speechless. I have never been this continuously impressed than I have been by Australia. Australia, have some of the most interesting terroir and climate in the new world and they know it. The wines being produced, are being produced at a very high class level, from both small family run wineries, to some some of the largest producers. A word of warning though, Australia does still produce cheaper wines for both the domestic and international market. So I can only recommend the wines which I have noted in this report. I did try other wines, however if wines did not meet a 89 point grade, I did not include them.
Australia is one of the largest wine producing countries in the world. I now feel the time for Australian wine is now. The quality is improving significantly and instead of trying to replicate other styles of wine around the world, they are creating their own unique style. I cannot be more excited for the future of Australian wine making, and hope that you will be able to try some of the wines which I have tried below.