Reassessing Australian Wine

Posted by | Posted in Commentary, Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-07-2013

A vineyard in the Hunter Valley. From Wikimedia.

It almost seems as though the Australian wine market has become the modern equivalent of the tulip craze. Sales have drastically decreased – from 2010 to 2011, sales of Australian wine within the United States dropped 19%.

Aussies regularly tell me, though, that the Australian consumed in the United States is not what’s consumed at home.

To explore that assertion, I explored the Langton’s Guide, which is generally regarded as Australia’s top rater of domestic wines (much like Gambero Rosso in Italy). While there are some familiar names, the Langton’s Guide is dominated by wines that are either difficult to come across in the States or completely nonexistent.

Part of the problem is Australia’s general brand perception in the United States. When customers come into Binny’s Beverage Depot (where I work as a wine specialist) asking for funny names and labels, I invariably send them to the Australian section. They’ll undoubtedly find what they’re looking for – and won’t have to spend much.

Australia recognizes this challenge. In a conversation with the BBC, Christina Tulloch of Tulloch Wines noted that her company doesn’t even export wine to Britain or the United States, instead focusing exclusively on Asia. The reason? “What we have in Asia that we don’t have in the UK and USA is this preconceived notion that Australian wine is cheap and cheerful.”

In the United States, Australian wine has become defined by brands like Yellow Tail, Little Penguin, Marquis Phillips, and Molly Dooker — overblown, over fruity, overripe, and under $20.

This false impression has distorted the Australian wine market in the United States.

A few years ago, I would regularly see customers buying Australian wines over $20. These days, though, it’s very difficult to sell such wines. While the economic downturn may be partly responsible for this trend, I haven’t noticed a similar dip in other high-end wines from around the world.

I will fully admit to not completely enjoying most of the Australian wines I’ve tried in the past few years. While there was a point during which I greatly enjoyed big Australian wines, my palate has shifted – huge fruit with low acidity just doesn’t provide me much joy any more.

Still, I’ve known that there are good wines out there that would speak of Australia. Australian reds should show more ripeness than would expect from wines elsewhere in the world. This can be attractive when the wines don’t come off as over the top.

Recently, I attended a trade tasting in Chicago where several different producers were pouring. There were some familiar names — Yalumba, Henschke, and Jim Barry, to name a few – and some new ones, like Vasse Felix and Giaconda Warner.

This tasting was a very nice look at some Australian wines that, on the whole, weren’t overdone. While it was a bit of a mixed bag, there were some really good wines that I’d certainly enjoy having again. It was valuable to taste through many wines that I typically wouldn’t get the chance to drink, or even think of drinking.

Below are notes on all the wines I tasted at this event. Note that I didn’t get to the Yalumba:

Review: 2007 Jansz Wine Company Premium Vintage Cuvée Brut
Australia, Tasmania
Nose: Straightforward nose of citrus, white fruits, and pear tones. Not too much depth to this as it’s more surface tones.
Taste: Lighter bodied with tones of lemon peels, pears, and white fruits. Nice medium acidity, but again, lacking depth.
Overall: This is exactly what I would call an inoffensive bubbly. That’s not meant in a bad way at all as it’s very easy drinking, but it lacks real depth on both the nose and palate. Still, it’s nice and refreshing, if forgettable (83 pts.)

Review: 2007 Henschke Riesling Julius
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: There is a bit of petrol that strikes right off the bat along with tones of pears, green apples, and quince. Solid depth with good balance to it.
Taste: This has a nice fatness to it on the mid-palate that lends to a more complete medium feel. Balanced with medium+ acidity as well along with tones of pears, green apples, and quince.
Overall: It’s not necessarily light on it’s feet, but it is a very good Riesling. Shows some aging to it with the feel and tones, but it certainly seems like it can go longer. (90 pts.)

Review: 2012 Henschke Riesling Julius
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Fresh and lively on the nose with tones of grapefruit, limes, pears and some tidal pool aromas as well. Good complexity, but lacking some depth to it.
Taste: Light bodied with noticeable medium/high acidity. It is fairly bracing, though not too overbearing. Balanced with tones of grapefruits, limes, and some pears with a touch of white fruits as well. Still, it’s lacking depth on the palate.
Overall: If this had more depth it would be a really wonderful Riesling. It’s in that almost there category, but it is still a quality Riesling that should benefit with some age to it.

Review: 2006 Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling The Contours Museum Reserve
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Nice dose of petrol right off the bat along with tones of quince, limes, and white fruits. Good balance with some solid depth to it.
Taste: Medium bodied with medium+ acidity that is more refreshing, but also still quite there. Balanced with tones of quince, limes, and some petrol.
Overall: Not too complex and it is lacking just that extra bit of depth that would really make it. Still, a very enjoyable Riesling with some juicy, but balanced, fruit to it.

Review: 2010 Henschke Chardonnay Croft
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Lenswood
Nose: Good complexity to the nose with tones of pears, apples, white fruits, apricots, limes and nutty tones as well. Solid depth too with a real nice style to the nose.
Taste: Medium/full bodied with noticeable medium+ acidity. Nicely balanced with tones of pears, apricots, limes and tones of apples.
Overall: This is a real quality Chardonnay. On the fuller side, but not overdone and with a real style to it. (91 pts.)

Review: 2009 Heggies Vineyard Chardonnay
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Aromatic and nice nose of apples, limes, pears and a touch of white fruits. Lacking some depth, but with nice balance.
Taste: Medium/full bodied with tones of apples, limes, and pears. The feel is smooth with nice medium acidity accompanies this.
Overall: A very solid Chardonnay. I wanted some more depth on both the nose and palate, but still solid overall. Shows off a fuller side without being overdone. (87pts)

Review: 2010 Vasse Felix Chardonnay Heytesbury
Australia, Western Australia, South West Australia, Margaret River
Nose: Very aromatic and flowing nose with tones of white fruits, pears, quince, red apples and some nutty tones as well. Very good depth even with it being wound up tight a bit more than I was expecting.
Taste: Medium/full bodied with somewhat of a richness to it. Still, it’s well balanced with medium acidity and plush tones of pears, quince, red apples and nutty tones as well.
Overall: A wonderful fully Chardonnay. It is wound up a bit tight on the nose. The tones on the palate are really good right now. It probably could shed some baby fat, but is very enjoyable right now. (92 pts.)

Review: 2010 Giaconda Chardonnay Estate Vineyard
Australia, Victoria, North East, Beechworth
Nose: There is really nice depth to this from the outset, but it is also on the tight side. Well balanced with a smokiness on it from the outset along with tones of roasted nuts, blood oranges, and Meyer lemons.
Taste: Full bodied with medium+ acidity. The acidity is on the noticeable side and is slightly piercing along with smooth tones of roasted nuts, Meyer lemons and citrus tones.
Overall: This could use a few more years to fully show itself. There is a lot of class to this and is a real quality Chardonnay. (92 pts.)

Review: 2009 Yalumba Viognier The Virgilius
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Nice and balanced nose of white fruits, peaches and oil tones. Solid depth to this with a richness to the tones as well.
Taste: Full bodied with lower acidity. There is good balance to it, though it does seem to be lacking some depth along with tones of white fruits, peaches and some oil tones.
Overall: If this had more depth and complexity I’d have been a massive fan. Still, it’s a very good Viognier and very enjoyable (88 pts.)

Review: 2009 Vasse Felix Heytesbury
Australia, Western Australia, South West Australia, Margaret River
Nose: There is a nice lush quality to the fruit on the nose with tones of dark red cherries, leather tones, spices and bits of herbs. Very good depth though it is a little tight.
Taste: Medium/full bodied with some chewy tannins and medium acidity. Balanced with really good tones of cranberries, dark red cherries, spice tones and some herbs.
Overall: This is definitely on the young side. There is a plushness to it that I would expect from Australia, but with real good balance to it as well. It does need some time to fully come around, but is a really good wine right now. (92 pts.)

Review: 2008 Giaconda Shiraz Warner Vineyard
Australia, Victoria, North East, Beechworth
Nose: There is real good depth to this that is noticeable right off the bat with beautiful tones of dark red cherries, black pepper, violets and dark berry tones. The tones flow very well together with nice warmth to the tones as well.
Taste: Full bodied with chewy tannins and medium+ acidity that is somewhat sharp. Still, behind the structure there are polished tones of dark red cherries, black pepper, violets, dark berries and some black fruits as well.
Overall: A very sexy Shiraz. Has some warmth to the fruit along with a nice dose of pepper and florals as well. This does seem like there is some room to improve once the structure pulls back a bit. (93 pts.)

Review: 2009 Henschke Henry’s Seven
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Simple and lacking some depth with tones of red fruits, berries and cherries along with a dose of oak as well.
Taste: Medium bodied with low acid that does make this a bit flabby. There is oak upfront along with tones of red fruits and berries.
Overall: A forgettable wine that is decent enough, but doesn’t bring much else to the table. (81 pts.)

Review: 2009 Henschke Euphonium Keyneton Estate
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Balanced with tones of eucalyptus, dark red cherries, berries and spice tones. Solid depth with a good dark red fruit core.
Taste: Full bodied with a real smooth feel and some medium acidity. Plush with tones of eucalyptus, dark red cherries and spice tones.
Overall: A very good wine. This is in the almost there category with a real nice dark red fruit core on both the palate and nose. (89 pts.)

Review: 2005 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Well balanced with really nice tones of eucalyptus, dark red cherries, some black fruits, and dark red fruits. Solid depth with it being very open to drink.
Taste: full bodied with a good plushness to the tones and feel. There are good tannins to this along with tones of eucalyptus, cigarette ash, dark red cherries, and dark red fruits.
Overall: A real good Shiraz. Well balanced and filled with dark red fruit tones on both the nose and palate. (90 pts.)

Review: 2008 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Rich, but balanced nose with tones of dark red cherries, dark berries, eucalyptus and spice tones. Decent depth to it without being overdone.
Taste: Full bodied with good supporting and silky tannins. Plush with tones of dark red cherries, eucalyptus, herbs, and Asian five spice.
Overall: This is on the young side. Could use a little time to smooth out. It would be nice if there was more depth on both the nose and palate, but it is still a very good Shiraz. (89 pts.)

Review: 2004 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: balanced and aromatic nose with tones of red fruits, berries, cherries, eucalyptus, and Asian five spice. Very good depth as well with a real nice red fruited style.
Taste: full bodied with a very smooth and plush feel. Balanced with good tannins and tones of red fruits, berries, eucalyptus, and Asian five spice. Nice depth as well with some nice polish to the tones.
Overall: This was a real lovely Shiraz. Well balanced and with good depth on both the nose and palate. There was a real silky quality to it on the palate that really help make it. (92 pts.)

Review: 1994 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Very well balanced with nice depth and tones of dark red fruits, leather, dark berries, black cherries, and spice tones.
Taste: Full bodied with medium acidity. There are still some tannins, but balance is the key here along with nice depth and tones of dark red fruits, dark berries, spices and black cherries.
Overall: This was a really good shiraz. This showed the influence of age with it’s poise and balance. It is a bigger wine without being monolithic and it is certainly far from past it.

Review: 1989 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Bery aromatic with good complex tones of spices, berries, tobacco leaves, dark floral tones and a touch of black pepper.
Taste: Full bodied with a lot of balance and polished tones of spices, dark red cherries, tobacco leaves, black pepper and floral tones.
Overall: This was really nice. It was lacking some depth on both the nose and palate. Still, it was very well balanced and a great example of how a Shiraz can age. (91 pts.)

Review: 1978 Henschke Shiraz Mt. Edelstone
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Eden Valley
Nose: Very pungent and layered with tones of dark red cherries, roasted meats, spice tones, dark red berries and some perfumes.
Taste: Silky full body with medium+ acidity with polished tones of dark red cherries, spice tones, dark berries and roasted meats. Nice layering on the palate as well with very good depth.
Overall: This was a real treat to have. Very well layered and just a wonderful wine on the whole. (94 pts.)

Review: 2005 Henschke Pinot Noir Giles
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Lenswood
Nose: Rather simple nose of red fruits, cherries and bits of spices. No real depth to it as well.
Taste: Decent medium body to this with medium acidity and lighter tones of red fruits and cherries
Overall: This is a decent wine. Not all too memorable, but still a solid wine. (83 pts.)

Review: 2010 Henschke Pinot Noir Giles
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Lenswood
Nose: Showing more depth than the 05 with tones of red fruits, berries, dark red cherries and spice tones. There is good balance to it as well.
Taste: Suave and silky medium body with medium acidity and tones of red fruits, berries, and dark red cherries. Balanced, but lacking some depth.
Overall: This was a very nice pinot noir. Good depth on the nose though it could use some more on the palate. (89 pts.)

Review: 2004 Jim Barry Cabernet Sauvignon The Benbournie
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
Nose: Very good and somewhat straightforward nose of dark red fruits, dark red cherries, spices and some black berries.
Taste: Full bodied with medium+ acidity and some noticeable tannins. Balanced with nice tones of dark red fruits, spices and some blackberries.
Overall: This was a bit rough around the edges. It wasn’t the most complex or deep cab that I’ve had, but it was a quality cab with a good dark-fruited core to it. (90 pts.)

Review: 2006 Jim Barry Shiraz The McRae Wood
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
Nose: Big and rich nose with black fruits, asphalt, road tar and some eucalyptus.
Taste: Full bodied with some coarse tannins and tones of black fruits and eucalyptus. Not as overblown on the palate, but the palate is rough right now.
Overall: The nose was in the overblown category, but it was better on the palate. It’s still rough as well on the palate too. (82 pts.)

Review: 2005 Jim Barry Shiraz The Armagh
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
Nose: Tight and lacking some depth with tones of red fruits, red berries, herbs and spice tones as well.
Taste: Full bodies with a plushness to the feel. Silky tannins provide structure along with tones of red berries, red fruits, and herb tones.
Overall: Pretty straightforward and was lacking some depth. Granted, it did seem like it may be in somewhat of a dumb phase, but it wasn’t giving all too much right now. (87 pts.)

Review: 2006 Jim Barry Shiraz The Armagh
Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
Nose: there is a real juicy quality to the fruit with tones of red fruits, dark red cherries, fresh picked berries, and spice tones.
Taste: full bodied with a real nice plushness to the feel. The tannins are fairly plush as well, but are still very much there. There is nice depth with polished tones of red fruits, dark red cherries, and spice, as well.
Overall: This was much more generous than the ’05. There is a juicy quality to the fruit in both the nose and palate that is enjoyable and far from overdone (92 pts.)

Review: 2009 Langmeil Grenache Fifth Wave
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
Nose: Decent upfront and red fruit based nose with tones of spices, red fruits, cherries and a touch of herbs. Decent depth to it as well on the nose.
Taste: Medium bodied with medium acidity. Balanced with nice tannins that aren’t too over bearing and tones of red fruits, herbs and cherry tones as well.
Overall: A very good Grenache. More on the red fruited side with good aromas and tones on the palate. (88 pts.)

Review: 2009 Langmeil Cabernet Sauvignon Jackaman’s
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
Nose: Lovely and pungent with tones of dark red fruits, red cherries, fresh picked berries and some leather tones with bits of eucalyptus.
Taste: Full bodied with chewy tannins. Balanced with rich tones of dark red fruits, red cherries, eucalyptus, and leather tones.
Overall: This is a real quality young Cab. There is nice warm fruit on both the nose and palate. Rich without being overdone as well. (91 pts.)

Review: 2009 Langmeil Shiraz “Orphan Bank”
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
Nose: Rich and balanced nose of eucalyptus, spice tones, dark berries, red fruits, and dark red cherries. Forward, while balanced, with a richness as well.
Taste: Full bodied with a silkiness to it and good supporting tannins. While rich, there is good balance to it with tones of eucalyptus, spice tones, red fruits and dark red cherries.
Overall: A quality Shiraz. There is a rich quality to it without being over done. (91 pts.)

Review: 2009 Langmeil Shiraz The Freedom
Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
Nose: While this shows off some good fruit, it also has very good balance with tones of berries, cherries, spice tones, and dark red fruits.
Taste: Full bodied with some very good tannins. Balanced with rich and polished tones of berries, cherries, spice tones, and bits of eucalyptus on the back end.
Overall: This is on the generous side at its young age. Balanced with a good red fruit core on both the palate and nose (92 pts.)

Comments (1)

  1. Great report, Keith. I’ve been a fan of Vasse Felix and Langmeil for a while. I never fully bit into the Aussie bug, instead I’ve picked and chosen a few wines here and there over the course of my wine career. As you note here in this report, there are some solid, balanced Aussie wines out there. Cheers!