Join us for a trip through New Zealand and Australia with 8 different wines from the region.
Australia, the land of surfing, kangaroos, and Christmas barbie (barbeque) and New Zealand, known for its wool and sailing prowess as two time winners of the America’s Cup, are also home to some of the world’s best vineyards. Despite the friendly rivalry between these two southern hemisphere countries they can both boast of an increasingly more prominent role in producing some of the world’s finest wines.
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The one and only, NZ Sauvignon Blanc has been, and continues to be, among the fastest growing wines in the US market. This is primarily based on its combination of value mixed with characteristics of some of the world’s luxury Sauvignon Blancs like those found in Bordeaux and Sancerre. That being said, it has suffered from oversaturation, with many examples doubling down on ripe, uncharacteristically one-dimensional version of the grape. Babich is a true throwback, focusing on delicate aromas and clean, bright flavors. The wine offers aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit, and mango cut with hop-like herbal notes. The palate is light bodied with high acidity, mixing juicy citrus and stone fruits with clean minerality. This is unequivocally a grilled seafood wine but would also find success with light charcuterie.
Made from fruit sourced in South Australia, unoaked and fruit forward in style. Though not entirely sourced from here, the ‘Third Generation’ brings much of its crop from this region. The wine pours a medium gold color with white hues, offering aromas of vanilla, honeycrisp apple, pineapple, and fresh-cut herbs. The palate is medium-bodied with medium acid laced among ripe pear, kiwi, and green apple notes. This would go with a plethora of seafood dishes, from sushi to seared snapper.
One of the pervading unsung gems in the world of Pinot Noir, New Zealand is responsible for some of the most delicate and nuanced current examples of the variety. Largely planted to the cooler regions on the South Island, Pinot planted in this region benefits from largely temperate weather mixed with ample sun exposure and the protection the Southern Alps provide from winds that blow in form the West. The Orchard Lane is a style-specific version of NZ Pinot, and displays typical characteristics. The wine pours a delicate pale ruby hue with pink hues, offering aromas of bing cherry, rhubarb, potting soil, and spice box. The palate displays a medium-minus body with medium plus acidity, blending fresh juicy red fruits with a balanced astringent medley of cedar and cinnamon. This is an extremely delicate red, and is a prime candidate for salmon-based dishes.
Though not quite as famous as it’s counterparts in McLaren Vale or Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek has merit all its own when it comes to style-appropriate Australian Shiraz. The oppressively hot and dry climate suits Shiraz well with its hardy nature and high amount of anthocyanin (The compound that gives red wine a purple tint when exposed to sun). Heartland’s example displays all of the quintessential notes of AU shiraz sans the sky-high ABV. The wine pours a medium purple with ruby hues, and offers a medley of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis cut with pronounced earthiness, peppercorn, and bramble. The palate is medium-plus bodied with medium acidity. A plethora of blackberry jam is accented by notes of cinnamon and black pepper. You could certainly pair this with steak, but it might be more advisable to go with venison in this instance.
We have served warm climate NZ Pinot Gris at the bar before, but this is the first time we have had Marlborough Pinot Gris in some time. Huia’s example displays an Old World hands-off approach, using native yeasts and no fining prior to bottling. This wine pours a light gold, with aromas of white blossoms and brown pear, which leads into a delicate palate of peach, mandarin orange, and spice box. This is an exquisitely aromatic and delicate wine that would work best with a medley of spiced nuts and cheeses.
While GSM’s can be found in every imaginable appellation at this point, Australia, in my humble opinion, is on the shortlist of regions you should look out for. Everything points to success, especially when in one of the cooler regions, as that is necessary to bring structure to what can otherwise be a flabby, over extracted mess. Tellurian’s example might be slightly lighter-bodied than you would expect, but it is a style-appropriate example of what the region can offer. This blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre pours a medium ruby with plum hues, and offers aromas of various red fruits grounded by earth and herbal notes. The palate is medium-bodied, with medium acid accenting plum, tart cherry and strawberry. This is very much the requisite BBQ wine on the list.
There are not many names in viticulture more synonymous with larger-than-life, hedonistic wines than Mollydooker. Famous for their “Marquis Fruit Weight” measurement (mindset?) system, Mollydooker is famous for their massive ABV reds, which often translate into decadent, delicious wines named after various Avatars (The Boxer, The Blue-Eyed Boy, Carnival of Love, etc.). ‘The Scooter’ is no exception, offering a massive rendition of Merlot while incorporating the style-appropriate characteristics found in cooler climates. This wine pours a medium ruby with purple hues, and offers aromas of blackberry, plum, and herbs de Provence. The palate is full-bodied with a surprising amount of structure, balancing fresh tea leaf and black pepper against a medley of blue and black fruits. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Merlot has become my new favorite steak wine, so that is what I would go with here.
Seeing that this is an Australia-focused month, it would not be right that we did not visit what is largely considered to be its preeminent growing region. Barossa Valley displays a Mediterranean climate, which lends itself to high-quality new world-style Syrah production. This wine reflects the up and coming Shiraz vineyards of the Barossa, rather than the battle hardened old vines that make up the core of our other cuvées. But like all Torbreck wines, Woodcutter’s Shiraz receives the very best viticultural and winemaking treatment. Fruit is sourced from hand-harvested and hand-tended, low-yielding vines, then open fermented and gently basket pressed before ageing on fine lees for 12 months in large format seasoned barrels and foudres. Although this wine is constantly praised for its succulence and richness, there is also a complexity and texture.
Located 1250 miles southeast of Australia across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand is comprised of two main landmasses (North Island and South Island) and numerous small islands. The latitude and position of the islands and their distance from any land mass provide moderate to cool but variable maritime climate. The central ranges of mountains that run through the length of both main islands generate marked contrasts between higher rainfall, cloudy, windward west and the milder, sunnier, leeward side.
Most of the vineyards in the North Island are located on the eastern side of the mountains where there’s a drier, sunnier climate. The South Island possesses about two thirds of the vineyard area, with the Marlborough area alone growing 52% of the country’s vines.
Sauvignon Blanc, the country’s best-known variety, makes up nearly 40 percent of New Zealand’s 60,000 acres of producing vineyards, as well as 78 percent of its exports to the United States. Practically all of the best Sauvignons come from Marlborough, a region on the northeastern tip of the South Island. The vast majority of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in stainless steel tanks at very cool temperatures, which preserves maximum vibrancy and highlights freshness. However, a growing number of estates are making small lots of Sauvignon fermented at least partially in oak barrels, some of which are new. Although styles vary according to vintner preferences and vineyard location, Marlborough Sauvignons tend to be especially crisp, aromatic and food-friendly, with baseline flavors of tart lime and grapefruit, along with grass, fresh herbs and crushed stone. Some wines have tropical guava and passion fruit character, and riper versions can feature peach and apricot.
Recently New Zealand Pinot Noir is grabbing a lot of attention. It’s the second most widely planted variety in New Zealand, with 11,000 acres currently in production. In general, New Zealand Pinot Noirs have more affinity with the wines of Burgundy than those of California. Cooler growing conditions impart bright acidity and taut tannins, and the wines show a wide range of lively fruit flavors, including berries, plum and cherry, with the better versions often featuring intense spiciness as well as crushed stone and mineral accents. Nearly all of the top bottlings come from three regions: Central Otago, in the southern third of the South Island; Marlborough; and Martinborough, near the southern tip of the North Island. Red wines other than Pinot Noir deliver mixed results. The most promising variety is Syrah, which, along with Cabernet and Merlot, does best in Hawkes Bay.
Australia produces an amazingly diverse range of wines, from mass-market wines to dessert-style nectars that wow you with their richness and refinement. Recent export figures place Australia as the fourth largest exporter of wine, selling to more than 100 countries around the world. With more than 2,000 wineries spread across a landmass that’s nearly the size of the United States.
A wide range of climatic conditions, from the cool highlands of Tasmania to the hot and arid Murray Valley provides many opportunities for producing distinctive wines from premium European cultivars. Viticulture is concentrated principally in the southeastern portion of the continent, with some vineyards located in the southwest and the island state of Tasmania.
South Australia produces about 50 percent of Australia’s wine. The area includes both high-profile appellations and vast interior vineyards that make more anonymous bottlings. The warm region of Barossa Valley typically makes rich, dark, full-bodied Shiraz and is gaining a reputation for Grenache as well. Nearby Eden Valley is a bit cooler and is one of the best spots for Riesling. Clare Valley, a charming string of hills north of Barossa, also makes some of the very best Riesling, along with delicious Shiraz, and McLaren Vale, to the south, produces distinctive Grenache and Shiraz. Coonawarra, where Cabernet does particularly well, is the best known of the cluster of cooler regions near the border with Victoria that includes Padthaway and Wrattonbully.
Victoria, with 15 percent of Australia’s vineyards, contains some of the coolest appellations in the country. Located near Melbourne, the regions of Yarra Valley, Macedon and Mornington Peninsula make some high-profile Chardonnays and, increasingly, Pinot Noirs. Central Victoria, closer to the hot interior of Australia, does better with Shiraz. The other prime zone for Australian wine is Western Australia. Although it makes only 4 percent of Australia’s wine, several of the country’s best Chardonnays come from the coastal region of Margaret River. The vineyards of New South Wales, including Hunter Valley, owe much of their popularity to their proximity to Sydney. The wines generally do not compare favorably to those of South Australia, Victoria or Western Australia. The southern island of Tasmania is gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir and sparkling wine.