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Wine:Wizards of Oz

IF THERE is one thing you can say about Australians, they are not fools. Years ago, they came up with an ingenious solution, when the Common Market established legislation for wines, stating that if the label bore a vintage or the name of a grape variety, it must also bear the name of a region of production. Thus, you cannot sell a wine here simply as “Australian Shiraz”.

The Australian response was to create the artificial region of South-Eastern Australia, which includes 97 per cent of the total production of the country. If you look at the label, you will see that all the major Australian brands show this, because it gives a wide range of possibilities for
sourcing grapes.

One result of this is that the consumer tends to forget that there is a host of vineyard areas in Australia (70 with official recognition, at the last count), each producing wines with an individual style. In addition, there is a broad variety of grape varieties beyond the everyday Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.

Here are some examples that I encountered at a recent tasting. Among the white wines that stood out were: Windy Peak Riesling 2004 from the Yarra Valley (Unwins, £6.99), which has a vibrant nose; a full, soft and smoky Clare Valley Sémillon from Tim Adams (Tesco, £8.99); and, for those who like their wines soft and opulent, the D’Arenberg Money Spider Roussanne 2004, with flavours of ripe nectarines (Oddbins, £8.99). As a dessert wine, it is hard to beat Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora 2003, which is widely available at £5.99  for the half-bottle. It has a distinct flavour of sweet oranges.

The same winery has an experimental vineyard, where it tries out a broad range of grape-varieties. Among its reds are: the Italian Barbera 2002 (“sweet and spicy, long in the mouth”, say my notes) (Morrisons, Asda, Booths and Londis, £6.99); and the soft, elegant, black-cherry-flavoured Spanish Graciano 2001 (Asda, Booths, £7.99).

From Argentina, by way of Kirihill Estates in the Adelaide Hills, comes the soft but firm Lizards of Oz Reserve Malbec 2002 (Asda, £6.99). I can also recommend the Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Malbec 2002 from Oddbins at the same price. This is in a fuller, meatier Australian style, a great “barbie” wine.

The Shiraz (or Syrah) is not the only Rhône variety to find favour in Australia. The Grenache is widely planted, and one of my favourites is Booarra 2003 (Asda, £5.99). It has also been blended with the Australian varieties Barbera and Sangiovese for Novello 2003 (Somerfield, Booths, £6.49).

As the range of wines from Australia is broad, it is often worth paying that bit more for something exciting. By no means am I knocking Jacob’s Creek, Rosemount, Oxford Landing, and other big Australian brands — I drink them all with pleasure — but individuality rarely comes under a South-Eastern Australia label.

Fair-trade bargain. As a postscript to last month’s column, Sainsbury’s is offering Los Robles Fairtrade Carmenère 2003, from Chile, at £3.99 (rather than £4.99), for most of March. The supermarket and some other retailers are donating ten per cent of the retail price on a range of wines to Comic Relief.

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