Around Down Under
I've just finished packing as I write this, and in a few hours I'll be heading back to Australia for a 2 1/2-week round of wine judging, wine-and-food visits and catching up with friends Down Under.
(Actually, my trip over follows a leisurely itinerary, with short stops along the way in California's Santa Barbara wine region and then in Auckland, New Zealand. I'll reach Australia on Saturday, losing a day along the way to the International Date Line.)
In a quick administrative matter, please note that I'll be putting The 30 Second Wine Advisor in travel mode for now: I'll do my best to get out a weekly edition on or close to Mondays, but the Wednesday and Friday editions and the Thursday Wine Advisor Foodletter will likely take a break until I get back around Oct. 9, unless good fortune brings me, a speedy Internet connection and a little free time all together at the same time.
For today's edition, which goes out a few hours early (those of you in the Northern Hemisphere should find it waiting in your mailboxes Monday morning), I thought I would finish up a week of Antipodean discussion with one more good red wine from Down Under, and a quick verbal map of Australia.
If you're like me, you'll enjoy a bottle of Australian wine without really focusing on the geography of the place. Most of us tend to forget that this nation is no small piece of real estate but an entire continent that's just about the same size as the Continental United States, and not entirely dissimilar in shape insofar as both land masses occupy a rough horizontal rectangle.
But Australia has only about 20 million people rattling around in all that space, about one-fifteenth of the 292 million Americans; and just about all of them are clustered around the southern and southeastern seacoasts, shunning the arid Outback and tropical north for a narrow band of fertile land with a delicious climate not unlike California's.
And like California, some of the most climate-endowed and scenic parts are planted in vineyards. Without going into great geographical detail, let's run down some of the more familiar wine-country names in a quick virtual tour across the country from east to west, highlighting each section by its proximity to the larger cities.
SYDNEY, in the state of New South Wales, is Australia's largest city with almost 4 million residents, but only one wine region lies nearby: The Hunter Valley, about a two-hour drive north of the city, is one of Australia's oldest wine regions, but I don't often see its wine exports in this region of the U.S. In older times, it was best known for simple table wines dubbed "Hunter Riesling" (which was really Semillon) and "Hunter Burgundy" (which was really Shiraz), a practice mirroring the old U.S. generic "burgundy" and "chablis" but, according to legend, with much finer wines.
Fast-growing MELBOURNE, on the south coast about a two-hour flight southwest of Sydney, boasts more than 3 million residents and is moving up fast. A number of designated wine regions surround it in the state of Victoria, some within an hour's drive and some farther out; Rutherglen, known for its rich and sweet dessert wines, and the Yarra Valley with its refined reds may be the most well-known. Other Victoria regions, less well-known but worth exploring, include the Pyrenees, the Grampians, the Nagambie Lakes, Goulborn Valley, the Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Geelong. Cool Tasmania, a large island off the southern coast, contains its own wine regions, of increasing interest in Australia but not often seen exported.
Farther west from Melbourne, about halfway on to Adelaide, you'll find the famous Coonawarra region, a flat prairie of red soil that has been described as one of the world's least scenic wine regions (but I love its wines).
Speaking of Adelaide, this pretty and relatively compact city of 1 million in South Australia may be the one best place for wine-savvy tourists to stop over in the unhappy event that you can only stop in one place? Why? It is within short day-trip drives of some of the most respected wine regions, producers of its most sought-after wines: The first-rate Barossa and McLaren Vale bracket the city on the north and south, with Clare Valley just a bit farther north.
Far over on the western edge of the continent, roughly as far from Melbourne as from Atlanta to Los Angeles, the small city of PERTH is jumping-off point for trips to Margaret River, a small region that is making noise in wine circles that significantly exceeds its size. Wines of unusual balance and refinement (like today's Brookland Valley Cabernet-Merlot) are coming from the Margaret River, and I'm tasting as many of them as I can. Maybe I'll get out that way the next time I visit Down Under.
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Brookland Valley 2000 "Verse 1" Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot ($16.99)
This inky dark reddish-purple wine from Western Australia is almost black at the center. A whiff of pumpkin-pie spice adds interesting complexity to ripe blackberry and blueberry aromas. On the palate it's juicy and ripe, fresh mixed-berry fruit and a touch of oak, nicely shaped by lemon-squirt acidity. The parts come together in a balanced, appetizing wine that's fine with food. U.S. importer: International Cellars, Chantilly, Va. (Sept. 14, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Although beef might be the logical companion, it went quite will with chicken, in the form of a light autumn chicken stew.
VALUE: Complexity and balance makes it competitive with international red table wines in this price niche.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now, so there's no need to cellar it, but it shows the balance and structure to last in the cellar for a few years.
WEB LINK: Brookland Valley is online at
California Wine Club:
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Choose from bold Cabernets, spicy Zinfandels, creamy Chardonnays, smooth Merlots and much, much more! Visit
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Hugh Johnson's 2004 Pocket Wine Book
If there's any one indispensible reference for the wine lover, it's Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book. Updated annually, this handy guide packs an incredible amount of information into a pocket-size volume. Thousands of wines are rated, described, and listed with coding indicating which vintages are preferred and which are ready to drink. I buy the new edition every year, and highly recommend it.
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Sue's Vinous Passion: Penfolds recorks!
Correspondent Sue Courtney was there, and files a report on the intriguing process, along with an interview with Penfolds' Chief Winemaker Peter Gago.
Forget the search for "Best Wine Lists," columnist Dave McIntyre says. Let's make it "Wine-Friendly Restaurants," because different wine lists appeal in different ways. Dave recently joined a panel of writers asked to select a wine-list winner among five top restaurants in Washington, D.C. His report isn't just of local interest: What makes for a top wine list in the Nation's Capital makes for a top wine list anywhere.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
An Aussie six-pack (Sept. 19, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa030919.phtml
Australian values (Sept. 17, 2003)
Australia revisited (Sept. 15, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Lemon roasted potatoes (Sept. 18, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Sept. 22, 2003