The annual Australian Wine Winter Trade Tasting recently came to San Francisco. It took place at the pretty, The Pearl in the Dogpatch area. The event provided a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about and sample a wide range of Australian wines from most of the country’s dozens of wine regions—many of which are currently or hopefully soon will be available in wine stores near us.
The event usually starts with a seminar on some aspect of the country’s huge and rapidly growing wine industry. This year’s seminar focused on the growth and nature of one of the country’s increasingly popular varietal—Grenache. It focused on two of the country’s warm-weather wine regions—McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. The three-expert panel began by discussing the history of Australian Grenache. The varietal was initially planted in 1837 for use in fortified wines to be shipped to England. While it continued being used as a blending grape, wineries replaced many of the vines with other, higher-value varietals. Then wineries rediscovery the varietal. They began replanting it for production as a single varietal. Some ancient (over 100-year) and Heritage (over 125-year) vines are still used. But much of the single-varietal wine now comes from younger vines.
The seminar included tastings of twelve Grenaches from different vintners and vineyards—six from each of the two appellations.
We learned about the geological (especially Grenache’s affinity for sandy soil) and climatic differences of the regions, and the different fermentation and aging techniques used. We then went through a guided tasting of the wines. McLaren Vale Grenache tended to have leaner, generally more structured expressions. Barossa Grenache was typically softer and more elegant. We tend to lean toward the latter, especially:
- Sucette “Old Vine” Grenache;
- Bethany “Old Vine”;
- Thistledown “Sands of Time” McLaren Vale Grenache
Australian Wine Tasting
We then headed down to the tasting, which was organized by appellation. Each table contained wines from 22 of Australia’s 65 individual wine regions. Reds, whites, roses and dinner and dessert wines were all mingled together. Wines varied from a single Pinot Noir from the cool-climate Mornington Peninsula to dozens of wines from several varietals from Barossa and a few dessert and fortified wines from Hunter Valley.
The tasting gave us a great opportunity to catch up with some of our favorite regions, varietals and vintners of we visited in our extensive 2017 visit to Australia wine regions and to learn about and experience many others. We have long enjoyed many Tasmanian and Mornington Peninsula Pinots Noirs, Barossa and McLaren Vale Shirazes, Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley Chardonnays, Coonawarra Cabernets and Hunter Valley Semillons and late harvest dessert wines. This tasting provided an opportunity to explore a number of regions with which we have known of but not had a chance to visit (especially Western Australia’s Margaret River). We also found some new areas with which we were familiar. These included Riverina, Tumbarumba, Ruthergien, Heathcote and several others.
Our favorites? Impossible to say. The varietals and regions are so varied, and the wines from each vintner are so different from each other that we can barely begin to narrow them down. Moreover, we succumbed to palate fatigue before we could get through many of the regions, much less each of the wines. Still, we particularly enjoyed:
- Shiraz: Henley Farm’s 2014 “The Creation” Barossa and Peter Lehmann’s “Stonewall” Barossa
- Cabernet: Penfold’s 2016 Bin 407 multi-appellation Cabernet, Moss Wood’s 2015 Margaret River Cabernet
- Red Blends: Angove Warboys 2016 McLaren Vale Shiraz-Grenache, Langmeil Winery’s 2016 “Three Gardens” Barossa Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot blend, Hewitson Winery’s 2016 “Miss Harry” Barossa Grenache/Shiraz, Torbeck’s 2015 “Descendent” Barossa Shiraz/Viognier,
- Other Reds: Nocton Vineyard’s non-vintage Tasmanian Pinot Noir and Hewitson Winery’s 2014 “Old Garden” Barossa Mouvedre
- Whites: Thistledown 2017 “Great Escape” Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills and Jim Barry’s 2018 “The Lodge Hill” Clare Valley Riesling.
Some of these wines have list prices into the triple digits. But many are available at incredibly attractive prices of between $15 and $25. It was a great way to taste nice Australian wines across all regions, varietals and price points.
Learning About Australian Wines
Interested in learning more? WineAustralia has a new line of free online education materials, wine guides, maps, courses, videos and more that are available to anyone at its Australian Wine Discovered site. Whether you are preparing to visit Australia’s wine regions or want to learn more about Australian wines, this is a great resource.