Traveling for experience, part 1, Australia
In November after I passed the exam, one thing was clear for me; if I want to understand wine more, I have to travel. Taste the wines that we do not have back home, talk with people who have to overcome difficulties that we do not have in Europe, get my hands dirty in the wine field. And man, was that a good decision. Having organized five months off from work, my wife and I packed our backpacks and off we were.
At the beginning of the year, starting in the “Land down under”, trying to visit big players in the wine business, but also to visit one’s that are not so big, I landed in Perth. The Swan valley, located just a few kilometers east of the city, was my first stop. Having scorching heat during the day, Freemantle Doctor, a wind that comes from the west coast, helps a lot to maintain the perfect microclimate. Why not Margaret River you might ask? According to the locals, the Swan Valley is Margaret River in small; a lot of producers actually grow their grapes in the Swan Valley and because of better marketing sell them in Margaret River. I was lucky enough to have spent two weeks in the vineyard with Mr. Duncan Harris, owner and winemaker of the only certified organic winery in western Australia where I had the opportunity to have my questions answered and to try some Shiraz, Malbec, Chardonnay and Chenin blanc. All varieties perfect for hot climate. Shiraz with beautiful notes of cherries, plums and black pepper, and Malbec with ripe plum notes, jam, black tea and berries are perfect companions for Australia’s staple food – BBQ. Chardonnay was quite a surprise for me; instead of thick, heavy, oaky buttery Chardonnay wit 14%, I had in my glass a pleasant 12%, light, complex but easy drinking one. “It is too hot to drink heavy wine” they say. But they do not want to take a step back from the taste. It is all there, but lighter. Chenin on the other hand is fruity, with notes of tropical fruit, guave, yellow fruits and perfect for sipping a glass and watching the sunset. It’s also where I had the chance to try some Chenin from the Kosovich winery, an award winning winery on local and international level. They were neighbors. In the valley red Muscat is also a big variety with all the typical muscat notes, but mostly used for Rosé. They do not want to openly admit it, but they love their Rosé.
Then it was time to go for the big one; to the Barossa Valley. In Adelaide hills, they grow vines that were never devastated by Phylloxera. They are too remote and closed off. And being so close to the McLaren Vale they have a similar “deal” like Margaret River and the Swan Valley. One can find vineyards from the same producers in both regions. Chateau Yaldara with their GSM, Petit Verdot, and off course Shiraz were the first ones that I tried. In comparison to the western wines, here I found that all were a bit heavier. A lot of dark, ripe fruits, chocolate, black currant, vanilla beans and wood were predominant notes here. Wolf Blass, Australia’s most awarded winery is here too, with their 2019 black label Cabernet Shiraz and Malbec blend is a wine to enjoy with every sip. With notes of liquorice, dark fruit, chocolate and spice it evolves with every second to something bigger and better. And let’s not forget the elephant in the room; Penfolds! With their premium tasting package I was in for a treat of a lifetime (at least so far). 2018 Reserve Bin A Chardonnay, 2006 Yattarna Chardonnay, 2018 Bin 150 Marana Shiraz, 2020 RWT Bin 798 Shiraz, 2019 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon and all mighty 2018 Grange Bin 95 Shiraz. All of the above wines are perfectly balanced, complex, multilayered perfection in glass. An experience I will never forget. Funnily enough, my personal favorite was Cabernet Sauvignon and not the Grange. But don’t get me wrong; if you open a bottle of Grange, you can call me anytime.
Before leaving to New South Wales, a stop in the Yarra Valley was also planed. An hour or so drive from Melbourne towards Sydney, this is the home of Chandon and their arrays of sparkling wines, Innocent Bystander – a winery trying to produce wine for everyone and every occasion and the Four Pillars distillery – worldwide known for their award winning gin’s. Chandon here stands out, not only as a big name and producer, but also a place where they try to educate people about the importance of mixing tradition with new technology and trying to produce wine from some long forgotten grapes like Petit Meslier.
From there we headed then to the east coast and Sydney; for them, a perfect day out in nature and away from stressful city life is the Hunter Valley. Australia’s oldest Wine region is home to some of the nation’s oldest cellar doors. One of them is Audrey Wilkinson – operating since 1866. Not long for european standards, but old in Australian terms. With some interesting blends like “The lighthorseman” (Shiraz, Tempranillo and Merlot), to just Shiraz, one has to address the main grape in the valley: Semillon. Wine that strikes pride for them is usually a dry wine with flower bouquet, bubble gum, lemons and tropical fruits in the nose, and taste of stone fruit, honey melon, and yellow fruit. It is a perfect pairing for a lot of sea food that is a staple in the region. One can find also some semi-dry ones.
Also one wine that you will find in every region is their sticky Shiraz. A dessert version of the most planted grape. Sweet, thick, with a lot of rum raisins in taste plus all the jam, plum and pepper notes, it is a wine that you have to try even if you are not a fan of sweet wine.