“Wine is sunlight captured by water”, Galileo once rightly said. Fundamentally, this is what wine is – what nature gives and the earth captures to produce, only requiring little assistance from mankind, and at times not even that. Here’s a country that has all of that, abundance of bright sunlight and ample water to capture. It combines the two to produce wines that are not shy to challenge any of the long-respected and proudly-standing discerning wine-styles of the world, like those of Bordeaux Rouge, Chianti Classico, Mosel Riesling, Prosecco, and even Ports and Sherries, and still is left with an array of unique styles of their own to offer. This is Australia, what I very fondly also call my beloved second home. It has matured from the rugged outback with crass-accented, sun-tanned, and dust-wrapped mates, to the home of wise craftsmen who, owing to their varied origins, have brought together the best of skills, knowledge, and understanding of various arts to develop a concoction that has formulated a formidable ground for new discoveries. And wine is only one of those arts they present. Immigrants from across Europe and other commonwealth colonies settled in Australia owing to it its mix of cultures which shows clearly in its lifestyle and even its wines. It today proudly stands as one of the most innovative and definitely stylish New World wine producing country.
It was in the early 1960s the wave of ‘Brand Australia’ started. It was set to create an identity based on varietal wines which was against the traditional Old World region-based approach, like those of Burgundy, Rioja, Chablis, and Barolo. No doubt it was a brave step, given the fact that Australia has not even a single native grape variety to itself. They created a super-zone of Southeast Australia. It is the regional accumulation of wine areas from parts of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, which is today the biggest multi-regional blended wine ‘identity’ of Australia. It is here that my start recent visit to this wine country began. It was in the Heart of Adelaide that we found ourselves sipping the wines that define the fine wine club of Australia, the home to Jacob’s Creek’s Johann Cabernet Sauvignon and Jacob’s Creek’s Steingarten Riesling, and Penfold’s Grange (Shiraz), Yattarna Chardonnay. Although the region is considered the home for cool-climate Chardonnay, however, the legendary wines like St Hugo and Grange step in to show the diversity of the land. Jacob’s Creek family is one of the oldest wineries in the country producing some seriously exquisite wines. They have successfully captured the globe with their variety of wines. On the other hand, Penfolds’s Grange is Australia’s answer to the Rhone Valley’s Hermitage style. It has now become the template that every budding winemaker follows and secretly aims to achieve. However, I couldn’t stop and sip their Yattarna Chardonnay at the dinner we had at their much celebrated and highly rated restaurant, The Magill Estate.
Adelaide Hills re-established itself in the 1970s after various viticultural hiccups and today hosts over hundred wineries. Amongst them, one whose labels have become an international attraction is the Longview winery. This family-owned winery is set in a small hamlet away from the main valley and usually produces single-vineyard wines. It co-hosts a championship for graffiti artists from across the country and the winning piece becomes the wine label of their iconic ‘The Piece’ Shiraz. The wines are as attractive as the labels are. And just to make their offering interestingly playful, they also produce an Italian classic red, a Nebbiolo.
Shaw + Smith Winery is not only a local icon but has also attracted international allocates for their Chardonnays. The winery hosted a masterclass to showcase the best of the regional hero from various houses. Of course the 2007 Shaw + Smith Chardonnay made an impact, however, the 2012 Ochota Barrels ‘The Slint Vineyards’ and the Wirra Wirra ‘The 12th Man’ Chardonnays also left us surprisingly impressed. The winery also produces a Pinot Noir which confirms the great partner it makes for the Chardonnay to grow with in a cool-climate setting. The rolling creeks of the region with faint overhead cover and the sun playing hide-and-seek makes perfect guardian to these high quality vineyards vintage after vintage.
While we thought we had already seen all shades of the Adelaide Hills’ vinous offering, we passed by a German settlement in the hamlet of Hahndorf and met with Larry Jacobs, co-owner of the Hahndorf Hill Winery, only to be surprised further. He has a different approach to the land and its climate here. Austrian varietals like Gruner Veltliner, Zweigelt, and Blaufrankisch awaited us at the cellar door tasting room. These tongue-twisting varietals are rarely seen elsewhere in the world outside Austria. What was surprising was not only that we encountered them here, but also their quality and resemblance to their native examples. Gruner Veltliner, or as it is also fancily called Gru-Vee, makes an excellent aperitif, or an evening easy-sipping wine, as well as a great accompaniment to food. While its red partner, Zweigelt, is a delectable fruity style red varietal that produces round, gentle, and playful wines. It was most definitely an experience to take back from the Hills.
As we moved, although momentarily, to the neighbouring sub-region of Barossa Valley, we entered the classical home to Cabernet Sauvignon wines. We were at the historical vineyards of Penfolds Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s here that one finds the oldest planting of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world that still produces grapes for winemaking. In mid-2007, Penfolds made an exclusive special release of 12 bottles of their 2004 vintage from this vineyard, with each bottle tagged at about INR100,00,000. It turned the industry’s heads towards Australia once again and ensured that the wine world doesn’t forget what the producers Down Under are capable of. Jacob’s Creek’s St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon is another respectful label that is much sorted, however is more subtle and approachable when young.
It’s not surprising that the South Australian wines have earned a spot amongst the top-rated wines of the world. It is the mix of influences, both natural as well as the human touch, which have worked in tangent to produce these fine drops. And let’s not forget the vast understanding of these craftsmen behind the labels that has merged with their experiences and knowledge to have made the Aussie wine scene as vivid, playful, and unique as it is today. There are more hidden gems to the countries regions, however, the plethora that Southeast Australia has will always be a challenge to match.