Sommelier Jenny Benzie on DISCOVERING REGIONALLY SPECIFIC WINES FROM AUSTRALIA:

When dining at a favorite restaurant or browsing the shelves of the local neighborhood wine store, US consumers are still looking for a great value in their wine selection with so many choices available to them these days.  Value regions that may come to mind typically lie on the outskirts of more well-known regions:

Pernand Vergelleses is next to Corton-Charlemagne, you can’t get to Montsant without going through Priorat and Sant’Antimo  has no problem having so many wine ‘cousins’ in Tuscany.  This regional recognition for lesser-known wine regions is common for most Old World wines, but not so easily discernable for New World wines that highlight grape varietal first in their labeling regime versus promotion of a regional designation.   This type of labeling and promotion is the beginning of many challenges that Australian wines have in marketing regionally specific wines to the US market.

Americans’ perception, in general, of what they think represents the Australian wine industry is not a fair cross-reference of what is truly available to them.  Preconceived notions of Australian wine can range from consumers general ignorance that not all riesling is sweet and not all shiraz is over-the-top to the misconception that Australia only offers low priced, poor quality exports that do not evoke a sense of place.   This lack of awareness for regional character, variety and quality leads them to have a false image and identity of Australian wines.  Americans are unaware of the amazing white wines from Australia and how they compare to their international counterparts: the well-balanced, elegant Chardonnays of Margaret River in comparison to white Burgundy, the dry rieslings of Eden Valley up against some of the best from Austria’s Wachau and the classic, under-appreciated Semillons of the Hunter Valley.  The image of Australian reds is seen as big, heavy, rich and concentrated.  However, this is not the case for many reds that are available: Pinot Noir from Pemberton that may be confused as a red burgundy in a blind tasting, the Rhône-style cool climate Shiraz/Viognier wines from Yarra Valley and the distinctive earthiness of a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.  While these wines may be known to the wine buyers and sommeliers around the world, little has been translated that these wines are the first recommendations out of their mouths to consumers.

So how can you learn more about these regionally specific wines that Australia has to offer?  Ask your respected wine professional to recommend these types of wines so you can try them.  Have the sommelier or wine store merchant share with you the stories about the history of the people who have produced wines from these locations, being able to discuss the terroir from where the grapes are grown and emit a passion about the final product of wine itself.  Truth in labeling laws and emphasis on where the wine came from in these small areas will help consumers to recognize place of origin with the grape variety.  Be open to the innovative packaging that is developed and tested in Australia as it should be seen as an asset to the industry where US consumers are able to easily access these wines without having to use a special tool to open the bottle, box or wine pouch.

No one would ever think to take a wine tour around the entire United States of America, much less all of California.  Much is the same for Australia in that wine regions need to be divided, recognized and absorbed for each of their parts that make up the entire sum of its wine nation.  Promoting wine tourism is an invaluable tool to bring US consumers to the source of what Australia has to offer in the wine industry – you get to see the terrain and feel the climate, understand the geographic differences of each region and why certain grapes thrive better in some regions versus others, along with sampling the wine with local cuisine created by new, emerging talented chefs from Down Under.

By continuing to discuss the regional differences in Australian wines and how they relate to more familiar regions, US consumers are then given a frame of reference and a comfort level that allows them to feel safe in further exploration of what Australian wines truly do have to offer.–Jenny Benzie

currentVintage recommends:

Hope Estate Chardonnay, Hunter Valley (New South Wales), 2009, $15

95% Chardonnay and 5% Semillon;  Barrel-fermented with a restrained use of new oak.

Betts & Scholl Riesling, Eden Valley (South Australia), 2008, $30

The Wine Spectator 92 points: ‘Light, crisp and beautifully focused, with cantaloupe, papaya and lime flavors that bounce easily across the palate and into the long, fragrant finish. Subtle and absolutely enticing. Drink now through 2016. 250 cases imported.’ Nov 2008

More from cV on Betts & Scholl

Mollydooker Shiraz “Blue Eyed Boy”, South Australia, 2009, $54

Wine Advocate:
‘The 2009 Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz is a 20% Langhorne Creek and 80% McLaren Vale blend matured in 71% new and 29% 1 year American oak. Very deep garnet-purple colored, it is profoundly scented of blueberry and black cherry with touches of mint, mocha and the faintest whiff of damp loam. Very full-bodied, the bold, ultra-ripe fruit is well supported by medium-firm chewy tannins and medium-high acid, leading to a very long and pure if slightly warm finish. Drink this one 2012 to 2017+.’ – 92 points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, www.erobertparker.com

Wine Spectator :
‘Rich and ripe, with a burnt edge to the spice and dried tomato flavors that remain strong against the blueberry and plum fruit. The tannins are well-meshed. Best from 2012 through 2018. Tasted twice, with consistent notes.’ – 91 points, Harvey Steiman, www.winespectator.com

We Love Shiraz:
‘The 2009 Blue Eyed Boy is 100% Shiraz from the Mollydooker Home Block Vineyard and Langhorne Creek Vineyards. The wine has an intoxicating spicy nose with hints of blackberry and strawberry. In the mouth the wine fully coated my palate with velvety tannins and flavors of plum, chocolate, coffee and blackberry. The purity of this wine was amazing. It was a unified presentation of fruit with a complex flavor profile. The lasting finish had evolving flavors that begged me to take another sip. This is the best Blue Eyed Boy (BEB) I have ever tasted.’ – 98 points, Brian Pasch, www.weloveshiraz.com

More from cV on Mollydooker

Jenny+Benzie+-+Pour+Sip+SavorJenny Benzie is the owner of Pour Sip Savor, a forward thinking wine business in which she is able to provide ‘An Assemblage of Sommelier Services’ by creating wine education opportunities for consumers, private client wine services, restaurant wine list consulting and brand ambassador to wine regions from around the world.  Her sommelier expertise has been honed by working at some of the finest establishments – Caneel Bay Resort in St. John, Michael’s in Santa Monica, Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach and The Pearl on Nantucket.

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