Variety is the spice of Australian life masterclass

Amy Wislocki ‘Australian wine started well,’ said Anthony Rose, ‘and then it all went pear-shaped. Since the late 1980s the reputation of Australian wine built steadily. Exports increased tenfold during the 1990s, and in 2004 Australia overtook France as the UK’s favourite. But last year, sales in the UK fell 8% in volume, and 20% in value. What went wrong?’

Several factors have contributed to the decline, he explained. Of the top 20 wine brands sold in the UK, Australia accounts for seven. Some of Australia’s original names, such as Lindemans and Rosemount, have been devalued, as the wines are not what they were. At the same time, US drinkers have fallen out of love with big, ‘Parkerised’ Australian blockbusters that scored well at first tasting but didn’t last the distance. And domestic disasters – including heat, drought and forest fires – have had a deep psychological impact.

But Australia has some truly outstanding wines, said Rose. ‘It’s more than big brands bearing kangaroos, koalas and possums.’ The varietal approach that has made its wines so popular can obscure the sense of place that shouts from the glass of the dozen fantastic wines tasted during this class.

Quote of the class: Presenting its sparkling wine from Tasmania, Rose said of Hardy’s: ‘It’s one of the few big companies to not trash its name because of its cheaper wines.’

Surprise of the class: Bruce Tyrell stood up from the audience to introduce his stunning Vat 1 Semillon from the 1998 vintage: ‘This is our most decorated wine, with 17 trophies,’ he said proudly. ‘It has more gold than Paris Hilton.’

Most hotly debated: Whether Australia can make great Pinot Noir. ‘Australia tries to get Pinot Noir right but most of the time it doesn’t have a sufficiently marginal climate,’ commented Rose, when presenting William Downie’s Pinot from Yarra Valley – ‘one of the best in Australia’.

Tasting notes

Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, Margaret River 2008

Made by teetotal producer Michael Wright, who bought the estate in 1991. Unoaked, the wine has subtly toasty Semillon aromas, plus fresh tropical fruit and a herbaceous lift. Graves style, with good weight and integration.

Tyrrell’s Winemakers Selection Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley 1998

Amazingly youthful for a wine more than a decade old; ‘it can live for 40 or 50 years,’ said Tyrrell. Deep gold/green, with pronounced toasty, lanolin aromas and limey citrus fruit. The colour and toastiness are entirely from the Semillon grape, as no oak is used in the wine. With only 10.5% alcohol, this has an incredible sense of place; Hunter Valley Semillon is a style not replicated anywhere in the world.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, Clare Valley 2008

Winemaker Geoffrey Grosset feels the Polish Hill vineyard is really coming into balance after 15-16 years, said Rose. The poor soil brings structure for ageing, austerity and leanness to a wine that sings with zesty, clean citrus and pear drop flavours. Taut, racy acidity and pronounced minerality add complexity.

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, Margaret River 2006

Made biodynamically, this is made in a modern style. Subtle, cool-climate character, with spicy elegance. Still tight – needs time.

Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier, Eden Valley 2007

Viognier has a presence in Australia thanks largely to Yalumba’s pioneering efforts with the grape, explained Rose. This wine flirts with being big but isn’t too big.

Hardy’s Arras Sparkling Wine, Tasmania 2002

Hardy’s top sparkling wine, with lovely, quite evolved, toffee and butterscotch aromas.

William Downie Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley 2007

Made by a young Australian winemaker with experience in Burgundy, from 20-year-old vines in cool-climate areas of Victoria. Burgundian in style, with lovely spicy, red fruit and brown sugar. Only 280 cases made.

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River 2004

Youthful in appearance for a 2004, this has mulberry and blackcurrant fruit with a touch of menthol. On the palate, coffee, earthy with a lovely texture and balance (despite an alcohol level of 14+%). Meticulous winemaking means this is one of the few producers to achieve Bordeaux-like elegance.

Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier, Canberra District 2006

Australia’s take on Cote-Rotie, from a textbook vintage. Deliciously elegant style. Lovely fresh violet, perfumed cherry, with a floral lift. Eminently drinkable.

Penfolds RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2002

This is your archetypal Barossa Shiraz – gummy, very full bodied with almost fortified liqueur fruit aromas and flavours. A classic in its style.

De Bortoli, Noble One Riverina 2006

Lovely orange marmaladey flavours, with apricot and peach. Quite thick but fresh, with lychee and tropical fruit.

Buller Calliope Rare Tokay, Rutherglen NV

Made from the Muscadelle grape, it looks almost like Coca-Cola in colour! Thankfully, smells and tastes nothing like it. Amazing richness and concentration here, with a nose reminiscent of sweet oloroso sherry or Madeira. Thick and raisiny, with prunes, chocolate, demerara sugar and Christmas pudding flavours. Viscous and luscious, but a long, fresh finish. Quite incredible.

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