There’s something about this shot of the old Coonawarra train station that pushes so many buttons for me. Yes, I’m a bit of a sentimentalist. I love trains—and have probably taken more than my share of them over the years. I’m also a big fan of Australia—and this photo that I took (during a visit a few years ago to Wynn’s in Coonawarra) is forever etched in my memory (and, hopefully, my hard drive).
All this by way of saying that the Vancouver International Wine Festival (Feb 20 to March 1) is almost here. Tickets this year are selling faster than ever before, so if you have your heart set on anything in particular, best hurry.
A marked shift has taken place since 2007, the last time Australia was in the spotlight. For some years now the Land Down Under has been working hard to reshape its image as a large, albeit highly proficient producer of quaffable drops from across its significant regions. Today’s Australia is much more focused on wines of origin from within those regions—and the contrasts they celebrate.
Not only that but there’s growing popularity of varieties other than Shiraz and Chardonnay, the building blocks on which Australia built its success. Many will be in evidence at the festival—a whole new breed of Australian wines awaiting discovery.
At a recent preview I was struck by a few of these wines in particular. Not only because they’re so worth tasting but also because they embody Australia’s remarkable diversity and underscore what’s going on. Not to push Shiraz and Chardonnay under the carpet, as big things are happening here also, especially with the rise of cool climate styles and far less oak dominated Chardonnays than in the past.
Australia as a country remains a relative unknown to many Canadians. However, the parallels are numerous. Our major cities enjoy similar emerging patterns of a truly multi-cultural society; and Australia’s food scene (which much like Canada’s was rarely considered to be of significance) is absolutely booming. You’ll find plenty of evidence of that among several special events themed ‘Savour Australia’.
You’ll get also a chance to hook up with a good number of Australian producers (some 55 wineries are making the trip, right in the middle of harvest).
These are just a few of the wines that impressed me the other day. If you’re headed to the International Tastings, you’ll want to put them on your ‘must taste’ list. And there will be more…
• Hesketh 2014 Touriga (Barossa). What’s Portugal’s most popular variety doing in Australia? Plenty, as it happens, According to Aussie guru James Halliday, it’s being grown by 36 producers in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Traditionally a Port wine, in both Portugal and Oz, Touriga Naçional is now making a name for itself as a formidable table wine. Hesketh’s amazingly approachable ’14 is wickedly drinkable but also a powerhouse, with vibrant up front red fruit followed by damson and mulberry on a generous palate, underpinned by herbal hints with a lengthy end. Let’s hope it makes it to local shelves on a regular basis. (c. $25) 91 pts.
• Hollick Bond Road Chardonnay 2012 (Coonawarra). The fruit shines nicely through the French oak with bright orchard and stone fruit notes wrapped in a well balanced, gently creamy and generous palate with definite structure and acidity that carries through to the lengthy close. ($27-$29) 92 pts.
• Longview Riserva Saturnus Nebbiolo 2012 (Adelaide Hills). Nebbiolo needs lots of time and attention, and 2012 provided an ideal, lengthy growing season. If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle, you’ll want to let it breathe—although maybe it should be tucked away for a few years. Up front dark cherry, smoky and violet notes followed by assertive but well integrated tannins, keen acidity, with great balance and complex savoury notes, through a lingering finish. c $50. 91 pts.
• Peter Lehmann 1885 Shiraz ‘VSV’ 2013 (Barossa). From seriously old vines, and it shows: a premium Shiraz that defines its class—and may redefine your impression of Aussie Shiraz. Black cherry, spice and vanilla on the nose, followed by a plush palate with easy tannins and elegant viscosity that yields restrained opulence, black pepper and spicy hints before a lengthy close. (c.$60.) 93 pts.
Oh, and yes, of course, there will be Riesling! Next time…
(This material also appears in this weekend’s North Shore News)