Australian wine is everywhere. The county is the world's fourth largest exporter of wine, sending some 750 million litres a year to wine drinkers around the world.
Yellow Tail, that ubiquitous wine with the bright and highly-recognizable label, is one of the most recognizable exports to be sure (in fact, try Googling “Australian wine” and the company’s site is the second listing returned), but there is so much more just waiting to be discovered, shipped, sipped, and savored. From the common to the surprising, from the good values to bottles even Robin Leach would find a touch rich, here are some of our picks for must-try Australian wines. Cheers!
This red blend is predominately Shiraz, but a whole host of other varietals (about 22% of the wine is made up of seven different grapes, including some classic Bordeaux and Mediterranean varietals) give this budget-friendly option a surprising amount of complexity and interest. The dark fruit and spice notes are to be expected, but it’s the supple tannins and brow-raising floral scent that will help you stump the resident know-it-all – and please your palate, too.
House of Arras Brut Elite Cuvee 601 Huon Valley NV – $27
The cool Tasmanian climate and extensive aging cooperate to create this complex and elegant example of Australian sparkling wine. The sweetness is subtle and integrated, with notes of truffled honeycomb, strawberry, and lychee note prominent on the palate, but it’s the toasted edge and earthy hints of mushroom and sourdough that give each glass depth and backbone. It’s a bright and buoyant bubbly, and a great introduction to Tasmanian wine.
A great representation of Australian Shiraz, Gnarly Dudes is fruit forward without devolving into the sort of jam-fest that’s more appropriate for smearing on a scone than pouring in a wine glass. Here the fruit is a rich swirl of blackberry, cherry, and plum, the sweetness tempered by the intriguing bitterness of dark chocolate and a ghostly whiff of pepper.
Big and apologetically bold, this monster from renowned producer Mollydooker boasts a whopping 16.5% abv. In lesser hands, that would be enough to sear your palate to infinity and beyond, but here, the surrounding plum and blueberry is so vibrant and rich everything melts into a delicious swirl. There is licorice and spice and some espresso that’s nice, and tannin you can probably chew; the Blue Eye Boy isn’t for everybody, but it’s iconic enough to warrant our recommendation to you.
You may have already tried a d’Arenberg in the form of Stump Jump, the vineyards affordable line that is easy to find on grocery store shelves, but the brilliantly wacky Vociferate Dipsomaniac is another animal altogether. While the SJ’s are delicious for everyday drinking, this bottle is like an ornery seductress, littering the air with the scent of pepper, violets, and plums, then slowly ensnaring your senses with captivating layers of mushrooms and herbs. It’s almost too tight now, but we like how it opens open in the glass; nevertheless, it’s a great wine for aging.
In a sea of Shiraz, this brilliant Chardonnay is good enough to make the world stand up and start to take notice of Australia’s “other” varietals. The blend is somehow both surprising and comforting, challenging the more common perceptions of what Chardonnay “should be” but also delighting fans of both New World and Old World styles. There is vanilla and oak, to be sure, but also stone fruit and citrus pith, quince paste and cardamom, hazelnuts and sprigs of jasmine. It’s an exotic blend, both rich and refreshing, and the almost milky finish – supple and sustained – is beautiful.
A true bastion of consistency, Clarendon Hills possesses a strong portfolio that garners critical acclaim year after year, and this 2008 release of their Syrah/Shiraz is no exception. Robert Parker gave it 97/100, and Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast both bestowed a 94/100, and previous vintages in recent years have gone as high as 99, and this is one time when the public agrees with the publications. This is a sexy wine, if there ever was one, with tannins so silky smooth they’re almost slippery, and dark swaths of ripe fruit and spice that evoke the sensation of eating handfuls of fresh-picked blackberries in a spice-filled bazaar while pipe smoke wafts over from a sweets stall. It’s an exotic image, but taste this wine and you’ll understand.
Okay, so the only way this is going in the average wine lover’s cellar is if they win the lottery or they have some really, really awesome friends, but you just can’t create a list of top Australian wines without including Henschke’s perhaps greatest creation. A feast for the sense, Hill of Grace opens with almost blood red tones that are visually captivating, followed by the almost ethereal scent of blackberry jam, plum tart, and dried herbs. Add lavender potpourri and smoked meats, and you have a magical glass of an unforgettable wine, the finish of which you’ll remember long after it fades, leaving you yearning for more.
Bonus: If you want to see what Henschke is all about but lack the $600+ in discretional income, try the Henschke Mt. Edelstone Shiraz 2012 for $125 – it’s one heck of a treat, too.
*Note: Wine prices are estimated using an average of several online and brick-and-mortar retailers