amber wine, australia, cabernet sauvignon, frankland river, mclaren vale, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, western australia, yarra valley -


Living here in California, I’ve learnt that Australian wine can be a difficult sell. There are preconceptions, often based on the success of yellow tail, that all Australian wine is simple and fruity. And as Australia has a similar climate to California and trends have paralleled since the 1990s, then why drink Australia instead of California? Well, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover esoteric winemakers, unexpected grape varieties, historic but lesser-known wine regions, and a wide range of quality wines.

Let’s start with Grenache, because there are plenty of old vines which represent the tapestry of Australian winemaking history as well as younger vines which show how Australian wine is developing. As with many European regions, Grenache used to be dismissed as producing high alcohol, simple wines but wines from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale give the lie to that. "Junto" is made by Bondar, a Grenache-dominant blend from McLaren Vale; the winery was only established in 2013, a combination of the old and the new.

Pinot Noir shows how trends in Australia have changed over the last couple of decades. Back in the late 1960s, there were the first plantings of Pinot Noir in Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne. The wines never really took off, despite their evident quality, because the trend up until the 2000s was for big, full-bodied reds—not Pinot Noir. But that trend has turned on its head, and cooler-climate regions like Yarra Valley are some of the most fashionable in Australia. Punt Road is a third/fourth generation producer of Italian heritage, making wine since the 1970s. Their Pinot is very representative of Yarra Valley, delicate, refined, and floral; in a blind tasting I might confuse it for Oregon.

Another developing trend is Sauvignon Blanc, which didn’t use to be planted that much. But the popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has led to it being planted much more. Frankland River is a region in Western Australia that receives a cooling coastal influence. There’s no surprise that very good, fresh, lightly herbaceous Sauvignon is made there: the Sauvignon Blanc from Point Ormond has an extra earthy quality from some lees ageing. 

Point Ormond also make a Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia, following the very Australian tradition of regional blending. And the Cabernet is very Australian, with menthol, herbal, eucalyptus aromas and chunky warm tannins. This is a summer barbecue wine.

If that’s classic Australia, there’s also quirky Australia. Ben Haines is based in Melbourne, sourcing fruit from the various regions that surround the coastal city. “Amber” is what its name suggests, a skin-contact wine with color and a little bit of tannin. It’s mostly made from Semillon, with some Roussanne and Marsanne. It’s very much its own thing, but most importantly it’s extremely easy to drink. 

And that’s just a very brief guide to Australia: there is so much to explore.