Wine Reviews: Australia

When I first started getting into wine, I fell hard for Australian stuff. Inexpensive, fun, reliable, yummy, it allowed me to explore different regions and grapes without a lot of effort or money. While my wine purchases have moved away from Australia over the years, I never outgrew my love for Australian wine.

And that’s thanks to producers like Wakefield, and many others, make wines that are much more than just fruit and alcohol. I’ve reviewed Wakefield wines before (check them out here and here), and this crop of new releases reinforces my respect for this producer.

The Taylor family kicked off their winery in 1969, after purchasing a 430-acre vineyard near the Wakefield River in the Clare Valley region. These wines are known as Taylor’s in Australia but, due to trademark restrictions, they’re labeled as Wakefield in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Clare Valley wines all come from the Taylor family estate, where vineyards at more than 1,100 feet above sea level vineyards get plenty of sun but receive the benefit if large diurnal temperature swings. The St. Andrews wines come from the estate fruit grown in their terra rossa soil, while the Jaraman wines are blended with fruit from other sites. For this report I also tasted two vintages apiece of Wakefield’s flagship Cabernet, the Visionary, and Shiraz, the Pioneer. They’re expensive, but so, so good.

I’ve also included four other Australian wines, from Jansz, Tyrell’s, Torbreck and Chambers.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2017 Wakefield Chardonnay- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $17
Vibrant medium yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, yellow apples and key lime pie, with sea spray, limestone and toasted nut notes. Plush but crisp acidity, deep and honeyed texture, with plenty of yellow apples, limes. Notes of salty minerals, ginger, cream and toasted bread, this is rich and flavorful but precise, with impressive depth and minerality. (88 points)

2016 Wakefield Chardonnay St Andrews- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $40
Medium yellow color. Nose shows lemon curd, a burst of limes and white peaches, along with saline, white flowers, chalk, and subtle almond and honey butter. On the palate, this is pristine and vibrant, medium-full-bodied with crisp acidity. I love the lemons, limes and white peaches, matched with hay, saline, dandelion, along with nougat and honey. A very pretty, vibrant, compelling Clare Valley Chardonnay. Aged 10 months in 80% new French oak. (91 points)

2016 Wakefield Chardonnay Jaraman Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills- Australia, South Australia
SRP: $25
Deep yellow color. Smells of lemon curd and orange marmalade, along with notes of honey, salted almond and freshly-baked biscuits. Plump texture but moderating acidity, along with plenty of apricot, bruised pear and apples. Notes of cinnamon, almond, sea salt and ginger snap add complexity. Richly flavorful but vibrant, too. This spends eight months in 60% new French oak. (88 points)

2017 Wakefield Riesling- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $17
Light yellow color. Lovely notes of peaches, limes, apricot, along with complex floral, honey and chalky notes. Crisp, dry and so zesty on the palate on a light/medium-bodied frame. Pleasantly plump peach meets zesty limes and green apples, and I get notes of crunchy sea salt, honeysuckle, floral perfume. Juicy and fruity but brisk and fresh, too. (87 points)

2017 Wakefield Merlot- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $17
Light purple color. Bright but juicy on the nose with sweet raspberries, red and black cherries, along with some violet petals, cola and coffee. Full but smooth with soft tannins and medium acidity. Juicy black cherries, tangy plums, raspberries, the fruit is juicy but fresh and mixed in with some coffee, violets and coffee. Smooth, easy-drinking, accessible, but well-made and vibrant. Aged in a mix of French and American oak, 10% new. (87 points)

2017 Wakefield Shiraz- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $17
Medium purple color. Aromas show sweet plums, blackberries and blueberries, with some eucalyptus, mint and violets. Full-bodied, smooth tannins, surprisingly fresh acidity. Crisp and juicy with blackberries, blueberries and black cherries, which fit well with the espresso, mint, dark chocolate, black pepper and vanilla tones. Delicious but vibrant, this has quite a bit of complexity at this price point. Aged 12 months in American oak. (88 points)

2013 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $140
Dark purple color. Deep, wafting aromas of blackberries, boysenberry and blueberry, rich but crunchy, with mint, anise, wet earth, cedar forest, some vanilla and warm cocoa. Full-bodied with serious grip but the tannins show some velvetiness, too, and the acidity is great and the mouthfeel is lovely. Tart black cherries, black currants, plum skins, along with cocoa, anise, coffee, and complex tobacco, graphite, earth, forest floor. Beautiful, a fresher feel than the 2014, expressive in youth, although this can also age for quite some time. Aged 20 months in French oak. (93 points)

2014 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon The Visionary- Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $140
Rich purple color. Nose boast tangy, concentrated currants, black cherries, blueberries, along with complex floral and earth tones, lots of clove and coffee and cinnamon sticks. Full and rich on the palate, but lively as well, with fine-grained tannins, moderating acidity, and plenty of tart black cherries, cassis, dark plums. Complex elements of violets, clove, bay leaf, earth, sweet vanilla and coffee. Serious time ahead for this one. Seems more structured and could use more cellar time than the 2013. Aged 20 months in French oak. (94 points)

2013 Wakefield Shiraz The Pioneer - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $140
Deep purple color. Aromatically, I get waves of deep, dark fruit (blackberries, blueberries, black cherries) and complex bursts of eucalyptus, black pepper, espresso, violets, anise. Big and full on the palate, built well with tannins but the edges are fine and the acidity here is really inviting and refreshing. Suave blackberry, blueberry, black currant, mixed with coffee, anise, dark chocolate, eucalyptus, with an earthy, peppery finish. Long time ahead but beautiful young. Aged 20 months in French oak. (93 points)

2014 Wakefield Shiraz The Pioneer - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $140
Deep purple color. Gorgeous fruit, blackberries and blueberries, juicy and ripe, with espresso, pepper, anise and earth, but I get deep floral complexity here compared to the 2013. Plump, rich, yet velvety, acidity provides some nice balance to the bold blackberry and blueberry fruit. Complex elements of violets, clove, earth, anise, black tea, dark chocolate, and there are lots of savory, earthy tones as well. Velvety but vibrant, this has many years of lovely evolution ahead. Aged 20 months in French oak. (93 points)

N.V. Jansz Wine Company Premium Rosé Brut- Australia, Tasmania
SRP $29
Pale copper color. Super floral on the nose with roses, daisies and honeysuckle, along with plenty of red apple, pomegranate and lemon fruit, some chalky notes thrown in as well. Crisp, so tangy and focused on the palate, but it has the depth to balance it out. Red apples, raspberries, strawberries, crunchy red fruit mixes with musky cologne, white pepper, rose hips, chalk dust, slight biscuits. Crisp but some residual sugar, harmonious, gluggable but complex, too. Champagne method bubbles made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. (89 points)

2017 Tyrrell’s Sémillon- Australia, New South Wales, Hunter Valley
SRP: $25Wine Reviews: Australia
Medium straw color. Bursting aromas of lime, apricot, topped in sea salt, this is also highly floral with magnolia petals, honeysuckle and white ta. Light and brisk on the palate, this is fresh and accessible with a mix of lime, green melon, apricot and white peach. Notes of cut flower stems, honeysuckle and baby’s breath. Fun, summery and fresh, a light-on-its-feet appeal, but some nice complexity and depth. (88 points)

2017 Torbreck Shiraz Woodcutter’s- Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $25
Medium purple color. Nose boasts blueberries and saucy black cherries, topped in pepper, barbecue sauce and smoke, some vanilla. Full but smooth on the palate, with chewy tannins and medium-low acidity. Delicious blueberries and blackberries, juicy and saucy, mixed with pepper, black olive brine, espresso, mint and sweet cocoa. Full, forward and smooth, but balanced and well-made stuff to drink over the next few years. All Shiraz, 15% alcohol. (88 points)

N.V. Chambers Rosewood Muscat- Australia, Victoria, North East, Rutherglen
SRP: $16/375ml
Deep apricot, light brown color. Deep and inviting aromas of clover honey, graham cracker, crème brulee, orange marmalade. Rich and sweet on the palate with a velvety, creamy feel, but some medium acidity that keeps it from feeling too heavy. Flavors of apricot jam, orange marmalade, clove, graham cracker. Lovely depth and spice, a reliably delicious Aussie sticky. 17.7% alcohol, 233 grams/liter of residual sugar, this is aged solera style in old oak casks. (89 points)

Why you don’t find winery restaurants in the US

Last year, one of Australia’s leading wineries, Henschke Vineyards, branched out. The Henschkes opened Hill of Grace, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, a place filled with tradition and lore as cricket test matches are played among various national teams. The restaurant’s wine list is centered on a Henschke wines but includes other Australian and imported wines. Wines from Henschke Hill of Grace, arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, are currently available back to 1990 and a glass of the 2010 can be yours for $125 US. When I spoke with Stephen Henschke recently in New York, he said the restaurant was doing very well and they were thrilled with the reception.

While that’s great for locals and tourists to Adelaide, it does leave the American wine mind wondering…why are there no winery restaurants away from wineries in America? Where’s the Screaming Eagle Nest at SF’s AT&T Park? Harlan Estates on Houston in Lower Manhattan? Franzia on Freeways?

The simple reason is that vertical integration is not allowed in the wine industry. In the aftermath of Prohibition, various state and federal authorities passed various regulations that split the industry into three tiers (producer, wholesaler, and retailer–or restaurant) and banned them from overlapping (with some exceptions that allow for one company to straddle two tiers). Tied-house laws, as they are called, go so far as prohibiting wineries from even providing incentives to retailers. On a related note, given that AB InBev seems intent on siphoning many beer brands–and even spirits with Diageo rumored as a target–into one giant keg, tied-house laws have thus far prevented the emergence of the Bud bar, Stella saloons, etc.

So, if you want a dine at a winery restaurant that’s not at a winery, you’re out of luck in America. Better hop on the plane(s) to Adelaide.

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