There was once a time in our life when it seemed like all we were drinking were wines from Australia – shiraz, viognier, chardonnay, grenache, and even cabernet sauvignon. Alas, we have drifted away from this wonderful fountain of fun wines.
The U.S. is Australia’s second largest customer in the world market. Not only are American consumers enamored by those critter labels, but they like the price of most Australian wines. Although premium wines like Penfold’s Grange can cost more than $400 a bottle, many of the wines from this continent are well under $15.
Inexpensive shiraz (syrah in other regions) is popular, but there are many premium red wines that are worth exploring on occasion. We just tasted several powerful wines from Vintage Longbottom Henry’s Drive in Adelaide Hills that impressed us. These full-bodied wines need cellaring; if you can’t wait eight to 10 years at least aerate these wines before serving them.
Kim Longbottom and her late husband David released their first Henry’s Drive wines in 1998. Although her husband died in 2008, she remained focused on building the brand. She also makes premium wines from McLaren Vale. “Henry” is Henry John Hill who operated a horse-drawn mail and passenger coach service in the 19th century.
The 2017 Henry’s Drive Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend ($60) is a fruit-forward, dense and inky wine with raspberry and cranberry notes, a minty nose and hints of spice.
We also liked the unblended 2017 Henry’s Drive Shiraz ($60), an equally dense wine but with blackberry and plum flavors with floral and mint aromas.
If you like concentrated and complex shiraz, Vintage Longbottom steps it up to an ultra-premium label with the 2017 Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz ($80).
The best value is the 2017 “H” Syrah ($40), which is still sporting fine tannins but brighter fruit of cherries and plums. It’s odd to us that Longbottom calls this one by its French name “syrah,” but we guess it’s a way to separate it from the premium wines.
Here are some less expensive shirazes that deliver a lot for the money.
Yalumba Barossa Shiraz 2017 ($21). Blackberry and cherry flavors mingle with forest floor and spice with a dash of anise. Soft mouthfeel.
Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz 2017 ($30). Plum and herbal notes dominate this balanced shiraz.
Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2017 ($25). Layer black fruit aromas with a hint of licorice and mint. Flavors are reminiscent of juicy plums and black berries with a subtle dash of smoke and vanilla.
Siduri pinot noirs
We recently had the opportunity to blind taste three 2017 pinot noirs from Siduri. Each were made by winemaker Adam Lee but from different California appellations. It was interesting to taste the differences.
Adam Lee and Diana Novy Lee founded Siduri in 1994 and have established a reputation for fairly priced, well-made pinot noir from what are currently 20 different separately bottled sites. Jackson Family Wines purchased Siduri in 2015, retaining Lee as winemaker. The purchase gave Siduri access to the vast Jackson Family vineyard sources in both Oregon and California.
Tasting the three pinot noirs proved a challenge. Each appellation expressed subtle but readily apparent differences. Stretching along the Pacific Coast, the three regions were cool climates: Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Sonoma’s County Russian River Valley and most southernmost in California, Santa Barbara County. Pinot noir loves climates that cool off the grapes after a day of blistering sun because the growing season is slow and extended.
We guessed the Siduri Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2017 ($30) because it was the lightest of the three samples. The Willamette Valley pinot noir exhibited sour cherry and rhubarb notes with a hint of spice and balanced acidity. Overall a lighter version would pair well with tuna and salmon dishes.
Parsing the difference between the Russian River Valley pinot noir and the Santa Barbara version proved more difficult. We guessed wrong between the two California selections. The Siduri Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2017 ($35) presented very ripe cherry fruit with cherry cola notes and the least acidity of the three samples. Overall, the Russian River Valley was the simplest of the three samples with the least apparent tannins.
Our favorite of the tasting was the Siduri Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2017 ($35). Wild cherry and plum flavors dominated the nose and mouth with some interesting spice elements. There was a bit more acidity than the Russian River Valley pinot noir that created a bit more interest along with the abundant fruit.
Siduri also makes a full-throttle Edmeades Pinot Noir 2017 ($50) that abounds in dark berry flavors. Lee uses grapes from the Pommard clone and exposes half of them to whole-cluster fermentation.
Etude Grace Carneros Pinot Gris 2018 ($30). Crafted from grapes grown in the estate’s Grace Benoist Ranch vineyard, this classic pinot gris offers pear and apricot notes with a hint of spice and lime. Balanced acidity makes it a great match to summer fare.
Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio Reserva “Giatl” 2016 ($38). You don’t often see a reserve pinot grigio – perhaps because it is an oxymoron or, more likely, no one wants to pay this kind of money for pinot grigio. However, it demonstrates what can be done with pinot grigio. This gem comes from the best 6 acres of a 24-acre vineyard. A small amount of this wine is made for adoring audiences who enjoy the golden color, lush palate, and oak-inspired flavors. Pear aromas with juicy tropical fruit flavors.
Girard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($24). Pear and peach notes feature this lush and textured chardonnay. Hints of butterscotch, mineral, and crème brulee highlight a well-oaked wine for those who love an oaky style of chardonnay.