Australian wines, the darlings of the first decade of this century, are withering on the sideline of the current wine sales dance. Sales for Australian wines to the United States are down 50 percent from their peak. However, exports to China have kept growth positive for Australian wine exports.
The aggressive growth of Australian wines in previous decades was driven by the popularity of low priced, so called “critter wines” such as Yellowtail and Little Penguin that retail in the sub $10 range. Although inexpensive Australian wines still appear on retailer shelves, we have seen a deliberate move by some Australian winemakers to higher quality, more expensive offerings.
A recent meeting with Kim Longbottom of Henry’s Drive Vignerons gave us a chance to hear about this trend and her new venture, Vintage Longbottom. Teaming up with her daughter Margo, she has also moved some of her grape sourcing from family owned vineyards in Padthaway to the arguably more prestigious McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills area.
The “H” series of white wines we tasted from Vintage Longbottom are sourced from Adelaide Hills fruit, and stamp out any notions of simple, mass market Australian jug wine.
The “H” Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($30) offers a hint of flowers in the nose with well-balanced citrus notes and melon along with a hint of oak in the mouth. If this wine was tasted blind, we’d guess it was a well-made white Bordeaux from a very good producer.
The “H” Chardonnay 2018 ($30) is also an example of the turn to elegance in Australia with charming, balanced lemon and tropical fruit notes in a gentle French oak package that teases and pleases.
The “H” Syrah Adelaide Hills 2017 ($28) is blended from 54 percent Adelaide Hills and 46 percent Padthaway fruit. A floral nose yields to a young but open fruity red wine featuring fresh violets and berries in the mouth. Rich, full, and pleasing in a non-intrusive manner.
The Henry’s Drive line of red wines demonstrated a distinctively Australian style that revealed bold, distinctive, ripe-berry fruit with elegant French oak accents.
The Henry’s Drive Shiraz Adelaide Hills 2017 ($50) is a ripe and round expression of the sirah grape with cedar notes in the nose and enticing juicy blackberry fruit. Once again this is a big wine that does not overpower.
The Henry’s Drive Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon Adelaide Hills 2017 ($50) is a blend of 72 percent shiraz and 28 percent cabernet sauvignon. Firm tannins and expressive berry fruit scream “steak wine.” Longbottom told us this is her “favorite child.” The flagship wine for Kim Longbottom is the Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz Adelaide Hills 2017 ($80). This extremely impressive, 100 percent shiraz is sourced mostly from Padthaway. A very dense shiraz, it is aged 22 months in new oak puncheons and emerges with a beautifully woven integrated oak that frames the berry eucalyptus and licorice elements. A true tour de force that can be enjoyed now or aged for at least 10 years.
We recently had a chance to reconnect with Johan Malan, co-owner and chief winemaker of Simonsig Estate wines of South Africa, to taste their current wine offerings.
Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé Stellenbosch South Africa N/V ($20). According to winemaker and co-owner Johan Simonsig, the rosé emphasizes berry flavors and creates a bolder sparkler with more body. The very pale Provencal color belies the impression in the nose and mouth with impressive heft from the dominant 64 percent pinot noir in the blend, and a pleasing creamy finish.
Simonsig Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch South Africa 2018 ($14). The producer’s bestseller and South Africa’s best-selling grape variety, this quaffable white wine features peach and melon notes with good palate cleansing acidity.
Simonsig Avec Chene Chenin Blanc Estate Stellenbosch South Africa 2016 ($36). The star of the chenin blanc, this is an amazing amalgamation of scents and flavors with very ripe peach, pineapple, baked apple, and creamy caramel. If you can find this white wine, buy it.
Simonsig Redhill Pinotage Estate Stellenbosch South Africa 2016 ($38). This very impressive wine exhibits a brazen style more akin to a super-premium California cabernet sauvignon. The berry notes are accented by cedar and coconut elements that together form the perfect steak wine. We also tasted a very pleasing 2012 version ($38) of this wine which had matured into a more Bordeaux-like red wine.
Orsi Family Fiano Dry Creek Valley 2018 ($26). Winemaker Dick Schultz devotes part of his vineyards to Italian varietals and this one made from fiano grapes impressed us. Fresh acidity, intense aromas and lots of pear and apple flavors. Fiano is popular in the Campania region of Italy.
Breaking Bread Grenache 2018 ($24). The carbonic maceration used in making this wine provides a burst of fresh fruit flavors. Made entirely of grenache from Redwood Valley, it has strawberry notes and crisp acidity.
Murphy Goode Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15). This producer has had its shares of ups and downs but today it represents value. Using the broad “California” appellation, Murphy Goode strikes a fruit-forward personality with all of its wines. This cabernet sauvignon had a medium body with black cherry notes and hints of chocolate and vanilla. We also liked the juicy North Coast sauvignon blanc that is mostly stainless-steel fermented. Peach and pear notes dominate the palate.
Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($36). Blended with some petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc, this decently priced cabernet sauvignon is a solid performer year after year. Expressive and layer flavors of dark fruit and hints of clove and other spices.