Diving in Down Under: Australian wines

A long time ago, jolly ol’ England shipped off their convicted felons to a large South Pacific island called Australia. Left to their own devices — and with a little help from the Brits — they began making wine and got pretty damn good at it. Centuries later, their per capita consumption doubles that of the U.S., and laid-back Australians and New Zealanders produce amazingly innovative wines. They proudly say to hell with the rest of the world, with atypical wine blends and a cool attitude that are faithful to their rabble-rousing roots. This is wine made from the heart, sold at rock bottom prices that leaves happy consumers with money jingling in their pocket.

The three biggie grapes in Australia are Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Shiraz is Aussie-speak for the French red grape Syrah and, contrary to popular belief, is the exact same grape. Shiraz can be transformed into big, beefy red wine or fruity, quaffable juice, so getting to know the producers is important. For the most part, the Chardonnays are unpretentious and quite drinkable. But their delicious, untraditional blends such as Chardonnay/Semillon (SEM ee YON) and Shiraz (SHUR az)/Cabernet Sauvignon yield something else for winos to worship.

Australia is sparsely populated (19-million people) yet still boasts more than 850 wineries. Grapes are grown mostly around the outer areas of the continent because the internal land is desert-like. The grapes’ growing region can be found on the label, and the better regions to look for are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills.

Off the coast of Australia lies a small, compact island called New Zealand, a nation that rocks at producing refreshingly dry Sauvignon Blanc. Fragrant, grapefruit, grassy aromas emerge from virtually every glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region, and you can pretty much be assured that every bottle will be quite good.

With so many incredible values from Australia and New Zealand, it was difficult to limit the Recommended Wines, so… I didn’t.

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