Have you noticed how much better good wine tastes when you’ve paid only pennies for it? To achieve this lofty financial rarity, look no further than Australia, the land of heat and inexpensive, yet incredibly yummy white wines.
Australians love them some wine. Their per capita consumption rate ranks twice that of the United States, but with more economical, friendly Aussie wines arriving daily, hopefully Americans will rise to the challenge.
Some noteworthy facts about Australian whites. Decent Australian white grapes are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Without the restrictive government laws of France, Australian winemakers are free to experiment and buck tradition. Hence, those Aussies have been inventive with blending Semillon (SEM-ee-YONE) and Chardonnay — creating a delicious white wonder. Semillon, a white Bordeaux-bred grape, adds depth of character and unique flavors to sometimes boring Chardonnay.
The Southeastern part of this large country (Australia is similar in size to the U.S.) produces the majority of its fine wine, although the Margaret River region in Western Australia crafts some kick-ass juice, especially Sauvignon Blancs. The climate is moderate and dry, creating intensely concentrated grape juice fodder for the fruity numbers we’ve come to love from Down Under.
Australian wine is inexpensive for several reasons. First of all, its developed vineyard land goes for $16,000 to $24,000 per acre, compared to Napa Valley’s $100,000 per acre. For cheaper vineyard management, Australians use machines rather than people, since manual laborers are scarce (the population is only 20-million). But the cherry on top came in the early ’90s when the Australian government established an organization called the Australian Wine Export Council. The council provides free, accessible, start-to-finish services to wineries of any size wishing to begin exporting their wares. This program went hand in hand with the Australian government’s goal of doubling wine export sales by the late 1990s — something they accomplished handily in just a few years.
So the Aussies pretty much got it going on in terms of wine marketing, exporting and cost control. More and more labels are floating onto our shores, and the price is so right. So this summer you might try diving into a kiddie pool of tasty, cool Aussie wine.
Black Swan 2001 Chardonnay Like licking a stick of butter slathered with flowers and honeysuckle. If you didn’t know the price, you’d pay lots more because the complexity in this wine is truly astounding. $7. 3 1/2 stars.
Jacob’s Creek 2002 Reserve Riesling Flowery and bursting with pear and grapefruit. Slight sweetness on the front end of the sip, but finishes with a delicious licorice flavor. Odd for a Riesling, but damn, it’s good. $13. 4 stars.
Cape Mentelle 2002 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon Easily one of the most unique wines I’ve tasted in a long, long time. A blend of 54 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 46 percent Semillon, this juice sports the citrus of a Sauv Blanc, but features a jalapeño — yes, jalapeño — flavor in the back of the mouth. Fascinating stuff. Might be hard to find, but seek it out and you won’t be sorry. $15. 4 1/2 stars.
Reynolds 2001 Chardonnay Pear dipped in lemon juice then rolled in mango. Earthy aftertaste, but it’s kinda cool after all that fruit. Great value at $8. 3 stars.
Peter Lehmann 1999 Semillon 100 percent Semillon, which you don’t see that often. Smooth, with citrus-like tangerine. Slightly woody and has a freakily lingering finish. Wonderful with food like shrimp scampi or chicken piccata. $12. 3 stars.