Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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12 April 2017

Classic Australia?

This pick of Australian 'wines of the moment' might challenge your perception of what could be perceived as 'classic'. Or maybe not; but they do show there are plenty more interesting Aus wines out there, usually from lesser-known and more 'distinctive' sub-regions and/or using quirkier winemaking, that stand out from the shelf-filling brands (even if one of them is)... (Updated 22/04/17).

Limestone Coast Chardonnay 2015 'Exquisite Collection', South Australia (14% abv) - Makes a literally refreshing change to find an oak-free Oz Chardy, this one is nevertheless full-bodied and oily textured with lots of ripe citrus, peach and melon fruit, but nicely balanced and good value too. €8.69 Aldi Ireland / £5.79 UK.

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat 'Liqueur Wine', Victoria (17.5% abv) - 'Classic' in some ways (and Rutherglen is a demarcated wine zone), as in a very old-fashioned time-honoured Oz style, but hardly in the sense that most people would recognise, it takes a little courage to try it (especially as the price will inevitably limit its appeal). Made from late-picked Muscat grapes and aged for many years in a 'solera' type cask-maturation process (blend of different years). This is a superbly luscious and complex dessert wine with raisins, cooked marmalade and tangy roast walnut/pecan nut flavours. Try with blue, unpasteurized matured or goats' cheeses, fresh black coffee or drizzle a bit over plain vanilla ice cream. £14.99 half-bottle Grange Wines, Holywood and other good wine shops. Photo from campbellswines.com.au.

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Peter Gambetta, Margaret River, Western Australia (14.5% abv) - Offers a fair bit of class and depth for the money, with more restrained blackcurrant and plum flavours, light coconut oak spice and nicely textured tannins. Tesco £10.

Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Ferngrove Vineyards, Western Australia (aged in French oak) - Closed up to start, fairly dense and textured, quite subtle actually but definitely with Shiraz-esque peppery fruit; needs a little air to open up and some BBQ-ed food maybe. £11 Marks & Spencer.

Jacob's Creek Sparkling Shiraz Dry Cuvée, South Eastern Australia - Fun frothy red, a bit strange at first if you've not tried it before but very nice in the end; off-dry finish I'd say. £10 Sainsbury's.

The Gum Vineyard Shiraz 2015 The Lane, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (aged in French oak) - Another more restrained style, spicy berry fruit with good depth and structured finish. Quite expensive although sometimes on offer: M&S £15.

Barossa Petit Verdot 2013 Chateau Tanunda, South Australia (13.5% abv, 18 months in French oak) - Deep coloured still for its age, spicy with ripe red pepper and cassis/damson followed by savoury and roast coffee hints, nice chunky texture yet maturing/softening too. Good with Cantonese duck in black pepper sauce. £10 M&S.

01 April 2017

South Africa: whites, pink fizz and reds to tantalize...

Here's a random selection of half-a-dozen higher-priced South African palate-tantalizers test-driven in recent times, which all show it's worth paying a little more for this country's wines as the quality and character factor appears to rise quickly in tandem. Without wanting to make generalisations, which is asking for trouble but I'm going to anyway, I think it's also better to buy South African wines bottled at source rather than those bottled in the UK or Germany for instance. While, in principle, bulk-shipping in tankers is a perfectly sound winemaking and distribution practice, given the advanced technology and know-how behind it nowadays; but this sort of wine is probably more processed with, for example, up to the maximum permitted levels of sulphites used to help preserve whites and rosés in particular. No doubt some angry wine business technician will disagree, but this is my experience from actually drinking some of those wines...


The 1812 Overture of South African reds, from kanonkop.co.za
Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch region (13.5% abv) - This famous and long-established winery (vineyards here dating from the late 17th century they say) is pretty good at a variety of Chenin styles. This one's ripe and rounded with exotic honeyed edges vs nice zesty citrus and yeast-lees notes on the finish. Good value for flavour. £7 (on offer)/£8 Sainsbury's.

Cornelia White 2015, Swartland region (Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Verdelho, Viognier; 13% abv) - Made by Adi Badenhorst, who's also a bit of a star for quirky white blends like this: attractive mix of oily texture, peach and apricot fruit with fresher spicier undertones and concentrated too. £10 Marks & Spencer.

Jan & Johan Old Vine Cinsault 2015, Paarl region (14% abv) - Tantalizing mix of lightly wild and perfumed berry fruits with fairly soft mouth-feel yet weight and roundness too. There's still a good deal of old vine Cinsault in parts of South Africa, like in southern France, although much of it has been pulled up. €8.99 Aldi Ireland.

Kanonkop Kadette 2015 Cape Blend, Stellenbosch region (about 50% Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc; 14.5% abv) - This is their 'junior' red blend of these four varieties, which is something of a house specialty, offering lots of flavour and style for the money. Smoky red pepper notes mingle with blackcurrant, dark plum and spicy oak (14 months in French barrels); quite firm and structured still with power and concentration on the finish, nice texture and depth of fruit though. £8 (on offer)/£10 Sainsbury's.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2014, Stellenbosch region (14% abv) - Bellingham winery seems to be good at this sort of wine (also has 2% Viognier, all barrel-fermented together in open-top casks): touches of oak and solid and dense to start, but reveals lush dark spicy fruit with savoury edges; pretty classy red. £13 Sainsbury's.

Graham Beck The Rhona Brut Rosé NV, Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; 12.5% abv) - Beck is up there among South Africa's finest fizz makers, this sumptuous Champagne-style rosé bubbly is rich toasty and yeasty with aromatic brioche and red berry notes, intense and stylish with fresh bite balancing it out nicely. Yum. £15 M&S (sometimes £12 on offer).