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Step up for Down Under

A few extra bucks can provide a tasty tour of Australian vineyards

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There are plenty of very good red and white wines from Australia in our market at the entry-level (read: $15-ish) price point. From crisp, fresh blends to slightly sweet Moscatos to richer Chardonnays, Aussie whites are dependable. Similarly, there are a whole host of single-grape reds as well as blends that work well on their own as well as with food.

But spending an extra couple of bucks means you'll go from the generic "South Australia" or "South Eastern Australia" designations on the bottle to specific regions, with the accompanying breadth of style.

More than most wine-producing countries, Australia features incredible diversity in terms of topography, climate, soil, geography and more. Broken down region by region, it's easy to see (and taste) the wide cross-section of styles of Aussie wine.

So when you hit the Winnipeg Wine Festival later this month (remember, Australia's the theme region), be sure to make note of where the Aussie wine you're tasting comes from.

Here are some of Australia's most exciting regions:

Adelaide Hills: One of the larger regions in Australia, Adelaide Hills is a relatively cool-climate region. As a result, most of what we see from there is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Barossa: For over 150 years, the heartbeat of Aussie Shiraz is loudest in Barossa. Most wines labelled Barossa are big, robust reds, and are typically made from Shiraz. Some of Australia's best-known producers -- Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Henschke, Jacob's Creek and more -- are based in Barossa.

Clare Valley/Eden Valley: Technically, Eden Valley is part of Barossa, while Clare Valley is located northwest of the region. Both Eden and Clare valleys are cooler-climate regions thanks in part to higher elevation. And while there are pockets of Shiraz from both, their specialty is bone-dry, steely, chalky Riesling.

Coonawarra: Coonawarra is unlike most wine-producing regions you'll see in Australia (or elsewhere) -- namely, it's extremely flat, and is covered in red soil (called terra rossa). There's some decent Shiraz and Chardonnay from Coonawarra, but its vineyards' specialty is delicate, complex Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hunter Valley: Located in the eastern state of New South Wales, Hunter Valley makes stylish yet savoury (rather than big and jammy) Shiraz. But Semillon, a white Bordeaux grape, is their baby. It shows beautifully when young, but patient imbibers will marvel at the complexity of Semillon aged for five or more years.

Margaret River: The heart of winemaking in Western Australia, Margaret River producers make their fair share of Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes. They're best-known for crisp, fresh Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc white blends reminiscent of white Bordeaux.

McLaren Vale: While there's a fair bit of muscular yet stylish McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon around, it's with grapes popular in France's Rh¥ne Valley where things take shape. McLaren whites tend to be blends of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, while reds are some combination of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre (although Shiraz, more than the others, sometimes appears solo). Wines are rustic like their French counterparts, but with more deep black fruit flavours.

Yarra Valley/Mornington Peninsula/Tasmania: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tends to be the focus of these cooler-climate regions, and the best are complex yet restrained, similar to wines from France's Burgundy region. Yarra Valley does a bit of Shiraz as well, while Tasmania does some nice work with Riesling as well as stellar sparkling wines.


ROB DOLAN 2012 TRUE COLOURS DRY ROSÉ (Yarra Valley, Australia -- around $25, private wine stores)

Made from 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, this orange-pinkish rosé doesn't offer much on the nose, with some light strawberry, watermelon and floral aromas sneaking through. It's a crisp, very dry rosé, with strawberry and watermelon notes offset by a mild herbal component on the palate. Try with soft cheeses, or once it's 35 C outside. Picked this up at The Winehouse. 3 stars


ST. HALLETT 2011 FAITH SHIRAZ (Barossa, Australia -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

The ripe cherry and raspberry aromas hit you first with the Faith, backed up by savoury spice, espresso and tarry notes. It's a firm, full-bodied red with loads of ripe berry flavours to go around, but with a splash of acidity and some modest tannin to provide grip and balance on the palate. A strong example of Barossa Shiraz for the price; try with lamb or ribs. 4 stars


JACOB'S CREEK 2012 RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Coonawarra, Australia -- $18.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Spearmint and eucalyptus aromas are certainly here, as are blueberry, blackberry and hints of ash and black olive. Full-bodied and ripe, the Jacob's Creek wraps ripe blueberry and blackberry flavours in light, soft tannin, while the minty/herbal notes drop to the background and mocha, white-pepper and black-tea notes step up. Very good value -- a steak wine. 3-1/2 stars



Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 D14

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