Monday, April 27, 2009

Wines from the Land(s) Down Under

My poor neglected li'l blog -- how I've abandoned you so. Sorry, getting ready for a 6-month South America trip but have been getting out to tastings & taking some trips (stay tuned for a report on Paso Robles). What inspired me to write today was yesterday's "2 Shades of Pinot" tasting at South Wine Bar in SF, where about 7 importers were showing Pinot Noirs & Pinot Gris from Australia & New Zealand.

There weren't too many standout whites except for the '08 Borthwick Pinot Grigio "Paper Road" from Hawkes Bay, NZ -- and interesting my favorite was actually labeled Pinto Grigio & not Gris! Same grape, but I find whenever it's labeled Gris the wine is done in a much more interesting style, with more floral aromatics and usually some nice peach action on the palate. Another NZ white that got my attention was the 2008 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris from Central Otago, but not for tasting like a PG -- one the nose & palate is was a ringer for a NZ Sauv Blanc. Smelled like grapefruit & gooseberries and had the crispness & high acid of a NZ SB. I'm sure it would fool many in a blind tasting...

That PG in an SB disguise was imported by American Estates Wines, which also had the '07 Roaring Meg Pinot Noir from Central Otago among its wares at the tasting. Given the name, I had to try it, but before I told the guy pouring that it was my name, I asked for the story behind it. Turns out Meg was a fiery red-headed prostitute in the mining camps of Australia in the 1850s... Ha. Good wine at a nice price point ($22), showing dark red & black fruit with a touch of oak and nice dusty tannins. It was more Burgundian in style, which was a trait shared by most of the Pinot Noirs I tried at the event.

Other standouts were nearly all of the wines from the Lion Nathan group -- '05 Stonier Pinot Noir "Reserve" from Australia's Mornington Peninsula, which had lovely earthen, dusty qualities; the '05 Withers HIll Pinot Noir from Marlborough, the NZ region famed for it's Sauv Blanc, but also an up-and-comer for PN; and the '05 Philip Shaw Pinot Noir from Orange, Aus. This last one, poured by Shaw himself (and no, he's NOT related to "Two Buck Chuck" Charles Shaw as a silly woman asked him), had distinct notes of eucalyptus (native to Aus, where it's also called a "gumtree" -- remember the Kookaburra song we all learned as children?) on the nose & palate, something I had never experienced before in a wine -- but picked up later in two other PNs.
That menthol quality made it cry out for food, IMHO, especially lamb with mint sauce. Shaw had been a bit peeved when he saw which vintage he'd be pouring, as he remembered thinking the eucalyptus was overpowering when he tasted it last, but he thought it had mellowed out and was surprised an American palate like mine picked up on it! ;-p

While Australian wine has been getting a bad rap, I was impressed with the Pinots and think many of the Aussie wine-bashers would do well to give them a chance -- especially the ones who also snub CA Pinot Noir for being too fruity, hot, and more like Cabs than traditional Pinots. The Aussie ones were far from that, and well worth giving a chance.


jason said...

Enjoy your trip to South America. If you are planning on visiting Mendoza let me know as I have some faves to recommend! Also if you are going to do any wine tasting in Chile I have a good connection you can talk to.


mloagogo said...

Jason -- I would LOVE your recommendations/contacts. Email me at if you would! :-)