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The many pleasures of Australian wines

Bold flavours, soft tannins and Shiraz define the wines from this country

The d'Arenberg cube building at Mclaren Vale region in Australia. (Istockphoto)

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The label read Ponting. A wine with a two-syllable name is rare and it could have been the ease of pronouncing it right—and the sense of familiarity—that led me to try it.

Within minutes, I realised the bottle was from Ponting Wines, a collaboration between cricketer Ricky Ponting and Australian winemaker Ben Riggs. The fine print said, “Marking Ricky Ponting’s milestone innings of 127 vs. England at Headingley”—in 1997.

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This was last month, at a tasting of Australian wines hosted by Sonal Holland in Mumbai. South Australia’s wine ambassador in India, she presented 17 different wines from the region. The evening got off to a good start with the nice, quaffable Ponting 127, Shiraz from Barossa Valley.

The good news is that owing to a free trade agreement between the two countries, Ponting Wines may be available in India from next year, along with a diverse selection of bottles from Australia, enhancing the range of choice beyond the ubiquitous Jacob’s Creek and Yellow Tail.

“Only premium wines will come in because the freight on premise (FOP) has been fixed at $5. After adding taxes, like export duties and custom rates, a bottle will sell for more than 2,500 in India,” explains retailer Vishal Kadakia of WinePark.in. In other words, get ready to taste some new, high quality and pricey vino.

Winemaking began about 200 years ago in Australia and some of the most popular bottles come from the south, near Adelaide, Victoria and Tasmania. Red grape varieties, like Shiraz and Grenache, thrive across the country. Holland uses the word sharbati (loosely translated as juicy) to describe the Grenache. For a novice like me, it’s refreshing to simply be able to pronounce wine names, for it makes the experience more approachable and enjoyable.

“Australia put Shiraz on the world map,” notes Holland. Shiraz, known as Syrah in France, was one of the first grape varieties to be introduced in the country when it started producing wine. In the mid-1800s, a deadly plant louse, phylloxera, wiped out acres of Syrah and other grape vines across Europe. “But it couldn’t possibly reach Australia because it was isolated. So it’s believed the country has some of the oldest vines of Shiraz,” says Holland. During the tasting, the Reserve Shiraz from Fox Creek found many takers.

A distinct characteristic of the red wines from that evening was the soft tannins; none of them left the palate feeling too dry. “The tannins are softer because the vines are grown in the warm climate of South Australia. They receive plenty of sunshine during the ripening season,” explains Holland. It makes these wines easy-to-drink, friendlier.

As for the whites, the Sauvignon Blanc from Fox Creek had a lovely crisp, almost crunchy, mouthfeel (confession: I tried more reds that evening, driven by the delight of soft tannins), like the Gorgeous Grenache from Thistledown Wines. To know more about whites, I interviewed winemaker Salony Kane, who studied wine in Australia. She says Rieslings, Semillon and Chardonnay have their own unique expressions, adding, “For me, what makes Australian wines special is the fact that the producers are innovating. There is this openness to try and to share what they have succeeded in making with other producers in the spirit of mateship.”

For me, what made the real difference that evening was that the wines—from the labels and flavour to winemakers—weren’t intimidating. The bottles don’t belong to wine snobs; they are approachable, pleasurable and bold.

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