Australians love them some wine. Their per capita consumption rate ranks twice that of the United States. With more economical, friendly Aussie wines arriving daily, hopefully we'll soon match their intake. Their white grapes of favor are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, but they've also been inventive with blending, creating a delicious white wonder all their own: Semillon (pronounced SEM ee YON) and Chardonnay. Without restrictive government laws, such as those that exist in France, Australian winemakers are free to experiment and buck tradition. Semillon, a white Bordeaux-bred grape, adds depth of character and often-unique tobacco, pear or earthy 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 their fine wine, although the Margaret River region in western Australia also crafts some worthy juice, especially Sauvignon Blancs. The climate is moderate and dry, creating intensely concentrated fodder for the fruity numbers we've come to love from Down Under.
Australian wine is inexpensive for several reasons. First of all, their developed vineyard land goes for $16,000 to $24,000 per acre, compared to Napa Valley's $100,000. For cheaper vineyard management, Australians use machines rather than people, since manual laborers are scarce in this country of 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. They provide 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 only a few years.
So the Aussies have pretty much got it goin' on in terms of wine marketing, exporting and cost controls. More and more labels are floating onto our shores, and the price is so right, this summer you might want to dive into a kiddie pool of tasty, cool Aussie wine.
2001 Paringa Shiraz ($11) : A light-hearted, friendly and smooth Aussie Shiraz. Like biting into a fresh black cherry sprinkled with pepper.
Black Swan 2001 Chardonnay ($7) : Like licking a stick of butter slathered with flowers and honeysuckle. If you didn't know the price, you'd pay lots more since the complexity in this wine is truly astounding.
Jacob's Creek 2002 Reserve Riesling ($13) : 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.
Cape Mentelle 2002 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon ($15) : 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.
Reynolds 2001 Chardonnay ($8) : Pear dipped in lemon juice then layered with mango. Earthy aftertaste, but it's kinda cool after all that fruit. Great value.
Peter Lehmann 1999 Semillon ($12) : 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.