Peter Ranscombe uses Lidl’s latest Wine Tour promotion to explore why there’s such an exciting variety among Australia’s regional wines.
THERE are lots of all-encompassing terms used in the world of wine.
“Bordeaux” covers everything from a weeknight claret to a £500 first growth, while “oaked” can mean anything from using the most-expensive hand-crafted barrels through to adding giant teabags full of oak chips into a metal vat.
Yet few terms cover such a wide swath of ground as the phrase “Australian wine”.
It goes without saying that Australia is a big place, but in Europe we sometimes forget just how big.
It’s about 4,000 kilometres or 2,500 miles from the Margaret River wine region on the west coast to the Hunter Valley wine region on the east coast – that’s the equivalent from Edinburgh to Jerusalem.
According to Google, it would take 44 hours to drive from one side of Australia to the other – which is a long time bumping up and down in a “ute”.
One of the most common terms we see on the labels of supermarket wines in the UK is “South-Eastern Australia”, which covers about a third of the vast country, including all of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as parts of South Australia.
It’s akin to the rarely-seen “European Wines”, which are made from a blend of grapes from France, Italy and Spain.
South-Eastern Australia is a term that appeared in 1996 because the European Union said that if an imported wine was going to be sold in the single market with the name of the grape variety on the label then it also needed to carry the name of a recognised “geographical area”.
Many of those supermarket wines are made with a blend of grapes from more than one state, which can vary from year to year – that’s how the producers can make such high-quality wines at such affordable prices, even give the UK’s high rates of tax on wine.
Shall we gather at the river?
Yet delve beneath the surface of “South Eastern Australia” or even beneath state designations like “South Australia” and you’ll discover a plethora of regions that are just as exciting as any you’ll find in Europe.
Discount supermarket chain Lidl’s latest seasonal “Wine Tour” promotion is an ideal starting place.
The 2020 Axis Sauvignon Semillon Margaret River (£6.99, Lidl) has sauvignon blanc’s familiar stalky aromas of cut grass and green pepper on the nose, but mixed with warmer New World guava notes.
Its high acidity is balanced by the asparagus, green pepper and guava on the palate, and that freshness will lend itself to matching grilled fish or green salads.
I don’t think I’ve ever reached this stage in the year without tasting a 2020 vintage wine but, hey, that’s lockdown for ‘ya.
Its red partner – the 2017 Axis Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River (£6.99) – delivered similar stalky green pepper notes alongside classic cabernet coal smoke, damp earth and blackcurrant aromas.
The fruit was much riper on the palate, with some spun sugar and liquorice joining the blackcurrant.
Both wines demonstrated the more elegant and savoury aspect that characterises Margaret River for me.
They’re also a great springboard from which to explore more complex wines from the region, like those from Cullen and Vasse Felix.
Sailing across to the other side of Australia brings us to the Limestone Coast and the 2019 The Second Fleet Shiraz (£6.99), with its aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant and a whiff of eucalyptus.
It’s made in a very fresh style that belies its 14% alcohol-by-volume; mint, liquorice and crunchy blackcurrant balances its fresh acidity, before leading into sweeter blackcurrant jam on the finish.
Shiraz is arguably most closely associated with the sun-baked Barossa Valley in Australia, yet the Limestone Coast example illustrates how Australia’s diverse regions can be used to produce different styles form the same grape.
The reverse is also true – Barossa is no shiraz-riding one-trick pony, with a variety of micro-climates and accompanying grape varieties.
The 2018 Duck Point Cabernet Sauvignon (£7.99) hails from the Barossa and represented a step-up in terms of complexity among the wines I sampled.
Its darker nose was full of riper blackberry and black cherry, with coal smoke, wet earth and a fresher redcurrant note.
On the palate, there was well-integrated vanilla alongside milk and dark chocolate to accompany the black cherry flavour, with riper and more grainy tannins to slice through roast meat, plus a spicy white pepper note on the finish.
Cabernet sauvignon was blended with merlot and petit verdot for the Bordeaux-esque 2018 The Second Fleet Coonawarra (£6.99), which offered a warm nose full of wood smoke, blackcurrant and a peppery aroma.
There was more structure on the palate too, perhaps elevating it to steak status beyond a Sunday roast, but still with lashings of lush fruit for balance, ranging from damson and blackberry jam through to vanilla and Coonawarra’s telltale mint.
While the 2019 Artan Reserve Chardonnay (£6.99) from the Limestone Coast fell flat on its face for me due to a lack of fruit on the palate, the other Australia bottles in Lidl’s new world “Wine Tour” hit the spot and are a great place to explore the country’s diverse range of regions.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.