An Unplanned Tasting Of Aussie Wines

SYDNEY – I experience the same sense of innocence and ignorance as anyone else when I travel to far off countries in exploration of their regions, and especially when I visit their local wine shops. But that is what excites me, the sense of imminent discovery. This happened to me just yesterday as I walked into a wine shop deep in the Blue Mountains of New South Whales.

The first thing that strikes me is the sheer number of selections – which I know nothing about. I recognize the grape varieties and most of the regions listed on the bottles, but that is all. I do, however, notice a sign for wine tasting. Five bucks for a taste of six different locally produced wines. ‘I’m in!’ I tell myself, and I ask the young lady behind the counter to hook me up with a glass. This store allows you to taste the wine before you buy it – novel idea! Imagine if that ever caught on in Hawaii. She shows me 12 different wines from which I can choose to taste in my flight.

I chose a Chardonnay to start, but it doesn’t quite strike my fancy. It was simple juice with a slight hint of oak and a dry, short finish. The second wine was more interesting. It was 2011 Dryridge Estate Riesling from the Blue Mountains. It had a very nice nose with pure fruit, nicely balanced acidity and ripeness, and finished dry but not bone dry. The length was nice, and it also had a hint of spiciness. I learned that this comes from sandstone soils in a difficult growing site strewn with rock. I can see why the vines are working so hard.

From there I went on to some reds. I began with a 2010 Bunnamagoo Merlot from the Central Ranges. It comes in a tall, handsome bottle, so I had high hopes. It was soft and pleasant, with a hint of pyrazine in it, but a nice texture and mouth-feel. I told myself that I could drink this with the right food.

I then chose a Cabernet Sauvignon. As I recall, the lady said it was inexpensive. It certainly tasted that way. It was not something I was going to take home.

Then I tried a Shiraz, which I expected to be the best of the lot. I am in Australia, after all. Unfortunately, this one was unstirring and a bit bland. It had flavor, but not lots of it.

I think the attendant could see my disappointment, and so she wanted to turn me onto something “different.” So she pulled out an “ice wine” made from Viognier. This was the 2011 Orange Mountain Ice Viognier. They pick the grapes fully ripe and after crushing and pressing freeze the juice to concentrate the flavors.

This was definitely something different. It was sweet and luxurious, with tons of nectarine and peach flavors. The only thing was, it didn’t smell like Viognier. It was missing that huge floral note that is its hallmark. It still tasted really good, though.

I just think it is so much fun to taste and learn about new wines and regions, even if we do not like everything we taste. It is an endless exploration and discovery.

Good luck finding these wines in Hawaii. It was only by luck that I found them in Australia.

Recommendations: 2011 Astrolabe Pinot Noir Marlborough ($29), beautifully ripe and well integrated red and blackberry fruit. Silky texture and long, round flavors. 2010 Handpicked Signature Shiraz by Rolf Binder ($45), plump and juicy, this wine has baby fat all over it. Not completely over the top, but at 14 percent alcohol, it ain’t wimpy, either.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email rviernes@southernwine.c om or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.