John Wilson on Wine: Aussies that last

Australian wines last the pace


I regularly receive emails from readers anxious to know if their ageing collection of wine is still drinkable. Generally, I recommend immediate consumption. Although some wines can mature beautifully, more than 90 per cent of wines in most shops should probably be drunk within a year, certainly two, of purchase. However, after several tastings over the past year, I suspect I may have been a little too hasty in encouraging people to drink up their elderly Australian wine.

The most recent event was organized by Wine Australia, an industry umbrella group. We tasted 25 wines from 10 producers. There were very few undrinkable wines, and some pleasant surprises.

Two things emerged: firstly the white wines seemed to age better than the reds; secondly one of the most humble wines, Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay, available for €11 in a supermarket near you, showed very well, even the 2008 vintage.

This was the third such tasting. Wine Australia held a similar, larger event a year or so ago, as did wine producer Penfolds. All three proved beyond doubt that Australian wines can age gracefully, including some of the more modestly priced offerings. I doubt the same could be said of many European countries. Aged wine is not to everyone’s taste. Many people including experienced wine buffs prefer younger wines. Others, myself included, love the very different flavours of a mature wine.

Of the four wines below, the Tahbilk Marsanne and Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon have a reputation for ageing well. Both are family-owned operations with a history going back to the 1860s.

Tahbilk is one of the oldest wineries in Australia. The ancient buildings, constructed in 1870, are still in use. The estate is big, some 1,200 hectares, although only 200 are planted with vines. Tahbilk is probably best known for its Shiraz; they make several versions, including a wonderful uncompromisingly tannic 1860 Vines Shiraz, made from vines planted at that time. In addition, they have the largest plantings of Marsanne in the world, including vines dating back to 1927.

The white is one of those wines that always tastes great; it is delicious drunk young with floral aromas, juicy melon and pineapple fruits underpinned by a strong mineral acidity. As it ages it takes on more creamy toasty notes, but never loses that aromatic nose and lovely fruit. I still have a few bottles of 1993 in my cellar.

Tyrrell’s is one of the best-known wineries in the Hunter Valley, a wine region a few hours’ drive from Sydney, and therefore very much on the tourist trail. The fourth and fifth generations of the Tyrrell family are now in control. They produce a huge range of wines, including a plethora of unobtainable single-vineyard releases.

However, they are best known here for their subtle savoury Vat 9 Shiraz, the light toasty waxy Vat 47 Chardonnay, and above all the Vat 1 Semillon. Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the great treasures of the wine world. The grapes are picked early and the young wine is light, crisp and unremarkable. It only really starts to taste good after five years but can age indefinitely.

I have recommended Tesco’s Mount Elisabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 a number of times. For €10 it offers remarkable value. In fact Tesco is stocking four different Hunter Valley Semillons, including the Mount Pleasant Lovedale 2005 for €20. The Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon is one of Australia’s greatest wines; I have a little stash in my cellar going back to the mid-1990s, but they can last up to 50 years.

Jacob’s Creek hardly needs an introduction. First bottled in 1973, it was one of the first wave of Australian producers to win favour in Ireland. As a brand I have found them reliable, avoiding the confected sweetness of some brands as well as the use of cheap oak.

The Jacob’s Creek Reserve range is region specific, the Chardonnay coming from the cool Adelaide Hills, the Shiraz from the Barossa, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra. The Chardonnay is a distinctly modern Australian take on the variety; light and crisp with a subtle use of new oak.

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