Grapevine: There’s more to Aussie wines than Yellow Tail

Yellow Tail, perhaps the most successful wine brand in the world, single-handedly represents the majority of all Australian wines sold in America. That’s incredible. It tells me two things. One, that people like Australian wines. They’re fun, they’re fruity and they’re affordable. Two, that it’s time to go exploring. Australia is a big place. There are wine tales to be told beyond Yellow Tail.

Australia’s winemakers have pioneered leading-edge vineyard management and fermentation technology that is now used all over the world. They have created trendy blends such as “Semi-Chard” (Semillon and Chardonnay), “SBS” (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and Shiraz + anything.

They make some of the world’s finest bone-dry Rieslings, and as far as I am aware, the world’s only sparkling Shiraz, a blood-red concoction that looks like something out of Willy Wonka.

But perhaps the most important and far-reaching innovation has been their willingness to embrace new concepts in wine packaging. Varietal wines that are sold in three liter boxes (or casks), and fine wines sealed with screwcaps have become popular alternatives to standard glass bottles and corks in Australia – long before they made any headway here in the United States.

Still more new ideas are coming from the Land Down Under. Opici Import Company has introduced Australian wine in B-Paks, an environmentally friendly package made from sustainable and renewable resources, that uses 50 percent less energy than glass. B-Paks are shipped in rolls to the winery, so a single truck can deliver enough material to produce 500,000 bottles. The same number of glass bottles would require 26 truckloads.

These are innovations that make a lot of sense for consumers, because they add value to the product. Boxes, as I have written before, are disposable, unbreakable, easy to stack, store and carry, require no corkscrew to open, hold their temperature longer than bottles, offer extra sun protection and allow you to enjoy a glass of wine a day for weeks – without losing freshness.

Screwcaps, though still a bit controversial, are now almost universal on Australian white wines, and becoming more common on the reds. Again, they eliminate the need for a special tool to open them. More importantly, they appear to dramatically reduce the incidence of “corked” (musty, tainted) wines.

Not all packaging innovations have to be so utilitarian. Some can just be beautiful, can’t they?

Rosemount Estate, a leading Australian brand for more than three decades, has retooled its packaging and its wines for 21st century palates. Their flagship Diamond Label series is being re-introduced in sleek, diamond-shaped bottles, which both accent and amplify the clean, classic label design.

It’s blessedly free of animals, vehicles or other gimmicks. And across the board, the wines taste natural and clean, not tarted up with the kind of tweaks and tricks that turn so many budget wines into mock-tails. I hear from many readers, of all ages, who are looking for affordable, flavorful wines with moderate alcohol levels. Rosemount delivers.

Among the white wines, my favorite is the Rosemount 2006 Diamond Riesling – a dry wine sporting a lovely floral nose scented with rose petals and lemon rind, leading into an elegant, polished and complex tangle of flower, citrus, melon and spice.

A fine companion is Rosemount’s 2006 Diamond Traminer/Riesling – two thirds gewürztraminer and one third riesling, off-dry, complex and long. Try this one with sweet or spicy Asian noodle dishes.

Also recommended: Rosemount 2006 Diamond Pinot Grigio – dry and medium-bodied, with flavors of Asian pear and light tropical fruit; Rosemount 2006 Diamond Sauvignon Blanc – pleasantly grassy and framed with green citrus and tart acid; Rosemount 2006 Diamond Chardonnay – the standard-bearer, with pure fruit flavors of apple, pear, cantaloupe and peach. No fake, overblown vanilla or butter flavors overwhelm the fruit.

In the red wine camp, best of show is clearly Rosemount’s 2005 Diamond Shiraz. It’s got more density – stuffing – than the other reds. The solid, ripe fruit carries extra texture and weight, and flavors move beyond merely fruity into grace notes of spice, rock and pepper, while the oak remains comfortably in the background.

Also recommended: Rosemount 2005 Diamond Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon – spicy shiraz (syrah) matched with gentle herbal accents from the cab, lively in the mouth and silky in the finish; Rosemount 2006 Diamond Pinot Noir – plenty of fruit power, particularly strawberry and raspberry, in the nose and in the mouth, and nothing wimpy, weedy or watery; Rosemount 2005 Diamond Merlot – more lovely fruit, laden with blackberry, plum, briar and ginger cake; and Rosemount 2005 Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon – gauzy and light, but quite likeable if you just want a good slog without any heavy lifting. All of these wines are priced at $10.


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