A long time ago, jolly 'ole England shipped off their convicted felons to a large South Pacific island called Australia. Left to their own design -- and with a little help from the Brits -- they began making wine, and got damn good at it. Centuries later, their per capita consumption is double that of the U.S., and laid-back Australians and New Zealanders produce amazingly innovative wines and proudly say to hell with the rest of the world. Their atypical wine blends and cool attitude demonstrate a faithfulness to their rabble-rousing roots. This is wine made from the heart and sold at rock-bottom prices that leaves happy consumers with money jingling in their pockets.
The three biggie grapes in Australia are Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Shiraz is Aussie-speak for the French red grape Syrah and, contrary to popular belief, is the exact same grape. Shiraz can be transformed into big, beefy red wine or fruity, quaffable juice, so getting to know the producers is important. For the most part, the Chardonnays are unpretentious and quite drinkable. But their delicious, untraditional blends such as Chardonnay/Semillon (SEM-ee-YON) and Shiraz (SHUR-az)/Cabernet Sauvignon yield something else for winos to worship.
Australia is sparsely populated (19 million people), yet still boasts more than 850 wineries. Grapes are grown mostly around the outer areas of the continent, because the internal land is desert-like. The grapes' growing region can be found on the label, and the better regions to look for are: Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills.
Off the coast of Australia lies a small, compact island called New Zealand. New Zealand rocks at producing refreshingly dry Sauvignon Blanc. Fragrant grapefruit, grassy aromas emerge from virtually every glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region, and you can pretty much be assured that every bottle -- literally -- will be quite good.
With so many incredible values from Australia and New Zealand, it was difficult to limit the recommended wines, so ... I didn't.
Greg Norman 1999 Shiraz Limestone Coast ($14) : Ripe, juicy fruit, with a huge helping of strawberry jam. This wine is so smooth and easy, it should be walking the streets.
Banrock Station 2000 Chardonnay ($6) : Best of show in the tasting for value. Buttery and crispy like a Ritz cracker. Nice hints of apricot and sour apple. Run, don't walk, to buy tons of this wine.
Madfish 2000 Chardonnay ($14) : Wow! Citrusy, almost un-Chard-like in character. Well-balanced acidity and worth so much more than 14 bucks.
Kim Crawford 2001 Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($11) : Pretty much everything from New Zealand's Kim Crawford is lip-smacking good, and this Sauv Blanc drips with smooth, citrus appeal. Also try their Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Yangarra Park 2000 Shiraz ($10) : Fruit forward with cherry and raspberry flavors on the tongue. This Australian venture of Kendall Jackson has it all going on.
Wynn's 1999 Coonawarra Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot ($16) : Raspberry bustin' out all over. Smooth fruity action in this approachable wine. Worth every penny.
Four Sisters 2000 Shiraz ($15) : Very cherry, uncomplicated and approachable. Perfect from those who shy away from the tannic stuff.
Maxwell 2000 Four Roads Shiraz ($16) : Beautifully smooth, a bit spicy on the tongue and extremely balanced. On the heavier Shiraz side, but oh-so drinkable any time day or night.
Brancott 2001 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Marlborough ($17) A wonderful example of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruity, limey, crisp and refreshingly acidic. Clean finish with no aftertaste.
Trevor Jones 2000 Boots White Wine ($13) HHHII: A deliciously smooth, blended sweetie wine for those who avoid the dry stuff. Blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Great for aperitif or with spicy food.
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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