Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
Australia is big. I mean, really big.
It is the world’s largest island, comprising 5 percent of the land on earth. It is the 6th largest nation, trailing just Russia, Canada, China, the USA and Brazil. It spans three time zones.
I’ve had a vague sense of all this, but as I recently sat down to plan a three-week trip to Australia’s major wine regions it became clear that getting around would take time and imagination.
A little background: my wife and I have been invited to attend an event called Tasting Australia, the premier food and wine gathering held every two years in Adelaide, South Australia. This year, it commences on April 29 and you can find out more about it at tasting-australia.com. The event brings together top chefs, winemakers, journalists and patrons of all three for a week of tastings and presentations of the best of Australia’s bountiful culinary and viticulture scene.
As San Francisco is to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Adelaide is to the Barossa, Eden and Clare Valleys. It is the home to the major wine research facilities, the National Wine Centre, and is the financial hub for the most significant wine-making regions in the country. It is also the perfect place to start a wine adventure in Australia.
While the dates of our trip mean we will likely miss the harvest season by a few short weeks, we plan to tour the Barossa, famed for its brilliant Shiraz and complex GSMs (blends of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro, as the Aussies call Mourvedre), and the Clare, where rich, aromatic Riesling is the star.
Ah, but where to next? Perhaps the two most famous wine regions of the country lie east of Adelaide. The Yarra Valley in Victoria, just a short hop from Melbourne, and the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney.
The Yarra Valley is less than an hour drive from the fashionable shops and galleries of downtown Melbourne where the Australian Open is currently in high gear. There, in a cool valley with hillsides that rise over 1,500 feet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown in abundance.
The French Champagne house Moet Hennessy established an Australian outpost here some 20 years ago, Domaine Chandon, which makes the top sparkling wines in the region and also produces still wines under the Greenpoint label. The Yarra Valley is known for sophisticated wine culture and is a must stop for the world wine traveler.
But I’m also interested in a region to the south of Melbourne called the Mornington Peninsula. The first wines I tasted from this spit of land that juts out into the Bass Strait of the Tasmanian Sea was a Yabby Lake Chardonnay that struck me as well-made, fruit-forward and lush. I have hoped to visit the Peninsula and the winery ever since.
And just across the sea lies Tasmania itself. The island is the southernmost point in Australia and today there are more than 200 vintners growing Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals such as Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Take a boat from Hobart to the south and the next stop is Antarctica.
The Hunter Valley is north of Sydney about 100 miles. Hot and dry in the summer months of December and January, the Hunter has a long history as the cradle of the Australian wine industry. Shiraz and Semillon are the grape varieties that thrive in the heat and are a draw for wine tourists from around the world.
Then there is the region that intrigues me most. Catch a four-hour flight from Sydney to Perth, drive two hours south and you’ll find yourself along the Indian Ocean in an area known as Margaret River. My first exposure to the great Chardonnay of the region came at a luau during a food and wine event in Hawaii, where Denis Horgan, the proprietor of Leeuwin Estate Winery, told tales of epic surf spots and perfect vineyards as we sipped his wines and nibbled on pulled pig. The paradise he described has long stuck with me and Margaret River has made my short list of places to see. Even if it is a long ways away.
So, you see my dilemma. A massive country with so many options.
I’ll look to forward to sharing discoveries as they unfold.
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