Three Australian winemakers, part I

This is the first of two parts about selected Australian wine and winemakers. The second part is here.

One of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s favorite things to do is to taste wine with Australian winemakers, even though I ?m not a huge fan of the Australian style of wine.

So why is it so much fun? Because most of the Australians I have dealt with are genuine, sincere, open-minded, and plain-speaking. This is a welcome change from U.S. winemakers, many of whom are scared to death of critics, and quite a few Europeans, who aren ?t quite sure why they need to explain their wine to people like me.

But the Aussies? We just sit around and drink wine.

I tasted with three Australians over the last six weeks, as they toured the U.S. before their spring began (southern hemisphere seasons begin six months ahead of northern hemisphere seasons). The wines, from three quite different producers, had several interesting qualities.

? They were not made in the alcoholic, over the top style has defined Aussie wine for more than a decade. That ?s fine for those who do it, they told me, but they prefer a more moderate approach, in which people taste the grapes and not the skill of the winemaker.

? They were something other than shiraz, including some terrific wines that are usually associated with cooler climates than Australia has. I have already waxed poetic about Rosemount ?s $10 sauvignon blanc (which made senior winemaker Matt Koch smile quite a bit when asked him about the wine), but I tasted well made riesling, pinot grigio, chardonnay and rose.

? They were not cheap. Blame it on the weak U.S. dollar or just Australian orneriness, but these men and their companies are tired of making only $8 wine. As Phil Laffer, the straight-talking winemaker for Jacob ?s Creek/Orlando high-end wines, put it: ?It ?s about time people knew we could make fine wine, and not just wine with a critter on the label. ? In fact, Laffer insisted his wines were priced too low, and that Americans were getting a steal. He may have had a point.

Tomorrow: The most interesting wines from Robert Oately, Rosemount, and Jacob ?s Creek/Orlando.

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