Australia has long been known for producing red wines that deliver outstanding value. But many wine lovers have stereotyped Australia’s white wines as heavy and oaky. In days past they were mostly right, at least based on what was available here in the United States. But that’s starting to change, thanks to the increasing availability of graceful, lively white wines from Australia’s cooler, often high-altitude vineyards. Happily, in most cases pricing is extremely gentle—and sometimes insanely cheap—given the quality delivered.
I tasted hundreds of Australian whites for the International Wine Cellar’s annual review and the ones I’ve highlighted below punch far above their weight; all of them are bright and elegant and extremely food-friendly. I scored these wines 89 points or higher in this year’s coverage. They’re all widely available, usually at prices lower than those I’ve quoted.
The Brokenwood Wines 2013 Semillon Hunter Valley ($20, Old Bridge Cellars) shows high-pitched citrus and orchard fruit character, with complicating notes of white flowers, ginger and anise. Dry, nervy and sharply focused, it’s a richer rendition of this classic wine than usual but still has the stony character one expects from Hunter Valley semillon; it’s only 11% alcohol too. Speaking of semillon, Torbreck Vintners (Wine Creek LLC) is well known for their intensely flavored red wines but they have a steady hand with whites as well. The 2013 Semillon Woodcutters Barossa Valley ($18) is firm, focused and lively, offering intense citrus fruit and floral character, and no excess fat. This semillon finishes dry and long, leaving chalky mineral and quinine notes behind.
Riesling is extremely popular in Australia, and it’s almost always bone-dry. Check out the Jim Barry Wines 2013 Dry Riesling The Lodge Hill Clare Valley ($18, Negociants USA), a vibrant, tightly focused example of that style, offering an array of citrus fruit and floral qualities underscored by a zesty chalky mineral note. Also try the d’Arenberg Riesling 2013 The Dry Dam McLaren Vale ($17, Old Bridge Cellars), which delivers bracing citrus fruit, mineral and spice character and carries a mere 10.6% alcohol. Silky and precise, it finishes very long, with a touch of bitter citrus pith and lingering spiciness. One of Australia’s most famous white wines, the Pewsey Vale Vineyard Dry Riesling Eden Valley ($17, Negociants USA) is flat-out superb—and a remarkable value—in 2013. It displays vibrant grapefruit, lemon zest and chalky mineral scents, with a floral element adding complexity. Lively citrus zest flavors are complicated by notes of ginger and white pepper, and aeration brings up more richness, but not at the expense of the wine’s energy. It will age wonderfully, by the way.
While Aussie chardonnays of the 1990s and 2000s were often heavy and overoaked, that’s definitely not the case now. For example, the Nugan Estate 2013 Chardonnay Frasca’s Lane Vineyard King Valley ($20, Southern Starz) is racy, sharply focused and almost Chablis-like, offering piquant orchard and citrus fruit flavors that show excellent lift but also have the heft to handle richer foods. Nugan’s 2012 Chardonnay Single Vineyard Drover’s Hut Riverina ($17) is a slightly more powerful wine but in no way heavy. Ripe nectarine, melon and tangerine aromas and flavors gain a zesty mineral quality as the wine opens in the glass, adding focus and vivacity. I suspect that both of these wines would pleasantly surprise many white Burgundy fans.
Winemaker Louisa Rose, who is head winemaker for Yalumba as well as for Pewsey Vale (Negociants USA), is widely renowned as a viognier master and her 2012 Viognier Eden Valley ($19) is a classic example of her work. Ripe nectarine, orange and melon scents and flavors are lifted and sharpened by smoky minerals and white pepper. Quite lithe for this variety, it finishes with excellent clarity and spicy persistence. For sheer value it’s hard to beat Yalumba’s 2013 Viognier Y Series South Australia ($12), a peachy, open-knit wine whose suave honeyed character is leavened by juicy acidity and a hint of ginger. It turns more floral on the back end, finishing with notes of licorice and candied ginger. I’d pair it with spicy Asian salads or seafood.