When someone mentions Australian wine, brains tend to kangaroo-leap right to Shiraz. And not just because it’s fun to say, what with that exaggerated “aaaaz” (so to speak).
Shiraz dominates the Australian export market, and the U.S. dominates those exports. So it’s forgivable, sensible even, if that’s what we reach for in the Australian wine aisle of our local wine stores when the urge to drink Down Under hits. But according to at least one survey—OK, it’s ours, and it involved a thousand thirsty people—Americans love their white wine, and 79% of them love it all year long.
Despite that, they don’t actually drink a bunch of Australian white wine (it ranked 7th in the survey, after the U.S., France, Italy, and, alas, New Zealand). But if you cut yourself off from Australian white wine—or worse, relegate your Aussie spending habits to two-dimensionally acidic, hyper-quaffable bottles—you’re doing yourself a serious disservice. (Like pissing off a kangaroo.) There’s plenty on offer here: florals, citrus, juicy acidity, slate, oak, butter, nuttiness, savoriness. So dive in. Most bottles here don’t top out over $25.
Chardonnay used to be the Aussie white wine favorite. That changed in the early 2000s, when Sauvignon Blanc exploded onto the market (see below), but don’t let that keep you from bottles like this. Penfolds grows their Chardonnay grapes in the cooler Tumbarumba region, aging the wine in older French oak—meaning some oaky, toasty, nutty notes are integrated, acting like a framework for delicate florals, soft peach, and perky acidity.
New Zealand might tend to own our sense of Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc, but this offering from the Adelaide Hills is its own thing entirely. Smoother on the tongue—no mouth-punching upfront zip—with light velvet layers of banana and some tropical fruit skin, with a finishing, classy high-five of citrusy twang.
A classic blend of two white varieties, straw-green, fresh, juicy, and integrated. Classic notes of citrus and lime with some honeyed florals and slate on the nose and palate, fresh acidity and just a touch of oak aging to give you a bit of a smoother finish without overpowering the integral freshness.
2010 De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon – MUST TRY
This is Semillon in a totally different, and iconic, sweet expression. Don’t panic about the Botrytis in the name—yes, it’s rot, but it’s “noble rot,” and at its best it causes a grape to lose most of its moisture, leaving a lot of concentrated complexity behind. As in this highly (highly) awarded, $25 or so 375mL bottle of concentrated stone fruit, floral nectar, and gently balancing nuttiness.
Hold up, sweetness haters. Australian Riesling, especially Australian Riesling from the Clare Valley, is made in the drier style, in this case in hills northeast of the valley. With almost 50 year old vines, you’ll get a bit more restraint and layering, with slate-kissed lemon citrus giving way to lusher tropical fruit and orange blossom.
Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris – BEST VALUE
One of the more famous Pinot Gris of the Yarra Valley, the same grape they use to make Pinot Grigio but done in a French style (hence the “gris”). You’ll get some citrus, but layered with green spice and softer fruit. More apple and pear than the lime and stone fruit you’ll find in other bottles on the list, with a pleasant balancing yeast character that gives those delicate notes some heft.