I am always on the hunt for wines that go beyond conventional thinking. Not all great riesling has to be from Germany, for instance, although Germany is acknowledged by most to be the leader when it comes to producing world-class riesling. In the same vein, there is excellent sauvignon blanc to be found well beyond France’s Loire Valley or New Zealand, two regions that are synonymous with the grape.
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And that takes us to Australia, where it is easy to prove the point with two wines that jumped out in my recent tastings in terms of quality and value. Both have just been released and both will make for fine, lighter white-wine drinking as we head into the warmer months. And they just happen to be a riesling and a sauvignon blanc.
I knew that Taltarni Vineyards made excellent sauvignon, and its 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, a $13 bargain, only confirms my thinking. Taltarni, an aboriginal word for red earth that reflects the region’s iron-rich soil, is a major producer in the Pyrenees area of Victoria in southeast Australia and was first planted in 1969 (it is owned by the same American family that owns Clos du Val in California’s Napa Valley). Fruit for the sauvignon blanc comes from both Taltarni’s Pyrenees property and from the its vineyards on the island of Tasmania.
I opened this sauvignon blanc before dinner and was immediately impressed by its refined style and balance. Un-oaked and crisply acidic, it shows notes of green apple, gooseberry, lime and a hint of vanilla. Minerals coat the back of the mouth on the lasting finish. Beyond sipping on its own, the obvious food matches are fish, shellfish and soft goat cheeses.
Taltarni’s sauvignon demonstrated once again to me that you don’t have to spend much to find interesting and enticing wines. And the same is true for another great Australian value, the 2006 Magnus Riesling from Leasingham Wines.
This $12 beauty drinks like a more expensive wine and is from South Australia’s Clare Valley, which is riesling country in Australia with its relatively cool climate and limestone-rich soils in which the grape thrives. This “delicious spring white,” as I called it in my notes, extends its calling card with typical riesling aromas that include wet stone, hinting at the mineral notes to come.
In the mouth I found peach, strawberry, lime and a touch of honey, all supported by a vibrant acidity and minerality that makes this wine not only refreshing on its own, but a natural pairing with bold and spicy foods, perhaps your own Asian chicken stir-fry with chicken, ginger and asparagus. Though dry, there is just the slightest hint of sweetness that will enable the wine to match well with such boldly flavored dishes.
Australia, of course, is also known as a land of big, brawny reds, which can be high in alcohol and, at times, tiring. That’s why I plan to look for some red counterparts to these whites I just enjoyed — lean and elegant pinot noirs and others that further demonstrate the unexpected diversity of wine Down Under.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at email@example.com
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