by Gavin Trott
There wouldn't be much doubt that if I asked people around the world to name just one Australian wine region, most would say "The Barossa Valley".
Why is this? Well, some excellent promotion over the years has helped, it is the home of Penfolds Grange, plus there are a myriad of other reasons.
An important factor in this is the fact that the Barossa Valley is our most important wine region. Just look at the names based there, a who’s who of large quality producers, mixed with some of our most stunning boutique wineries. Any list would have to include Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Orlando, Seppelts, Peter Lehmann, Yalumba, and Krondorf, who between them produce some 50% of all of Australia’s wine!
Add to this the important boutique producers like Charles Melton, Rockfords, Henschke, St Hallett, Greenock Creek, Torbreck and others and you can see that this is the region most people start with when discovering Australian wine.
However, the real reason lies in the wines themselves, as they offer a unique style of wine coupled with remarkably consistent quality.
… well, the Barossa producers all make wines designed to please. Pleasing the customer should be obvious, but it appears that not all wine producers aim to please the consumer all the time! In the Barossa they take all those many hours of sunshine and clean air and turn it into wine, all flavour, ripeness and health in a bottle. Many of the wines are made not for deep thinking and considering, but for enjoying. They are fun wines, upfront, tasty and enjoyable, made to be slurped down with good food and good friends. A generalisation … of course, but not far off the truth I think.
The style does emphasise two things however, very ripe fruit (indeed its hard to grow fruit there that does not get fully ripe) and American oak. At its best this produces wines chock full of fruit flavour with hints of chocolate and vanilla, often at great bargain prices. It can occasionally be overdone, over ripe and over oaked, but these wines are slowly lessening in number I think, most producers seem to get it about right most of the time.
… at the top end the quality is amazing, Grange, Old Block, Nine Popes, Run Rig and many others prove that the Barossa makes world class wine. However the valley makes wines of an extremely high standard across the board, and at almost every price level, from Grange down to Krondorf Shiraz. Indeed, it is hard to find a Barossa Valley wine that is not clean, well made and enjoyable, and the range of exceptional quality wines is expanding annually.
… the Barossa Valley is some 45 minutes drive north west of Adelaide, and just far enough inland to be away from the moderating effect of the sea enjoyed by McLaren Vale. On average it is also a couple of degrees warmer than Adelaide and has long, dry summers. It is a climate suitable for grape ripening, ..so ripe grapes is what you get, cool climate varieties do not work, and you can safely ignore most Riesling, all Pinot Noir, all Sauvignon Blanc and look for wines emphasising fruit and flavour.
… look for flavour, richness and ripeness, so Semillon, Chardonnay on the riper end, Grenache, Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and ports are the staples.
… Semillon is a surprisingly successful variety in this region. However, do not look for wines like those from the Hunter Valley, these are on the riper end of the spectrum, often oak aged, and designed to be enjoyed while young. They are in the main excellent, and make a terrific alternative to the ever-present Chardonnay! Enjoy them with richer seafood dishes, they are great with poultry and can handle the rich sauces that other wine styles can't
… the Chardonnays from the Barossa are wines of richness and ripeness, often barrel fermented, and they are designed to be enjoyed young. You should expect flavours in the riper peach and melon range, often with buttery flavours and usually in American oak. Very attractive drinking when young, and again, able to cope with rich seafood and poultry, even some char grilled flavours.
… this is Grenache country, indeed the Grenache revolution started here with Charles Melton and his Nine Popes, and continues strongly today. The Barossa has some of Australia's, indeed the world's, best and oldest Grenache vineyards. These are mostly bush vines and un-irrigated providing small crops of very intensely flavoured grapes. Most of these used to be blended with Shiraz and sometimes Mourvedre, but increasingly they are 100% Grenache. Terrific wines full of rich upfront flavours, most of which won't cellar, or at least do not need to be cellared. Nine Popes is a notable exception. Drink these with rich meat dishes, casseroles, hearty dishes, game meats and char gilled meats and barbeques.
… Barossa Valley Cabernets really have more to do with their region than with classic Cabernet flavours. The sunshine wins out against the variety I think. Don't expect many of these wines to mimic Bordeaux, they can't, indeed I don't think they want to. The wines will be all about rich fruit, flavours in the blackberry and plum group, American oak usually, with ripe tannins and medium term cellaring life. The best of these create a lovely chocolate/mocha edge to the wine, very attractive and appealing if not overdone. Drink with lamb, beef, your favourite red meat dish really.
… the Barossa Valley and Shiraz go together. Many vineyards of very old vines, dry grown grapes, small yields and American oak create richness, flavour, length, aging ability, spice, chocolate and much more. These wines are identified by their personality, fruit and more fruit, noticeable oak and aromas that leap out of the glass, they are real 'in your face' styles of wines. Drink these with red meats, they are great with beef particularly.
Try (well, where do I start and end?)
… a recent arrival as a varietal wine but it shows great promise. Again expect rich upfront flavours and designed to be enjoyed while young.
..these are tawny port styles; solera blends most of them. However they have been made for generations and so the stocks of older wines are outstanding. Tawny brown in colour, these wines are amazing value for money, incredibly complex, rich yet often light, and the perfect end to a meal
Gavin is the manager of the Australian Wine Centre (a large collection of affordable, rare and cult Australian wines) and hosts the very popular Auswine Forum (An online discussion forum about Australian wine) . You may reprint this article either on a website or in print but you must maintain this resource section naming the author. Please email the author with details on where you intend to use it. You can obtain the latest version of this article and more free wine content for your website from www.freesticky.com