If you are a wine lover and haven't heard of the "thunder from Down Under," you'd better check your wine pulse. Wonderful wines are coming from our friends on the continent of Australia.
Australia has become a leader, not only in value wines, but also in world-class syrah, or shiraz. Winemakers are even making a bold statement with delectable dessert wines.
One of the most jovial and off-the-wall personalities among Australian winemakers is Trevor Jones. He proudly wears his gum boots -- knee-high rubber boots -- to wine tastings and sports a duo of fiddleheads for a mustache.
Jones makes his wines from fruit grown in the Barossa Valley, in a style most appropriate for a man with such an ebullient personality. His chardonnay is something you wouldn't expect, as most Oz chardonnay is oaky, buttery and may be overly alcoholic. What he calls Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay ($19), uses ZERO oak. The result is pure fruit flavor, exuberant, bursting with tropical fruit aromas, rich on the palate without the tannic impartations of wood, but with complexity, velvety texture and the balance of refreshing acidity. A terrific wine for poached seafood -- scallops with linguine and cream sauce comes to mind. Chinese stir-fry would even work well.
Jones also makes monstrous reds, the kingpin being Trevor Jones Wild Witch Shiraz ($60). Highly prized and collectible, it has received ratings in the high 90s from everyone. If you can find it and afford it, get it. It is one of Barossa Valley's best!
After selling most of his grapes to the juggernaut of Penfolds for many years, David Hickanbothom decided to bottle wine under his own label, Paringa, and we are sure glad he did. Hickanbothom is less provocative than Jones, but no less focused on his ideals.
He set out to make the best shiraz that can retail at less than $10 a bottle, and I think he's succeeded. His opulent Paringa Shiraz ($9.99) speaks volumes for the winemaker. The glass is full of berries and spice; the mouthfeel is almost like merlot, smooth and luscious. It has an intensity that betrays its price, something you would expect from a bottle three times the price. Try it with a perfectly grilled steak or marinated leg of lamb. If you're not a shiraz drinker, try it anyway, but Paringa also comes in cabernet sauvignon and merlot at the same wicked price!
Now comes a wicked dessert wine from a genial giant of man, Robert Fiumara. An eloquent OZ of Italian decent, Robert and his wife Pasquale founded the Lillypilly Estate in Leeton, New South Wales, in the Riverina district, Australia's largest grape-growing area.
The Lillypilly Noble Blend ($15/half bottle) is made from two classic dessert-wine grapes, traminer (Australian for gewurztraminer) and semillon. This awesome elixir smells like a basket of freshly cut tropical fruits --lychee, apricot, rambutan, bananas --and flowers. It is succulently sweet and best served lightly chilled with ice cream, creme brulee and flan. Awesome! Also be on the look out for the white Lillypilly Tramillon ($12), just a touch sweet and not as heavy, but perfect for any riesling lover.
It's hard not to like these wines, especially since such nice people make them. So for your next picnic, tailgate or even a fancy dinner, don't forget the "Thunder from Down Under." G'day and cheers, mate!
Roberto Viernes is wine educator for Southern Wines and Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org