Sunny reds from Down Under on the up and up
THE sun has shone on Australia's vineyards since the mid-19th century when European settlers found land suitable for farming and planting vines.
Drought and bush fires have always been an issue on the Australian wine scene, but the legacy from these 'first growths' is a thriving industry with hundreds of talented winemakers producing a diverse range of fine and casual wines.
To mirror the Australia Day celebrations tomorrow and toast the beginning of the wine harvest, here are some sunny reds to blow away those winter blues.
Cabernet sauvignon is one of the country's strengths and mid-week drinkers such as Sainsbury's House Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia (£4.29, Sainsbury's) are fairly priced. With a whisper of spice and blackcurrant and blueberry flavours balanced by subtle tannins, it's light on its feet but perfectly pleasant.
Elsewhere, Aldi has introduced its Exquisite Collection, a premium range of Old and New World wines, which includes a slightly richer cab sav with a bit more going on. Try The Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Australia (£6.99, Aldi), which has woody aromas and layers of blackberry, plums and light mocha with a touch of cedar and lingering tannins on the soft finish.
Smooth merlots such as The Journeyman South Australia Merlot 2011, Australia (£8.99, Virgin Wines) are so juicy, ripe and delicious that they really grab your attention and it's easy to forget they're higher in alcohol than cab savs. Jammy and fleshy, these dark fruits have little tannin and the wine tastes just as terrific on its own as it does with food.
More austere, Willow Bridge Estate Dragonfly Cabernet Merlot 2009, Western Australia (£8.95, The Wine Society) is a full-bodied Bordeaux blend. Dry with currants, blueberry, herbs, tobacco and hints of leather, it needs a typical Aussie Day menu of burgers or seared steak to appreciate the flavours.
Boasting more than 60 wine regions, parcels of gnarled old vines still exist and Australia produces some of the best low-yielding, powerful shiraz (syrah) in the world.
For a superb shiraz from Coonawarra, which is famous for its terra rossa (red clay) soils, try Both Barrels Shiraz Durif 2010, Australia (£9.99, Laithwaites), which smacks of sweet spice, ripe black fruits cased in cocoa, juicy acidity and grainy tannins on the powerful finish.
Trophy winemaker Penfolds produces Australia's most famous red wine, Grange, which first surfaced in 1951 and has the ability to age gracefully over many decades.
With a strong following on the world atlas, prices are sky high but tipplers can still enjoy a taste of success with entry-level wines such as Penfolds Koonunga Hill 76, Shiraz Cabernet 2010, Australia (£10.95, Slurp). Dense and generous with plum and blackberry flavours, a note of green olive with spicy overtones, chocolate and silky tannins, it's an excellent wine with red meat.
Another bonza wine in a class of its own, John Duval Entity Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009, Australia (£26.50, Wine Direct) is a fabulously luscious and elegant shiraz from John Duval, former chief winemaker at Penfolds who oversaw Grange during his 29-year stint with the company.
First released in 2006, Entity has won Duval numerous awards and you'll need a large glass to appreciate the opulent flavours, depth of fruit, perfumed bouquet, shot of spice and fine tannins on the super-long finish.
Ready to be enjoyed now, or it can be cellared for at least 10 years if you have the patience to experience the wine at a new level.