By Celia Strong
It’s time to learn more and taste more with a new wine this week from Australia. It’s hard to believe that a new week has already arrived, but it is a pleasant thing to discover the where, what and winery of this new wine.
I realize that we haven’t visited Australia in a while, but it will make for a fresh and interesting discussion. This country is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world with 750 million liters leaving the country, or 1 billion 750 ml bottles — and that’s after they drink 40 percent of their wines themselves. No matter how you look at it, there’s a lot of wine made down there.
Wines are made in every state in Australia, with more than 60 wine regions. These are mostly located in the cooler, more southern, areas and include South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. Like any other wine producing country, these different regions have different soils and climates and produce different wine styles. Most of the major grape varieties are grown here, with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc leading the pack. Most Australian wines are labeled by their grape variety, like other New World wine producers, with a minimum of the named variety being 85 percent. (In the United States, our minimum by federal law is 75 percent.)
There is a huge amount of history and related information we could get into regarding Australian wines, as you can imagine. For the sake of time, it seems best if we just look at the area that our wine for this week comes from: Adelaide.
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth largest city in the country. It was founded in 1836 and named for Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the queen consort to King William IV. Before 1836, this area was inhabited by the indigenous Kaurna Aborigine nation.
Not only is Adelaide a thriving modern city, now, it is in the center of the largest wine producing area in Australia. South Australia has 18 distinct wine regions. Besides Adelaide, there is Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Plain, Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, and more. The National Wine Centre is in Adelaide also.
Our winery for week, Penfolds, was founded in Adelaide in 1844 by an English physician, Christopher Rawson Penfold. Christopher arrived in Australia when he was 24 years old and his wife, Mary, was 15. With help from family, they got 500 acres, the Magill Estate. In addition to planting the land, they built a cottage to live in, called The Grange. They used French grapevine cuttings that came from England. Their plan was to produce a wine tonic for the treatment of anaemia. Their first wines were port and sherry styles, mostly for Christopher’s parents. Increased demand was met by expanding and establishing Penfolds in 1844.
In 1870, Mary had to take over most of the operations when her husband died. The business grew to over 60 acres, Mary added more varieties, and personally handled the blending of wines. The Penfolds’ daughter, Georgina, married Thomas Hyland. He tried to encourage Mary to sell the business, before she was ready to retire even, which resulted in a partnership with him in Melbourne and Mary in Adelaide. After Mary retired, Georgina and Thomas ran the winery, followed by their sons and daughters. Mary died in 1896, the winery went public in 1962, and the family had controlling interest until 1976.
In 1903, Penfolds was the largest winery in Adelaide. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, they changed their focus to making table wines. Max Shubert, the chief winemaker, went to Europe after World War II, to learn about sherry making, but ended up spending more time in Bordeaux. In the 1960’s, Penfolds introduced a series of red wines — Bin 389, Bin 707, Bin 28 and Bin 128 — all dry reds made from Shiraz and Cabernet. In addition, Shubert developed Grange Hermitage, later just called Grange, one of Australia’s best and most expensive reds.
But we are trying a Penfolds white wine this week: The Thomas Hyland Chardonnay. This tier of Penfolds wines, which also includes a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz, takes advantage of the location in Adelaide and the cool climate that the grapes grow in there. This Chardonnay was first made in 2001. Over the years the style of the wine has become less oaky in order to highlight the varietal flavors that the cool climate grows. This wine is 100 percent Chardonnay, with over 90 percent of the grapes coming from the Adelaide Hills area. The grapes are gently pressed and the wine is matured in French oak barrels for six or seven months, about 30 percent of them new.
This Chardonnay is minimally filtered. It has white peach flavors with citrus notes, and hints of pecan from the oak. It has a creamy texture with a crisp minerality and a long, lingering finish. There is just enough oak to make this wine complex, but the balanced acidity lifts the Chardonnay flavors up. Many wine writers describe this wine as tasting like a much more expensive Chardonnay.
At Penfolds, this wine is recommended with salt and pepper scallops, Thai chicken salad, and spaghetti with olive oil — a list that seems to open many doors to many flavors including shellfish and seafood, fried and grilled, roast poultry, white sauces and cheeses.
So, back here in the Lowcountry, you can cook up some local seafood and enjoy the summer evenings from the comfort of your own home, or backyard or dock, with your glass filled with a chardonnay from Down Under. This wine is available at Bill’s Liquor on Lady’s Island for $12.99.