Back in the 1980s when I first started drinking wine, Australia wine wasn't known for its fine wines, although there were some big stonking icons like Penfold's Grange from one of its oldest regions, the Barossa Valley. Over the years things have changed. Newer, cooler regions such as Margaret River in Western Australia, Adelaide Hills, Victoria's Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsular in Victoria and the island of Tasmania came to the fore. Then and now long-established family run companies like Henschke in the Eden Valley and Tyrrell's in the Hunter Valley produce first rate wines, some of which from vineyards more than a century old.
For many years Australia seemed to pander to multiple retailers with brands loosing their identities, swallowed up by large corporations. Many wines became anonymous blends from enormous areas (particularly viewed from a European perspective) created to meet price points.
While foreign markets lost interest in Australian wines, high end site specific wines have been emerging. As a judge at the International Wine Challenge, I've been starkly aware of how much Australian wines have been improving over the past few years, particularly whites (and notably lightly oaked Chardonnays). What I've been slower realising is just how good the finest examples have become. Earlier this year I had the fortune of tasting wines from Ten Minutes by Tractor – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsular that give the best of Burgundy a decent run for its money.
The estate dates from the early 1990s with vineyards ten minutes by tractor apart, but clearly defined by place. The concept of terroir plays a key role and tasting through the range is like contemplating subtly nuanced Burgundy crus. The cool coastal locations give the wines poise and structure with delicate aromatics, fleshed out by judiciously handled French oak. I was tasting wines from the notably cool 2011 vintage so the wines seemed particularly refined and brisk – until very recently something I'd never have expected from Australia.
Take a look at their website for more wonderfully detailed information but, better still, try to get your hands on a bottle. Hedonism Wines in London's Mayfair currently stocks the Wallis Chardonnay 2010 and Majestic has the Estate Pinot Noir 2011. The prices for these respectively are £50 and £35 – steep, but not unreasonable for world class wines.