GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: A bunch of real Australian charmers

It would be less than honest to fail to admit that wine writers rely quite considerably on public relations companies – for details of who sells which wines, photographs to illustrate articles, background information, and more. Westbury Communications is

It would be less than honest to fail to admit that wine writers rely quite considerably on public relations companies - for details of who sells which wines, photographs to illustrate articles, background information, and more.

Westbury Communications is one of the biggest in the wine PR business, with clients who include Oddbins and M&S as well as large-scale producers such as the excellent Plaimont co-operative in south-west France, source of fragrant value-for-money whites and food-friendly reds.

Now is the right moment to credit Westbury for being effectively proactive rather than simply reactive.

The other week, it organised a tasting of a generous selection of its clients' bottles, reinforced by a few contributions from other sources to balance the offering.


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Not only was the day intelligently themed, but also all the wines opened are on sale in Britain.

Most are on the high street and those which aren't can be found on-line. It was such a difference from a lot of the tastings I go to, which may have wonderful wines but you can't buy them here.

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On this showing, the rieslings met the challenge Westbury set: can Australian wines rebuild the popularity of this grape variety?

There were some very impressive examples and most - while showing off riesling's purity, acidity and all its other fine characteristics - were just a bit more approachable than the classic dry Germans (the next, and very rewarding, step).

The first star was Whirlpool Reach 2007, Tasmania (�10, Oddbins), a wine which made me feel I'd like to stop tasting there and then and simply enjoy drinking what was in the glass.

Fortunately, I carried on, to more pleasures. Three from the Clare Valley, each 2008 and again costing �10 - Jim Barry The Lodge (The Sampler), Knappstein (M&S), Leasingham Bin 7 (Ocado) - and then the wonderful Henschke Julius 2006, Eden Valley (�17, www.winedirect. co.uk). These are simply so much more adult wines than many popular Australian whites.

The three-continent pinot noirs, too, showed that the new can challenge the established and also reflect terroir in a way not always expected of them (they came from North and South America and Australasia).

It was fascinating to see that M&S has three Kiwi pinots, all 2008 and all at �15, but with very different flavours and style. My choice - perhaps an unfashionable one given that the other two wines come from hotspot Central Otago - is Te Muna from Martinborough, fragrant and ripe, with a final freshness despite 14 per cent alcohol.

But there are lots of Australasian charmers at lower prices (all 2008, all �10, in order of personal preference) Whirlpool Reach (Oddbins), Madfish Originals (www.bibendum-wine.co.uk), Gulf Station (Sainsbury's), Lobster Reef (Oddbins). Even cheaper 2008s, yet still good, are M&S Tasmanian and Windy Peak (Sainsbury's) both �8. And the �17.50 for De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate 2007 (Oddbins) is very well spent.

I've been an advocate of Chilean pinot for a while, but prices seem to be creeping up faster than quality (Ona 2008, �10, Oddbins remains very good), and as for California - the best are very pricey (Brooks Janus 2006, �25, Stone, Vine & Sun www.stonevine.co.uk) and the rest don't tempt me.

There were three more themes, and there's no space left... But old world pinks and variations on the lighter-alcohol theme will surely find a place soon.

Liz Sagues

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