LIZ SAGUES: our internationally-acclaimed wine writer looks at the delights of the Aussie valleys

South Australia is by far the biggest of the Oz wine regions and an intimidating quantity of boring bulk wines comes from its irrigated plains. But seek out the valleys and it s an entirely different matter – think Barossa, for example. Smaller and a who

South Australia is by far the biggest of the Oz

wine regions and an intimidating quantity of boring bulk wines comes from its irrigated plains. But seek out the valleys and it's an entirely different matter - think Barossa, for example.

Smaller and a whole lot cooler than its big red brother, Clare Valley has a different appeal. It's best known for wonderful riesling and the finest reds come from cabernet sauvignon.

But don't take my word for their quality. Let Max Allen, a pom whose wine-writing is widely lauded both here and in his new homeland, enthuse: "All Clare rieslings share a fullness of lime-juicy flavour - crisp and delicate in cooler years, almost painfully powerful and intense in warmer years."


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Add bottle age to the best and they become "golden yellow liquids stuffed with ravishing flavours of buttered toast and lime syrup", he continues (in Crush, published by Mitchell Beazley, which, while no longer quite "the new Australian wine book" its cover heralds - it was published in 2000 - is still a great read).

His enthusiasm for the cabernets is almost as strong, and I appreciated why he likes both so much when a range from recent vintages were put on show to the wine press a few weeks back.

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Their quality - with the very minimum of exceptions - was uniformly high, though the wines were far from being clones of each other. My favourites of the rieslings were some of the best regarded names: the likes of Wakefield and Knappstein deserve their recognition. While the 2006 vintage has mostly yet to reach the shops, it's good news that examples from earlier years are pretty easy to find (see below).

Similarly available are a good choice of the cabernets and cabernet blends I liked best. They are elegant, perfumed wines, sometimes almost top-Bordeaux-like in their style, and I summed them up as "definitely wines to drink, rather than taste and be overwhelmed".

Now for Barossa shiraz - but not the hefty, vanilla-sweet blockbusters which impress with the first sip, but exhaust the palate before a glass is finished. The philosophy of Turkey Flat's Peter Schultz is to make stylish wine which reflects the terroir of his vineyards. He aims for elegance and continuity - and he proved that in London just a week after that Clare Valley event.

The occasion was a 17-vintage vertical tasting hosted by importer Mentzendorff. While the slim, fluffy turkey continues to characterise the label and the wines are still stoppered with cork (of the 34 opened for the tasting, not one was faulty), a lot else has changed, the wine-making and the quantity produced especially. But the wines showed a remarkably similar pedigree - and a very fine one at that. The 2004, perfumed and with a lovely balance of fruit, was the star, but the 1998 and even the 1992 were superb too.

p Where to buy the wines:

High street sources of Clare Valley riesling include: Oddbins: Knappstein 2005 (£7), Wakefield Estate 2004 (£8), Lengs & Cooter 2005 (£10), Wakefield St Andrews 2001 (£17, selected fine wine stores only). Majestic: Knappstein Hand-Picked 2005 (£7), Paulett's 2005 (£10 - two plus £8.50). Sainsbury's: Leasingham Magnus 2004 (£7.50)

And of Clare Valley cabernets and cabernet blends: Oddbins: Wakefield Promised Land 2003-4 (with shiraz) (£8), Knappstein 2004 (with merlot) (£8), Knappsteain Single Vineyard 2002 (£15). Majestic: Wakefield St Andrew's 2001 (£20 - this is superb).

But do try independents, too.

For Turkey Flat, the best choice locally is at Wine of Course, Archway Road, Highgate (020-8347 9006): 2004 shiraz, £20, and shiraz blends The Turk 2003, £11, and Butchers Blend 2002, £15. Other stockists (though not of the shiraz) include Fine and Rare Wines (020 8960 1995), Bottle & Basket, australianwinesonline.co.uk, Harrods, Selfridges.

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