Those people you see in the Yellowtail commercials on TV—they look like they’re having so much fun, don’t they? As far as I know, Yellowtail is the only commercial for wine on network television. They’ve certainly got the money for it: In 2005 they sold 7.5 million cases of wine globally and sold more wine to the US than all of the French producers combined. But popularity has its price, and many consumers have come to view all Australian wine as some type of cheap party fuel.
Australian labeling hasn’t exactly helped. You know what I’m talking about—the ones with goats, kangaroos and snakes on them. The ones with quirky cartoons and names that make you look twice: “Lucky Lizards,” “Two Hands Gnarly Dudes,” “Bitch.” Yes, “Bitch.” Respect is the last thing these bottles are looking for.
But is that it? Is Australian wine only good for underfunded bachelorette parties? And to tackle another stereotype: Do they only grow punch-you-in-the-face, boozy bottles of Shiraz (what the French call, Syrah)? To find out, I sat down with Eric Crane, an advanced sommelier and the director of training for Empire Distributors. I asked him to pour wines that that showed off Australia’s range between $15 and $50. During the tasting, I found sparkling wines with snap and zeal, whites with structure and elegance, and reds with balance and complexity. They were delicious, value-driven, thirst-quenching (Crane calls them “quenchy”), and food friendly. Below are seven of my favorites, all of which have a place on wine lists (by the glass, please!) and in our own cabinets at home
Jansz Sparkling NV
Bubbles from Australia? You bet. This entry-level sparkler from Tasmania has the kind of pop and snap you wouldn’t expect from a place people assume is mostly desert. Thirst-quenching, bready and toasty undertones, and a crisp, clean finish. At this price point, I’d keep several on hand in my fridge. $21.99
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon 2014
If you’ve ever wanted to know what the color green tastes like, here’s your chance. Jalapenos, green chives, and green bell peppers on the nose. This wine is begging for a platter of oysters. $17.99
I’ve always been sensitive to how New World producers use oak barrels with their Chardonnay. Half the time I feel like I’m chewing on wood chips while drowning in butter. This Chard is soft on oak and big on acidity, which kicks the salivary glands into high gear.
Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier
Michel Chapoutier is one of the most respected vignerons in the world, and here he brings his Rhone touch to Central Victoria. White pepper, tart raspberries, and a hint of game. Available at Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, $16.99
Yalumba, The Signature
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
If you’re into Napa Cabs, then give this one a spin. It’s big and brawny in the way you’d expect from a Cab/Shiraz blend, but there’s also a refreshing undercurrent of mint and eucalyptus. Chill in the fridge 30 minutes before serving to level out the tannins. $49.99
Jim Barry Cover Drive 2012
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
Here’s a more straightforward and toned-down version of The Signature. It’s drier and packs a blackberry-eucalyptus-spearmint punch. $15.99
Yalumba Antique Tawny
Australia has a long history with dessert wines (Aussies call them “stickies”) from Rutherglen, and in the 19th century, it was their most valued wine, according to Crane. With big, sumptuous notes of coffee, chocolate, and caramel and a drawn out finish of roasted pecans, this is one of the finest and friendliest ports I’ve ever tasted. $18.99
Where to shop: Unfortunately I don’t have specifics on where you can find these bottles. They’re all sold in the Atlanta market, so any wine shop should be able to order them for you. Checkout Ansley Wine Merchants, Cellar 13, Green’s, H&F Bottle Shop, Highland Fine Wine, Le Caveau Fine Wines, pH Wine Merchant, Perrine’s Wine Shop, and the Wine Shop at Cakes & Ale.
Photos courtesy of Empire Distributors