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Australian wines now firmly lead French in British off-sales

11 May 2006

10:16 AM

11 May 2006

10:16 AM

Australian wines now firmly lead French in British off-sales; but apparently we still prefer French wines in restaurants. My guess is that there is a race on, as some superlative wines made in the more obscure French regions compete with the best from the New World. Sommeliers, or whoever they have in the kind of eateries that do not boast sommeliers, will find themselves saying, ‘Ahem, I think Sir will find that the Costières de Nîmes is quite as robust as the Margaret River Chardonnay.’

Some Oz wines are not very nice (I name no names, but the Jacob’s Creek people know who I mean). Some are much more than OK, and I’ve offered many in this column. But others are truly first-rate wines that have a degree of extra depth and power. These, from Victoria, seem to me to have that often elusive quality. They are imported by Graham Mitchell, who specialises in finding small, unsung but very high-quality Australian vineyards. He buys a lot from Red Hill which is, he tells me, a stunningly beautiful estate on the Mornington Peninsula, just south of Melbourne.

The wine itself is certainly stunning. I loved their Pinot Grigio 20041. This is fresh, perfumed, even velvety, with an undertone of pears and roses. At £10.40 a bottle it costs less than you would pay in a restaurant for the humblest house wine, and it is roughly three times as good. It comes in a screw-cap bottle, which means that there is virtually no chance of its having lost its vitality.

The Chardonnay 20012 is from Wedgetail, a tiny estate also near Melbourne; the winemaker is Guy Lamothe, who trained in Burgundy. This is, at £14.90, the most expensive bottle in the offer, but it’s amply worth it. M. Lamothe ages it in French oak, and the result is luscious, very long on flavour, and with that honeyed intensity you get with a top-class white Burgundy.

The reds: Red Hill Pinot Noir 20013 is fragrant, perfumed, silky; it represents the quintessence of the grape. Tasting some generic muddy red Burgundies is, frankly, depressing. Why pay silly prices for them when you can have this superb, delicate bottle for only £10.75?

Finally Red Hill’s Shiraz 20024 is a great, almost monumental wine. It’s startling that it comes from the same estate as the Pinot, since it is a blockbuster, packed with intense flavours, and that heady, minty, eucalyptus undertone that the great Oz Shirazes possess. At £11.90 it’s not exactly cheap, but it is very good value.

Delivery is free, and there’s a mixed case with three of each wine.

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