Originally created 07/24/02

Some inexpensive Australian wines worth a taste



Here's a theme we can live with: inexpensive Australian wines, and lots of them.

Unless otherwise stated, the wines carry designations of South Eastern Australia. Not all of them are recommended; making distinctions is our job. Still, so many of these wines rate as terrific bargains that you'll find plenty of candidates for Picks of the Week right here.

We'll start, of course, with white wines.

The fresh, clean Lindemans Bin 95 Sauvignon Blanc 2001 offers green pea, tarragon, hay and grass in the nose, with lemon-lime fruit and a touch of currant; it's spicy and lively and provides Superior Quality for the price, about $9. Lovely scents of jasmine and honeysuckle burst from the charming Lindemans Bin 77 Semillon Chardonnay 2001, whose citrus-mango-fig flavors nestle nicely in a flinty yet satiny texture. A Great Bargain at about $9.

You won't believe the price of Tyrrell's Old Winery Chardonnay 2001, Hunter Valley-McLaren Vale, a chardonnay so clean and fresh and appealing, but with so much body and character and pineapple-grapefruit-mango flavor that they're practically giving it away at about $8, a Bargain of the Decade.

Rich, ripe and spicy, the Yangarra Park Chardonnay 2001 teems with citrus-pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors, smoke and limestone and spice; firm oak makes the finish a tad rough, but it's good for the price, about $10. The Abbey Rock Chardonnay 2001 is smooth and well-balanced between tasty lemon-pineapple-mango flavors and a dry, crisp texture, but it falls a bit short on the finish. About $10. More radically unbalanced is the Rothbury Estate Chardonnay 2001, which can't seem to reconcile its fresh, bright apple-like nature with its spicy, buttery side. Not a success. About $7. Also not a success is Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2001, Coonawarra, a wine whose tasty grapefruit and mango flavors cannot budge the obtrusive oak. About $12.50.

Now the reds, beginning with a quartet of blended wines, two of which we immediately warn you against. These are the Tyrrell's Old Winery Cabernet Merlot 2000, South Australia-Victoria, which registers as too dry and astringent, about $11, and the Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 1999, which is huge and bitingly austere, about $12.50.

The other two are much better. The spicy, ripe and robust Abbey Rock Cabernet Merlot 2000 is flush with pungent and tasty plum, currant and cherry fruit set in a lively texture. Very good. About $10. Then there's the Penfolds Rawson's Retreat Shiraz Cabernet 2001, also ripe, spicy and robust, scintillating with brushy tannins and mineral elements but stylishly fitted with plum, blackberry and black cherry flavors touched with earth and potpourri. Very good. About $12.

We don't see much pinot noir from Australia, and perhaps the inexpensive area isn't the place to look. The Lindemans Bin 99 Pinot Noir 2001 is light but tasty in the manner of generic beaujolais, but it does display a winsome floral note and a pleasing texture. Very good. About $9. Though it lacks intensity, the well-made Tyrrell's Old Winery Pinot Noir 2001, McLaren Vale-Hunter Valley-Adelaide Hills features good intensity, a satiny texture, dark spiciness and touches of earth, leather cranberry and cola, black cherry and smoke. Very good. About $11.

Inexpensive merlots, at least from California, tend to taste alike, but these examples from Australia mainly offer gratifying individuality.

The fruit in the simple but effective Lindemans Bin 40 Merlot 2001 is a bit inarticulate, but the wine displays touches of cedar and minerals and tasty currant and black raspberry flavors. Very good. About $9. The well-made Rothbury Estate Merlot 2001 feels exactly the way an inexpensive merlot sets out to feel. It's mildly spicy and moderately voluptuous and features ripe, smoky plum and currant fruit in a well-balanced package with plenty of soft tannins for structure. Very good, and Phenomenal for the Price, about $7.

I was fairly amazed at the Yangarra Park Merlot 2001, which is more than just attractive for the price. With its almost shiraz-like dark spiciness, its host of minerals, smoke, cedar and dried thyme qualities bolstering intense cassis and black cherry flavors and lovely density and body, it ranks a shade better than Very good and is a Great Bargain at about $10. Lots of polished oak and grainy tannins support the richness and density of the Penfolds Thomas Hyland Merlot 2001, which in its depth and detail of red and black berry flavors, floral elements and mineral qualities is Superb for the Price, about $14.

Now shiraz, as the Australians call it. It's the syrah grape of the Rhone Valley and other growing areas in the South of France. In California, where wines from the grape are usually called "syrah," some producers are now labeling their bottles "shiraz," influenced by the popularity of Australian wines in this country.

Undertones of chocolate and mocha distinguish the Rothbury Estate Shiraz 2001, a well-made wine whose vivid plum, black cherry and raspberry flavors nestle in rather foresty tannins that culminate in a rustic finish. Very good. About $7. For a dollar more, try Tyrrell's Old Winery Shiraz 2000, Heathcote-McLaren Vale-Hunter Valley, which in its funky, ripe, roasted and fleshy qualities, its touches of leather and lavender, wet dog and plum, is completely authentic and a Great Bargain at about $8. The finish on the Lindemans Bin 50 Shiraz 2001 is a bit rustic, but it opens with penetrating scents of plums, cranberries and black cherries touched with lovely nuances of spice and new leather, minerals and lavender; it's dark, intense and supple in the mouth. Very good. About $9.

The fresh, clean Abbey Rock Shiraz 2001 features dark spicy, smoky black cherry and raspberry fruit, pleasing "lift" and liveliness and good intensity. Very good. About $10.

The intense and concentrated Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2000, South Australia, possesses slightly astringent tannins, but they don't conceal the wine's ripe and rich blueberry-black currant fruit, its touches of smoke and leather and kirsch, its depth of spice. Very good shading to Excellent. About $14. The Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2000, Coonawarra, is dark in every way, from its inky-purple color to its intense scents and flavors of blackberry and blueberry cobbler to its spicy black pepper qualities. It's luscious. Excellent, and a Great Price, about $14.

And a few cabernets, starting with the ripe, bright, vivid Rothbury Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, a rather generic but tasty wine that's stout with tannin but smooth. Good. About $8. The Lindemans Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 is also a bit generic but accommodating in its spicy plum, black currant and raspberry fruit and moderately dense texture. Good. About $8. The Yangarra Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 is initially rich, ripe and spicy but can't quite overcome a dense oaky structure. Good. About $10.

The obvious champ here is the Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Coonawarra, an inky, minerally wine whose wealth of depth and density bolsters delicious black currant and black raspberry flavors. Very good. About $14.

(E-mail Fredric Koeppel at koeppel@gomemphis.com or write c/o The Commercial Appeal, P.O . Box 334, Memphis, TN 38101.)