-By Ranjith Chandrasiri

Australian wine makers have done wonders with the Syrah grape, locally known as Shiraz. The grape seems to thrive in the Australian soil and climate, and it produces one of the most robust and flavourful red wines in the world. The signature characteristic of wines made from the Shiraz grape is a kind of black pepper spiciness, which usually is embroidered with layers of black currants, plum, black cherry, cedar, and vanilla-scented oak.

The hallmark wine that I believe really brought Australian wines to the world’s attention probably is Rosemount Shiraz, which is considered by most to be a “reference wine” for Australian Shiraz. It is consistently well balanced and rich with ripe, intense fruit flavours, but its power and grace are equally proportioned. And, best of all, you can still buy it for under Australian $ 30.

Australia is not a one-grape wonder by any means. It also does well with most of the other familiar grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Australian wine makers are fond of blending Shiraz and other well-known grapes varieties in just about every possible combination to achieve a wide range of styles. For example, you can find blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and so on. An Australian peculiarity is to blend two grapes and name the wine after both, the dominant variety first, for example: Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz.

As for white wines, they produce big, buttery Chardonnays that have lots of oak. They like to blend it with Semillion to make a leaner, less rich wine. They have also invented several completely original formulas; Riesling blended with Traminer grapes to give the wine a nice spicy snap. For example, Rosemount makes a Traminer-Riesling blend that is one of the best cocktail wines available, and I highly recommend it.

There are lots of other Australian producers who make great wines that are widely available in Sri Lanka. Look for wines from Lindemans, Hardys, Leeuwin Estate, Wolf Blass, Petaluma, Katnook Estate, Tyrrell’s, Xanadu and Penfolds, to name just a few.

Penfolds has a staggering array of wines available that range from cheap, basic cask or bag –in- box wines to the legendary “Grange,” which has an international following among wine collectors and was named Wine of the Year by the influential Wine Spectator magazine. It is one of the greatest wines in the world that rivals the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy in price and mystique.

For most wine drinkers outside Australia, the whole discussion of Australian wine regions is academic. Even Grange, for example carries the broad South Australian appellation, which covers wines produced anywhere in the state of South Australia. Commercial wines such as Jacob’s Creek have even more all-encompassing appellation in the shape of “South – Eastern Australia, which could be used for grapes grown in South Australia, Victoria or New South Wales – three states that, between them, produce over 90% of the annual harvest.

Almost all Australian wineries use the “Bin” labelling system on at least a portion of their wines; for example, Bin 2, Bin 389, Bin 707. I think this a quaint throwback to older times when the term “bin” referred to what is called a “lot.” Therefore, Bin 2 would refer to a specific blend or lot of Shiraz and Mourvedre, and Bin 389 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

You might also run into another designation called Show Reserve. In Australia the term usually does mean better quality wine. In wine shows it is often stipulated that any entrant must come from a batch of so many thousands of bottles, and this is kept in reserve by the various wineries. They are usually released following the wine’s show career and winning medals. So some of the Show Reserves can be very handsome, not to mention expensive.

Generally, however the Australian labels are easy to understand and are informative. Wines are labelled with the name of the grape variety stating the grape or combination of grapes used which must constitute at least 85% of the wine. It is the taste that you drink, not the place mate.

Australian wines epitomize user-friendliness and are pleasant to drink from an early age. So, if you get bored with what you are currently drinking, take a look at what is coming out from down under. You are sure to find something interesting.