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Same Grape, Different Country, by Tim Beckett, Assistant Manager, Majestic Wine Southampton

The Countries

Historically, winemaking in Australia and New Zealand couldn’t be more different. Australian viticulture dates back over two hundred years, while the young upstart from across the Tasman Sea has a wine industry that only really took off in the 1970s. This difference often translates into their winemaking styles, with noticeable variations in what they produce with world staple grape varieties. So with the top rugby nation now firmly decided (for another four years at least), it seems only fair to put our antipodean cousins side by side in wine terms. Having worked the 2009 and 2010 vintages in the Barossa Valley, I can’t wait to see how some of my favourite Aussie wines stand up to their Kiwi counterparts.

Spotlight on Australia

Australia can roughly be split into two major wine regions. South East Australia covers a huge area including South Australia, Victoria, Canberra and New South Wales, and produces nearly 95% of all Aussie wine. Western Australia produces in much smaller quantities, but they’re always considered to be top-quality. That said, South East Australia also includes such world-renowned areas as the Barossa, Clare and Yarra Valleys. The variety in quality and style available from Australia is simply staggering. Ten years ago Chardonnay was the country’s most popular grape, but some mass market styles have led to a decline in its importance. Into the gap stepped Shiraz (or Syrah for all you Old World aficionados), which produces full bodied, earthy wines in hotter regions and a leaner, more peppery drink when grown in cooler conditions.

McGuigan Signature Shiraz 2009/10, Barossa Valley
£9.49 or £7.59 when you buy 2 bottles

This deeply coloured wine shows a great mix of plums, berry fruits, spice and pepper on the nose, leading to a full-bodied, rich palate with intense black fruit flavours and a nice spicy complexity. It’s a perfect match for hard cheeses or rich red-meat dishes.

Spotlight on New Zealand

Confronted with the bewildering array of NZ whites available these days, it’s easy to forget how small the country’s production actually is on a global scale. The Kiwi wine industry exemplifies the old adage “it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it”. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for over half of all the grapes grown in New Zealand, but there are huge stylistic differences between regions, with many growers branching out and successfully growing different varieties. Hawke’s Bay has become famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while Central Otago has been praised for creating its very own style of Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris (or Grigio) is also becoming increasingly popular, but don’t expect the light, neutral, Italian style. NZ Pinot Gris is often more intense and bursting with fresh fruit.

Mount Difficulty Pinot Gris 2010, Central Otago
£18.74 or £14.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Fermented at cool temperatures to retain the fresh fruit characters, this wine then spends 4 months on its lees to add further complexity. Rich tropical flavours with a mouth-coating viscosity make this a perfect match for rich shellfish dishes.

Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in Marlborough on the South Island in 1973. Since then it has taken the wine world by storm. Cloudy Bay, in operation since 1985, is considered by many to make one of the best examples of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand and possibly the world. They make many other wines as well, including the often over-looked Chardonnay.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Marlborough
£24.00 £23.75 or £18.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Full of fresh herbaceous aromas mixed with tropical fruits, this icon of NZ wine really does live up to its reputation. The palate offers crisp gooseberry, pink grapefruit and citrus notes with a long subtle finish. Share with friends over rich seafood dishes such as mussels or even lobster.

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2008, Marlborough
£25.00 or £20.00 when you buy 2 bottles

The cool climate and abundant sunshine of Marlborough offer perfect growing conditions for Chardonnay. This Burgundy-esque offering has a complex nose of fresh fruits, hay and hints of creamy butterscotch, followed by a full-bodied, toasty palate. A perfect wine to hold on to and allow the complex flavours to develop further.

The Grapes

Now that we’re suitably acquainted with the two countries, let’s look into the similarities and differences that occur when they produce wine from some of our favourite grape varieties.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay can produce many different styles of wine. Producers in both nations have embraced this versatility to make wines ranging from the light, crisp Chablis-esque to the full-bodied, oaky, ‘New World’ style. Marlborough in New Zealand and Australia’s Clare Valley both have a relatively cool climate that allows the grape to express its maximum potential.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Chardonnay 2010, Marlborough
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

This richly-flavoured wine exemplifies how well Chardonnay’s fruit characters mix with oak flavours. Fresh in the mouth with tropical flavours and delicate toasted oak spiciness, it would match perfectly with cream-based dishes and all white meats.

Wakefield Estate Chardonnay 2009, Clare Valley
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

Clare Valley’s continental climate slows the ripening of the grapes, allowing aromatic white peach and citrus fruit characters to develop. Tropical fruits on the palate mingle with very subtle oak characters to produce a well-rounded Chardonnay that partners perfectly with full-flavoured chicken dishes.

Riesling

Considered by many to be the original noble grape, Riesling’s reputation was ruined by massmarket, poor-quality sweet wines that previously flooded the UK. Aussie winemakers have championed the dry style with prestigious, award-winning wines coming out of the Clare and Eden Valleys. New Zealand isn’t far behind, producing wines of increasingly great quality.

Fairleigh Estate Riesling 2010, Marlborough
£8.99 £8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Clean and fresh with a vibrant lime character that leaves the mouth feeling cleansed and refreshed. Ever so slightly off-dry, the tiny amount of sugar present stops the freshness overpowering, producing a beautifully balanced, apéritif style. A great lunchtime drink to serve with lightly grilled vegetables or salads.

The Lodge Hill Riesling 2011, Jim Barry, Clare Valley New!
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

Clare Valley pioneer Jim Barry’s Lodge Hill vineyard is one of the highest in the region, with a slightly cooler climate that’s ideal for growing Riesling. Rich, intense citrus aromas are followed by a fresh natural acidity on the palate, with flavours of peach and nectarine. Drinking well now, it will also reward careful ageing, developing the honeyed characters typical of mature Riesling.

Bordeaux Blend

Grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec all bring something slightly different to the blend and allow the winemaker to create a harmonious balance of the characters they wish to express. The Margaret River climate is again perfect for these reds, which show Bordeaux-style complexity with a New World influence. Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand includes the famous Gimblett Gravels area where the Bordeaux varieties flourish, and is renowned for its Bordeaux blends.

Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot Cabernet 2009, Hawke’s Bay
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Containing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec sourced from various Hawke’s Bay sites, this spends a year in oak to complete its Bordeaux styling. On the palate, it presents much fresher, fruit-driven characters than you’d tend to find in a Bordeaux. Deserves to be drunk fairly young while these flavours are at their best.

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009, Margaret River
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Vasse Felix produces award-winning wines on ancient soils in a maritime climate influenced by both the warm Indian and cool Southern Oceans. This perfumed, leafy wine has black and berry fruit aromas and well-rounded, integrated oak characters on the palate that will continue to develop for years. Enjoy any time over the next decade with rich roasted meats.

Sauvignon Blanc

Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc has become a brand in its own right, with flavours ranging from rich tropical gooseberry to cut grass and asparagus. Western Australia’s Margaret River region has a climate very similar to Bordeaux and produces Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends in the more traditional French style.

Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc, Craggy Range 2010, Martinborough
£13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This rare Sauvignon from the Pinot-dominated Martinborough region demonstrates a rich tropical style with nectarine and guava on the nose alongside pleasant floral notes. The palate is jammed full of stone fruit and grapefruit but with a refreshing mineral undertone. Drink with richer fish or turkey dishes.

Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008/09, Margaret River
£13.99 £13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

The winemakers select fruit predominantly from estate vineyards and take a minimalist approach in the winery to allow the character to shine through. The Sauvignon’s high acidity and green, fruity flavours act as a heavenly counterbalance to the richer, denser, weightier Semillon. A small amount of barrel fermentation adds subtle nutty complexity.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand, typically showing pronounced red fruit characters with less oak than is seen in Burgundy. In Australia, the grape is a speciality of the cooler regions of Victoria like the Yarra Valley. Here it displays rich fruit characters without the jamminess that can develop in some New World regions, but with subtle oak complexity.

Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2010, De Bortoli, Victoria New!
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

The winemaking team at De Bortoli took quality fruit from the Yarra and King Valleys and converted it into similarly high-quality wine. Predominant cherry, strawberry and redcurrant aromas carry onto the palate with a hint of spice at the finish. An elegant yet complex partner for lighter pasta dishes.

St Clair Estate Selection Pinot Noir 2010/11, Marlborough
£12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

An intensely-flavoured southern Marlborough Pinot, some of which is aged in French oak to give ripe-cherry and raspberry aromas with hints of vanilla. Well-integrated fine tannins highlight the care and attention that’s gone into a wine that’s great with a rack of lamb.

Merlot

Merlot has proven hugely popular in what is known as the ‘international style’, where late-harvested grapes generate rich, dark, velvety wines with concentrated plum flavours. The warm areas of South East Australia really allow the grapes to ripen, producing deep yet soft, fruit-driven wines. Merlot is also grown throughout New Zealand as it ripens more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon in the slightly cooler climate. Hawke’s Bay has become its adopted home, where it can be used to produce varietal wines.

McGuigan Merlot 2008/09, South Eastern Australia
£7.99 £7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Made from premium Barossa and Coonawarra grapes, as well as fruit from the super-hot Riverland and Murray-Darling Basin, this intense wine has dark berry, cherry and vanilla aromas, characteristic plummy palate and soft, smooth tannins. A great match for a Sunday roast with all the trimmings.

Oyster Bay Merlot 2009/10, Hawke’s Bay
£9.99 or £7.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This really highlights the variety of wine styles New Zealand can produce. Its typical plum jam characters against a toasty, chocolaty backbone show how rich fruit can couple with oak to produce a wine of great character that will only get better over the next few years. Amazing with spaghetti bolognese or even pizza.

Dessert Wines

The trick to producing a great sweet wine is to balance the sugar with a refreshing level of acidity. Both countries produce beautifully balanced sweet wines that manage to capture the essence of the wine industry in each.

The Ned Noble Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Half bottle
£12.99 £12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Made in a Sauternes style using botrytised grapes grown alongside the Waihopai River, this is intensely sweet but delightfully fresh in the mouth. Imagine sweet asparagus mixed with gooseberry, citrus and melon and you’re only half way to understanding it! A long lingering finish makes it an ideal match for cheeses and pâtés at the end of a fine meal.

Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2007/08, De Bortoli, New South Wales, Half bottle
£19.99 or £15.99 when you buy 2 bottles
Again made in a Sauternes style, only this time with the other famous Bordeaux white grape. Concentrated exotic fruit and honey characters are balanced by crisp acidity to give a very pleasing palate-cleansing finish. Like the top sweet wines of Sauternes, it’s brilliant with foie gras, other rich pâtés and strong blue cheeses.

†Excludes sparkling wine. *Excludes wines under £5, over £20 and sparkling wine.