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Australian/New Zealand white wines

By Tom Cannavan, 11/98

Part one of a tasting for a magazine article. I tasted 9 wines from Australia in the £5($8) to £9($15) price range. The selection included both widely-available big names and some relatively small-scale productions. I was specifically looking for un-oaked or lightly oaked examples, including some that might be good with "pacific-rim" cooking. In general this selection was well-made, flavourful and interesting. Rather high acidity is the one general criticism I would make - or perhaps it is added acidity I am noticing, a practice that is quite wide-spread amongst Australian wine-makers? UK suppliers and current prices are given for each.

Te Mata (New Zealand), Castle Hill Sauvignon Blanc 1997
Very pale straw/green colour. Fairly subdued nose. Some delicate, sherbety notes and a little whiff of green beans. On the palate still restrained - little of the usual New Zealand exuberance - but some cool orange and lime fruit as well as mineral notes, and little hints of honey. A wine with a steely backbone, only relieved by glimpses of fruit. Quite long but a little austere. Oddbins, £7.99.

Thomas Mitchell (S.E. Australia) Marsanne 1996
This wine has a beautiful, glowing golden colour. The nose is rich and buttery with peach and super-ripe tropical fruit aromas. On the palate it is weighty with butterscotch and honeyed flavours, hints of liquorice and an excellent citrus acidity. A flavourful wine with a long, spicy finish. Delicious. £5.99, Victoria Wine

Jim Barry, Lodge Hill (Clare Valley) Riesling 1996
Deeper, more brassy colour. Classic riesling nose of limes, wax and paraffin with some sweeter, tropical notes beneath. Quite light on the palate and lacking a little fruit, sharp lemon acidity dominates, the only competition being some honeysuckle and vague lime-marmalade flavours. I suspect this wine is made for the future - it should develop in bottle, shed some of its austerity and might become rather good - but it doesn't have huge appeal for current drinking. Oddbins, £6.49.

Bethany "The Manse" (Barossa) White Wine 1997
An unusual blend of 50% riesling, 40% sémillon and 10% chardonnay. Medium, warming yellow colour. Very delicate, flower-scented nose with hints of apricot, tangerine and lemon-peel. Medium bodied and bone-dry it is fresh and zippy with lots of grapefruit and lime acidity, though suggestions of an oily peachiness too. Delicate, balanced and would be good with Oriental food. Oddbins, £4.99.

Brown Brothers (Victoria) Dry Muscat 1997
Pale, golden yellow. Gorgeous floral, musky nose also with apricot and peach aromas. On the palate braced with grapefruit and orange-pith acidity in a taut, racy style. More candied, tropical flavours and high, flowery notes. Finishes quite long though rather tartly. £5.49, Peckhams (Central Scotland) and widely available.

McGuigan Brothers Bin 6000 Verdelho 1996
Bold yellow colour. Subtle but aromatic nose. Aromas of paraffin-wax, lanolin, apples and straw. Quite riesling-like. Nice weight with plenty of alcohol and dry, chewy acidity dominating but pear and apple fruit there too. Good length, savoury, and seeming more balanced as it finishes with citrus, pepper and an aniseed flavour. Clean and useful food wine. Peckhams, £5.99.

Mamre Brook (Barossa) Chardonnay 1997
Bright, golden/yellow. Toasty, buttery nose with fairly subdued fruit hinting at figs, hazelnuts and all-spice. Quite luscious and weighty on the palate with orange flavours, sharper citrus notes and some rich, creamy oak in the background. Savoury on the finish with good length and some complexity. £6.99, Majestic.

Sainsbury, Classic Selection Australian Chardonnay 1997
Bottled by Thomas Hardy, this has a pale, glowing golden colour. Nose is very aromatic with a vivid aroma of ground ginger (like ginger-cream candy sweets from my childhood) as well as honey and tropical fruit. On the palate rich and alcoholic (13.5%) with honeysuckle, white-fruit flavours, as well as more unctuous guava and pineapple notes. It is nicely rounded with spicy oak but is fresh and appetising. It has a long finish and is rather good overall. Sainsbury, £6.49.

Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley Chardonnay 1997
Another pale golden colour with a tinge of green. Rather restrained nose, with alcohol and only hints of yeasty, soft, smoky aromas. On the palate it bursts with citrus acidity but is also rather hot and alcoholic. There is some lime fruit in there, but this is another wine that perhaps needs some bottle age to show its best? Oddbins Fine Wine, £8.99