The Australia vs USA wine showdown ended in a draw with three rounds each.
Here are the results:
2012 Peel Estate Rose (AUS) – 7.71
2011 Cypress Vineyard White Zinfandel (USA) – 7.61
2011 By Farr Chardonnay (AUS) – 7.61
2010 Benovia Chardonnay (USA) – 7.83
2009 The Lakehouse Reserve Pinot Noir (AUS) – 7.71
2010 Valley of The Moon Sonoma Carneros Pinot Noir (USA) – 7.73
2010 Cullen Diana Madeline Cab Sav (AUS) – 7.92
2009 La Jota Howell Mountain Cab Sav (USA) – 8.27
2009 First Drop Ebenezer Fat of The Land Shiraz (AUS) – 8.42
2009 Scott Harvey Reserve Syrah (USA) – 7.80
2007 David Franz Pirate Strength Shiraz (AUS) – 8.14
2009 Landmark Steel Plow Syrah (USA) – 7.69
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Upon arrival, guests were treated with a 2005 Peregrine Ridge Winemaker’s Reserve sparkling shiraz from Heathcote, a sole Aussie expression to begin. A 2005 vintage, this wine is exemplary and intense in every way, and certainly preceded a great range of wines. A wine of pure intensity, ripe choc berry flavours, leathery development, lovely oak integration and the piercing line of fizz driving through the palate. The length was long and lasting and really highlighted how good Heathcote is for shiraz, and the purity of regional expression over time.
So that guests were aware of the comparisons of the USA wine industry, some general facts of production and population were outlined. Importantly an underlying fact was shown that in Australia, we receive (approx.) less than 20000 cases of USA into the Australian market, of which the total population of Australia is about 60% of the population of the state of California.
Here is where the competition began. Peel Estate Rose vs Cypress Vineyard White Zinfandel. The group of tasters really hit the ground running and the eventual split was a 60% preference to the white zin. The feedback suggested the lightness and hint of zing was perfect and a great balance to the fruit spectrum, certainly not sweet, but fruit presence finishing dry and clean.
This bracket was won by the USA (70%). Interestingly, the tasting group really loved the intense chardonnay flavours and presence of oak. The Benovia Chardonnay certainly became a highlight of the night. Comments likened this wine to how chardonnay used to be, and clearly there is still interest in wines like this. By comparison, the By Farr Chardonnay was pure and exciting, although the consideration that this wine showed the transformation of Australian chardonnay expressions, with a lovely balance of oak, lees and a strong line of acidity, with a hint of Chablis-esque finish to the palate.
This bracket suggested no winner. The group liked both wines and had issues separating them for a winner. The Valley of the Moon certainly had nuances of regional-ness akin to the Yarra Valley and fruit core likened to Central Otago. A forward style with good fruit and oak presence and soft integrated tannins. In all an easy style of Pinot that is very consumer friendly. The Lakehouse reserve Pinot showed well and typical of Denmark Pinot. Lovely fruit and winemaking with an unusual use of American oak, certainly not typical. A full flavoured mouth feel and a wine that certainly received good feedback, and views that both wines in this bracket were hard to separate.
The group’s feedback was energetic and enthusiastic, and this bracket presented two great wines and worthy of comparison. In terms of a result, it was USA all the way with 90% consensus in the group. The ability to see a quality Napa Valley Cabernet side by side with one of Australia’s benchmark cabernets was a privilege. The LaJota was varietal, intense and tannic. A huge statured wine in everyway. Cullen Diana Madeline is a wine that presented brilliantly and intense. Although the group preferred the USA Cab, it was a close call, with both wines varietal and well made, although some comments suggested that a repeat of this tasting with the wines at 5-10 years of age would certainly be comparable.
In terms of turnaround, the group came to the party for Australia with both Shiraz brackets. The USA wine industry hangs its hat on Cabernet, then by virtue, Australia will reciprocate with Shiraz. The strength and intensity of the Aussie Shiraz presented, both wines romped all over the USA wines. The USA wines were stylish and elegant and well made. In the showdown, the USA wines were trumped by mere power and pure varietal intensity of great expressions of Barossa Valley Shiraz.
- Bracket 1 of Shiraz: 90% Aussie, (2009 First Drop Ebenezer Fat of The Land Shiraz vs 2009 Scott Harvey Amador County Reserve Syrah)
- Bracket 2 Shiraz: 80% Aussie (2007 David Franz Alternative View “Pirate Strength” Shiraz vs 2009 Landmark Steel Plow Syrah)
In all these wines were great examples of their varieties. By comparison, there were some great matches and the food choices were excellent. An aspect worth considering is that the tasting group received the USA wines with openness and curiosity. Taking this night to the market place certainly shows that the Australian market is ready for more and better examples of USA wines, not those that are currently supported through the large chain outlets. Consumers are clearly becoming curious and accepting of wines from around the world. Australia as a marketplace receives wines from all over the world, with one exception: the USA. It is now time to change and start to show USA wines to more people and start the critical mass.
Paul Bishard (Underate Wines)