Australian white wines: Some are lush, others bitter

VINTAGE POINT

January 17, 1993|By Michael Dresser

The following Australian white wines were all purchased in Maryland in recent weeks. Within each variety, wines are listed in order of preference.

Chardonnays

* 1989 Mitchelton Reserve Chardonnay, Goulburn Valley ($17). I was about to counsel against buying pre-1990 Australian chardonnays, but then I tasted this magnificent, lush, mature wine. It's a huge wine, stuffed with intense flavors of banana, pear, green apple, vanilla and tropical fruit. For all its bulk, it retains some stylishness and liveliness. It's hardly classic, just 11 delicious. Drink it over the next six months, and note how thoroughly Mitchelton dominates this list.

* 1990 Montrose Estate Chardonnay, Mudgee ($13). Here's another full-throttle, buttery chardonnay with a bundle of flavor. Orange, banana, spices, vanilla -- this wine has it all. If you find California chardonnay too restrained, here's a guilty pleasure for you.

* 1991 Krondorf Show Reserve Chardonnay, South Australia ($15.69). Here's a boatload of oak and tropical fruit flavor to enjoy young. Not subtle, but a lot of fun.

* 1990 Hardy's South Australian Chardonnay, "Eileen Hardy" ($20). Restrained for an Australian chardonnay, there are some yeasty, toasty Burgundian nuances here, though the body suggests California's Sonoma Valley. It's a complex, well-made wine, but a bit expensive.

* 1992 Oxford Landing Chardonnay, Southeastern Australia ($8). This light, fresh, racy wine is totally frivolous and very enjoyable. Its melony fruit suggests a chenin blanc. Pour this one at a party.

* 1991 Rosemount Estate Chardonnay, Southeastern Australia ($10). It's big, it's coarse, it's fruity, it's oaky and it's as Australian as kangaroo soup. This is a very basic chardonnay from a winery that makes some very expensive, much finer chardonnays. But it's good, if you like the style.

* 1990 Wyndham Estate Bin 222 Chardonnay, Southeastern Australia ($7.49). A good, straightforward chardonnay with a hint of sweetness, mild oakiness and green-apple flavors.

* 1991 Peter Lehmann Chardonnay, Barossa Valley ($12). A very basic, rather oaky, coarse but adequate wine.

* 1989 Mountadam Chardonnay, Eden Valley ($23.59). The two most expensive chardonnays in my tasting were the worst. This one was overblown, over-oaked and starting to fall apart. The earthy elements are starting to outweigh the fruit, and the wine is turning bitter.

* 1989 Balgownie Estate Chardonnay, Bendigo ($22.50). Ugh! The fruit is fading and the wood is dominating with a nasty bitter-almond flavor. Maybe great once, but repellent now.

Semillon-chardonnay

* 1992 Mitchelton Semillon (80 percent) Chardonnay (20 percent), Victoria ($8). This crisp, youthful wine with delicious lemon-peach-pear flavor offers great pleasure for a reasonable price. Drink it young.

* 1991 Coldridge Semillon (80 percent) Chardonnay (20 percent), Southeastern Australia ($6.49). The fruit flavors are simple, straightforward and pleasant: lemon, peach, green apple. It's hardly complex, but it's fun.

* 1991 Rosemount Semillon (65 percent) Chardonnay (35 percent), Southeastern Australia ($9). This greenish wine is dominated by the smell and flavor of wet hay. There's plenty of one-dimensional melony fruit, but the vegetal character ruins this wine.

Semillon

* 1990 Peter Lehmann Semillon, Barossa Valley ($8). This wood-matured wine is crisp and lively but also has considerable depth and length. The peach, pear and oak flavors knit very well. A very good wine for the price.

Proprietary whites

* 1992 Tyrell's Long Flat White ($6.79). This semillon-traminer blend is the best Long Flat in a long time. The banana and peach flavors are appealing, and there's a pleasant spiciness to this well-made wine.

* 1990 Black Marlin, Mark Cashmore Winery ($9). This blend of chardonnay, semillon and sauvignon blanc comes in a striking bottle, but the packaging is better than the ordinary wine inside. It's drinkable, but there's no distinction, and the acidity tastes as if it came from a bottle.

Marsanne

* 1989 Mitchelton Reserve Marsanne, Goulburn Valley, Wood-Matured ($12.49). Dollar for dollar, this is the best wine in the group. It has a deep, honeyed flavor, with notes of orange, apricot, peach and cinnamon. It's a unique, fascinating wine that is showing some maturity and has a way to go. It's much like a white Hermitage, but it has developed much faster.

* 1991 Mitchelton Marsanne, Goulburn Valley ($10). This "regular" bottling of Mitchelton marsanne is no slouch, either. It's full of rich, sappy fruit, with gobs of peach-pear-melon flavor and an unabashed flamboyance. Truly exotic, and a great value.

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