Sipping Australian selections

VINTAGE POINT

Strange names, but good quality

VintagePoint

April 07, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

Mad Fish. Piping Shrike. Woop Woop. Fifth Leg. Jester. Boonaroo.

Australia might not make the greatest wines in the world, but it certainly produces the best wine names.

The selection of wines imported from down under continues to grow as more consumers get acquainted with the value and character the wines can offer. A host of new names has joined such longtime stalwarts as Penfolds, Lindemans, Wolf Blass, Rosemount Estate, Peter Lehmann and Yellow Tail.

The strange and sometimes amusing names Australians hang on their wines are good marketing, but they also express something about national character. Australians love serious wine, but few of them would ever want to be caught taking it too seriously.

The quality and value levels of Australian wine are extremely variable. Some are overpriced flops; others are terrific bargains.

So here are a few recommendations and cautions:

2002 Fifth Leg White Table Wine, Western Australia ($14). This blend of semillon and chardonnay is a serious, complex wine. There's a fascinating melange of flavors here: sweet pea, lime, figs, herbs, pear, melons, wood smoke.

2002 Piping Shrike Shiraz, Barossa Valley ($15). This full-bodied red wine offers intense and meaty blackberry, chocolate and charcoal flavors; it's like a vintage port without the sweetness. It could use some aging to gain some subtlety and lose some of its rustic quality, but this is a fine wine for the price.

2002 Mitolo Jester Shiraz, McLaren Vale ($18).This full-bodied, complex red offers both immediate satisfaction and the prospect of further development. It is packed with blackberry, chocolate and smoked-meat and herb flavors, and it gets extra points for being bottled with modern screw-top technology.

2002 Annie's Lane Chardonnay, Clare Valley ($14). Here's an Aussie chardonnay that doesn't depend on oak or residual sugar to make an impression. This boldly dry chardonnay displays flavors of apple, nuts, lemon and sweet peas. Its finish is crisp and clean. Shrimp on the barbie?

2003 Woop Woop Shiraz ($12). This medium-bodied, ready-to-drink red wine offers bright blackberry and chocolate flavors and a most attractive price. Try with grilled chicken or red meat.

2002 Mad Fish Shiraz, Western Australia ($17). There's plenty of spice in this soft, smooth, full-bodied red. Let it breathe a while and the blackberry flavor really starts to bloom.

2002 Angus the Bull Cabernet Sauvignon ($15). Classic cabernet flavors of black currant, black cherry and chocolate jump out of this solidly structured wine with good aging potential.

2003 Mad Fish Chardonnay, Western Australia ($17). Who needs oak? This wood-free chardonnay bristles with refreshing acidity and vibrant flavors of pear, melon, peach, honey, citrus fruit and a touch of marzipan. This would go well with seafood but could be drunk by itself to wake a tired palate.

2002 Trevor Mast Four Sisters Sauvignon Blanc ($12). This fresh, herbal, smoky sauvignon blanc is thoroughly pleasant and finishes cleanly but hits no heights of complexity.

2002 Paringa Individual Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($11). This isn't a particularly cuddly wine in its youth, but it has tremendous potential for development. The classic black-currant, chocolate and herb flavors are there. They just require patience.

2001 Boonaroo Shiraz-Cabernet, 79 percent South Australia, 21 percent Western Australia ($8). There's a lot of chunky blackberry and black-cherry flavor in this relatively inexpensive red blend. It's not a wine for the ages, but it's fun.

2002 Wishing Tree Shiraz, Western Australia ($11). One could wish for more complexity, but there's no doubting the easy charm of this medium-bodied red.

There were disappointments in the group as well. Paringa's 2002 Individual Vineyard shiraz and merlot were rough, mediocre wines. The 2002 Fifth Leg Red Wine fell far short of the standard set by the white.

Overall, however, there was much more to like in this batch of wines than to criticize. Consumers should enjoy the wines as much as the labels.

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