A year ago, I was standing in a happy vineyard in Margaret River, Australia talking about biodynamics with Vanya Cullen. I’d been to the region before, a half a globe away from New York considered so remote, even Australians balk at visiting. However, the magical combination of wild beaches, nature trails, and fantastic Cabernet and Chardonnay, lured me back. It’s a place I’ll visit again, when global vaccines ramp up and borders reopen.
Wine represents so much more than just the liquid in the bottle. It’s a snapshot in time, a lesson in impermanence, the embodiment of the truth that change is the only constant. Wine tells the story of the vintage, the ethos of the winemaker; it hints at the soil, climate, and labor to make it. Wine speaks to the history, culture, foods, and traditions of a people in a place, if you are open to listening to the tales in your glass. If you just want to drink and relax, that’s okay, too. Wine is both teacher and tonic.
During this year-long withdrawal into a cabin in New York’s Catskills, I frequently recite the phrase “this too, shall pass” as comfort in meltdown moments. Then I select a bottle, with purpose, to transport me to faraway places.
Visit Australia with these five wines, no passport necessary.
Yarra Valley, Victoria
Just north of Melbourne, Yarra Valley supplies Australians (and Americans!) with some of the finest Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from the country. Many young, experimental producers got their hands dirty learning the trade in this swath of picturesque countryside. Giant Steps, established in 1997, was one of the first wineries I visited in Yarra—in Australia, actually. With chief winemaker Steve Flamsteed at the helm, the winery focuses on Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs with purity and finesse. I tasted the wines with then owner Phil Sexton over pizzas served from the cellar door. Drinking this Chardonnay fireside a few nights ago during the blizzard took me back to that trip—one during which I fractured my foot on a bus but refused to skip a single winery on the tour.
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Giant Steps, Chardonnay, Sexton Vineyard, 2019, $45 Bright and tense while full-bodied and creamy, offers notes of white flowers, pears, and apples. The intersection of Burgundy and Australia. (Owned and imported by Jackson Family Wines)
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
This beach-fringed peninsula an hour from Melbourne, services city denizens on weekends the way the Hamptons crowds with Manhattanites during summer months. Both regions produce wine, though Mornington’s quality and seriousness transcends the South Fork. Most wineries focus on cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah mixed with other plantings like Moorooduc’s Pinot Gris. The grapes are pressed on skins approximating a textural orange wine. I met with winery marketing manager Kate McIntyre MW last February (my last overseas trip) to taste this bottle and a few others. Her parents, Richard and Jill McIntyre, founded the winery in 1982.
Moorooduc Estate, Gris on the Skins, 2018, $35 Super juicy and fruity, especially for a skin contact wine. No savory, astringency here, just pure joy. And we all need more joy in our glasses. (Imported by Little Peacock)
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Before visiting, I’d heard rumors of McLaren Vale’s enthusiastic beach culture, diverse winemaker personalities, and natural wine experiments. I had also read about the priceless old bush vines, with vineyards dating to the 1850s, as well as legacy producers and elegant, age-worthy wines. With these descriptions in mind, I visited last February to find all the glorious hoopla true. Only thirty minutes from Adelaide, McLaren Vale feels like a world of its own—yet with access to a major city and airport. I can’t wait to get back.
Yangarra Estate Vineyard, Ironheart Shiraz, 2016, $100 A reminder why Australian Shiraz was such a success in the first place. Balances ripe black fruits against the grape’s savory, smoky, meaty character. Not overblown or overripe, as some have come to view Aussie Shiraz. Follows the Goldilocks principle of “just right.” (Imported by Jackson Family Wines)
Hickinbotham, Trueman Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017, $75 So many good things going on in this wine, it makes me want to drink more Cabernet from McLaren Vale. Classic cassis, fresh blackberry, and cedar notes on a taut, medium-bodied frame. I sampled with Coravin so I can save for another year. (Won’t happen.) (Imported by Jackson Family Wines)
Margaret River, Western Australia
The introduction hinted at my enthusiasm for Margaret River, an isolated region which made the cut for my Australia tour last February. Located on the southwest corner of Western Oz, the cool climate allows for chiseled, concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon that falls somewhere between the new world/old world spectrum. The Chardonnays quiver with vitality, turning me back on to the category after years of ABC (anything but Chardonnay) dismissal. Cullen’s wines, as well as Moss Wood, are expensive but some of the purest expressions in the region. As an alternative, Ashbrook Estate, a stone’s throw from Moss Wood right in the heart of Wilyabrup, turns out vibrant wines for a fraction of the cost. This third-generation winery was established by the Devitt Family in 1975.
Ashbrook Estate, Chardonnay, 2018, $30 Fresh fruit aromas jump from the glass, while the creamy palate finds structure from a picture frame of oak. Smashable wine for a great price. (Imported by Little Peacock)