Hills of the South

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During the last month or so, I’ve tasted a quite a lot of wines from some of the largest Australian wine companies and very disappointing they have been too. The problem is that they all taste pretty much the same – especially those that insist on using daft trendy names on the labels. Honestly, it really seems like some of the big Australian wine companies have traded in complexity and individuality of flavour for instant mass appeal.

Now in principle, I suppose there’s nothing actually wrong in this, but the result is that the wines lack anything of interest. They are often loaded with too much in-yer-face fruit and not enough acidity or tannin to balance them out. Quite simply, they are unchallenging, boring and dull. Come to think of it, I know some people like that.

Leigh Gilligan: one of the winemaking team at Brokenhills EstateLeigh Gilligan: one of the winemaking team at Brokenhills Estate

If you’re passionate about wine, the chances are that you want something with a bit of character, perhaps even a wine that “fights back” a little. Fortunately, there are still some companies in South Australia that have stuck to their guns and continue to produce wines that are more true to tradition. Brokenhills Estate is one company that strives to produce wines that have something to say. It’s based in McLaren Vale, a small township with a population of just over three thousand in the Riverland District of South Australia and well-known for its dry reds, especially wines made from Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre.

Established in 1999, Brokenhills Estate is a small cooperative that draws exclusively on premium grape-growing districts from wineries of South Australia. The CEO and Chief Winemaker at Brokenhills is Parry Richardson who writes, “The last fifteen years of the Australian wine business has seen a frenzy of market mergers involving international giants. We’ve been saddened to see not only the loss of many fine labels, but also a perceptible change in style and obvious shortcuts in quality to satisfy consumerism.”

How right he is. At Brokenhills Estate their guiding philosophy has been to make the best wine possible and to present the quintessential character of Australia’s distinct wine regions.

Don’t be put off by the rather mundane names, because although they are entry level products, they are both excellent wines and splendid value.

Brokenhills Estate Classic Dry White (2011), Australia (Bt. 389 @ Foodland)

This wine is an intense pale gold; a lovely gentle aroma of pineapple as well as hints of green apples and lime. It’s a blend of 70% Colombard and 30% Chardonnay. The Colombard brings a pleasing flinty-grassy freshness to the wine while the Chardonnay rounds out the flavour and adds a bit of complexity to the aroma.  It’s a lively medium-bodied wine – almost spritzy in fact, with a refreshing clean mouth-feel.

There’s plenty of fruit on the palate and you’ll pick up the pleasant dry citrusy taste with plenty of tropical fruit. There’s a splendid balance of fruit and acidity, and you may notice how the taste “blossoms” if you take a decent swig and slosh it around your mouth. There’s a superb finish too, because the dry, fruity flavour lingers on for ages after you’ve swallowed the wine. And this of course, is one of the signs of a really well-made wine. At only 11% alcohol content, it would make a splendid apéritif. It’s interesting to taste and talk about and refreshing enough to spark up the taste buds for the meal to follow.

Brokenhills Estate Classic Dry Red (2011), Australia (Bt. 389 @ Foodland)

This is a blend of 60% Shiraz, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Malbec. This last grape might raise an eyebrow because it’s more usually associated with Argentina, where it has served as something of a workhorse grape variety for decades. Although we don’t usually associate Malbec with Australia, it’s been used there as blending grape for years and after a period of unpopularity, it seems to be making something of a comeback.  The Riverland District has plenty of sunlight and warm nights which means that the sugar levels in the fruit are often quite high, which results in higher alcohol (it’s 13.5%) and additional body, warmth and softness.

Of course, with all that Shiraz in the blend, it’s hardly surprising that the Shiraz characteristics come through. You’ll find this wine has quite a complex jammy aroma of black berries and plums, with brambly fruit, peppery herbs and mint in the background. There’s a very smooth, velvety mouth-feel; plenty of fruit on the palate and an attractive “edge” to the flavour giving the wine a pleasingly firm body. You may notice a slight peppery quality on the taste which comes from the Shiraz. The finish is unusually long and the fruity flavour persists until the tail end.

The tannins are soft and very supple, making this a pleasing easy-drinker. It’s a well-structured wine, with the Cabernet Sauvignon bringing firmness to the body and the small percentage of Malbec rounding it out and giving a fuller flavour. While it certainly feels like an Australian wine, it’s a cut above most of them.  This is because it not only has an interesting and quite complex aroma, but also a touch of elegance and refinement not often found in Australian wines these days.

And by the way, you can only get the full taste of a wine by taking a decent mouthful.  A dainty sip may be alright for a steaming espresso but not for wine. Don’t let me catch you taking dainty sips from a wine glass or you’ll get a poke from my pointed wooden stick. Always take a decent sized mouthful and then, with the wine resting in the lower part of your mouth, gently breathe in over slightly opened lips so that the wine so that the air releases the aromas and tastes. Close your mouth and then slosh the wine around your tongue and teeth. This is the only way you’ll get the full flavours and texture of the wine.  However, this technique can take a bit of practice.  If you can achieve it without choking, or without making loud and unseemly gargling noises, so much the better.