I occasionally taste some really great wines from a specific country that earn a very high rating on the quality-to-price ratio, or QPR, scale and think, "Wow, what a great wine. I'd love to write about this." But often, there are just not enough wines from one winery or region that qualify to produce a column. About a year ago, I decided to keep track of the best wine values from each country and then write a column when I had enough wines that made the 9.5-or-higher QPR threshold.
For the inaugural "Best Values From" column, we begin with a country where I cut my proverbial wine teeth -- Australia.
While Australia is a large continent, the majority of the vineyards are concentrated in the southeast region of the country in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. This region of the country is blessed with an intricate network of valleys and vales that provide an incredibly diverse range of slopes and soils in which to grow a variety of wine grapes. Big red wine varietals, such as shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, are planted higher up on the slopes where they can take full advantage of the warm Australian sunshine to produce luscious, fruit-forward wines. Western Australia has recently shown up on the wine radar, particularly the Margaret River, where cooler climates favors more delicate wines made from grapes such as riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
Here are a few of my top value-oriented picks from the land down under. Retail prices are approximate.
One of the best chardonnays I have tasted this year for the money is the 2011 Henry's Drive Morse Code Chardonnay ($12) from the Padthaway region of Australia. The fruit was sourced from the estate's Padthaway vineyards, which features a red loamy soil over limestone substrate. Charming scents of lemon-limeade and roasted nuts are an appealing start. Flavors of ripe citrus, red apple, pear and nectarine meld together on a creamy frame, due to aging some of the wine on the lees. The excellent acidity and mineral notes provide perfect counterpoints on the bright, lingering finish. QPR 10
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's not too early to start thinking about turkey day wines. A perennial favorite on our house is the 2010 d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne Viognier ($17) from the McLaren Vale region in South Australia. The viognier contributes tropical fruit and white flower characteristics while the marsanne adds notes of orange marmalade, honeysuckle and ripe pear flavors. The lush finish is deep and penetrating, featuring a touch of tangerine and mango on the back of the tongue. QPR 9.5
The Australian wine industry is synonymous with shiraz, and the 2009 Henry's Drive Pillar Box Reserve ($20) is one reason why. In Australia, a pillar box is a red-colored free-standing post box, but in the hands of winemaker Renae Hirsch, it is a big red-colored wine. A blend of some of the best shiraz lots, the wine delivers instant gratification in the mouth with flavors of dark cherry, black plum, blackberry jam and subtle notes of black licorice. The opulent finish has just enough black pepper on the end to remind the palate of its pedigree. QPR 10
Blends are very popular down under. The 2008 Kaesler Stonehorse GSM ($19) is a traditional blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre from the Barossa Valley. Concentrated aromas of ripe blueberry, floral violets and roasted coffee are intriguing and compelling. The mouthfeel is rich and dense, with focused flavors of blackberry, blueberry liqueur, dark chocolate and espresso that meld together on the palate. The juicy finish has just a touch of bacon fat at the very end. QPR 10
Last but not least, the 2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) offers a lot of value for a cabernet, with aromas of blackberry, cherry and tobacco on the big bouquet. Integrated flavors of blackberry, cedar and licorice dominate the front of the tongue while savory notes of grilled meat and cocoa linger on the finish. QPR 9.5
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.