CHARLOTTE, NC - Those ubiquitous Foster's commercials almost had us convinced that beer was the only alcoholic indulgence down under. But try this next time you visit your local grocery: bypass the beer cooler, head straight to the wine aisle and grab yourself a bottle or two of Oz's best vino.
That Australians would become skilled wine makers is one of the great ironies of English history. Long ago, the Brits shipped their most felonious citizens to this desolate island in the South Pacific in hopes that they would either kill each other off or succumb to the harsh desert environment (or some combination of the two.)
Fast-forward a few centuries and history has taken an unlikely turn.
As of this writing, per capita wine consumption in Australia is double that of the U.S. For a continent that makes Wyoming seem overcrowded (19 million people spread over 7.6 million kilometers), Australia churns out an obscene amount of wine. There are some 850 wineries strewn along the coastal regions -- almost a miracle when you consider that 70 percent of Australia's land is unable to support agriculture in any form.
The three Mac Daddy grapes of Australia are Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay. You may have noticed Shiraz next to the French or California Syrah on the wine aisle, and yes, it's basically the same grape (only with a rebellious Aussie spelling) so don't let any pretentious wine steward tell you otherwise. Shiraz is Oz's utility grape - it can be transformed into a hearty, oaky red fit for a steak or a light, summer wine that goes well with chicken or fish.
Australian Chardonnay's stack up favorably against the California version of the grape and are often two to five dollars cheaper for a comparable vintage. But expecting these inherently rebellious souls to play it by the book all the time is a bit much. Australian wineries churn out some wonderful, creative blends such as Chardonnay/Semillon and Shiraz/Cabernet.
Bold, fun, and affordable: it's little wonder that Australian wines take on the tendencies of their purveyors. But like any wine producing region, some areas produce better bottles than others. To sample the continent's finest, do a little label reading and look for wines made in the Barrossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Hunter Valley, and Yarra Valley.
Or better yet, head straight to your favorite wine shop and load up with these Aussie offerings:
Greg Norman 1999 Shiraz Limestone Coast: Did you think we'd leave the shark out of the hunt? Norman puts out a smooth Shiraz with a hint of berry that is the ideal "mate" for any juicy piece of steak. $14
Banrock Station 2000 Chardonnay: It's not all about reds down under, and the Aussies are refreshingly cost conscious. This one hints of apricot and sour apple, and for the price, it should become your favorite flavor. $6
Madfish 2000 Chardonnay: The name alone is worth the purchase. Resembles a New Zealand Sauvignon, but who's counting. Well-balanced acidity and for $14, it's a better deal than one of those artery clogging Blooming Onions.
Kim Crawford 2001 Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough: Probably New Zealand's best vineyard, and this one is wrapped in smooth citrus overtones. Also try their Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. $11
Yangarra Park 2000 Shiraz: Australian venture of Kendall Jackson has been a smashing success. $10
Maxwell 2000 Four Roads Shiraz: One of the deeper, oak flavored Shiraz's mentioned above, but so smooth you could drink it with breakfast. $16
Brancott 2001 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Marlborough: Another excellent offering from the Kiwi's. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, acidic, but a bit on the expensive side. $17
Trevor Jones 2000 Boots White Wine: A creative blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for those staying off the dry stuff. $13
Tee it up and Toast: Golf and Wine Trips
Culture? You want culture? Australia's got your culture. What could be more refined than playing some of the world's most underrated golf courses by morning, and touring the vineyards at twilight? Cypress Lakes Resort in Hunter Valley teases golfers with a golf course that plays right through its supple vineyard, but then makes good on its promise by offering private tastings and tours of the winery. The Golden Spa is also available onsite for those seeking maximum R and R.
Both the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne offer top-notch vineyards and the Sandbelt region around this great city is home to some of the world's greatest golf courses.
June 7, 2002
Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.
Looking back, the sequence of events leading to golf in Pinehurst seems so fragile, so random, that you wonder how fate didn't take different twists and turns circa 1895. The Tufts Archives, located in the Given Memorial Library, tells the resort's unlikely story.
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