Five years ago, Barossa wines were considered a novelty; today, critics such as Robert M. Parker, Jr., rank some of them among the finest in the world. These wines are ageworthy, pleasure-giving, food-friendly, diverse in style, complex and, best of all, soft: You can pour and enjoy them when they're very young. And they're a relative bargain. Even expensive Barossa wines are still reasonably affordable compared with wines of equal quality from elsewhere in the world.
History The Barossa was settled in the mid-1800s by Lutheran Germans, very frugal people who planted their farms to be self-sustaining. It is still a land of small family farmersbig business has not taken over. As recently as 25 years ago, when old-vine Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro weren't chic, the government paid growers to destroy them.
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Climate And Soil The Barossa's warm climate is perfect for producing opulent wines. And its soil is some of the planet's oldest, with ancient red mineral deposits streaking the vineyards and adding unique flavor to the grapes.
Shiraz And Beyond Shiraz, Australia's greatest grape, can have flavors of boysenberry cobbler, chocolate, mocha, blueberries and cream and hints of spice and black pepper. But the Barossa has other great grapes too: Sémillon, Grenache, Mataro andperhaps the biggest sleeperCabernet Sauvignon.
Editor's Note Author Dan Philips imports Australian wines; the first four here are his.
10 Top Bottles
2001 Burge Family Winemakers Sémillon ($30) Australia produces a lot of Sémillon, and this one is powerful, rich and refreshing. Rick Burge is a brilliant artisan who does nearly everything by hand.
2000 Trevor Jones Boots Grenache ($14) This big, ripe, sexy classic from 80-year-old vines is a terrific value. The winemaker, Trevor Jones, wears his Wellington boots everywherehence the name.
2000 RBJ Theologicum ($27) RBJ is three young winemakers who loved the best Rhône wines but couldn't afford themso they decided to make them. This Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend of Grenache and Mataro is stunningly complete and complex.
1999 Rockford Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) Owner Robert O'Callaghan pretty much invented Barossa Shiraz. His magnificent yet easy-to-drink Cabernet is equal to Napa's greatest, at half the price.
2001 Charles Melton Rose Of Virginia ($15) From a winery that was one of the first to celebrate old vines and Rhône grape varieties like Grenache and Shiraz. This red is a beauty, with a color like that of a Southern California sunset; better yet, it's easy to pair with food and goes with just about everything.
2000 Yalumba Shiraz ($18) A great value from the country's oldest family-run wineryjuicy, sweet, delicious. Yalumba is Aboriginal for "land all around."
2000 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz ($13) Penfolds is one of the masters of blending, a big winery that turns out great bottles from the high end to the low. This one has a core of berry and spice.
2000 Peter Lehmann Clancy's Shiraz Blend ($20) Before Shiraz hit it big, legendary winemaker Peter Lehmann fought to save old vines. The Clancy's Shiraz is full of succulent, sweet Barossa fruit.
2000 St. Hallett Faith Shiraz ($21) This is a classic Barossa Shiraz. Concentrated, smooth and mellow, it offers lovely blueberry and cream flavors.
1999 Elderton Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) Think Bordeaux with Australian power and spice: That means cedar and cigar-box aromas but big fruit flavors. Elderton is one of the most distinguished producers of high-quality wine in the Barossa.