Rethink everything you know about the island continent’s wines.

By Ray Isle
September 24, 2020
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A lot of people might look at me funny if I said that Australia was the greatest wine-producing country that people in the U.S. know very little about, but in a weird way, it’s true. Australia is one of the most exciting wine places on the planet right now, but our view of it still seems too stuck in the cheap-cheerful-chunky Shiraz zone. That view is changing, but it’s changing slowly—and not nearly as fast as Australia is minting ambitious new winemakers and groundbreaking new wineries, even as older names there are redefining people’s expectations. Great Pinot from Australia? No problem. Killer Riesling? Got it. Chardonnay that’s lean, vivid, and racy? Sure thing. Eye- and palate-opening natural wines? Definitely.

Credit: Victor Protasio

The only hitch is that some of the most compelling names in this wave of great wine make tiny, tiny amounts of it. Two of my favorites from my tastings—winemaker Joshua Cooper’s stunning Captains Creek Vineyard Chardonnay and a stellar, savory Pinot from Levantine Hill in Yarra Valley—come to the U.S. in such minimal quantities that I couldn’t really list them here (but if you see a bottle of either, grab it). Regardless, there are plenty of others that do arrive here in more reasonable quantities, as these 10 great bottles indicate.

2017 Jim Barry The Barry Bros Red ($15)


Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon come together in this lively, red cherry–rich wine from a top Clare Valley winery. It offers a lot of straightforward pleasure and is much more complex than many similarly priced Aussie reds.

2018 D’arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne ($18)


One of the less fancifully named of winemaker Chester Osborn’s many wines (“The Solipsistic Snollygoster,” anyone?), this blend of white Rhône varieties offers lots of engaging peach-melon flavor and a crisp, lively finish.

2017 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Chardonnay ($23)


Founded in 1858 by English immigrant Edward Tyrrell and still owned by his descendents, Tyrrell’s is one of Australia’s oldest wineries and still one of its best. Sweet citrus notes and a flinty-oak-spicy finish make this a brightly appealing Chardonnay.

2018 Alkoomi Black Label Riesling ($25)


Australia is a source for some of the world’s best dry Rieslings, and this one is hard to argue with. Aromas of lime peel and talc and minerally, completely dry flavors that suggest limes squeezed over stones—bring on the raw oysters.

2018 Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay ($25)


Named in honor of former head winemaker Max Schubert (the creator of Penfolds Grange, easily Australia’s most famous wine), this precise, lemon-zesty white will change your mind if you think Aussie Chardonnays are all big, oaky clunkers.

2019 Tim Smith Bugalugs Barossa Grenache ($25)


Australian Grenache gets far less attention than fellow Rhône import Shiraz (i.e., Syrah), but who knows why. This wine, with its luminous garnet hue, fresh raspberry flavor, and hint of pepperiness, is impossible not to like.

2018 Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth Of Mclaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling ($30)


Shiraz and Riesling are unlikely partners, but in Elena Brooks’ hands, the combination works effortlessly. Blackberries, white pepper, and a lime-leaf note from fermentation atop Riesling skins—a surprise, but a good one.

2019 Yetti & The Kokonut Hipster Juice Red ($30)


“Yetti” is winemaker Dave Geyer, “Kokonut” is partner Koen Janssens, and this wittily named natural wine, made from a host of grape varieties, is just a straight-up delight. Lightly herbal, zinging with acidity, ultra-low in alcohol (9.1%)—chill it down and enjoy.

2018 Powell & Son Eden Valley Riesling ($31)


Dave Powell made his name as the founder/winemaking savant of cult winery Torbreck. He left in 2013 and bounced back with Powell & Son, where he makes intense Shirazes—as well as this stony, mouthwatering Riesling from 80-plus-year-old vines.

2016 Cirillo The Vincent Grenache ($37)


Spiced cherries and a light leather note are what this silky, medium-bodied red calls to mind. Cirillo owns the oldest Grenache vineyard in the world, planted in 1848, though this wine comes from vines that are merely 88 years old or so (their 1850 Ancestor Vine bottling is $90 but worth the splurge if you see it).