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Appellations Down Under

Awesome Aussie wines

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With the hundreds of Australian and New Zealand wine choices staring at you, it's hard, without your own portable wine expert, to know which awesome deal to grab. These guys produce the most flavorful, approachable juice for the money right now, and limiting yourself to only one inviting bottle per night is getting challenging. Luckily, they label their wines with an appellation, or "Geographic Indication"(GI) as they call it in Australia. This labeling term tells you where the grapes are grown; the more you know, the more you can cash in on the good values.

Australia has been making wines for as long as the US, but they weren't interrupted by the brainfart known as Prohibition. They embrace technology in winemaking, as evidenced by their use of mechanical harvesters and high-tech fermenters. They've also used technology to figure out where they should plant their grapes. Long ago, vines were established near populated areas, but as they mastered soil and climate analysis, they uncovered where classic grape varieties, like Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, would thrive.

Australia has five wine producing states: South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. As of March 2003, 61 Geographic Indications had been defined in Australia. You'll see the "South Australia" GI on many bottles of wine, equivalent to printing generic "California" on a label: the fruit can come from anywhere within the expansive South Australia region. But, within that GI, there are extraordinary sub-regions worth remembering. Barossa Valley pretty much grows some of the best fruit in the country, but they make concentrated, luscious Shiraz, often made from gnarled vines 100-plus years old. For Cabernet Sauvignon fanatics, look for Coonawarra on the label. And McClaren Vale is, frankly, a great place for just about any grape to grow, like Shiraz, Chardonnay and other Rhone varietals such as Grenache.

Victoria, the state that houses Melbourne, hosts some of the best Pinot Noir in Australia in its Yarra Valley. The varied climate welcomes these hard-to-grow grapes. Tasmanian Pinots, just arrived from the chilly island off of Australia's southern coast, are a welcome addition.

New South Wales' Hunter Valley makes magnificent Chardonnay and even Semillon, a dry, full-bodied white wine. Western Australia, with its GI called Margaret River, is a relative newcomer, but it's already prized. The cool climate in this region yields magnificent Sauvignon Blancs.

But speaking of amazing Sauvignon Blancs, my favorite place on earth for these grapefruit-laden, acid-lovin' wines has got to be New Zealand. The GI to look for those labels is Marlborough. And for smooth talkin' Chardonnay, grab those from Hawkes Bay.

RECOMMENDED WINES

Yarra Burn 2000 Pinot Noir Yarra Valley $23. 1/2

d'Arenburg 2001 Footbolt Shiraz McClaren Vale $20.

Nobilo 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $18.

Ninth Island 2001 Pinot Noir Tasmania $18.

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