Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Make Every Bite (and Sip) Count

Great Wines from the Lands Down Under
As I prepared the menu and started to think about the food preparations for our upcoming “Down Under” Wine dinner, I also started to think back on how much the wine world has changed since I started cooking over 25 years ago. Back then, very few wines from either Australia or New Zealand were served or even available to purchase here in the States. Things have certainly changed and definitely for the better.

Australia and New Zealand — the lands down under — have both gained a reputation for producing some of the world’s best wines. While both countries have been producing wines since the late 1700s/early 1800s, they have only in the past 30 years been recognized by the rest of the world as being on par with the best. Australia’s Shiraz and New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc have become the standard by which all other growers are judged.

In addition to the celebrated Shiraz (also known as Syrah), Australia is producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The major white wines produced include Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

There are over 50 wine-growing regions in Australia, most of which are concentrated in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

South Australia produces more wine than any other Australian state. South Australian vineyards are blessed with cool winters, warm summers and a long ripening season. The most famous regions in South Australia include the Barossa Valley, known for its Shiraz, the Clare Valley, known for its Rieslings, and the Adelaide Hills, known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Limestone Coast, known as “the Bordeaux of Australia,” is where the vines grow in rich, red soil and which is home to regions such as the Coonawarra and Padthaway.

Australia’s oldest and best known wine regions can be found in New South Wales (NSW). Located near Sydney, this large area has many diverse types of grape varieties. More than half of the wine produced from this region is exported to the United States.

Victoria produces some of Australia’s best sparkling wines. Vineyards such as Chateau Yering and Domain Chandon both export large volumes of their popular sparkling wines to North America that are made with the same grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) used in Champagne.

Western Australia is home to some of Australia’s best new wineries. Vines are now grown from the Coral Coast (North of Perth) to the cooler Southern climates of Margaret River, the Swan Valley and Albany. Margaret River, especially, has become known for its great wine. Its 60 or so wineries produce only 1% of Australia’s wine, but 15% of Australia’s premium wine. Wineries in Margaret River include: Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate, Mad Fish and Evans & Tate.

New Zealand wines have a similar story. They have been produced for years, but just recently have they earned worldwide acclaim. Their vineyards are all relatively close to the sea and all enjoy the cooling sea breeze, which aids in their ripening.

While there are many different grape varieties grown in New Zealand, it is the Sauvignon Blanc wines which have become some of the best in world. With a climate similar to Australia, New Zealand is also known for quality Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot wines as well.

New Zealand’s best known wine region is Marlborough, located at the northeast end of South Island. Here, the top wineries such as Oyster Bay, Villa Maria, Pernod Ricard, Nobilo and Sacred Hill produce the world-class Sauvignon Blancs for which New Zealand is most famous.

So, next time you are shopping for wine, do yourself a favor and explore some of the world’s best wines from the lands down under.

— Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking featuring local produce, cheeses and meats Thursday through Mondays by making a reservation at (603) 444-2600. Orlo can be reached at for questions about this article or any other food-related questions. Remember — whether cooking for one or for a crowd, make every bite count.

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