Monday, August 20, 2007

Australia's Clare Valley: Not Just for Riesling Anymore

Australia's Clare Valley is best known in the US for producing flavorful, elegant rieslings. North of Adelaide and west of the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley has warm days, yet produces wines that are reminiscent of those grown in cooler climate areas of Europe. Though riesling is the most heavily planted grape in the area, the Clare Valley does take advantage of the climate to grow other grape varietals as well, such as shiraz and cabernet. Because the region is only beginning to be known for its reds, Clare Valley red wines can represent excellent values, especially when you compare them to their cousins over in the Barossa Valley.

2003 Kilikanoon Cabernet Sauvignon Block's Road is an example of just how good a red wine from the Clare Valley can be. (Chronicle Wine Cellar, $19.95; available from other merchants for under $30). Last year I bought a bottle of this wine, and pulled it out when I peeked into my wine cellar/windowseat this summer. This wine is still relatively young, and could last another 2-3 years in the bottle under good conditions, but it is already drinking well. It is a smooth wine, with well-integrated tannins and fully developed flavors of cassis, herb, and black pepper. There are some richly smoky notes on the finish, which adds some nice complexity to this opulent, lush wine. Despite its decided cassis flavors, this is not simply a fruit bomb--there is a good acidic structure at the core of this wine, which is why it is aging so nicely. This is a lot of cabernet for under $20, and represents very good QPR.

To go with this wine think of something flavorful and meaty. We had orzo tossed with mint pesto, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, grilled artichokes, and topped with grilled patties made out of a combination of lamb and sweet Italian sausage that had been removed from its casing. This minty lamb and sausage orzo was just delicious with the cabernet, since the minty pesto and vegetables combined nicely with the herbal notes in the wine and the smoky edge picked up the char on the artichokes and the meat patties.

This wine was a great reminder for me that sometimes it's not the varietal that sets the price. Cabernet can be expensive, especially when it comes from a region like Napa Valley or Bordeaux known for the grape. But if you look for cabernet grown in a region known for something else, you could be in for a bargain and a treat.


Orion Slayer said...

I have only had Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc from Austrailia. I'd like to try a Cabernet from Down Under and give it a whirl. Great information and links. Thanks!

Edward said...

Dr Debs,

The Clare has some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, and is also well know locally for Cabernet and shiraz.

The tannins often have a sinewly streak, and some can detect a hint of mint in the reds. Which would have made your food combination particularly appropriate!

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Orion Slayer. There are some very good ones to try, so keep your eye out for them and they are often well priced, too. And thanks Edward, for chiming in. Over here, we see mostly Clare Valley rieslings, but when I was reading I noticed that the shiraz was plentifully planted, too. I'm looking forward to exploring more wines from the region. Interesting about the mint--it really did go well with that minty pesto.