Robert Oatley is making tasty wines from all over Australia

Although the Robert Oatley Vineyards is located in Mudgee, they don’t limit themselves to fruit from that region. Instead, they look throughout Australia and source grape varieties in the Australian regions where they thrive most. They use sustainable practices and strive to be as organic as possible. They produce a wide swath of wines that show off good varietal character. I recently tasted through a number of their current releases and found a lot to like. Here are some thoughts on a few of my favorites.

Robert Oatley 2014 Signature Series Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

Lemon zest aromas inform the welcoming nose; subtle bits of grass and white pepper are present as well. The palate is gently layered with white peach and other stone fruits. A hint of marzipan emerges on the finish, alongside bits of sour yellow melon and grapefruit. This Sauvignon Blanc has a really soft and lovely mouth-feel. It goes down easy and features lots of solid character. It also rides the middle of the Sauvignon Blanc line; it’s not super citrusy, overly grassy, nor extremely tropical. Instead, it draws bits from all of those camps.

Robert Oatley 2014 Signature Series Margaret River Chardonnay ($18)

Anjou pear and wisps of white peach emerge from the nose here. The palate is fruit-forward, while remaining proportionate and lovely. Lots of orchard and stone fruit characteristics are joined by subtle hints of spice. Bits of limestone are present on the above-average finish. There is a nice weight and terrific feel to this wine; I simply didn’t want to put it down. It’s a really expressive and clean Chardonnay that is gently accented by oak.

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Robert Oatley 2014 Signature Series McLaren Vale GSM ($18)

This wine is a blend of Grenache (60 percent), Shiraz (30 percent) and Mourvedre (10 percent). There’s a gentle bit of pleasing tar on the nose, alongside a potpourri of red fruit aromas. Blackberry and forest floor elements are in evidence throughout the palate, while earth, minerals and hints of smoked meat are evident on the finish — which is well above average for the price point. This is a fantastic food wine; pair it with all but the lightest or heartiest fare.

Robert Oatley 2014 Signature Series McLaren Vale Shiraz ($18)

Plum, violet and blueberry aromas are tinged by a tiny hint of charcoal on the lovely nose. There’s a ton of black cherry and pepper spice on the palate, along with more blueberry notes. Bits of espresso and sour black fruits mark the finish. Fleshy tannins and firm acid provide good structure. You’ll have a hard time finding a better wine to pair with a burger.

Robert Oatley 2013 Signature Series Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon ($18)

Toast, vanilla, sage and dark berry fruits are all present on the nose here. The palate is stuffed with black fruit flavors, spice and savory herbs. Bits of earth, black cherry and a dusting of cocoa are all present on the finish.

This quintet of wines from Robert Oatley impresses with the quality in the bottle at under $20. In each case, the wine is typical of the variety in question. In the case of the blend, it’s a pretty classic example of a GSM at a very agreeable price. Besides those qualities, these wines are connected by a purity of fruit and lovely textural elements that keep them on the same stylistic page. These are wines that most can afford to drink on a regular basis, but the quality may inspire you to pour them on special occasions too — and that’s okay; they’re clean tasty wines that will enjoy wide appeal. These wines represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Robert Oatley portfolio.

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It’s time to go Greek… with your wine selections

One of the great advantages wine lovers have in the United States is diversity. We have access to wines from all over the world. Certainly some countries and regions represent stronger than others, but more join the party every year. Among those creeping up in visibility and availability in recent years are the wines of Greece. There’s a lot to like with Greek wine. Most importantly for me is that taken as a piece, they tend to be high acid wines that are eminently food friendly. If you’re a wine lover you’re probably pretty interested in what you’re eating too. There are Greek wines perfectly suited for just about any type of cuisine, so don’t get stuck in the idea of needing to pair Greek wines with Greek foods; experiment and you’ll find the matches that work best for you. Here are four offerings from Greece that I recently tasted that hit the spot. Give one or more of them a try with dinner tonight; it might just be a revelation.

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Gavalas Winery 2014 Santorini ($13)

This white wine from Santorini is composed entirely of Assyrtiko. The fruit comes from the most traditional vineyard on the island which is also the oldest in Greece. It was never affected by phylloxera and it sits on its own root stock. Lemon zest, rosemary and thyme aromas are evident on the wonderfully buoyant nose, while sour yellow melon and a who’s who of citrus flavors dominate the palate. Limestone, graphite and bits of clementine emerge on the crisp, dry and refreshing finish. This is a steal for the price. Pair this with light appetizers, creamy cheeses, entrée salads and the like. It’s going to be hard to beat the value here as an everyday white.

Antonopolous 2014 Malagouzia ($20)

This white wine is composed entirely of Malagouzia. All of the fruit was sourced in the Peloponessos region. Orchard fruits, yellow flower and linseed oil aromas are present on the nose here. The palate is studded with a ton of Granny Smith apple notes as well as wisps of white pepper and white peach flavors. Lemon and lime elements, mineral and continued spice notes dominate the above average finish. This wine will pair well with light foods and it’s also delicious sipped on its own.

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Alexakis 2013 Syrah/Kotsifali ($16)

This blend is composed of Kotsifali (60 percent) and Syrah (40 percent). The average age of the vines the fruit was sourced from is 26 years. This is a small, family winery and the second generation is now deeply involved in many aspects of the business. Red cherry, mushroom and sage aromas light up the nose of this red blend. The palate is filled with dried red and black fruits of all kinds, but cherry characteristics dominate. Earth, black pepper and hints of anise are all part of the impressive finish. It has absolutely killer acidity. This wine will pair well with an absolutely astounding array of foods. It’s tasty right out of the bottle, but if you have time, decant it for 45 minutes, because it really blossoms with some air.

Kitma Gerovassiliou 2008 Avaton ($47)

This offering is composed of Limnio (50 percent), Mavroudi (30 percent) and Mavrotragano (20 percent). The winery was established in 1981, and today, they have 54 hectares (about 133 acres) under vine dedicated to a combination of indigenous and international varieties. Mushroom and savory herb aromas lead the nose here, followed by red and black plum aromas. Bits of toast emerge on the palate where black fruits lead the charge along with copious spice notes. Subtle bits of tar, minerals, smoked meat elements and dusty baker’s chocolate lead the long and very expressive finish. This wine is delicious today, but will age well for the next six to eight years. It’s particularly suited to pair with roasted meats and hard cheeses. It has impressive depth and complexity that will please a wide array of wine lovers.

These wines are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Greece. So get out of your Chardonnay and Cabernet routine and try some indigenous Greek wines; they might just blow your mind!

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Three great 2012 Napa Valley Cabernets

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The king is alive and well. In this case, I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon, and in particular, examples from Napa Valley. While a broad array of other varietals thrive there, it’s not even debatable that Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that grabs the lion’s share of the spotlight. When grown in the right spots, tended with care in the vineyards and the cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley can be as compelling as examples from anywhere in the world. And of course, the great offerings from Napa, which have a sense of place, are also unique in style and not replicable elsewhere. On a recent trip out there, I had occasion to sample many fine Cabernets, often from the 2012 vintage. There are some absolutely stunning specimens from 2012, and in general, it’s a vintage to keep your eye out for. Here are three that I really loved which will be perfect as gifts this holiday season, or on your table to commemorate special events, as well as alongside fabulous family meals.

Stag’s Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($53)

This selection is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (85 percent), with smaller amounts of Merlot (8 percent), Malbec (5 percent) and Petit Verdot (2 percent) blended in. Winemaker Christophe Paubert sourced fruit for this wine from several areas around Napa Valley. Barrel aging took place over 20 months in entirely French oak; 37 percent of them were new. Violets and plum aromas lead the intense nose. Red fruits and savory herbs are laced throughout. Blackberry, sweet dark chocolate and peppercorn flavors are interspersed throughout the long, persistent and balanced finish. The flavors here are very fresh and focused with excellent proportion. This is a bit of a steal in its category. Most Napa Cabernets of this quality are twice the price.

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Etude 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)

Winemaker Jon Priest sources fruit (100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from several benchland vineyards to craft this wine. The vineyards are in a variety of Napa’s sub-appellations, each which bring unique qualities to the party. The goal is to create a Cabernet that reflects many of the elements found in Napa. It was aged entirely in French oak for 20 months. Black raspberry, earth and hints of toast light up the nose here. Tons of black and red fruit flavors fill the long and substantial palate, which is both powerful and elegant in nature. Espresso, minerals and dusty baker’s chocolate notes emerge on the long, pleasing finish. Firm tannins and racy acid are both part of the terrific structure.

Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($165)

This offering is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon (98 percent), with splashes of Cabernet Franc (1 percent) and Petit Verdot (1 percent) blended in. More than half of the fruit is from Howell Mountain, with smaller contributions from St. Helena, Rutherford, Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder. It was aged more than 19 months in French oak (95 percent) new, and one year in bottle prior to release. Toasty oak leads the nose, followed by copious black fruit aromas. The palate is stuffed with black cherry, raspberry, spices galore and bits of mineral. Sweet dark chocolate, earth and additional bits of toast emerge on the long, somewhat lusty finish. The 2012 vintage is a great example of what is a classic and somewhat legendary Napa Valley Cabernet.

These wines are a stellar trio. Tasting them side by side would be a fascinating window into a few of the various styles of Napa Valley Cabernet. However, even if you just taste a single one, you can’t go wrong regardless. They’re all excellent in their own way. The Beringer is the one most attuned to long term cellaring; it’ll go 15 to 20 years at a minimum. The Etude will drink well for 6 to 8 years, and the Stag’s Leap falls somewhere in the middle with a likely useful drinking window of about 12 years. They’re all delicious, and they’re all well made. Choose one or more of them based on your taste buds and budget.

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Australia’s Wakefield Estate delivers a diverse collection of wines

Wakefield Wines is one of 12 members of Australia’s First Family of Wines. This group of families owned wineries can each boast three or more generations in Australian wine. They hail from regions representing four different states, and collectively, they have more than 5,550 hectares under vine. After tasting some offerings from each family at an event a few months back, I decided to take a deeper dive and look at the wines from Wakefield. Here are my thoughts about six excellent, well-priced current releases from them.

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Wakefield Estate 2014 Riesling ($17)

All of the fruit for this wine (100 percent Riesling) was sourced in the Clare Valley. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel with a range of select yeasts. Lychee fruit and hints of linseed oil emerge on the vibrant but even-keeled nose. The palate shows off orange peel, lemon zest and apricot flavors. Tart yellow melon, hints of Granny Smith apple and spices such as cardamom and white pepper are present on the finish. This gloriously dry wine is an excellent example of Riesling. It’ll pair as well with Indian dishes as it will with pork loin roasted alongside apples.

Wakefield Estate 2014 Chardonnay ($17)

Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills is the source for the fruit. Most of it was fermented in a combination of new and used French oak. A small amount was fermented in stainless steel with wild yeasts. Stone fruit and Golden Delicious apple aromas dominate the nose here. Anjou pear and continued apple rule the day on the palate. Yellow peach, bits of spice, and gentle hints of crème fraiche are all in play on the substantial finish. There’s simply an avalanche of fresh fruit characteristics in play in each component of this wine. For $17, you’re getting a lot of Chardonnay character here.

Wakefield Estate 2014 Pinot Noir ($17)

All of the fruit for this wine, which is entirely Pinot Noir of course, came from the Adelaide Hills. After cold soaking, the wine was fermented at warm to hot temperatures in stainless steel, utilizing yeast strains intended specifically for Pinot. Aging in one- and two-year-old French oak followed. Wild strawberry, black cherry and wisps of toast are all apparent on the nose. Red and black cherry characteristics dominate the palate along with a nice spice component. A hint of cherry Jolly Rancher, as well as pomegranate, are in play on the finish, along with substantial bits of earth. Firm acid and good tannins mark the structure. At under $20, this is a steal in the Pinot world.

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Wakefield Estate 2014 Shiraz ($17)

The Taylor Estate in the Clare Valley was the source of the fruit for this Shiraz. After fermentation, it was aged in American oak for 12 months. Big, red and black fruit characteristics emerge on the boisterous nose here. The palate is studded with similar characteristics, as well as bits of espresso and dark bitter chocolate. The long finish is spice-driven and loaded with additional fruit elements such as blackberry and raspberry. This is a fruit-driven Shiraz that is also proportionate and even keeled.

Wakefield Estate 2014 “Jaraman” Chardonnay ($25)

As is the process with the Jarman line of wines, the fruit comes from two distinct growing regions: Clare Valley (55 percent) and Margaret River (45 percent). Fermentation and aging took place in tight-grained French oak. Yellow fruit aromas are joined by bits of linseed oil and a hint of toast on a slightly austere nose. Classic apple and pear characteristics light up the palate, which is stuffed with tons of fresh, eager fruit flavors. The notably long finish shows off continued orchard fruits as well as bits of pineapple and papaya. The oak in play here adds nice complexity without being obtrusive. This is an extremely complex Chardonnay for the money.

Wakefield Estate 2013 “Jaraman” Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)

The fruit for this entry in the Jaraman line comes from Clare Valley (55 percent) and Coonawarra (45 percent). After fermentation, it was aged in a combination of new and previously used French oak. Dark fruit and savory herb aromas abound on the nose of this Cabernet. The palate is lush and loaded with dark fruit, copious spices and bits of mineral. Toast, earth, hints of vanilla and lots more fruit flavors are all in play on the above-average finish. Firm acid and tannins mark the structure here. What I like most about this Cabernet is how fresh and refreshing it is.

If your mind and taste buds think of Australia only in terms of overripe fruit bombs, think again. There are a lot of really nice wines loaded with character and made in a balanced manner coming from Australia. Each wine noted above is not only true to the grape in question and the area or areas it’s grown in, but theya lso each represent better than average values. We’re at a point in time where many wine drinkers don’t realize the bounty Australia has to offer. Get a jump on them and drink these tasty, well made, wonderfully priced wines. If you have yet to reconsider Australia, the time is now.

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Yorkville Cellars offers a delicious look at Mendocino County

California’s Mendocino County is roughly 100 miles north of San Francisco and just above Sonoma County. Its climate and terrain make it a perfect place to grow distinct wines. Yorkville Cellars is focused on Bordeaux varietals. In fact one of their claims to fame is that they’re the only winery known to grow all eight of the main Bordeaux cultivars. I recently tasted through some of their current wines and there is a lot to like. Yorkville Cellars estate vineyards have been certified by the Certified Organic Farmers dating back to 1986, making them leaders in organics. Here are my thoughts on the wines you should seek out.

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Yorkville Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($19)

This offering is predominately Sauvignon Blanc (91 percent), with some Semillon (9 percent) blended in. Some of the vines are more than 30 years old. Just fewer than 1,200 cases were produced. Bits of citrus and yellow melon aromas leap from the nose. The palate is stuffed with round, fleshy yellow fruit. Peach, apricot and mango all play a role. An undercurrent of lemon curd is present as well. The long, crisp finish is marked by firm acidity. This Sauvignon Blanc has a really lovely mouthfeel.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Vin D’une Nuit Rosé ($22)

This vintage of Rosé was produced entirely from Malbec. In fact, this offering marked their first time producing Rosé from Malbec. Oodles of watermelon aromas fill the welcoming nose. The palate is loaded with juicy, red fruit flavors and bits of spice. Red cherry and pomegranate are of note. Cranberry and a bit of black cherry emerge on the finish, along with crème fraiche, white pepper and more red fruit flavors. This is a crisp, fruity and refreshing wine; it screams summer.

Yorkville Cellars 2013 Eleanor of Aquitaine ($28)

This wine is a classic blend of Semillon (70 percent) and Sauvignon Blanc (30 percent). Blending took place after separate lots were aged over five months in French oak. White flower aromas dominate the lovely and restrained nose. Lemon ice, orchard and tone fruit flavors are all in play on the layered palate. Tropical fruit flavors such as papaya and mango fill the long, somewhat lusty finish.

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