Aussie Thirst 

Wine from down under is taking over.

“In the case of the Limestone wines we can do the search for single vineyards,” he says. “We will put the dirt back into the wine, mate.” Its vineyards are in such colorfully named areas as Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, and the winery is in Padthaway (an Aboriginal word meaning “good water”).

Newton’s wines have some unexpected accents. “We are beginning to move oak out into the wings,” he said. “Palates are changing, tastes are changing.” He was referring to the Stonehaven Premium Chardonnay, 2002 ($7.99). It’s a dry, pleasant sipper tasting of green apple instead of the oak flavor we associate with chardonnay. “Our wines don’t have to be served with food to be enjoyed. If you have a red wine and some fish, don’t worry about it — just drink the wine. No, sit on your porch and drink the wine.”

Just as Newton was weighing in on his forget-the-food Australian theories, our crab cakes arrived, served with his Stonehaven Limestone Coast Chardonnay, 2002 ($14). With his theories fresh in my mind, I took a bite of a crab cake followed by a sip of wine, and both flavors soared. (So much for fasting.) This oaked chardonnay is not overblown and, yes, I would consider drinking it on my porch.

The better wines are from specific places versus the sprawl of the vastness of Southeast Australia. Oak aging and a concentration of flavors make themselves known at that $14 level versus the $7 bottle. The crab cake really was moved forward in flavor by that richness and oak.

According to Newton, Australia is on a roll because while drinkers worldwide are enjoying Aussie wines, back home the folks are gearing up for even more demand. A plan adopted in Australia in 1995 called for a large 30-year planting of grapes. Newton took a large bite of his crab cake, a gulp of his wine and exclaimed, “We have already exceeded the plantings of the 25-year plan!” This can be either quite good or bad. If we abroad continue to do our present job of loving these wines it’s good. If for some reason we should tire of them it can be very bad.

Stonehaven’s forte is its reds. It was a treat comparing four different grapes in a flight. Usually in an Australian flight the star is the Shiraz and the others are passed over, but that wasn’t the case this time. The merlot and cabernet shone as well. The Stonehaven Merlot, 2001 ($7.99), like most Australian merlot, is soft and easy to drink. In contrast, Stonehaven Limestone Cabernet Sauvignon, 1999 ($18) is dark and intense. You don’t expect this much power from an Australian red at this price. The appropriate pairing is steak, which really mellows it out. Newton was absolutely right about the Stonehaven Limestone Shiraz, 1999 ($18) have it with steak or have it by itself — each way works.

As Newton pointed out during our lunch, Australia really is France standing on its head. While it has achieved a high level of popularity and drinkability, there’s still that striving for recognition. Lifting his 200-plus frame from his chair, he pointed with his finger in an upward motion while saying, “Check out the 2002 vintage when they arrive in the states, mate — they’re fantastic.” S


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